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How To Build Muscle For $8/Day (Healthy Meal Prep On A Budget)

by Jeremy Ethier - October 31, 2020

There’s a common misconception out there that eating healthy, and tasty is expensive. Today, I’m going to share the truth. Let me show you exactly how you can build an effective and healthy muscle-building meal plan on a budget. Specifically, for just over $8.00/day ($8.39).

So, the first thing we need to do to build a budget healthy meal plan is to choose the right food sources. We want to choose nutritious protein, fats, and carbs sources that will serve two purposes. One, be the best options for us to use to build muscle with. And two, are also the most budget-friendly options to hit our calorie and macronutrient targets with.

I've done a thorough analysis of multiple sources. And here’s a pretty accurate list of the best options for each category.

Before that... Of course, by now, you should know that you need to take care of both nutrition and training to see the best results. That's why I've designed every BWS program to be an all-in-one, science-based process that’ll get you to your dream physique FAST. And best of all? It's all rooted in science. For more information:

Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:

The Best Budget-Friendly Healthy Food Sources For Your Meal Plan

Best Budget-Friendly Macronutrients Sources 

Some excellent options that maximize the amount of protein you get per dollar are foods like:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Canned tuna
  • Chicken breast
  • Lean ground turkey

But also don’t discount the cost-effectiveness of whey protein powder. Admittedly, it may seem expensive when you look at it from a cost per tub perspective. But truth is, most whey protein powders actually come out to be just as cost-effective as chicken breast or canned tuna. Why? Well, that's because it contains minimal fat and carbs. Meaning that the amount of actual protein it delivers per dollar is comparable to chicken breast and tuna. And the fact that it is such a high quality and convenient source of protein that can be used in a variety of ways (smoothies, oatmeal, etc.), makes it a great budget-friendly option.

As for carbs, the best options here are:

  • Oats
  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Pinto beans
  • Potatoes

For fats, the best bang for your buck would be olive oil and peanut butter.

As for vegetables to help with your vitamin and mineral intake, it would be:

  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Cabbage
  • Romaine lettuce

Best macronutrient sources for healthy meal prep on a budget
And lastly, for cost-effective condiments and seasoning, I’d highly recommend investing in salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, soy sauce, and salsa. These are staples that can easily add a ton of flavor and variety into whatever dish you choose to make. And the best thing? They do all that for a very minimal cost.

Overall these lists will provide you with the most budget-friendly yet healthy food sources to create your meal plan with.

Make Sure You Purchase Them At Budget-Friendly Stores, Too

However, to take this one step further, you’ll want to then purchase these foods at the most budget-friendly grocery stores. Bank of America recently conducted a study on this. The study compared the price of a pre-determined grocery list at various supermarkets.

What did it find? Turns out the difference in price from the most cost-friendly option, Walmart, to the priciest option Whole Foods, was almost about 30%! So sticking to cost-friendly stores below (e.g. Aldi) would be wise. Doing so will help to minimize additional costs. I’ll be using the Walmart prices for this meal plan.
Where to shop for a healthy meal prep while on budget
So, knowing that, let’s put this into practice. And dive into our healthy muscle-building budget meal plan. The meal plan will consist of 4 main meals. Each meal will contain at least 20g of protein within each meal. This helps to keep our muscle protein synthesis levels elevated throughout the day. We’re going to aim for a daily total of roughly 2,700 calories and 160g of protein. But, after we run through it, I’ll provide you with some guidance on how to implement the plan. And how you can customize it to best suit your body.

What To Eat On Healthy Meal Prep While Sticking To A Budget

Meal #1: Breakfast Smoothie ($1.70)

To start off, we’re going to make a smoothie that takes just 5 minutes to whip together. Here, we’ll use 1/3 a cup of oatmeal, 1 frozen banana, 2 cups of 2% milk, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, a scoop of whey protein. Blend it all together with a handful of ice.

The total of this comes up to just $1.70. And yet, provides a great return in terms of convenience, calories, protein, and nutrients.

Breakfast Smoothie:

  • 2 tbsp (30g) Peanut Butter: $0.16
  • 2 cups (500mL) 2% Milk: $0.30
  • 1 banana: $0.16
  • 1/3 cup (30g) Oats: $0.08
  • 1 scoop (35g) Whey Protein: $1.00

Nutritional information:
766 calories, 55g protein, 78g carbs, 29g fat
Breakfast smoothie on a budget

Meal #2: Egg Stir Fry ($1.51)

Meal 2 is going to be an egg stir fry. Here, we’re going to need 3 whole eggs, ½ a cup of uncooked brown rice with a chicken stock cube thrown in there for some additional flavor, ½ a cup of diced carrots, ½ a cup of diced celery, ½ a cup of diced cabbage, and some soy sauce and garlic powder to taste. This meal will come up to a total of $1.51.

First, give your rice a good rinse. And throw it in a pot or rice cooker. Use the finger hack to cook the rice by lining up the water with the first line of your index finger. This Asian hack guarantees perfect rice consistency. Then, throw in your chicken stock cube and let cook. Once done, mix it up and let cool. Next, scramble your eggs in a pan and set that aside. Once that’s done, throw your veggies in a pan with some garlic until the veggies are cooked through. Add in your rice and soy sauce. Give it a nice mix for a few minutes. Last but not least, take it off the heat, and add in your scrambled eggs. Give it a taste and add whatever additional seasoning or sauce as needed.

Egg stir fry:

  • 3 whole eggs: $0.42
  • ½ cup (~100g) uncooked brown rice: $0.45
  • ½ (~45g) cup carrots: $0.12
  • 1 chicken stock cube: $0.06
  • ½ (~45g) cup celery: $0.20
  • ½ (~45g) cup cabbage: $0.14
  • 3-4 tbsp soy sauce: $0.08
  • 2 tsp garlic powder: $0.04

Nutritional information:
602 calories, 27g protein, 81g carbs, 18g fat
Egg stir fry meal prep on a budget

Meal #3 Fajita Bowl ($2.84)

Meal 3 is going to be a fajita bowl.  Here we’re going to need again need ½ a cup of uncooked brown rice with a chicken stock cube, 4 ounces (~110 grams) of uncooked chicken breast, 1 green pepper, 1 sweet onion, 1 cup of canned pinto beans, ½ a cup of salsa, and some paprika and salt. This meal comes up to a total of $2.84.
Alright time to get cooking.

We’re going to use the exact same rice cooking process as the previous meal. And don’t worry, after I go through all the meals I’ll show you how to properly cook your rice in bulk. As your rice is cooking, throw your chicken, green peppers, and onions in a pan and season with paprika and some salt. After a little bit, throw in your canned pinto beans and mix it all up. You’re ready for plating. Add the mix on top or beside your cooked rice, and top with salsa for some additional flavor.

And there you have it. About a third of the price of a Chipotle bowl ($8-10) yet just as tasty and packed with a ton of protein and nutrients.

Fajita Bowl:

  • ½ cup (~100g) uncooked brown rice: $0.45
  • 1 chicken stock cube: $0.06
  • 1 green pepper: $0.48
  • 4oz (~110g) raw diced chicken breast: $1.10
  • 1 diced sweet onion: $0.28
  • 1 cup (~230g) canned pinto beans: $0.30
  • ¼ cup (~100g) salsa: $0.11
  • Seasoning: $0.06

Nutritional information:
782 calories, 48g protein, 130g carbs, 8g fat
Fajita bowl ingredients

Meal #4 Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Dish ($2.34)

The final healthy meal of your prep on a budget is going to be some ground turkey with a side of roasted sweet potato and green beans. Here we’re going to need about 4.5 ounces of raw ground turkey, about 8 ounces of chopped sweet potato, a handful of green beans, a tablespoon of olive oil, and a mix of different seasoning. This all comes up to a total of $2.34.

To start, place your chopped sweet potato on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle over a tablespoon of olive oil. And then give it a nice mix. Roast for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. As that’s going, cook up your ground turkey on a pan with some salt, pepper, garlic, and paprika. In a pot or pan, steam your green beans. You can do so by adding a bit of water, covering it, and letting it steam until cooked to your liking. You can top this with salt or whatever seasoning as needed.

And there you have it. If you’ve got some change to spare, feel free to top this meal with some cinnamon or ketchup for some extra flavor. But honestly? This alone tastes great without breaking the bank.

Ground turkey sweet potato dish:

  • 5 ounces (~125g) raw ground turkey (93/7): $0.76
  • 10oz (280g) raw diced sweet potato: $0.73
  • 1 cup (~150g) fresh green beans: $0.69
  • 1 tbsp (15mL) olive oil: $0.06
  • Seasoning: $0.10

Nutritional information:
560 calories, 30g protein, 58g carbs, 24g fat
Ground turkey sweet potato dish
Of course, you're not going to want to eat the same meals every single day - no matter how hard you wish to transform your body. Don't worry. Our 3-on-1 coaching program can help. You are going to have a dietitian who'll customize your meals (varied and delicious!) to suit your training goals. Plus, your coach and I will also be available to guide you every step of the way. If that sounds good to you, then:

Click the button below to find out more about the 3-on-1 coaching program:

So now that we’ve gone through the meal plan, let’s go over some important information as to how to actually implement it.

How To Healthy Meal Prep On A Budget

First, let’s cover how to prep it. What I’d recommend is meal prepping the 3 meals but not the smoothie. And instead, just making that fresh. That's because it takes just 5 minutes to do and will taste a lot better. I’d also recommend prepping these meals to be good for 3 days. If you prep for the whole week, some of the components will start to get a little off (taste- and look-wise) by the end of the week.

You can alternatively cook a week or even two week’s worth of meals in advance and freeze it. Then, take it out as needed if you’re short on time. But cooking it fresh in small batches instead is generally what’ll taste best. So, as for how to do this it’s very simple. You just cook enough of each ingredient I’ve gone through to last for 3 days worth of meals. So for example, the rice. In our meal plan, we use it in two of our meals and use ½ a cup uncooked each time. So when we cook it in batch, we multiply this amount by 3. And we’d find that we want to cook a total of 3 cups to have enough rice to cover these meals for 3 days.

Then repeat this with the rest of the ingredients. Multiply heir amounts by 3 to see how much you’ll need to cover for 3 days' worth.

And use this strategy to guide your grocery shopping as well. I’d personally recommend that for the perishable foods like your protein sources and veggies, shop once a week for just enough to cover a week’s worth of meals to avoid minimizing any waste and additional costs.

Quick Food Swaps

Next, let’s cover how to add some variety to it. You know, just so you’re not sick of eating the same meals every single day. Doing this is actually quite simple. It can be done by just swapping out some of your protein, carb, or fat sources in your healthy meal prep for an equivalent amount of another budget friendly food source instead.

For your convenience, I’ve created a list of swaps for each of the main protein, carbs, and fats sources within each meal. These swaps will provide a similar amount of calories and nutrients as the original. But can help add some variety whenever you need it.

Meal #1 Swap: Breakfast Smoothie 

PROTEIN SOURCE: 1 scoop (35g) Whey Protein

  • Switch up the flavour! (e.g. vanilla instead of chocolate)
  • Switch to a vegan protein powder

FATS SOURCE: 2 tbsp (30g) Peanut Butter

  • 5 tbsp (20g) coconut oil
  • ½ medium avocado
  • ~3tbsp (30g) flax seed

CARBS SOURCE: 1/3 cup (30g) Oats

  • 3/4 oz (20g) granola
  • 1 banana
  • 2 dates

Note: Swap the dairy milk in the smoothie with 2 cups Soy milk for a dairy-free alternative

Meal #2 Swap: Egg Stir Fry 

PROTEIN + FATS SOURCE: 3 whole eggs

  • 4 ounces (~110g) raw ground turkey (93/7)
  • 4 ounces (~110g) raw ground beef (90/10)
  • 1 can (~110g) canned salmon

CARBS SOURCE: ½ cup (~100g) uncooked brown rice

  • ½ cup (~100g) uncooked quinoa
  • 5 ounces (~100g) uncooked pasta
  • 14 ounces (~400g) raw sweet potato 

Meal #3 Swop: Fajita Bowl

PROTEIN SOURCE: 4oz (~110g) raw diced chicken breast

  • 7oz (~200g) raw egg whites
  • 1 can (~120g) tuna
  • 1 Tilapia fillet

CARB SOURCE: ½ cup (~100g) uncooked brown rice

  • ½ cup (~100g) uncooked quinoa
  • 5 ounces (~100g) uncooked pasta
  • 14 ounces (~400g) raw sweet potato

Meal #4 Swap: Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Dish

PROTEIN + FATS SOURCE: 4.5 ounces (~125g) raw ground turkey (93/7)

  • 5 ounces (~125g) raw ground beef (90/10)
  • 1 can (~110g) canned salmon
  • 3 whole eggs

CARB SOURCE: 10oz (~280g) raw diced sweet potato

  • 1/3 cup (~60g) uncooked quinoa
  • 2 ounces (~60g) uncooked pasta
  • 1/3 cup (~60g) uncooked brown rice

FATS SOURCE: 1 tbsp (15mL) olive oil

  • ½ medium avocado
  • 75 (~20g) peanuts
  • 5 tbsp (22g) peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp (13g) coconut oil

In addition to this, experiment with different seasonings, sauces, and veggies for each dish as well. As this is an easy way to change the flavors of the dish and add some variety whenever you may need it.

Customizing The Calories & Macronutrients Of The Meal Plan

Lastly, let’s cover how to tweak the calories and macros of this meal plan to better suit you. Basically, you want to prioritize aiming for:

  • Around 1g of protein per lb of your bodyweight
  • A calorie intake of your bodyweight in lbs multiplied by around 15-17

These two factors are what’s most important. Once you have these two targets set, you can simply increase or decrease the portions of the meals in this plan as needed. So for example, if you require less than 2,700 calories, you can simply make simple tweaks to the carbs and/or fats. You can reduce the serving size of the rice in one meal by half. Doing so can lower the calorie total quite significantly. Or, if you require more protein than 160g, just slightly bumping up the servings of each of the protein sources will easily do the trick. But you'd still have to be mindful of the additional calories this adds, of course.

Play around with it but don’t stress over this too much. The key is to just get started experimenting with it. Monitor how your weight is changing. And then adjust the serving sizes to ensure you’re not either gaining weight too quickly. Or on the other hand, losing weight because it’s not enough calories.

Download The Full Meal Plan & Grocery List

That’s pretty much all there is to it! And to help you out even further with implementing this, I’ve created a budget meal plan that puts all of these recipes together for you with a full grocery list included as well. To grab a copy of this:

Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:

But hopefully, you were able to see that eating healthy while at the same time keeping it tasty does not have to be expensive.

And for a step-by-step program that puts this all together for you by showing you not only how to train to build muscle, but also shows you exactly what to eat, how much to eat, and then how to adjust this over time so that you can build muscle as efficiently as possible just like several of our members have done with their Built With Science programs, then:

Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:

Anyways that’s it for today guys! I hope you all enjoyed it! Don’t forget to give me a follow and connect with me on InstagramFacebook, and Youtube as well, in order to stay up to date with my content.

By the way, here’s the article summed up into a YouTube video:

How To Build Muscle For $8/Day (HEALTHY MEAL PREP ON A BUDGET)

How To Build Muscle For $8/Day (Healthy Meal Prep On A Budget)