College Students: Bulking on a Budget

Article written by Phillip James

Part One: Buying Groceries

Balance is everything in college. You have to balance academics, your social life, your possible extracurricular activities – all while remembering to take care of yourself and clean your room. It’s no wonder college students find themselves stressed out while enrolled. Adding athletic goals and fueling yourself with proper nutrition brings another big question to the table… how can you afford to pay for food to fuel your training sessions?

In this three-part series, we’ll be covering how to get big off of a college student’s budget whether you’re enrolled or not. Saving money on your food can pay off in the long run and keep you from purchasing foods that aren’t worth it. This article should give you some positive insight on how to get plenty of food to fuel your training without breaking your budget.


Let’s start with breakfast. The first meal of the day is often one of the most overlooked to a college student. Let me emphasize: You need to wake up so you can eat breakfast. Your body hasn’t had any caloric intake from the point you went to sleep to the point you woke up. Breakfast is a great meal of the day because most breakfast foods are calorie-dense; exactly what you need to keep you satiated as you sit through classes.

Here’s a list of some foods to look out for when you’re at the grocery store:

Eggs. These are a staple of every college lifter’s diet. The average-sized egg contains 71 calories with 5g fat and 6g protein (Nutrition Data), therefore, a quick 4-6 egg omelet with some cheese thrown in can give you a great deal of calories. You can also boil an entire carton of eggs for the whole week. Eggs are some of the most cheap sources of protein out there so don’t forget you can add them to other meals during the day!

Oatmeal. Do yourself a favor and buy a large oatmeal container in bulk. A tub of oatmeal can last you weeks, even eating a whole cup of it every morning. A cup of oatmeal contains 300 calories, 5g fat, 11g protein, and 56g carbohydrate (Nutrition Data). You can add fruit, cinnamon, or make my personal favorite: overnight oats. Overnight oats are made by soaking your oats in milk or yogurt… trust me, do this.

Hash browns. Mmmmm, warm potatoes. Buying these frozen at the grocery store will save you a ton of money and you can add these to your eggs for a makeshift breakfast hash. Oftentimes hash browns can be prepared in large quantities that you can eat over the course of entire week.

Sausage. Whether it’s patties, links, chorizo, pork, beef – sausage is another way to get calories in your quest to get huge. Sausage is higher in fat content, therefore, while it serves as a great addition, we don’t want to go overboard here. Something you can do to minimize the amount of excess oil and fat is to place the cooked sausage-meat in a strainer and let it sit for a minute or two.


Snacks are an awesome way of keeping you full until your next meal time or as another way to add calories to your diet. It can be leftovers from your unfinished breakfast, the below listed snacks, or include some supplements you take during the day. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Whole milk. Many old school and new school lifters have heard of the G.O. M.A.D. diet where you drink a gallon of milk a day. I love milk but that’s too much dairy. Adding a cup or two of whole milk per day can give you plenty of liquid calories that are easily drinkable and provide lots of macronutrients. A gallon of whole milk will last about a week so it’s definitely worth the purchase. A cup of whole milk contains 146 calories, 8g fat, 13g carbohydrate, and 8g protein. Adding whole milk to your coffee, protein shakes, or drinking it alone is a cost-efficient decision for any lifter.

Peanut butter. This is one of the most underrated sources of food you can use to add extra calories. A serving size of two tablespoons will give you 190 calories, 16g fat, 6g carbohydrates, and 8g protein. A jar of peanut butter will last you weeks and you can add it to your protein shakes, spread it on breads, or eat it alone straight out of the jar.

Pop-tarts. That’s right, your childhood favorite. A pack of two pastries will provide you with 408 calories, 74g carbohydrates, 4g protein, and 10g fat. I like to eat these immediately before or after a workout for a high dose of fast-digesting carbs. For a few bucks, you have a box should last you about a week.


Last on our list are lunch and dinner. These are times of the day you can include some more nutrient dense foods to your meals. These are also both times of the day you can include breakfast foods of your choosing. Here are a few things of what you can purchase for low cost and high benefit:

Chicken thighs. Most lifters at some point in their career have lived off of bland chicken breast. It sucks. Chicken thighs, on the other hand, have loads of flavor thanks to them being darker meat. The best part of chicken thighs is that they’re extremely cheap and cost less than chicken breast! Like most of the perishables I mention in this article, I recommend going for frozen chicken thighs to save money. If you want, you can spend a little more and get fresh chicken thighs. A super easy way to prepare them is to allow them to thaw, place them on a cookie sheet, lightly cover with BBQ sauce (yeah, buddy!) and bake 30 minutes per side for an hour total at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

White rice. This. Rice is EASILY one of the cheapest, quickest, and most useful food source that you can buy. A large 25 pound bag of dry rice can last you over a year. There are tons of varieties with different textures and flavors you can choose from. A cup of rice will give you 169 calories and 37g carbohydrates. I personally recommend investing in a rice cooker that makes rice in bulk but you can always boil the rice too.

Black beans. This is another food that will save you lots of money. A cup will provide you with 227 calories, 15g protein, and 41g carbohydrates. Any bean in general will provide with a hefty dose of protein and carbohydrate but black beans have one of the higher amounts of protein per volume. They also have a great deal of fiber that will keep you feeling full. They can be bought in cans or for less money, bought dried in bags to be soaked and boiled yourself.

Sweet potatoes. Another great addition to shopping lists. I would buy these fresh because of the versatility of cooking them. An easy way to prepare sweet potatoes is to cut them into disc shaped chips, lay them on a cookie sheet, lightly cover in olive oil, sprinkle cinnamon, and bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. They’re another low cost, high flavor food that supply you with a great deal of carbohydrates you can use to fuel training.

Apples, bananas, and mixed vegetables. While it’s important to be consuming a great deal of proteins, carbs, and fats – we can’t forget taking in enough foods rich with vitamins and micronutrients. Apples and bananas are among the most available and cost-efficient fruits found in grocery stores. You can decide between fresh fruit or frozen fruit that will have to be thawed. As for vegetables, I recommend going for frozen medleys because they include many different sources of vegetables while staying incredibly cheap. If you want fresh vegetables, try getting a big bag of spinach or kale and boiling it down. This way you can simply heat up portions you want for each meal throughout the week.

So there you have it, an overview of how you can save money at the grocery store as a student lifter. This article isn’t a complete comprehensive guide however. I would recommend you do more detailed research by looking for discount grocery stores, bulk-buy grocery stores, and weekly deals offered. While it’s important to save money, always remember to treat yourself and live a little!

Source cited:

SELF Nutrition Data. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2016.

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