Rent, car payment, gas, electric, cable, health insurance, car
insurance – all part of the monthly tab that eats away at your salary. For
serious lifters, we need to add in gym dues (although that may be the one bill
I don’t mind paying). The other big difference between us and the average
person is in our monthly grocery budget. Getting big and strong requires the
consumption of CARTLOADS of nutritious food, and that can get expensive. Fortunately,
I think I can show you some ways to ease the pain as you go through the
I have done some extensive research and have some pointers for you on
either: A) saving money on your food bills, or B) showing you how you can
afford more food so you can eat your way up to a lean weight at a bigger weight
class, or C) both of the above. Some are common sense but I promise all of you
will learn a thing or two from this article.
I also went to eight different grocery stores in the northeast Ohio area and compared costs of some of the staples in a good
bodybuilding/strength-building diet. Although prices vary regionally and
seasonally this gives us a good gauge of which places in your area you may be
overlooking. I think you will find some interesting patterns emerge.
My nutrient Safari
My primary goal was to compare prices on a handful of staples that should
be packed into every bodybuilder’s grocery carts. I visited five different
grocery stores all in the same weekend that are prominent in northeast Ohio. Acme and Giant Eagle tend to be higher end, with Marc’s, Aldi’s and Save-A-Lot being
popular discount grocers.
Prices at bare bones retailers like Save-A-Lot and Aldi’s tend not to
change week-to-week, making them a fairly stable comparison point. If I find an
item cheaper (through specials or store coupons) at another grocery than their
price, I will stock up. Otherwise, I get my allotted amount from the bare bones
On that same weekend, I also went to three different wholesale food
outlets (Sam’s Club, B.J.’s Wholesale and Gordon Food Service). You may be
familiar with the first two businesses as they (along with Costco) are the most
popular wholesale grocers in the US. The third, GFS (Gordon Food Service) is a
distributor that delivers meat, fresh vegetables and other staples to
restaurants but also have over 130 outlet stores open for walk-in customers
(most located in MI, IL, IN, PA, OH, KY, TN and FL). Sam’s Club (with nearly
600 locations) charges $40 for a one-year basic membership. BJ’s Wholesale has
a basic annual membership for $45. Costco charges $100. GFS does not require
buyers to have a membership.
According to Stephanie Nelson (author of "The Coupon Mom’s Guide to
Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half"), "With such voluminous inventories,
wholesalers are able to offer lower prices – their merchandise markup ranges
from about 8 to 13 percent, compared to the 50% markup at traditional
retailers." With bodybuilders eating large quantities of the same staples,
this seems like a perfect match.
Let’s look at first at an explanation of exactly what we should have on
our grocery list and then we can follow it up with some price comparison...
Do I think eggs are a good part of a strength athlete’s diet? Well my
extensive collection of spatulas has nothing to do with a fascination with
culinary history. I make eggs at least twice a day. Not only are they great for
the lifter on a tight budget, but they can be consumed in quantity without
making any concessions in protein quality. Keep a dozen hardboiled eggs in the
fridge for a great ready-to-travel snack. Toss three in a ziplock bag and you
have eighteen grams of protein that can be eaten while driving. Dice a few into
a salad along with some grilled steak or chicken breast and you have a man’s
salad good for keto dieters or just a high protein/low carb meal; particularly handy
for those that have a carb cut-off time later in the day. Steak and eggs before
bed is my favorite anti-catabolic meal option, giving me hours of nocturnal
If you look into the history of the cholesterol scare focused on eggs
you will find that it was a highly politically-driven one, with evidence
showing that egg consumption may, in fact, improve heart health. From a nutritionist
standpoint, eggs are a high quality protein source, containing fifteen amino
acids (including significant amounts of leucine and arginine), in a ratio so
ideal that it is often used as a comparison to judge protein quality. The yolk
is rich in lecithin which assists in the digestion of fat and the vitamins
biotin (B7) and riboflavin (B2). Eggs are also rich in
antioxidants (glutathione, lutein and zeaxanthin) and vitamins A and D, folate,
selenium and zinc.
For those on a weight gain program, eggs are a cheap source of calories
and fast-cooked protein. For those that are on a fatloss program, eggs are
great in that they fill you up with no carbs and you can reduce some of the
yolks to drop the calorie count. Leave some in (at least one in four) since the
quality of the protein is reduced with just whites.
For comparison sake we are going to stick with all large-sized, grade-A
eggs. Most eggs sold fall into the large category, with medium and extra-large
making up a small percent of egg sales. Eggs are ranked by the USDA based on
freshness and other aspects of quality and appearance (grade AA being the best,
then A, and finally B), but the difference between AA and A is not significant
(and B is rarely found in a store). Each large egg gives us six grams of
protein, trace amounts of carbs, and five grams of fat (for a 78 calorie total).
Eggs from free-range chickens are vastly superior in both taste and
nutrient content. Also known as "omega eggs," the free-range chickens that are
not fed grains benefit by having a more ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty
acids. Factory chickens fed grains tend to have a very uneven ratio (roughly
19.4 to 1), which does not provide us with nearly enough omega-3 fats (the
essential fatty acid lacking in most modern diets). Free-range chickens raised
eating grass, insects, grubs and worms have yolks with a ratio close to (1:1). Some
manufacturers also feed the chickens extra vitamin-E and flaxseeds to further
improve their nutrient quality. The difference between the typical egg and
free-range omega eggs is evidenced both in the superior taste of the free-range
eggs and the bright orange yolk (a consequence of the beta-carotene content
from plant consumption).
It can often be difficult to determine exactly how high in quality your
healthy eggs actually are. For instance, Land-o-Lakes (which also sells eggs
under the Eggland’s Best label) has a variety of specialty eggs. On the label
of their All-Natural eggs, Land-o-Lakes defines all-natural as "Eggs laid by
hens fed a vegetarian, whole-grain diet rich in corn and soy protein." Although
their diets are enriched with a special "premium vegetarian diet" this
distinction may have as much to do with the chickens living in an antibiotic
and pesticide-free environment. Most do have higher levels of omega-three fats
and lower saturated fat but may not be quite as good as grass-fed chickens not
fed corn grains. Since we are limiting corn (and high-fructose corn syrups)
from our diets, it is wise to avoid those same "nutrients" further down the
If finances allow, go all free-range. If you are limited by the
expense, then enjoy the quality protein available from factory eggs but make
sure you are getting some extra EFAs supplemented into your diet via both
macadamia nut oil and GRAM amounts of fish oil capsules or a (properly blended)
oil in liquid or capsule form such as BI’s EFA Gold.
Liquid egg whites are also a great option, if for no other reason than
that they can be consumed in mass without cracking eggs. I like to add a half
cup to a protein shake (for 13 extra grams of protein) because it adds a creamy
milkshake-like texture to the shake. In his "Mark Dugdale is Numero 202" DVD,
pro bodybuilder Mark Dugdale shows his daily habit of drinking two pint-sized
cartons of pasteurized liquid egg whites as a fast mid-day protein meal
(supplying 52 grams of protein each) while working at his desk. While it might
seem a bit slimy going down, I find it to be an effective strategy, perfect for
the busy office worker or a between-client snack for personal trainers.
The phrase "rotten eggs" seems to have made many people over-estimate
the delicate nature of eggs. Proteins and fats have a tendency to go bad easily
but I was surprised in my research to learn that eggs will store in the fridge
for up to four or five weeks with no loss in quality and hardboiled eggs can be
stored for up to a week. It is recommended to keep them deep in the fridge in
their original carton. The egg-shaped indented holder on the fridge door just exposes
your eggs to temperature changes every time you open the door. The carton the
eggs come in also protects them from picking up the scents of stronger smelling
foods in the fridge.
Here is the egg price comparison breakdown:
Cost per dozen
Marc’s (Hillingdale brand)
Sam’s Club (Sauder’s)
7 ½ dozen (90 count)
BJ’s Wholesale (Hillindale)
5 dozen (60 count)
Gordon Food Service
2 ½ dozen (30 count)
A dozen large eggs provide 852 calories, 72 grams of protein, 0 grams
of carbs and 60 grams of fat. Twenty grams of protein is roughly the
equivalent of three and one-third large eggs.
Note that prices here vary widely, with over a 75% increase from the
cheapest price we found. I now either purchase the Aldi’s brand when near their
store or get two big flats from GFS for the convenience of storage.
Thirty-count is good, ninety would take a bit too long for most to get through
and hog up too much fridge space. Paying over a dollar a dozen for regular eggs
does not seem wise.
EGGS (large) free-range omega-rich
Cost per dozen
Marc’s (Eggland’s Best)
Sam’s Club (Sauders Cage-free)
Sam’s Club (Eggland’s Best)
BJ’s Wholesale (Land-o-Lakes All-Natural)
While those with tight budgets should stick to regular eggs, the higher
omega-3 fatty acids make range-free omega eggs a good nutritional upgrade. That
said, I cannot imagine any eggs good enough to be worthy of paying over $3.00 a
dozen. If things fall in that range, and you might be better served by mixing a
couple omega eggs with a cup of liquid egg whites and add in healthy fats on
LIQUID EGG WHITES
Cost per 16 oz.
Acme (Food Club)
Save-A-Lot (Papetti Foods Quick Whites)
Sam’s Club (Members Mark)
Four 16 ounce cartons
BJ’s Wholesale (Crystal Farm’s All Whites)
Four 16 ounce cartons
Gordon Food Service
GFS Liquid Egg Scrambled Mix with Milk *
2 pounds (32 ounces)
Sixteen ounces of liquid egg white provides 208
calories, 48 grams of protein and minimal carbs or fat. Six and two-thirds
ounces of liquid egg whites yields roughly 20 grams of protein.
* Not a liquid egg white product since it also contains egg yolk,
whey, skim milk and other additives.
Best price by far is the GFS five pounder but, since they are providing
restaurant-sized quantities, that size might be too much egg for most
single-lifter households, but bodybuilders are far from typical. I was
surprised to see that Save-A-Lot carried egg whites at all, since most of their
bare-bones fare is not geared towards healthy eating (sadly, among those that
are ultra-thrifty and/or economically-disadvantaged, health is not considered
the top priority). I am also in the practice of making a beef and spinach
quiche (sometimes with turkey bacon mixed in) once a week for convenient
multiple meals on the go and make use of the GFS Liquid Egg Scrambled Mix with
Milk since one carton is perfect for a lasagna-dish sized quiche. If my diet is
tighter, I make this with egg whites and omega eggs instead as a half-cup (4
ounce) serving of the GFS mix has 11 grams of protein, 3 grams of carb and 8
grams of fat. If calories and fat restriction is not a concern, this is a
convenient choice, while GFS’s 5-pound Liquid Egg White product would be the
more economical option.
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are a standard in almost every
bodybuilder’s diet. They are a low fat protein source that is a part of any
"clean eating" program. Chicken can be one of the most difficult grocery
quality choices to make. A common practice is to load chicken breasts with
sodium so that they osmotically pull in water and weigh more. You can either do
research about the practices of your particular supplier or just ignore it and
focus on the grams of protein supplied by our feathered friends. They died for
Lower in quality are chicken breast tenders or other "mixed" chicken
products. These contain higher levels of fat since they are a composite of
breast, rib meat and light and dark meats. As long as it is not breaded, it is
acceptable but look at the macronutrient ratios.
Cost per pound
3 pound bag
Acme (Green Peak)
3 pound bag
2 ½ pound bag
Save-A-Lot (Shaner Chicken Breast Tenders)
2 ½ pound bag
3 pound bag
6 pound bag
BJ’s Wholesale (Perdue)
12 boneless breasts (~6 ½ lb)
BJ’s Wholesale (Tyson)
Gordon Food Service
Gordon Food Service
Gordon Food Service (cooked and diced)
Sixteen ounces (1lb) of chicken breast provides 129.8 grams of protein, no carbs and 12.8 grams of fat. They are 82% protein and 18% fat.
Large three to ten-pound frozen bags of chicken breasts are usually at
least 10% less than fresh chicken. Since we will usually be cooking in bulk,
this works well for our needs. With this in mind, the BJ’s Wholesale ten-pound
bag of Tyson chicken was a nice choice but was beaten out by the Aldi’s
three-pounder. Although relatively expensive in comparison, the GFS 3-pound bag
is a personal favorite because it comes pre-cooked and diced. The convenience
of this product in any chicken dish is hard to beat but you pay for it. It can
form the foundation of a fast stir-fry (diced chicken, veggies, seasonings and
some chicken broth over rice) and can boost the protein content of any
Almost 35% of turkey consumption in the US takes place during the holidays
but averaging 99¢ per pound, turkey is a great year-round protein bargain. According
to a representative from the National Turkey Federation, "The Edible Portion
(EP), for a whole bird, is normally calculated at 47 percent of As Purchased
(AP) weight," which still makes it an amazing deal. Larger turkeys have more
meat in relation to the bone/cartilage foundation. The average turkey is 70%
white meat and 30% dark meat (the white meat is far lower in fat). I recommend
that you consider cooking a turkey twice a month year-round as a really
affordable, high-quality source of protein.
In addition to providing a great source of protein, beef gives us a source
of creatine, glutamine, zinc, Vitamin B-12 and saturated fat (crucial in the
production of testosterone). Beef is extremely well-suited for dieting as it
contains CCK (cholecystokinin) a hormone that has an effect on hunger regulation.
Lean cuts of beef are often less expensive because the expensive steaks contain
marbled fat which makes for a very moist, juicy steak. If you frequent one food
outlet, it’s a good idea to get to know the butcher. They can let you know
When it comes to ground beef, ideally we want lean (90% or less) but
younger lifters trying to gain mass and dealing with a tighter budget can save
significantly by going for the less-lean cuts, blotting with paper towels
(which reduces a lot of the fat content), and rinsing the meat in a strainer.
Cost per pound
Sam’s Club(3 ½–4lb package)
Cost per pound
Sam’s Club (4-5lb package)
Gordon Food Service (16-5oz. cuts)
Gordon Food Service (10-8oz cuts)
Lean Ground Sirloin (90% or above)
Cost per pound
Save-A-Lot *93% lean
Sam’s Club (5 ½ to 6 ½ lb containers)
BJ’s Wholesale (7 ½ lb container)
Prices vary widely with Giant Eagle being dramatically more expensive
(up to double the cost of other stores). Since this may be the most expensive
segment of your protein intake, it is worth shopping around for price. Again,
the wholesale outlets did well but Aldi’s offered nearly as good or better of a
price without a membership fee or need to buy in bulk. If you have
adequate freezer space, get an idea of a good baseline price for beef and, when
there is a sale stock up. You can also go to a butcher or farmer and purchase
an entire cow (or a half) for a huge savings, although you will end up with a
variety of cuts, including the less lean varieties.
Although fish is often more expensive than other forms of protein, it should be a regular part of your diet (at the very least making up two servings
a week of fresh fish) for its well-documented health benefits. The price and
availability of fresh fish fluctuates wildly. Not only am I a big fan of wild
salmon (it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA and tastes great), but I also
include orange roughy, tilapia or whatever looks fresh and affordable that day.
With the combo of protein and healthy fats, low carbs and its light but filling
nature, fish is particularly useful when in a fatloss mode. For those of you
that want to add to your longevity, the added health benefits of fish are also
a consideration. Since fresh fish was difficult to get a comparison, here are
some prices on canned tuna, which is a great long-term storage solution:
Tuna – White Albacore
Cost per pound
Giant Eagle (Bumblebee) 12 oz. can $3.65
Giant Eagle (Chicken of the Sea) 12 oz. can $3.99
Marc’s (Starkist) 12 oz. can $2.98
Acme (Chicken of the Sea) 12 oz. can $3.99
Acme (Starkist) 12 oz. can $4.19
Save-A-Lot (Starkist) 5 oz $1.49
Aldi’s (SeaNet) 5 oz. $0.99
Sam’s Club (Starkist) 5oz./8 cans $8.98
Sam’s Club (Member’s Mark) 5oz./8 cans $9.87
BJ’s Wholesale (Bumblebee) 7oz./6 cans $8.99
Tuna – Chunk Light
Cost per pound
Giant Eagle (Bumblebee) 12 oz. can $2.59
Giant Eagle (Starkist) 12 oz. can $3.45
Marc’s (Starkist) 12 oz. can $1.98
Acme (Food Club) 12 oz. can $2.49
Acme (Bumblebee) 12 oz. can $2.59
Save-A-Lot (Portside) 12 oz. can $0.59
Aldi’s (SeaNet) 12 oz. can $0.49
Sam’s Club (Starkist) 5oz./10 cans $6.88
BJ’s Wholesale (Bumblebee) 5oz./12 cans $7.99
Cost per pound based on can size; does not factor in liquid content
in the can.
On the weekend I went price comparing, fish was the most difficult to
find a standardized model to look at, with no one type of fish being carried in
enough stores to allow comparison. I saw orange roughy ranging from $8.99 (GFS)
to $13.99 a pound (Giant Eagle), although I have seen better price and quality
on other visits. Tilapia varied from $3.49 (Save-A-Lot) to $4.99 a pound
(Acme). With fish, I recommend that you first determine what types you like. Sea
bass, ocean catfish, halibut, snapper, trout, cod, flounder, haddock, sole,
walleye (and most freshwater fish) tend to have a more delicate flavor. Things
like salmon, marlin and swordfish and tuna have a stronger flavor. Many of
these (salmon, tuna, shark, mackerel) are also the species that are highest in
omega-3s, making it a highly individual choice.
With canned tuna, content, flavor and consistency also varies widely
from brand to brand so I recommend that you first try a can or two of the less
expensive brands and, should it meet your expectations, wait for a good price
on it and stock up. In the examples listed above, the best price is by far from
the bare-bones bargain store and their prices tend to stay consistent, so you
probably need not wait for a sale. Find something you like and keep stacks of
canned tuna in your pantry.
The standards here are oatmeal and rice (with sweet potatoes making an
appearance). The function of these items is obvious – simple energy to assist
in recuperation and growth. You will need to experiment to find out the correct
amounts of carbs to do the job without spilling over into fat gain, but the
standard choices of rice and oats have stood the bodybuilding test of time
based on convenience.
Gordon Food Service (Par Excellence Brown 25lb $16.79)
Long Grain White Rice
Cost per pound
Save-A-Lot (Rapid Rice on the Side 28oz $2.49)
Aldi’s (Rice Bowl 3lb $1.49)
Sam’s Club (Riceland Long Grain 25lb $8.99)
Sam’s Club (Minute Rice 72oz $4.78)
Your wallet finally gets a break when it comes to carbohydrate-based
foods. But just because they are inexpensive does not mean you should not price
compare. Just a simple glance at the oatmeal price comparison shows that a
reckless cart selection may cost you two and a half times as much per canister.
The variance of both white and brown rice is as broad. In both cases, I
recommend that you buy large bulk quantities and store them in large air-tight
bins, as they store well and will not spoil. I have bought a few extra
measuring cups that I just leave in the bins as scoops in order to simplify my food
MONEY SAVING POINTERS
Generic options make sense with many items. Old-fashioned oatmeal is
identical, regardless if it is made by a Quaker in a powdered wig and Pilgrim
hat or not. It makes no sense to pay double the cost for a popular or sharply
Go With a List. Even if you were Bill Gates wealthy, you should (as a bodybuilder) go
to the store with a shopping list and a pre-determined meal plan. This will
ensure that you return with the nutrient-rich, muscle-building foods you need,
not a cartload of delicious, processed crap. This article will help you with
Use Coupons. Coupons are not just for grannies. If you get the
Sunday paper, there is a wealth of coupons available. According to a 2008 study
by the Scarborough Research, 53% of households use newspapers as their primary
source of coupons. The internet is also a great source.
Make use of an online coupon directory
Couponmom.com is a great resource which collects all the deals
from circulars in your area. Coupon.com, coolsavings.com and couponsurfer.com
are all sites in which you can specify which items you are interested in and
print out coupons for just those items. It is also smart to check out the
grocery stores website since most have printable coupons there. Coupons can
account for a forty to eighty dollar savings minimal on the average
musclehead grocery bill. Move over Grandma, we are eatin’ for mass here.
Some stores offer double-coupon days (often with limits like " up to 50¢" )
which adds up fast and is worth arranging your purchases for those events. Some
stores will even accept expired coupons or coupons from their competitors. Find
out your local stores’ policies. "Rain checks" are also a great tool. By
asking, you can usually get a handwritten form coupon to get a sales item that
might currently be out-of-stock.
In her book, Stephanie Nelson shares a story about teaching a local TV
reporter the value of coupons for an on-air segment. "The real stunner for her
was my final bill. The items I’d purchased rang up to $96, but with all the
coupons I used, I walked out with my wallet just $17 lighter." If you have ever
complained that you ›just don’t have the money to eat for bodybuilding’ maybe
you just aren’t shopping smart enough?
Since you know the foods that make up your diet and
can use the prices found here as a gauge to determine exactly what constitutes
a good deal, take advantage of any specials you find on non-perishable goods.
Stores often offer "loss leaders." These are items that are sold at a loss,
knowing that it will lead consumers to the store, where they will probably buy
more and hopefully become regular buyers of their full-priced fare. Stockpiling
these items can pay off. For instance, if you find white albacore tuna for less
than a dollar a can, fill your cart with as much as you can afford. It will
last you through the Apocalypse and you will need every bit of muscle mass in
the violent last days of civilization.
A great investment is a large freezer that you can put in the garage or
basement to stockpile on deals on meats, like ground sirloin, chicken breast or
top round. Dividing a five-pound block of ground meat into half-pound or
one-pound packets saves you from having to chip away at a huge hunk of frozen
meat for one or two servings.
Use Modernized Tech. If your cell-phone, iPad or PDA has a basic
"notes" section, take the time to type in your basic grocery list plus your
reference price. This way, when you come across a special, you can quickly
check to see if it is, in fact, a good deal or a great one.
There you go. Grocery shopping is something we all have to do, and even
more so if you are a bodybuilder. If you follow the guidelines of this article,
it doesn’t have to clear out your wallet. A modest amount of prep and a
strategy for stocking your fridge, freezer and pantry can cut down your monthly
grocery budget considerably.
Barfield, Rhonda.Feed Your Family for $12.00 a Day. Kensington
Cambridge Educational.Surviving at the Checkout. (VHS) 1990.
Clark, Kris.Lost and Found in the Grocery Store. (DVD) Healthy
Dugdale, Mark.Mark Dugdale is Numero 202 (DVD) 3G Enterprises,
Kahn, Barbara & Leigh McAlister.Grocery Evolution.
Leamy, Elisabeth.Save Big. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010.
Learning Seed.Value Shopping: Stretch Your Grocery Dollar.
Nelson, Stephanie. The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery
Bills in Half. Avery Publ., 2009.
Ostyn, Mary.Family feasts for $75 a Week. Oxmoor House, 2009.
Staten, Vince.Can You Trust a Tomato in January? Simon & Shuster, 1993.