More Protein: How Strength Athletes Can Save Time, Money, & Hassle on Nutrition

It’s a love hate relationship that anyone living the “Iron Life” is intimately familiar with. It evolves into an increasingly expensive, time consuming necessity that some never get the hang of while others seem to suffer though. It is odd that something that takes place outside of the gym can be so vital to your results (some claim 50 to 80 percent) yet be so foreign to so many that they become frustrated and just throw the kitchen sink at it.

Well, honestly your relationship with food doesn’t have to be that way. You can enjoy the process, save money, and help your end result in the gym all at once.

This isn’t a nutritional guide for athletes. Far from it. This is more important. This is how to enjoy food again and stay within your budget. This is how to save hundreds, even thousands of dollars per year eating a high protein diet and not have it taste like dry shoe leather. This is a primer on how to redefine your relationship with food and enjoy it.

Let’s begin with considering much you spend on food. As creatures of habit and convenience, routine often determines where people purchase their food. In the USA, gorgeous chain supermarkets often dominate the landscape offering everything from your basics to ready to go gourmet meals.


In my opinion, his is the last place you should ever shop. The overhead of a huge, beautiful space is factored into every single product you buy. The reason people shop here is the illusion of quality, or you get what you pay for. The secret is that most food comes from the same bulk distributors. Shortly after the Publix truck pulls out of the lot, the Save-A-Lot semi pulls in.

The king of the discount food stores — Aldi — offers grass fed beef for $5.99 a pound every day! That same beef is often double that in the high end shops. Similarly, you can get antibiotic free chicken and pork for 30 to 50 percent less there as well. While there, pick up low cost rice and vegetables, too.

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If you don’t have an Aldi, you should look for a Dollar General or Save-A-Lot. I recently purchased 30 lbs of fresh chicken breasts at Dollar General for 75 cents a pound. That’s cheaper than what I was paying 20 years ago.

Unfortunately, I had to freeze a bunch, but the savings were worth it. As a side note, I often skip the warehouse clubs because of the excessive need to freeze, and that leads to food loss. Needing to buy so much of everything all the time leads to a lot of extra prep work making the whole experience a chore.

You may also want to experiment with protein choice as well. I eat more chicken thighs than I do breasts now because they taste much better due to the fat content. I simply make an adjustment in the other fat sources in my diet. You can also skip the cooking altogether buy buying rotisserie chickens. Grab one or two and after a quick deboning a day’s worth of chicken is ready.

Five of the lowest cost protein choices:

Whole eggs

Canned tuna

Cottage cheese

Skim milk

Canned salmon

Go Sous Vide

Many people hate the cooking, but I have a simple easy solution that I cannot believe hasn’t become the lifter’s second favorite tool after chalk. It’s French, easy to use, and will improve the quality of your protein instantly.

They call it Sous Vide, and that translates to cooking under vacuum. Simply seal one, two, or ten chicken breasts (steak, pork, turkey, you name it) in a vacuum bag and add to a pot of water with an Anova device on the side, and forget about it for hours. The machine keeps a steady water temperature that cooks the food to the correct temperature. I set mine at 165 for chicken and leave it for 2 hours.

Since the food cooks to the finished temperature only, it doesn’t dry out. Chicken is always moist and delicious. That’s important when you eat five pounds of it per week. You can make the best medium rare steak you have ever had this way.

Once it’s cooked, sear it in a hot pan, either right away or save it in the bag for later! This one tool has made staying on plan enjoyable and really cut back on food waste. Honestly, if you make one nutritional change for 2017 this should be it.

Try a Gas Smoker

An additional and fun way to cook cheap cuts of protein is a gas smoker. Used to cook large portions of “lower quality” meats like pork shoulders; long, low cooking times will make you a huge batch of pulled pork. Higher in fat? Yes, perfect for a low carb cycle where you want a ton of taste for under two bucks a pound.

How to View Supplements

How do supplements stack up? Personally, I find protein powders to be an expensive alternative to food. Right now I can find a dozen eggs for well under a buck. That’s a lot of food for cheap. Since we aren’t competition bodybuilders, getting obsessive about macros and quality of protein may be way over the top for most people. To save money, eat food and use supplements for just that: the times you can’t eat. A brand name whey in a 5lb jug can be had on Amazon for under $40. The trend of “premium” protein that costs 70 bucks is beyond silly to us lifelong lifters. We have seen multiple companies come out of the gate strong, lure in followers, then substitute lower quality ingredients for premium ones.

When feeding your training, you should always be smart about it. Look for coupons, buy one get one deals or discounts at the end of the day near the expiration date. Saving money on food will free up your cash flow to invest in quality coaching or contribute to your travel budget. Your body does not care where the aminos come from, just that they are plentiful and constant.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured image adapted from @andrecrews on Instagram

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