If you want to pack serious muscle onto your bones, you need to eat need massive amounts of good food. But good food costs serious money, right?
I hear this all the time from my friends, and even here on the forums: "I know I should eat right, but I'm a poor college student, and I just can't afford it." Well, let me just say that's bullshit. I happen to be a poor college student, and I'm on a pretty tight budget, too, but I believe I've solved the difficult diet equation that many of us have to grapple with:
x - muscle building food = < 0
(x = money)
(That, by the way, is the only math appearing in this article. I promise. Don't run away.)
Below is a list of the foods we need, copied in part from my friend Dr. John Berardi's Lean Eating:
Lean meat/poultry (90% lean meat, chicken, turkey, etc.)
Dairy (cottage cheese, low-fat string cheese)
Healthy fats (fish oil, mixed nuts, olive oil, flax seeds, Flameout)
Vegetables (spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce, greens supplement)
Fibrous fruits (apples, grapes, pears, blueberries, other berries)
Oatmeal/other whole grains
Protein powders (casein/whey blends, whey)
That's a pretty basic list, and keep in mind I didn't cover all the supplements you might be taking (such as Surge or Power Drive). So how do we get everything on that list into our refrigerators and cupboards, and ultimately into our bellies, without breaking the bank?
1. Clip coupons from the Sunday paper
Yeah, I agree, this sounds pretty lame, but your mom has the right idea when it comes to stretching the grocery money. I regularly find coupons that save me twenty dollars or more at the supermarket. Look at it this way: if you plunk down a two buck investment to buy a Sunday newspaper at the newsstand, you'll find you can realize ten- or even twenty-fold profits by using the coupons buried within the folds of the paper. Of course, if you live at home and your parents have the Sunday paper delivered, your investment is free, but you have to be quicker than your mom.
2. Buy Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
Frozen fruits and vegetables are usually around half the price of what they would be if they were fresh. Frozen fruit is especially good in super protein smoothies. My favorite is 2 scoops Strawberry Low-Carb Metabolic Drive, 1/2 cup mixed frozen berries and 1 serving of berry Greens Plus, all frappe'd together in the blender. A big mixed bag of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries goes for about two dollars, and you can sometimes get two bags for three bucks.
Berry, berry good
The best tasting frozen vegetables are spinach, green beans, and broccoli. Frozen fruits and vegetables are almost always fresher than those found in the produce section because they're flash frozen the day they were harvested.
One word of caution: avoid like the Bosu Ball any frozen vegetables that steam right in the bag in the microwave. Sure, it's quick and convenient, but it's also a great way to get a full days supply of xenoestrogens in every serving. Read Naked Truth: Xenoestrogens then ask yourself whether you ever want to eat nuked-in-the-bag veggies again. I don't.
Bad, unless you're into xenoestrogens
3. Buy discounted meat
Many grocery stores heavily discount meat by 30 to 70% as it approaches its expiration date. Buy a few pounds and throw it in the freezer, taking it out as needed. The only downside is that sometimes you get one of those irresistible spur-of-the-moment meat cravings that just won't wait for you to defrost a pound of ground round. I usually deal with this problem by getting three or four 4-packs of 90% lean ground beef, and keeping one thawed for that day's protein fix. The Foreman Grill is, of course, always standing by.
Indispensable item for satisfying those sudden urges for hot grilled flesh.
It's a bit of a pain in the ass, but a good idea anyway, to take the meat out of its styrofoam package and put it into ziplock freezer bags. Freezer burn is not something you want in your life.
4. Buy the store brands
Most store brand products are just as good as their brand name counterparts, and they'll always be cheaper. This applies to almost all food purchases, such as eggs, fresh and frozen bagged vegetables, cottage cheese, milk, and nuts. You can save even more money with store brands because stores often put their bands on sale, and sometimes even offer two-for-one specials. I'm always buying two-packs of green beans for three bucks or so.
5. Join the store's customer card program
Two of the three cards in my wallet that get the most use are grocery store membership cards. Many times stores will hold "members only" sales, which are only available for holders of the customer cards. There's no excuse for not having a card because it's free and you can sign up in under five minutes. And some stores' cards not only save you money, they give you money, usually in the form of a gift certificate once you've reached a certain spending level.
6. Shop at Wal-Mart and Target
I know these two stores aren't exactly famous for the high quality of their food, but when it comes to things like eggs, Splenda, non-stick cooking spray, and other little things, you can save 35% or more. It's also worth knowing that Wal-Mart has started carrying more organic, farm-fresh eggs, and other products, and still they're dirt cheap.
7. Shop at organic foods stores
"Organic food" is becoming as popular as the Atkins Diet in the media, and stores like Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's, and Wild Oats have enjoyed a surge in popularity as well. These stores have great organic products at great prices, so if you have one of these stores near you, make it your first stop when shopping for food.
A light snack, courtesy of Trader Joe's
8. Shop for food every three days
If you have the time, this is your best option for saving money. Why? Because you don't have to re-buy food that has gone bad from sitting around unused in your refrigerator for a week and a half. Yes, going grocery shopping twice a week is a bit of a pain in the butt, but the food in my fridge is always fresh, so it's worth it.
9. Shop at the wholesale stores
Another great way to save money is to buy in bulk. Bulk eggs, spinach, dried fruit, frozen vegetables, dried or frozen anything,really. If you have a lot of cupboard and freezer space, then this option has your name written all over it. Just compare prices first, and be sure you're actually getting a discount. Sometimes all you're doing is paying three or four times as much to get three or four times as much. Just compare volumes and prices, and buy whatever ends up cheaper (okay, so I lied. There was a little more math in this article. Sue me).
10. Order your supplements in big shipments
I always purchase my supplements in one huge order every few months. I do this not only to get volume discounts, but also because some places, like the online store here at T-Nation, offer free shipping for orders over a certain amount.
Just dodging the shipping cost can save you up to 50 bucks per order. The online store has special offers as well, like the recent deal for Creatine Monohydrate. Of course, these offers tend to be on a "you snooze, you lose" basis, so make sure to jump on these, and stock up while you have the chance!
The other benefit of this method is that it reduces the risk of getting ready to attempt a new personal deadlift record, only to find you're fresh out of Spike Shooters. This should never have to happen.
So what are you waiting for? Go shopping!
There you have it, my ten secrets for getting good grub on the cheap. If you faithfully follow these methods, you may find your wallet fatter, your body happier, and your muscles growing better than ever before. If you have any tips of your own, be sure to share them in the article discussion section.