7 Cheap Foods to Build Muscle on a Budget And the Benefits of Carb Loading

By Patrick Banks

Posted 3 years agoHEALTH

Some of the most impactful fads of the current generation is the youth’s involvement to improving their own lifestyle, which includes their nutrition and fitness. A wide variety of exercises, diets and supplements became viral, to the point that some students would go through the lengths of spending money just to follow the trend and to get the body they have been working hard to get.

In fact, the fitness industry is continuously booming, with many health and fitness programs and services being offered by a variety of companies. With about 20% of American adults engaging in dieting and physical fitness activities, a lot of people are definitely willing to spend to meet their health and fitness goals.

And as part of meeting their health and fitness goals, many young adults nowadays would willingly spend money on bulking up with some carbs and proteins, with some bodybuilders willingly paying nutritionists and fitness coaches to help them create the perfect meal plan and choose the right sort of food to eat, no matter the cost. But what if you need something more afordable? What are cheap foods to build muscle that are super healthy at the same time?

Cheap Foods to Build Muscle

But did you know that there are many other cheaper, simpler sources of nutrition that anyone, especially college students with limited finances, can go for? If you are looking into bulking up and building up some muscles with cheap foods to build muscle, here are seven affordable food that you can add to your diet.

1. Natural Peanut Butter

If you are looking for an affordable and versatile source of protein and fiber, then peanut butter is a must-have on your pantry. When eaten in moderation, a bodybuilder will be able to acquire a number of health benefits from this tasty spread.

With each 2 tablespoon serving of the good ol’ PB, you can get at least 8 grams of protein and around 2 grams of dietary fiber. Aside from protein and fiber, this serving size of peanut butter can provide you with 500 milligrams of iron, 24 micro milligrams of folate, 188 calories, 3 grams of sugars and saturated fats, and 6 grams of unsaturated fats.

Aside from getting a lot of nutrients from natural peanut butter, it’s also very easy to incorporate into any sort of meal you prefer. Whether you prefer drinking peanut butter protein shakes, or eating a sandwich with PB spread, PB and banana waffles, or a bowl of PB-flavored oatmeal, you’ll get plenty of your much-needed nutrients to fuel your bodybuilding activities and may become one of your favorite cheap foods to build muscle.

Similarly, vegetal milks from oats or almonds are very healthy for our body and contain the carbohydrates and protein helpful for building muscle to increase your strength, as well as micronutrients that help support muscle function. Delicious and no animal suffering involved in your bodybuilding, contrary to most of the advice over the internet!

2. Asparagus

One of the go-to veggies for bodybuilders is asparagus. This vegetable is popular among the bodybuilding community, because of its bloat-fighting benefit. Being a natural diuretic, many bodybuilders turn to this vegetable, especially when preparing for competitions. This vegetable is also high in vitamins B, K, and C, as well as minerals like zinc, iron, and selenium. It is also rich in antioxidants and is a great source of prebiotics which is definitely a must-have for healthy digestion.


If you wanna try spicing up your asparagus servings, aside from boiling it, you can also try to marinade and grill it or roast it and toss it in your veggie salad. It can also be added to sushi, omelet, curry or pizza. This low-calorie vegetable is definitely a must-have item in your fridge and will be a great staple for your bulk-up meals.

3. Cottage Cheese

When it comes to strengthening bones and building body muscles, cottage cheese and all its glory remains to be a must-have for bodybuilders of all ages. A cup of cottage cheese can supply you with 27 grams of slow-digesting casein protein. The amino acid content of casein can give you a steady flow of muscle-building fuel. In fact, many bodybuilders eat cottage cheese as an evening snack or before going to bed, since the cheese’s nutrients is great for aiding your muscles’ growth and recovery while you doze away.

Aside from the casein protein, cottage cheese can also provide you with vitamin B12 or riboflavin, which is great for metabolism and in helping your body convert carbs and fats into energy. Cottage cheese is also a great source of calcium and phosphorus, which are essential for keeping the bones healthy and strong. It’s very easy to incorporate cottage cheese in your meals. It’s a good ingredient to salads, soups, pastas and baked goods.

4. Lettuce

A mistake that some bodybuilders might make is disregarding the importance of a balanced diet. Indeed, bodybuilders need lots of carbs and protein to fuel their daily bodybuilding grind, but it is still essential to get a sufficient dose of nutrients from other sources, including vegetables. And lettuces are one of the best vegetables to include in your daily diet.

By maintaining a diet that is rich in both carbs and fiber, bodybuilders will be able to improve their body’s protein absorption, suppress their appetite, increases the rate of their metabolism and cleans their digestive system. At the same time, lettuce is also among the many green leafy vegetables that help slow down the release of other nutrients absorbed by the body.

Aside from being rich in fiber, lettuces also possess anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, helps lower your cholesterol levels, and contains lots of antioxidants. With so many amazing benefits rolled up in one green leafy veggie, there is no doubt that this is definitely a great addition to your daily diet.

How Carb Loading Can Increase Your Performance

Looking for a natural way to increase your strength, enhance your stamina, and improve your overall athletic performance? If you answered yes to the foregoing question, then you’re in for a treat!

See, your body holds within itself a mechanism that allows your muscles to endure longer bouts of exercise before prematurely fatiguing. This process is commonly known as carbohydrate loading.

What is carbohydrate loading?

In short, carb loading is the process of saturating (loading) your muscle’s natural glycogen stores with free-flowing glucose (blood sugar). This glucose is converted into glycogen, which is merely the same thing, but in its stored form.

When an endurance athlete blows his adversaries out of the water in a long-distance event, this is intimation that they devised a strategic and well-planned carb loading regimen beforehand.

Carb loading won’t necessarily increase the celerity of the athlete, but it will increase the threshold of fatigue that the muscles will undergo as exercise continues for extended periods of time. This becomes very useful during marathon races and fartlek training.

Carb loading is not only great for endurance athletes like basketball players, soccer players, and long-distance runners, it’s also very effective for building muscle/strength as well.

This especially comes into play during high volume training. High reps and sets are very demanding on the body. You really only have so much gas (glycogen) in the tank at any given time.

So, to give yourself more energy to successfully complete your weight lifting workouts, try carb loading beforehand to give yourself an advantage over the weights.

Okay, so you now know some benefits of carb loading, but how does it really “give you energy”?

The energizing effect of carb loading

Carb loading provides your muscles with energy to endure long bouts of exercise primarily due to the role it plays in creating adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a high energy phosphate bond that allows your muscles to contract and perform work.

When you run out of ATP, your muscles run out of energy. This is commonly referred to as “hitting the wall”. There are several lengthy physiological processes that occur to create ATP. However, for the sake of this article, all you need to know is that during exercise, the glycogen in your muscle tissue is converted into ATP.

As stated before, more ATP won’t necessarily make you more powerful, but what it will do is give your muscles more energy to complete your workouts fully energized from beginning to end. This, in turn will increase your muscle’s size and strength.

Also, speaking of increasing size, the size of your muscle’s glycogen stores will actually increase as you consistently exercise overtime too. This means that you’ll be able to store more glycogen which will allow for more ATP to be made.

How to properly carb load

There are a lot of misconceptions out there of how to carb load effectively to give you the best results. Also, how to go about doing so safely. Becoming adept at this technique takes time. It takes understanding how your body reacts to certain foods, as well as how certain frequencies/intensities of exercise affects your body.

Be that as it may, there are two effective methods that are extremely efficient at saturating your muscle’s glycogen stores with free-flowing glucose. The two methods I’m referring to are The Classic Method and The Sherman Method.

The Classic Method

  • Maintain a high protein/fat, low carb diet for 3-4 days
  • Perform heavy exercise during these 3-4 days to deplete glycogen stores
  • Then, eat a high carb, low protein/fat diet for 3 days while being inactive
    • This causes a super elevation of muscle glycogen levels

The Sherman Method

  • Taper workouts from 90 mins to 40 mins for 3-4 days while eating a 50% carb diet
  • Follow this with two days of 20 min workouts while eating a 70% carb diet
  • Then, have a rest day prior to competition/event with a 70% carb diet

The classic method is probably more effective than the Sherman method, due to certain hormones that get released which increases glucose absorption in the muscle tissue.

However, the Sherman method is the healthier route to take as it places less demands on the body. Try experimenting with these two glycogen-loading techniques to see which one works best for you and your goals.

The Do’s and Don’ts of carb loading

Eating more carbs is not necessarily analogous to greater glycogen stores. Remember, your muscle tissue can only store so much glucose in them.

So, how do you know how much is too much?

Well, that’s where things get muddy. Taking individual specificity into consideration leaves one with the conclusion that it’s based on sheer trial and error rather than some “cookie-cutter” formula. This in fact would be an accurate assumption.

Keep in mind though, that if you follow the classic or Sherman method’s protocol you should be fine. As far as the actual number of grams per day goes, that’s greatly based on your activity level, your weight, the event you’re training for, etc.

Your best bet is to simply stick with the recommended percent (%) values I’ve given you for the two methods above.

So, if you take anything from these foregoing statements let it be that force-feeding yourself 1,000g of carbs a day will not give you better results. I get how appealing the whole “More is better!” mantra is, but it’s inaccurate and false.

To help you ensure that things go as planned with your carb loading regimen, try practicing it several times before your big competition. This is the best way to allow you to truly see how your body will react to carb loading.

Carb load for about a week and then perform some sort of vigorous or long-distance activity and see how your body feels. From this experience, you should be able to decipher whether or not you need to carb up more next time or if it was just enough.

Applying your knowledge in practical ways will truly allow you to take your performance to the next level. Experience is key here, especially because most individual’s bodies will react differently to the same protocol.

Replenishing glycogen stores after exercise

Okay, so you’ve properly carb loaded for about a week and you just ran a marathon. After you do some cool down stretches and douse your body in water, now what?

After a very grueling bout of exercise, you can bet that your glycogen stores will surely be depleted. This will become conspicuous very quickly as you’ll experience a high amount of fatigue and exhaustion. Besides several other factors, this fatigue is greatly due to glycogen depletion.

So, what can you do to combat this?

Ingesting some simple sugars immediately after exercise and repeating every two hours for the next six hours will refill your glycogen stores very quickly. This will allow you to recover much faster than if you merely drank water.

So, drink a Powerade or two after your bout of exercise to ensure proper recovery and quick glucose (energy) absorption.

5. Potatoes

Potatoes are among the best sources of carbohydrates — a much-needed macronutrient for every bodybuilder. They provide bodybuilders with energy and nutrients. Potatoes are also a great source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium. If you plan on introducing potatoes to your diet, you have to take into consideration the time as to when you will eat them.

Keep in mind that this is helpful for your daily dose of carbs, which you will need for your bodybuilding activities. You may incorporate potatoes into your morning meals, up until your early evening meals. Some bodybuilders also prepare meals with a mix of both sweet potatoes and white potatoes. But bear in mind that everything should be in moderation. If you are eating too much potatoes and not trying other carb-rich food sources, you may miss out on other carb types that could also supply you with additional nutrition. So it’s still ideal to mix up your carb sources daily.

6. Bagels

Bagels are one of the easiest breakfast items to have and prepare, especially for people on the go. This convenient breakfast item is loaded with lots of carbs, ranging from 50 to 60 grams for a 3.7 ounce bagel, depending on the dressing and flavoring. This calorie-dense food is also low in fat and fiber, and is a great meal staple for bodybuilders who are loading on carbs.

Whether you prefer to munch on a tuna bagel sandwich, a peanut butter bagel, or just the plain bagel, this calorie-packed food is the perfect meal to start your day, since it will be a good source of energy for your workout sessions. And since it is more dense than bread, bagels can also be an ideal part of your after-workout meal, as long as you pair it with something that is rich in protein (may be chicken or tuna spread),.

7. Whole Wheat Bread

Another great source of carb for bodybuilders are whole wheat bread. It might not provide you with plenty of nutrients, but it is a great staple to any meal, and is versatile too, as you can practically prep any kind of sandwich you might prefer to have using it. Around 6 to 11 servings a day would be enough to supply bodybuilders with around 2000 to 2800 calories.

Another reason why 100% whole wheat breads are ideal is because they contain more naturally occurring fiber and B vitamins, as compared to refined, white bread. Aside from the whole wheat variety, you can also look for other multigrain types of bread as well as breads that are made of rye, bran, or pumpernickel.

No matter what sort of food or meals you have decided to incorporate into your bodybuilding, it is still ideal to keep in mind the importance of maintaining a balanced diet. You might be working on bulking up and packing on loads of carbohydrates and protein, but it is still essential to incorporate other nutritious food into your bodybuilding meal plan.

Many personal trainers and fitness coaches may provide you more information on how to eat and build your muscles better, but if you are looking for the most affordable means of bulking up and looking ripped, then start small and try incorporating these affordable foods to help you achieve your bodybuilding goal.

Needless to say, carbs are the cheapest foods to build muscle and the least pricey nutrition component in general. Are they so bad as they say?

In conclusion

Carbohydrate loading is used by athletes all over the world to help them perform at their peak. If you truly want to have the edge over your competitors, then carb loading is a must!

The glycogen in your muscles is converted into ATP which is what allows your muscles to contract and perform work. The greater your muscle’s glycogen reserves are filled, the more energy your muscles will have to complete your grueling workouts. However, keep in mind that there is a ceiling that will only allow you to actually utilize and store so much carbs.

There’s good news though. The more you exercise, the larger your muscle’s glycogen stores get. So, consistent training will actually allow you to store more carbohydrates in your muscle tissue overtime.

The main two methods of carb loading are The Classic Method and The Sherman Method. They are both very effective at saturating your muscles with carbohydrates. The Classic Method is known for its effectiveness, as well as the potential danger of developing ketoacidosis. On the other hand, The Sherman Method is a much safer way to carb load and is also very effective.

Don’t forget about recovery. Recovering from a long bout of exercise is perhaps just as important as preparing for it. Ingest some sort of simple sugar immediately after exercise and repeat every two hours for the following six hours to ensure that your muscle’s depleted glycogen stores are refilled with glucose.

There’s no question that carb loading is extremely effective at providing your muscles with more energy to withstand greater demands for longer periods of time. If you want to take your performance to the next level, then it’s in your best interest to adopt this protocol to not only prepare you for any long bouts of exercise you may take on, but to also give you a mental edge with the foreknowledge that you’ve done all that you can to be in tip-top shape.

About the author Patrick Banks

Patrick is a Berlin-based dating advisor, motivational speaker, a huge fitness and vegan diet enthusiast and the main editor at Wingman Magazine, specialised in men's health. His ultimate goal is to share with men around the world his passion for self-development and to help them to become the greatest version of themselves. He believes a healthy body and successful social interactions are two main keys to happiness.

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