A lot of young men ask how they can get big on a budget as they might not have the financial freedom of older lifters or some of their peers. Within, we will look at a few strategies as to how to get big on a budget — something that merits further inspection as hundreds of thousands of lifters around the world have been furloughed or struggle to find employment, given the global situation.

One of the most daunting aspects of the gym life to spendthrift novices is the perception that advanced lifters must make massive budgetary allotments to their nutrition.

While somewhat true, you must shop strategically to get big on a budget.

Unfortunately, you won’t be able to splash out on wagyu steaks or lobster to fuel your post-workout recovery; and your diet will have to be a lot less glamorous in order to get there.

But, as I explained in our article ‘Get Big By Eating Less Than You Imagine,’ you don’t need to eat all that much to build muscle.

In fact, a caloric surplus of 100-200 calories per day is enough to build muscle.

Gone are the days where you’d bulk for half of the year then half-starve yourself to reveal your gains for the summer.

We will cover three key aspects of building muscle — training, nutrition, and supplementation — as all three could potentially burn a hole in your wallet.

How to Get Big on a Budget

big on a budget
Big on a budget

I remember when I was a student; having to spend your little money on tins of tuna, ground beef in bulk, frozen chicken breast, and nasty artificial-tasting cheap protein powders.

Although I don’t miss those days, you’ve got to realize that this is a temporary fix.

Yes, you might have to make sacrifices elsewhere, but it will be worth it in the long run.

1) Nutrition

Diet is everything in the fitness world.

If your diet sucks, it will be expressed in your body composition.

And sadly, nutrition is the second most expensive part of lifting behind supplementation — depending on what you take!

Okay, so, to get big on a budget, a lot of focus must be placed on what goes in your shopping cart.

We are shopping for price, eating for function, and aiming for highest marginal utility in our purchases.

This means that you will have to buy in bulk.

You will need a freezer as a bare minimum to accommodate the surplus of food that you will need to house.

Protein Sources

6 best superfoods for men
6 best superfoods for men
Ground Beef

As I’ve previously mentioned, I would buy (fatty) ground beef in bulk as it was cheap and delicious.

Lean ground beef is a lot pricier in many places.

Not to worry, you can run off the fat in your ground beef once it is cooked.

Although this is quite impractical and difficult to gauge your macronutrients correctly, you can estimate your fat content by taking roughly half of the average fat content of your ground beef.

Ground beef is, perhaps, the tastiest choice you can make out of all the cheap protein sources.

Another benefit is that, given its higher fat content, you won’t need to use cooking oils. Its higher fat content also enables you to cook vegetables, giving them an extra bit of flavor.

However, it is high in fat which can inflate your total caloric intake for the day.

Spaghetti Bolognese Recipe
  • Begin sealing ground beef in pan
  • Add garlic salt, pepper, and other spices to taste
  • Add diced onions and mushroom (optional)
  • When ground beef is a minute away from sealing, add tomato sauce of your taste and bring to a simmer
  • Serve with spaghetti
  • Parmesan (optional)
  • You can make your own tomato sauce to cut costs
Frozen Chicken Breast

Frozen chicken breast, although far more insipid than ground beef, is one of the best ways to fulfill your daily protein targets when trying to get big on a budget.

A shopping vid on how to get big on a budget

Frozen chicken breast also keeps for a long time if future cash flows are uncertain.

One of the downsides with frozen chicken breast is that it will require seasoning and/or cooking oils to give it flavor — unless you’re some sort of masochist.

Overall, given its versatility, frozen chicken breast should be a staple for those wishing to get big on a budget.

I will dispense one of my favorite recipes for when I was trying to get big on a budget myself.

Butter Chicken Recipe
  • Tablespoon of butter in frying pan at low heat until it melts
  • Add curry powder until forming viscous paste
  • 1/2 Diced onion into pan, stir, and wait for it to turn slightly light brown
  • 2 whole chicken breasts
  • 250g frozen spinach
  • Turn chicken over until cooked all the way through
  • There should be a crunchy buttery coating mixed with the curry powder
  • Serve with rice
Canned Tuna

Again, it may not be exciting, but it’s cheap and easy to make.

Some of you may lack culinary skills or be short on time.

One of the easiest meals to make if you want to get big on a budget is rice and tuna.

Although I prefer tuna in oil, tuna in brine is a great way to get in cheap protein.

Canned tuna is one of the classic “get big on a budget” dishes out there fueling many-a student’s workout.

It may not be flashy, but it gets the job done.

Here, I will dispense another “get big on a budget” recipe that shouldn’t cost ore than $2 to make.

Peruvian Tuna Casserole (Causa) Recipe
  • Boil 300g of skinless potatoes, then mash
  • Open 2 tins of tuna, mix with 50g of sweetcorn, layer on bottom of bowl
  • Boil 2-3 eggs, take off shell, slice in quarters and add to tuna mix
  • Lather mashed potato atop bottom layer of tuna mix
  • Optional: garnish potato outer layer with sliced avocado and raw onion
Cheap Protein Powders

This one is a double-edged sword.

Some cheap protein powders can contain a lot of sugars, driving up total calories.

Some cheap protein powders are also known to be, shall we say, less agreeable on people’s digestive systems.

Having said that, cheap protein powders can be a godsend if you’re struggling to get in enough protein with your meals.

Grams of protein per dollar.

Eggs

Despite being constantly maligned by the mainstream press, eggs are the best, most bioavailable, source of protein for lifters.

Moreover, the cholesterol derived from egg yolk can significantly increase natural endogenous testosterone production in men — giving you that extra oomph if you’re trying to get big on a budget.

Eggs are another food item that can be bought in bulk, keeping costs down.

Eggs are also highly versatile and can be added to a variety of dishes, both sweet and savory.

If you wish to get big on a budget, eggs bought in bulk should be at the forefront of your shopping cart.

We strongly advise all readers to return their carts.

Word of caution: legumes

Beans and legumes have among the highest grams of protein per dollar ratio, but they aren’t all that effective.

Beans and legumes — with the exception of peas — contain incomplete proteins

They also contain phytoestrogens that could be detrimental to your progress in the gym.

Instead, opt for animal protein sources or pea protein if you’re vegan.

You don’t need to do this to get big on a budget

Carbohydrate Sources

Here is another essential macronutrient to get big on a budget.

I wish you luck if you’re trying to keto on a budget — that’s more of a financially stable man’s game.

We will pick two simple carbohydrate sources that will be both kind on your wallet and a great way to power your workouts.

White Rice

Cheap, reliable, effective, and one of the cleanest carbohydrate sources out there.

Some lifters contend that its more expensive wholegrain brown rice counterpart may contain antinutrients — adding to the allure of white rice as primary carbohydrate source.

Again, to make the most out of your white rice, it is advisable that you purchase it in bulk.

White rice can complement all of the above protein sources — except protein powder, obviously.

White Potatoes

Nutrition purists might decry the consumption of potatoes for a variety of reasons from their being too difficult to calculate macronutrients to their starchiness.

But, if you’re trying to get big on a budget, potatoes are a cheap, versatile, and easy carbohydrate source that will leave you full.

If you eat potato with the skin, you will also be treated to a nice bit of fiber to boot.

Oatmeal

This is another cheap, versatile carb source that can be whipped up at a moment’s notice.

Oatmeal Smoothie Recipe

1/2 cup oatmeal

2 scoops whey protein

1 medium banana

12 oz of water

Frozen Vegetables

Now, this choice is less-than-ideal, but if you’re really trying to cut costs, frozen vegetables can help spruce up your meals.

I, personally, used to like adding frozen veggie mixes and spinach to my rice when I enjoyed less financial freedom.

Fat Sources

This one is a little trickier, seeing as fats tend to command a higher price.

Fat is the quietest out of the three macronutrients, but, if you’re looking to get big on a budget, you must include fat in your diet as it plays a crucial role in endocrine and joint health.

The fat found if your protein sources won’t be enough to cover your daily needs.

And other “healthy” sources of fat such as salmon, oily fish, avocado, nuts, and olive oil might be out of your budget.

Seasoning

Just because you’re trying to get big on a budget doesn’t mean you have to suffer by eating bland food.

Some seasoning is actually very good for you and can help reduce chronic inflammation or improve insulin sensitivity.

Curry Powder

Fairly cheap in most parts, but insanely good for you.

Sprinkle this liberally on your meats or rice and potatoes.

Garlic Salt

Chopping raw garlic can be an arduous chore. That’s why garlic salt is a great replacement that can be added to practically every savory dish.

Cinnamon Powder

Cinnamon powder, as most of you know, can go on most sweet dishes and hot drinks.

But, in spite of its reputation as one of the most popular spices, cinnamon boasts an array of health benefits from improving insulin sensitivity to reducing chronic inflammation — as well as being delicious.

Training

Scott Pec Workout
Scott performing Gironda dips

Now, there is no one-size-fits-all program for those looking to get big on a budget.

But I will go out on a limb and assume that the majority of readers who are here to implement something into their routine won’t have full-time access to a gym.

Pullup, Dip, or Monkey Bars at a public gym might be the best thing they have access to.

And this is ok for those who just want to get started or wish to master calisthenics — you won’t look like Ronnie Coleman with just a pullup bar.

If you want to take your lifting beyond calisthenics or intermediate level, you will have to either construct your own home gym or purchase a gym membership — both of which could be out of your price range.

However, we do have a few programs for those with no access to equipment.

Click here to download our free Lockdown eBook to help you start to get big on a budget.

This free program contains everything you need to get started working out at home or a park if you wish to build muscle.

As there is a lot of content in this eBook with programs for people with we recommend that you download it by entering “$0” at the checkout.

Moreover, this free eBook contains programs for aspiring lifters with different levels of access to gym equipment — otherwise, this article would be the length of a Medieval theological tome!

Another resource we have is our “How to Get Jacked” article which has all of the advice you need to plan your meals and to get started in the gym.

How to get big on a budget begins with absorbing as much free content as possible

You must view training as a stimulus rather than the be-all-end-all of fitness. If your nutrition sucks, it’ll be expressed in your physique — which I cannot emphasize enough to all lifters, not just those attempting to get big on a budget.

Supplementation

Now, supplementation should be an afterthought for those trying to get big on a budget, but some supplements cannot be overlooked, in spite of their price tag.

I chose to list protein powder as a macronutrient for the purpose of this article due to its gram of protein per dollar ratio, although, strictly speaking, it should be listed as a supplement.

Some of the supplements I shall list are very useful, but not imperative.

Vitamin D

This is the only vitamin the body can produce naturally, but it is one that tens of millions are deprived of in the Western World.

Fitness influencers all note how much vitamin D they supplement.

But, when trying to get big on a budget, I have a cheaper solution for you: go outside!

Creatine

This supplement is tried and tested, and proven to work.

In fact, it’s one of the few legal supplements that is proven to give users supraphysiological effects.

This means that it can help you develop more size and strength than you ever would be able to do without it.

Some creatine supplements are relatively cheap, too. All you need is 5-10g of creatine monohydrate — which would be very hard to do by eating your typical diet.

I prefer taking it with protein powder as it masks the saltiness of flavorless creatine — the cheapest blend.

Pre-workout

I have a love-hate relationship with pre-workout supplements.

Yes, the vast majority of them are overpriced glorified flavored caffeine water that makes your face prickle, there are some out there that genuinely work.

However, these top-of-the-range pre-workouts are a luxury and come with a hefty price tag.

If you’re wanting to get big on a budget, you’re far better off either drinking green tea or black coffee before you train.

We have our own homemade pre-workout formula to help you save hundreds of dollars a year and achieve similarly lofty workout goals.

Here are the ingredients:

Preworkout:

Swallow 2-3 raw cloves of garlic (this actually works — just make sure you don’t kiss your mother/SO before brushing your teeth!).

1.5 teaspoons of instant coffee
1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 tablespoon honey
Stir until dissolved into solution, take 20-30 mins before workout.

Intraworkout (optional):

A tall glass (300ml) of watermelon or pomegranate juice.

You can blend the pomegranate juice with beetroots and/or raw garlic.

Total calories:

Coffee with honey: 45 kcals
3 Cloves of garlic: 15 kcals
Watermelon juice: approx 100 kcals
Total: 160 kcals

Fat Burners

This is another supplement type I have picked apart at length.

To get big on a budget or not, there’s always a temptation to try to offset the fat you could potentially accrue by eating too many calories.

And some lifters take fat burners to mitigate that potential fat gain during a bulk.

We also have a cheap homemade fat burner recipe that employs many of the ingredients found in commercial fat burners.

Here it is:

The Homemade Fat Burner’s Recipe
  1. Boil 250ml of water and pour it into a cup
  2. Add 2 bags of green tea, let them brew for 30-60 mins — not a typo
  3. Add chopped ginger (to taste)
  4. Add a teaspoon of powdered cinnamon
  5. Grab a 2liter bottle of wattle
  6. Fill it with 1.5liters of cold water
  7. Add juice squeezed from one whole lemon
  8. Add 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
  9. Pour the concoction into the water bottle
  10. Shake
  11. Drink
  12. Enjoy

You can add powdered cayenne peppers or any health-related/vitamin powders if you’re feeling adventurous and wanting to give your fat burner an extra pop.

Get Big On A Budget — Conclusion

The whole concept of “get big on a budget” is one that can only take you so far and is more targeted at teenagers, students, and those between jobs — it isn’t a lifestyle for the long haul.

If you do want a tip-top physique, you will eventually need to loosen your purse strings and increase your budget.

This should happen with time.

“Get big on a budget” is mostly an idea to help complete novices gain access to an introduction to fitness.

In these early days, you should practice to drill proper programing and learn up on nutrition.

Thankfully, the internet is free and full of vital resources to help you gain ample knowledge before you spend the bulk of your budget on subpar supplements.

If you will apply some of these principles, we wish you luck.

And remember, it’s a lifelong marathon — not a sprint.

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