Cost Effective Shopping- Build More Beef for your Buck
Author Nick Jacobs
If you were to ask some of the World’s Strongest Man competitors what the biggest obstacle is when it comes to maximizing size and strength, what do you think they would say? I’m willing to bet the majority of those men would say the most grueling aspect of the sport isn’t the training or number of hours spent in the gym. It’s not the constant aches and pains, or even the risk of injury… but rather the amount of food it requires to get that big and strong.
While 99% of us are never going to reach that level of the sport, food intake is still one of the most challenging requirements of strongman at every level. Not only does it take a lot of food to compliment the training regimen, but it also takes a lot of money to provide the amount of food most athletes are going to need.
Strongman is definitely not a cheap sport. With all the equipment needed, gym memberships, coaching and programming, entry fees, contest travel and lodging, even chiropractor/rehab specialist fees, the cost of the sport definitely adds up! When you take all of those variables into consideration, and then tack on $100+/week in groceries (some people spend much more!)… saving a buck here and there is welcomed by everyone.
What if I told you it was possible to purchase all of the necessary food, even MORE than you need, and not break your bank? Over the past couple of years, I’ve spent far too much time seeking ways to save money without sacrificing quality of food, nor quantity consumed.
The majority of foods mentioned in this article are selected by cost alone, with very little consideration to macronutrient content. The purpose of this article is to show you how to get the largest amount of food and calories possible on a small budget. In no way am I giving nutrition guidelines or suggesting a certain way of dieting.
I should also mention that I live in rural Western Kentucky. It should be understood that prices vary from state to state and even amongst same state cities. I did the best I could to gather price ranges that likely cover the majority of grocery locations.
Purchasing protein is likely where you currently spend the majority of your grocery budget, but buying meats in bulk reduces the cost quite a bit.
Whole Chickens – $0.79 – $1.09/lb. Probably the most bang for your buck. Whole chickens are also extremely easy to cook, just season the whole bird and throw it in the oven for 20-30min/lb. If you don’t want the extra fat, just steer clear of eating the cooked skin and sloppy, fatty pieces around the legs and wings. Other cooking methods include crockpot and rotisserie oven (excellent kitchen tools if you don’t have them!)
Bone in Chicken Thighs – $0.84 – $1.24/lb. Various cooking methods here, but my personal favorite is grilled. Cut the fat by removing the skins before grilling.
Ground Beef – $2.60 – $4.00/lb. I’ve seen 80/20 ground beef as cheap as $2.20 at my local Sam’s Club! A little-known trick to reduce fat content is to not only drain the ground beef with a strainer, but also spray it off with water and season afterwards. Doing this can increase the leanness up to 97/3, but of course you lose taste quality.
Large Cuts of Beef and Pork – $1.49 – $2.59/lb. Just as with the chicken, crockpots are mighty useful for cooking large cuts of both pork and beef (shoulder, butt, chuck, round) but the king of cooking methods for these types of meat is a BBQ Smoker!
Whole Eggs and Egg Whites – Both products run very cheap at bulk grocery stores like Costco and Sam’s Club with whole eggs being cheapest at $1.33 – $1.89/dozen. An easy way to add extra protein to your diet is to mix protein powder with pasteurized egg whites instead of milk or water. 16oz of egg whites has 50g of protein, and makes the protein shake taste tremendous! Even easier than that is to drink the egg whites straight up. Taste is like skim milk, and I promise you won’t die. (Egg allergies aside lol)
Other cheap proteins include plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, and really anything that you can find on sale.
Rice – buying in bulk is definitely the way to go here. Rice packaged at 15lbs+ can cost as little as $0.36/lb and has a very long shelf life if stored in an airtight container. Properly cooking rice in a pot of boiling water can take some practice, but rice cookers, pressure cookers, and even baking methods can make rice flawless every single time. One of the best tips I’ve gotten regarding rice consumption is from my good friend Cory Howell of Darkside Bodybuilding. For quick and easy “Cream of Rice”, blend uncooked rice on a high-speed setting to cut the long rice grains into tiny pieces. It’s literally the exact same thing for a fraction of the cost!
Potatoes – Although most potato varieties are very affordable, in an effort to keep with the cheap AF theme, russet potatoes are lowest in cost at $0.55 – $0.90/lb. Steamed or baked is by far the easiest, but there are several methods.
Oats – very easy to cook, very easy to eat, fairly nutritious, and definitely low in cost coming in anywhere between $1.30 and $2/lb
Dry Cereal – My favorite of the cheap carb sources… for obvious reasons. Off brand dry cereal is usually found in large bags or boxes and can be as low as $1/lb which, depending on the cereal, can be up to 800g of carbohydrates!
Bananas – typically around $0.30/lb, but different fruit varieties can be found for pretty cheap at different times of the year. Be careful you don’t buy them too yellow so they spoil before you get a chance to eat them all!
Although the proteins mentioned above have plenty of fat content, there are a few fat based items that should be purchased if you are in pursuit of a high calorie diet.
Olive Oil – very cheap when purchased in large quantities that can last you months on end
Peanut Butter – as with olive oil, peanut butter is very cost efficient, and the amount you tend to acquire is just absurd. Local Sam’s Club sells roughly 20lbs of peanut butter for less than $10!
As previously mentioned, whole fat cottage cheese, milk, and Greek yogurt contain a high percentage of fat in their macronutrient profile.
If you’re going to splurge on your grocery bill at all, this is where I’d suggest you do it. I am definitely a firm believer in healthy fats being necessary in a healthy diet. Unrefined coconut oils, avocado, and grass-fed butter/cheese are high quality sources but don’t run cheap!
Additional Tips and Tricks
Many times grocery stores will significantly mark down meat and dairy products because of their short shelf life. When you spot items on sale, scoop up as many as you think you will consume before they go bad. If you’re like me, you buy more than you will need and freeze what isn’t consumed prior to expiration. (Yes I have frozen cottage cheese, yogurt, hummus, and even raw oysters before) A lot of local butchers and markets have to sell meat within a certain period of time, and will drastically reduce prices on the meats that gotta go. Even cuts like filet, ribeye, and strip steaks can be reduced up to 80%. Just before closing hours is when you’ll typically find these deals.
Everyone knows (and should agree) that fruits and vegetables are essential to a well balanced diet. Many people don’t purchase fresh fruits and vegetables because they are usually more expensive than frozen, canned, or prepackaged fruits and veggies. I’m not going to tell you that one form of vegetable is better for you than another, but you should absolutely allot a portion of your grocery budget to go towards fruits and vegetables. While macronutrients are definitely the driving force behind any type of nutrition plan, micronutrients are vital to overall health, wellness, and performance
If you’re lucky enough to have a farmer’s market nearby and you aren’t checking it out for deals on fruits, veggies, and random items from local vendors, shame on you! Farmers markets are gold mines for cheap produce.
Pay attention to the “Unit Price” on items. For example, if a 32oz container of yogurt is $3.30, divide the cost of the yogurt ($3.30) by the volume of yogurt (32oz) and you get $0.10/oz of yogurt. This is especially useful when comparing products from different brands, as well as comparing different sizes of the same brand. As a general rule, the larger the amount being purchased, the lower the unit price. Unit price is almost always listed in the bottom corner of the store label that shows the cost of the item.
Coupons! There are several apps that make couponing incredibly easy. Many of these apps will use your location (cause big brother knows all) to identify which grocers in your area have available coupons, which you can download to your phone and present to the cashier at the time of purchase.
For many people, eating for size and strength proves to be an arduous journey. Don’t let the cost of gains keep you down! With a little time spent perusing the local grocery stores, paying attention to the “unit cost” of items, and learning money management… you can save loads of money on your grocery bill. Money that could be spent on equipment, coaching, or a better gym membership to further your strongman career.
For further nutrition and “food inspiration” check out Cory Howell (@darksidebodybuilding) and Zach Gallman’s absolutely wonderful page (@id_eat_it). Feel free to email me at email@example.com, check out my Instagram page @jacobs.strength, or leave a comment below! What topics would you like to see covered in the future?