The Best Affordable Diet for Bodybuilding

by Andrea Cespedes

Attaining a bodybuilder's physique does not have to cost a lot in groceries.

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Bodybuilders follow a very specific diet to support their training efforts. Most bodybuilders eat “cleanly,” meaning they avoid processed foods and emphasize fresh produce, lean proteins and unsaturated fats. A quality bodybuilding diet can be affordable, if you shop wisely and emphasize certain foods.


The exact serving sizes and macronutrient ratios depend on an athlete’s stage of competition and size. During a muscle-building phase, bodybuilders tend to eat more calories than they burn – for some this is equivalent to 18 to 20 times their body weight in pounds, notes fitness expert, Anthony Ellis, of "Iron Magazine." For a 200-lb. person, this is equal to 3,600 to 4,000 calories per day. Bodybuilders also take in a higher than average amounts of protein to support muscle recovery and hypertrophy, or growth. The International Society of Sport Nutrition, or ISSN, recommends about 2 g per kilogram of body weight. To get weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 – meaning the 200-lb. person needs about 182 g of protein daily, the amount in 1.25 lbs of chicken breast. All this extra, high-quality food can be expensive.

Shopping Tips

Buy produce that is in season such as leafy greens in the fall, zucchini in the summer, asparagus in the spring and sweet potatoes in the winter. Stock up on sauce-less frozen vegetables that may actually offer more nutrients than fresh produce, says Gene Lester, Ph.D., a plant physiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Center in Weslaco, Texas. Frozen produce is picked at the peak of freshness and flash frozen to retain all the fiber and antioxidants that support a bodybuilders muscle-development needs. While protein is an emphasis in a bodybuilder’s diet, carbohydrates provide energy for workouts and muscle growth; buy whole grains in bulk to save money. Join your local warehouse store to stock up on large bottles of olive oil and canola oil and bags of raw nuts, both of which provide essential unsaturated fats for hormone production essential for muscle-building.

Save on Protein

Eating more protein does not have to mean spending hundreds of dollars weekly on steak and seafood. Make egg whites, skinless chicken breast, water-packed tuna and tilapia your staples. Shop for single-servings of frozen chicken breasts and tilapia, which are often cheaper than those in the butcher or fish case. Low-fat cottage cheese is another source of high-quality protein that is relatively inexpensive and often on sale.

Sample Meals

An affordable bodybuilding meal plan might start with a breakfast of steel cut oatmeal – from the bulk bin – with chopped apple and scrambled egg whites. A mid-morning meal of chicken breast in a corn tortilla with romaine lettuce and tomatoes offers protein, whole grains and vegetables. For lunch, enjoy water-packed tuna mixed with brown rice, steamed, frozen broccoli and a bit of olive oil. The mid-afternoon meal used to support your workout could consist of cottage cheese combined with raw almonds. At dinner enjoy broiled tilapia, seasonal vegetables, quinoa – again from the bulk bin. If your diet plan calls for a sixth meal, have a few scrambled eggs or another serving of cottage cheese.


Packaged protein shakes and bars may be convenient, but they carry a high cost. Whole foods are a preferable form of protein, notes the ISSN, so use these convenience foods only once in a while. Making your own smoothies, rather than purchasing ones from the refrigerated case or from a smoothie bar, can also give you the whey protein you need without the $3 to $5 price tag per serving.

Photo Credits

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About the Author

Andrea Cespedes has been in the fitness industry for more than 20 years. A personal trainer, run coach, group fitness instructor and master yoga teacher, she also holds certifications in holistic and fitness nutrition.