4 Foundational Foods for Bulking on a Budget

Don’t just mindlessly chase calories when you’re trying to grow. Pick the best foods for the job and use them! Here’s where to start.

budget bulking male arms plates food

Once upon a time, when I was smaller than I am now but looking to get as big as possible, I lived off tuna and potatoes almost exclusively for a period of years. That, plus a scoop of protein powder in my morning cereal, was my muscle-building master plan.

Did it work? Sure, to a certain degree. Today, I know that’s not the only way to split your sleeves without breaking the bank.

When I get asked by aspiring bodybuilders how to grow without dough– which is pretty much every single day– here’s what I tell them to put in their shopping carts.

  1. Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a staple food, and for good reason. You can buy it in bulk at any big supermarket– that much you know. Oatmeal can go in pretty much every meal, it’s easy to travel with, and it plays nicely with both protein and fat sources.

budget bulking oatmeal in a bowl

You can mix oats with eggs or egg whites, which is a classic bodybuilder meal. If growth is the goal, though, make sure you use whole eggs.

Personally, I also like to mix oatmeal with some casein. I’ll put it in a blender or shaker cold, or I’ll cook the oats first, and then add a scoop of casein to it. Voila, there’s a meal.

If you’re looking for one more thing to add to this muscle-building treat, make it nut butters. Like egg yolks, these are a great source of healthy fats to help support hormone production, and to push you into the calorie surplus you need to build muscle. Almond butter, peanut butter, or just plain nuts like cashews or hazelnuts– they all work.


  1. Rice cakes

People tend to associate rice cakes with wanting to lose weight, but they’re a great not-so-secret weapon that bodybuilders have been using to grow for decades. They’re a simple, clean, and easy to get source of calories that pairs well with other great growth foods.

budget bulking rice cakes

Here’s the perfect combo to put on a rice cake: more nut butter– I’m obviously a big fan– and natural fruit jams or preserves. Don’t go full cheapo on the jam, since there are some that are pure processed junk. It should contain as much fruit as possible, and just a little sugar.

You may think that almond butter or other nut butters don’t qualify as “budget” foods, but since they pretty much last forever, you can buy in bulk and use it over time. Look for deals, shop the Costco’s of the world, and stock up.

Get this combo right, and you’ll get plenty of healthy fats, nutrient-rich fruit, and just enough healthy, natural sugars to power your workouts and keep your carb stores up where they should be.

  1. Canned fish

As I said earlier, tuna is what I used to live on, and it’s a staple food I still recommend today. You can overdo it, and there is some fear of mercury levels.

The answer isn’t to avoid it, but rather to make it just one of the canned fishes you eat. You can’t go wrong with canned salmon, especially wild caught, since it’s another great source of healthy fats. Both white albacore and chunk light tuna, which is usually made from a smaller fish named skip jack (smaller means less mercury risk), are also solid options.

budget bulking tuna

That, plus some potatoes or rice, and you’ve got a meal you can grow on. Even better, you could add some salad greens in there, along with low-calorie sauces like hot sauces and mustard or soy sauce.

Here’s another idea: Cook some rice or egg noodles, then fry them lightly in a bit of coconut oil. Crack in a couple of whole eggs and stir-fry the whole thing until the eggs are cooked. Let it cool, then add the canned fish when it’s time to eat.

Remember, to grow you’ll need to eat a lot. Making good-tasting food can only make that easier.

  1. Dried fruit and nuts

Sure, these are technically two foods, but together, they make one hell of a snack. Remember: meals aren’t all you need to grow. You need snacks, too!

budget bulking dried fruit and nuts

Back in the day when I was just an up-and-coming trainer looking to add mass, I ‘d carry a fanny pack, or bum bag, full of nuts and dried fruit to snack on between meeting with clients. I ‘d probably sneak a few during the session, too.

Nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, and cashews will all give you extra calories to help you keep in a surplus. Avoid the sugary versions. Raw is best, since you know exactly what you’re taking in.

Buy them in bulk, always keep them with you, and train hard, and you’ll be primed for growth!

Article Source and Images: Bodybuilding.com and Google Images