Ok, so, you’re broke af, but you want to get some muscle gains. This is for you!
I’m going to show off some foods that are seriously cheap but taste good and are actually really healthy. I’m also broke af and want to get some gains, so we’re in the same boat. We don’t have the money for protein powder or fancy supplements, and we don’t have the room in our macros to be eating cheap ramen every night. (On a personal level, I’m also eating an anti-inflammatory diet, so no eggs, dairy, peanuts, gluten, or refined sugar) Here’s some foods and tips to get started.
First of all, you’re going to have to cook. You’re broke af; pretend you’re in a third-world country; you may be broke, but you’re likely not that broke. Be grateful. You can cook some food.
So that’s out of the way. Let’s get into the recipes. These are all going to be protein rich and super-cheap. The numbers are based on a 2,000-ish calorie diet, so adjust as needed. Also, many of my recipes use the blender (since that’s what I have), but a food processor would work in most cases.
First off, food prep. There are a few recipes that it’s far easier to make big batches every week or two to have on hand than constantly having to cook smaller quantities.
Beans! – You’ll be eating a lot of beans in the future. Beans are fantastic! They’re cheap, and they give you 15+g of protein per cup! It’s cheaper to buy dried beans and cook them yourself, but that’s a lot of planning ahead if you’re trying to cook them as needed. What I like to do is soak 3-5 pounds of beans overnight (with 1 tsp vinegar per pound to get rid of farts) and boil them all the next day. Then I freeze the beans in jars and save the bean water for use as “veggie stock.” A huge batch of beans like this will end up making 18.5 – 36.5 cups of cooked beans. That’s a lot of beans. Imagine if you had to cook all that in little bits every day.
Grind up your own flax meal – I began this for the health benefits, but it can save money (not much, but some). I buy flax seeds in bulk. Every few days, I grind up a cup or two and store it in a jar in the fridge. Flax seeds need to be ground to allow your body to absorb those good fats, but ground flax seed will need to be stored in the fridge, or the oils in it can go bad. If you buy pre-ground flax meal, then it definitely hasn’t been kept in the fridge, and you don’t know how long ago it was made. Whole flax seeds can sit at room temp almost indefinitely.
I also like to grind up some of my oats every once in a while so I have oat flour on hand to thicken things up. This is especially useful for baked goods. It’s 6-7 times cheaper to buy rolled oats in bulk and grind some up than to buy oat flour at the store.
Sunflower seed butter – it’s much, much easier to use pre-made peanut butter, but peanuts are inflammatory, and they give me big problems. Also, pre-made sunflower butter is too expensive for someone who is broke af. I buy bulk bags of raw sunflower seeds. Roast 1 1/2 cups of them in the oven for 13 minutes at 300 F. After the seeds are really warm, not still steaming hot, place them in the blender with 1/2 Tbsp of coconut oil. Blend until you get the consistency you want, which could take up to 40 minutes depending on the equipment used. Once you reach your desire consistency, add 1/4 cup flax meal, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 Tbsp (or to taste) stevia. – One full recipe of this makes just over 1 1/2 cups and costs (me) $1.60. 2 Tbsp is 117 calories and contains 3.6g protein, 1.8g carbs, and 9.3g fat and costs 20 cents.
Cream of Gainz! – this is homemade cream of rice, but this is also a carb-y recipe, so it’s a good pre-workout meal, and good for gains. – Don’t buy the stuff in the store. It’s too expensive, it’s not super-healthy, and they don’t even stock it in some areas. Just get some brown rice and grind it up in the blender. Once it’s a powder, sift it to get all the big, hard chunks out and store it in a jar. Add about 1 tsp of salt for every 3 cups of rice. Voi la! Cream of rice! I always keep a jar of this on hand. I used to put cinnamon and stevia in it to have it fully prepared, but as soon as I made it, I’d want a savory version. When you want it, just throw 1/2 cup of this mix in a pot with 1 1/2 cup of water. Stir constantly as you bring it up to a boil and lower the heat as needed from there. When it’s thick and good (after about 15 minutes), add in whatever toppings you want (I recommend some cinnamon and stevia). Don’t try and cook this in advance. It firms up and isn’t very nice to eat anymore. One plain batch only costs about 14 cents and contains 340 calories, 6g protein, 78g carbs, and 3g fat.
As with oat flour, store-bought gluten-free flour is very expensive compared to what you can make at home. And it’s so easy! In fact, you’ve already made the components; just mix them together. Take 1 part-by volume Cream of Gainz (preferably before you add salt, but the salt won’t make a huge flavor difference) and mix it with 2 parts-by volume oat flour. I don’t always make a batch of this; a lot of times, I just throw 1/3 cup Cream of Gainz and 2/3 cup oat flour into a recipe. This gf flour costs about 67 cents per pound!
So that was your food prep. I think meal prep is different. Food prep just got a lot of your staple foods/ingredients done, so cooking will be a lot quicker.
Here’s a sample meal plan. I also put in links to different recipes to change it up, because having the same thing every day isn’t fun at all.
Before breakfast, have a cup or two of water, and try to drink a gallon or so of water throughout the day. Staying hydrated will help your gains, and water is free, so drink like a fish!
- Breakfast/pre-Workout: Some kind of green smoothie – macros for Nutty Banana Smoothie – 525 calories, 14.1g protein, 62.7g carbs, 21.9g fat – other options include a Hakuna Matata Smoothie – Chocolate Secret Greens – “Nutella” Smoothie – Green Smoothie with Apple – these all cost less than $1
- Lunch/Dinner: at this point in the day, I always want something different, so lunch and dinner options are interchangeable – macros for 1/8 batch of Bodybuilder Chilli Beans – 356 calories, 25.3g protein, 36.3g carbs, 5.6g fat – other options are some kind of Cream of Rice – Bean Paste Cream of Rice – making a buddha bowl with Salad Greens, rice, and beans (just remember, a green, a grain, a bean, and a sauce) – easy “refried” beans and Spanish Rice – these recipes come in at less than $0.90
- Snacks: Fresh fruit is always a great option. A banana is about 20 cents, and a green apple is about 49 cents, but I really like to have some muffins. All these recipes contain beans, but not weird flavors – macros for 1/12 batch of Orange Cranberry Muffins – 124 calories, 4g protein, 9.6g carbs, 6.9g fat – this is my “more expensive,” “more fatty” holiday recipe, so other options include Apple Raisin Bean Muffins – Chocolate Chip Protein Bars – Brownie Muffins – Pumpkin Spice Muffins – these bean recipes are around 13 cents per muffin with the exception of the orange cranberry, which come in at 26 cents per muffin. These are like little protein bars to me, but without any of the added sugars or preservatives.
For the sake of the math, let’s say you eat exactly these amounts with 3 of the orange-cranberry muffins. That’s still $3.58 or less, and that’s with the most expensive muffin option! This diet provides 73g of protein daily and tons of vitamins and minerals.
In my area, ramen noodles are $5.04 for a 24-pack. 1 block of noodles is only 380 calories, so someone would have to eat about 5 a day. That’s $1.05, which is cheap, but it only provides 40g of protein a day with almost no other nutrients. Plus, packaged ramen is a very calorie-dense food. It’s unlikely that a person would calculate calories for it and only eat 5 a day. Too many will likely pack on fat and not give you those muscle-gains you’re wanting.