Losing weight whilst on a budget is pretty straightforward, stop ordering takeout, stop buying five-litre bottles of cola and do some push ups. Okay maybe it’s not as simple as that, but compared to bulking it’s a piece of sugar-free cake!
If you’ve followed any bodybuilder diet plan then you have probably seen shopping lists that go on for pages and pages, one personal trainer (who shall remain nameless) even recommended buying bison steaks and ostrich burgers. Sometimes you wonder what planet these guys are one?
Luckily it is possible to bulk without first acquiring a hunting licence, and you can save a lot of money whilst doing it. This guide is not going to be a list of the most perfect food choices that you could make to bulk, nor is it going to be a list of the cheapest foods in the world – this is a plan on how to increase your muscle size whilst eating healthy food that doesn’t cost the earth.
What is Bulking?
Bulking is not a scientific term, it’s not really used by anyone other than gym-goers and bodybuilders. Basically, it means increasing your calorie intake so that you can build muscle. A lot of people think that you can build muscle whilst also losing body fat and whilst this is technically possible for beginners, it is very difficult for more experienced lifters to do (some would say impossible without steroids).
Working out your calories
The first thing you need to do is work out your current calories; you can do this by using a calorie-tracking app such as myfitnesspal (it’s free). This will come in handy later. The next thing you need to do is to work out the calories that you would need to maintain your weight. You can either multiply your weight in lbs by 14, or you can use the more scientific method created by Mifflin et al in 1990 .
• Men: 10 x Body Weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (Y) + 5 = REE
• Women: 10 x Body Weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (Y) -161 = REE
Once you have completed this equation, you will have an estimate of your resting energy expenditure (REE). You then need to factor in how active you are. If you basically sit around all day, then you would multiply REE by 1.2 if you perform light exercise (walking, standing, cleaning the house, etc.) then you would multiply REE by 1.375.
If you exercise for an hour each day, then you would be classed as moderately active and would multiply REE by 1.55, and finally, if you exercised for more than 1 hour and/or had a very active job then you could classify yourself as very active and would multiply REE by 1.725.
This would give you your TDEE, if you were looking to lose weight then you would cut 10-20% of the calories from this total, whereas if you were looking to gain weight you would add 10-20% of the calories to the total.
Getting your macros right
In this scenario, we are assuming that you are planning on becoming a “natural lifter” in other words no steroids, but you are willing to work hard and get big. This means that you should be following the advice of Helms, Aragon, & Fitschen (2014) who wrote the book on natural bodybuilding nutrition .
This means that you want to find out what your Lean Body Mass (LBM) is, in other words, find out what your body fat percentage is (let’s say 20%) and whatever is left (80%) is your LBM or fat-free mass as it is also known. So if you are 100kg but have 22% body fat, then your LBM is 78kg. According to Helms et al you should have between 2.3 and 3.1g of protein for every kg of lean body mass.
That means that you want 78 x 2.3 = 179.4 but let’s round that up to 180g of protein. Then you can have 15-30% of your calories from fat (1g of fat equals 9 calories), and the rest comes from carbohydrates. This has been shown to be the most effective macronutrient ratio for natural bodybuilding. There is also quite a lot of wiggle-room to accommodate your unique goals and likes/dislikes.
What foods to eat
You’re going to need a lot of protein and a lot of carbs whilst bulking, and whilst you can get up to 30% of your calories from fat it is still an idea to find lean protein choices, rather than high-fat protein choices. This is because a little fat goes a long way – even when you’re bulking.
• Lean meats such as chicken, turkey, ostrich (kidding)
• Beef/Lamb/Pork (just make sure it is on the leaner side)
• Eggs (just so many eggs)
• Fish/Oily fish
• Rice/Pasta/Quina/Bread/oats etc
• Green Leafy Veg
• Fruit (stop worrying about the sugar content)
• Milk/Butter/Cheese/Greek Yoghurt
Yes, this is all boring, but it is just a simple list. Flexible dieting (within reason) is the absolute best way for you to go here, and myfitnesspal will help you to find foods that work for you, but you can’t go wrong with the above options.
Shopping for your bulk
In truth, you are going to need a big freezer for this, because the BEST way to bulk on a budget, is to bulk buy foods that are on offer. Extreme couponing is going to be your new hobby, and buying your meat in bulk when it is on offer is the only way to go. Whilst we’re talking about freezers, removing meat from its packaging and placing it in small freezer baggies will save you a tonne of space.
Stop buying your rice in one-serve microwave containers, buy a huge bag and learn how to cook/microwave it quickly. Same goes with pasta. Proper butter will last for ages so start using it (sparingly), and get frozen veg and frozen fish rather than “fresh”. Frozen pre-prepared veg can save you loads of time when cooking.
Buy lots of Tupperware (yeah we’re going full-on bodybuilding bro) and set aside 3-4 hours of your time. You are now going to learn how to cook high protein chilli, spaghetti bolognese, curries, stir fries, and many other dishes. You are going to then make all of these meals and then separate them into pots. Freeze those pots, and you’ll have meals for the next couple weeks.
You are going to need some whey protein in your life, creatine is also a good call, as is omega-3 (unless you’re now eating loads of oily fish), and you can think about a good pre-workout. Anything with a lot of caffeine is always a good shout as there are so many benefits to taking it. Other than that you should be absolutely fine for supplements, save your money!
If you’re trying to save as much money as possible then the first thing you should be asking yourself is whether this is the right time to start a bulk? But if you feel you need to, then follow this article. Vegetables and fruit can be bought frozen and kept for years, frozen chicken is also very cheap and very underrated. Most of your carb sources are inexpensive, and buying foods that are on offer will help keep your monthly shopping bill down.
Supplements will be necessary provided you are training at a high intensity, but a decent whey protein powder doesn’t have to cost the earth. In fact, it can work out cheaper per serving than most food-based protein, creatine and caffeine are also really cheap. Hopefully, this has helped you plan your bulk. Good luck!