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Penny Protein: Protein-Rich Meals For Bodybuilders On A Budget

Is the Dollar Menu your way of getting protein on the cheap? Your body deserves better. Take control of your nutrition without going broke!

Almost all books and articles you read about eating healthy on a low budget will tell you that protein foods cost the most money. This can be pretty discouraging when you're trying to come up with simple high-protien meals to eat before or after a workout.

Fortunately, those books and articles are only partly correct. They deem proteins the most costly part of a food budget because they look almost exclusively at meats. It's a protein-rich world, folks! It's time to pound some alternative protein sources.

The key to eating a high-protein diet on a low-protein budget is to get strategic. Skimp on the packaged protein foods like bars and shakes, and use proteins other than meats to stretch the meat you do use. Know what you're looking for when you go to the store, so you can do price comparisons and recognize a smokin' deal when you see one.

Once you've got the hang of targeted food shopping, it requires far less work than you might expect. Plus, you'll see the difference in your checking account right away.

It's Not All About Steaks And Chops ///

There are plenty high-quality protein sources that don't cost a lot of money. Your grandparents or other relatives who grew up during the Great Depression knew this; your baby boomer parents probably forgot it. If times are lean now, then you need to pick your staples wisely. Let's meet the new all-stars.

If you haven't already started eating quinoa, you should. Quinoa is actually a seed, but it's easy to use in place of grain-based foods like pasta, rice, and oatmeal. It still has a lot of carbs, about 62 g per half-cup. Yet that same half-cup is packed with 10 g of protein, far more than other carb sources.

Quinoa is also relatively cheap, given how hip it has become in recent years. You can buy a one-pound bag of organic quinoa at the grocery store for about $5, or less if you hit the bulk bin—which you should. That'll make about five half-cup servings. Five servings of organic steak or chicken would cost significantly more.

One of the great things about quinoa is that it can be used in both savory and sweet recipes. With a little sweetening or some fruit, it makes a great dessert or hot cereal. A handful of it can add protein and texture to a salad, and it's a perfect ingredient for healthy baking.

Greek yogurt is another food that should be in any high-protein diet. One cup delivers as much as 14 g of protein, which is twice what you'll find in other yogurts. Greek yogurt typically has much less sugar, but make sure to read the label to confirm. In general, fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt has a good deal of sugary syrup and is best avoided. Stick with vanilla, honey, or plain yogurt and add other ingredients on your own.

You've probably heard this before, but it's always worth repeating that eggs are the ultimate low-budget staple. One egg costs about 10 cents and has about 4-6 g of protein. If you're watching your fat and cholesterol, two egg whites have no fat or cholesterol and 7-10 g of protein.

If you can, find someone who raises chickens, and you might be able to get an even better-tasting egg for even cheaper.

Stretch The Meat You Eat ///

One way to eat meat protein on a budget is to use recipes that feature meat more as a flavor than as the star of the meal. Stir-fry, soups, and wraps all do this, and they're also all great ways to use any vegetables about to turn bad. Remember: Food tossed is money lost.

Another trick: Buy what's on sale and plan your meals around that, rather than planning a meal and then buying the ingredients at full price. If you've got space in your house or apartment, a small chest freezer can help you squeeze more than one meal out of a bulk buy. The freezer will pay for itself in no time, especially if you can find someone who is moving and needs to get rid of one for cheap.

While we're talking freezers, meat is the perfect item to buy big and freeze. For instance, boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be purchased at wholesale stores like Costco in packages of 8.5 pounds for about $25. This is a lot of lean protein that can be used in a variety of recipes and cooked ahead so your meals are ready and the temptation to eat out is eliminated. Even if you don't have a Costco membership, trust me, you know someone who does.

Lean ground turkey should also be on your menu somewhere. It is low in fat, high in protein, and can be purchased in bulk packages for $15 or less for 6 pounds of meat. I can't even begin to list all the ways you can use it, but one that springs to mind—no recipe necessary—is a lightning-fast batch of turkey tacos cooked up with onion and cumin, then topped with avocado.

Borrow From Somewhere Else In Your Budget ///

Do you have to drink an expensive coffee? Do you really need to buy your veggies cut, washed, and bagged, or can you prep them yourself to save money? How much more grocery money will you have if you skip eating out at lunchtime? Take a look at your food budget and see where you can redistribute the wealth.

The most important thing to remember is that if you can't afford much, what you buy needs to be as high-quality and as nutritious as possible. Scour the Internet for tricks to make healthy foods like vegetables last longer in the fridge. As for cheap food that's filling but lacks nutrition, you know it's a waste of money. So maybe the time has come draw the line.

This means more cooking for you, but I think you're up to the task. Here are some great-tasting recipes that cost little money, are easy to prepare in 30 minutes or less, and pack a nice dose of protein.

1 / Chicken and Peppers with Brown Rice

This recipe gives you some of the flavors of your favorite takeout, but without all the fat, salt, and dough (both literal and metaphorical). This takes about 20 minutes to cook—less if you cook the rice ahead—and will cost a whopping $6 or so for two big servings.

Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Prepare brown rice in the microwave per package instructions, adding 1/2 teaspoon salt before cooking.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the chicken breast and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and the black pepper. Sauté chicken, stirring occasionally, for five minutes.
  3. Add onion, red pepper, garlic and curry powder and cook for another five minutes.
  4. Combine chicken broth and cornstarch in a covered plastic container, shake well and add all at once to skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, for about two minutes or until smooth and thickened.
  5. To serve, spoon 1 cup cooked rice onto a plate and top with half of the chicken and peppers.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size Makes 2 servings
Amount per serving
Calories 520
Total Fat7g (1.5g sat)
Total Carbs77g
Protein35g

2 / Quinoa and Yogurt Parfait

This recipe is great for breakfast, but it also makes a nice snack or dessert. You can cook the quinoa the night before if you're having this for breakfast. Just reheat it in the microwave for about one minute before you put the parfait together.

The total cost for two servings is only about $3.50, and potentially significantly less if you buy the ingredients in bulk.

Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions. Cover to keep warm.
  2. Peel apple and pear and cut into chunks. (You can leave the peel on if you prefer.) In a small bowl, toss fruit chunks with Stevia and cinnamon. Microwave, uncovered, for one minute.
  3. Spoon 1/4 cup quinoa each into the bottoms of two bowls or dessert dishes. Add 1/4 of the fruit and then 1/4 cup Greek yogurt. Add another 1/4 cup of quinoa to each dish, and another 1/4 cup yogurt. Top with remaining fruit and serve.
  4. Makes two servings.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size Per serving
Amount per serving
Calories 403
Total Fat7.8g (3 g saturated)
Total Carbs33g
Protein19g

3 / Open-Face Florentine Omelet Sandwich

Breakfast is an important meal. If you've been skipping it because you don't have time, try this recipe. It takes about five minutes to make and it will provide the energy you need to start the day.

This big breakfast cost about $1.50 to make and is great for lunch or a quick dinner too.

Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the spinach to the skillet and cook, stirring often, for two minutes.
  2. Add eggs to the pan and cook, stirring frequently for about one minute or until just starting to set. Add the cottage cheese, salt and pepper and cook for another 1-2 minutes until eggs are done.
  3. To serve, place toast on a plate and divide egg mixture between the two slices. Makes one serving.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size Per serving
Amount per serving
Calories 353
Total Fat17g (4.2 sat)
Total Carbs29g
Protein27.5g

4 / Chicken Hummus Wrap

This wrap is a great quick lunch that travels well, so you can take it to work or the gym. It's a versatile recipe; add any fresh vegetables you might have on hand to bulk it up and add more fiber.

The cost is only about $2.50, and equally important, it'll keep you out of the deli.

Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place romaine lettuce leaves in a shallow bowl of ice water for about five minutes to crisp them.
  2. In a small bowl, combine hummus and cumin, mixing well. Add the apple and stir to blend well.
  3. Lay one lettuce leaf lengthwise on a clean surface, with the widest edge closest to you. Lay three pieces of chicken breast onto the lettuce, then spoon half of the hummus mixture in a mound about two inches in from the edge.
  4. Roll up burrito-style and repeat with the remainder. Makes two wraps for one serving.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size Per serving
Amount per serving
Calories 283
Total Fat6g (1.4 g sat)
Total Carbs29g
Protein29g
Chicken Hummus Wrap PDF (14 KB)

5 / Peach Protein Smoothie

This smoothie harnesses the protein power of Greek yogurt to make a sweet snack or breakfast. It takes about a minute to make and it tastes as good as anything you'll get at a smoothie bar, for a lot less money. This can be made for about $2, or less if you find frozen peaches on sale.

Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a blender, combine the yogurt, peaches and flax seed and blend until smooth. Add the ice and blend again until thick and smooth. Makes one serving.
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size Per serving
Amount per serving
Calories 185
Total Fat1g
Total Carbs26g
Protein16g


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doruvasilepusca

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doruvasilepusca

Chicken breast broccoli 1 potato x 3 / day ? :D

Jan 9, 2013 5:44pm | report
jobodybuilder

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jobodybuilder

Basics like that work for me too!

Jan 15, 2013 7:44pm | report
Jmason38

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Jmason38

Mhhhmm, defiantly going to try a few!

Jan 9, 2013 5:49pm | report
DamianJBisesi

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DamianJBisesi

I actually just found a good alternative. Tuna Patties and I don't like Tuna but Hot Sauce makes it worth it.

Jan 9, 2013 6:12pm | report
ainigma

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ainigma

Many good ideas here! But if you really have to watch your budget, you need to include a lot of groceries that don't require the use of a fridge or a freezer. The area where I live has been hit by 2 storms last year, which left me in the dark for 10 days at 100 degrees F this summer. Luckily, I didn't have much in the freezer, but the neighbors threw out a lot of food. Driving was restricted due to a state of emergeny declaration, and the grocery stores were literally cleaned out. Now, I always have dry skim milk, whole grain oats, lots of canned tuna (light, of course..), and several nut milks that keep in the pantry. I also got into the habit of boiling most of the eggs, because they also keep well this way. As you said..tossed food is money lost. Gotta know how to preserve it, too...

Jan 9, 2013 6:53pm | report
Mrguscoth

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Mrguscoth

nut milks ,as in added nut or like alpro soya nut ? what kind of milks do you use

Jan 10, 2013 10:47am | report
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 14'0"
  • wt: 168.65 lbs
  • bf: 11.0%
ainigma

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ainigma

I cook and bake a lot with coconut milk and almond (qualifies as 'nut',right...) milk, but I mostly use soy milk, because it's got more protein. Not a big fan of cow milk right now,but I probably have to blame my current taste buds for this..

Jan 10, 2013 11:19am | report
ainigma

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ainigma

And I prefer the low/non fat unsweetened varieties...

Jan 10, 2013 11:20am | report
Karloz7

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Karloz7

What do you think about almond soy milk?been meaning to try

Jan 10, 2013 5:02pm | report
ainigma

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ainigma

Do those come in a mix? I like the plain milks. I never buy the flavoured kind. This way I can mix them myself with everything. E.g. The ON Delicious Strawberry protein tastes great with the coconut milk, IMO. I also use the milks to cook my oats in the morning, depending on my 'flavor of the day'. They mask the bitter taste of my (unflavored) BCAA and glutamine powder, which I throw in with any hot breakfast cereal.

Jan 11, 2013 8:00am | report
frier84

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frier84

Good advice!

Jan 12, 2013 12:15am | report
ESlight121

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ESlight121

This is great advice. Thanks!

Jan 12, 2013 6:41pm | report
NewellRZ

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NewellRZ

That omelet looks mhhhh delicious!!! Going to make it tomorrow for breakfast along side my BB.com Whey Power protein shake!

Jan 9, 2013 8:41pm | report
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 15'10"
  • wt: 190.4 lbs
  • bf: 12.0%
fredzz1003

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fredzz1003

all f that photos make me hungry :(

Jan 9, 2013 9:59pm | report
Nirmal1991USA

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Nirmal1991USA

Like to try out those... Man they look Delicious too!

Jan 9, 2013 10:24pm | report
deepakaggarwal

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deepakaggarwal

awsome ,.........budgeted

Jan 10, 2013 3:20am | report
SueZQue

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SueZQue

the sliced deli meat concerns me... ick!

Jan 10, 2013 4:25am | report
mtdrew

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mtdrew

If you used a preservative-free deli meat like Hormel Natural Choice, it wouldn't be as bad. Their stuff is nitrate and MSG free.

Jan 10, 2013 11:58am | report
FJBomber

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FJBomber

Boar's Head brand is great, no nitrates. All their turkey breast variations are paleo friendly.

Feb 18, 2013 9:50am | report
jones1982

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jones1982

I just made the florentine omelet sandwich and it was awesome. I added two egg whites and put 1/2 cup of cottage cheese into it. This is something that I will for sure make again.

Jan 10, 2013 7:27am | report
robj841

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robj841

no sliced meats for this guy

Jan 10, 2013 7:38am | report
jamesbaze

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jamesbaze

Is sliced meat from the deli not good for you?

Jan 10, 2013 10:51am | report
IHeartYouGym

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IHeartYouGym

not really. usually processed and high in sodium

Jul 16, 2013 3:38am | report
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 11'4"
  • wt: 136.69 lbs
  • bf: 16.0%
jayhead000

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jayhead000

awesome! that egg sandwich is not terribly far off from my morning omlette. 1 cup of greek=14g protein? 1 cup of Fage =22g :) love that stuff! My fridge is always full of that and cottage cheese!

Jan 10, 2013 7:51am | report
dbmkay

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dbmkay

Looks yummy but no dairy (poisen to the body) or sliced meet (nitrates) for me!

Jan 10, 2013 8:23am | report
Showing 1 - 25 of 42 Comments

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