You're walking down the street when you see a little piece of green paper rolling along the cement, pushed by the wind. It's probably just a ratty old dollar, but you'd better make sure. You step on the corner. No way—a hundred bucks!
What do you do now? You could waste your newfound winnings on the ultimate cheat meal, complete with dessert and cocktails, or you could invest it in an entire week of IFBB pro-quality food. We know what you're thinking: Eat like a pro for $100? Yeah right! To stay up at 250-plus shredded-to-the-bone pounds, the big boys' food bills must cost hundreds each week!
Evan "Ox" Centopani disagrees. Last year, the 32-year-old superheavyweight pro bodybuilder took our "Big on a Budget" challenge and showed us how far $50 could go, after fellow IFBB pro and Animal athlete Frank "Wrath" McGrath had done the same. But fresh off of his third top-five finish in the Arnold Classic, Centopani decided to take things to the next level.
Could he craft a pro-quality diet for an entire week for just $100? With almost a decade of elite competition prep under his belt, Ox was confident he was up to the challenge.
Twice The Money, Twice The Challenge
In the original "Big on a Budget" video, Centopani opened a window into the type of diet he used to build mass as an up-and-coming bodybuilder. The results were undeniably healthy and packed with enough protein to add some lean pounds, but let's be honest, they weren't exactly fun. Two meals per day were eggs and oatmeal. Another two were identical chicken meals.
In "Huge on a Hundred," we decided to raise the stakes and give Ox a little more wiggle room. His goals: Add a little more variety to the overall lineup, add a fifth meal per day, and boost the protein of at least one of the egg meals. He also wanted to have a vegetable alongside each of his three daily meat dishes. Unlike Frank McGrath, who conquered the Big on a Budget challenge without including a single veggie, Ox believes no diet is complete without something green. "I think it's important to have some vegetables in your diet to get those micronutrients to keep your digestive system working as well as possible," Ox says. "Really, if someone said, 'I have $10, and I could put it toward some more protein or some vegetables,' I would put it toward the vegetables. But that's just me."
Of course, the brains behind Marrazzo's Thriftway in Trenton, New Jersey, had a different idea of how Ox should spend his crisp new Benjamin. The first thing he saw upon setting foot in the store: a table stacked with pastries. There was no room in the budget for this. "Seven dollars for a pie? Bad investment. Low protein. Keep moving," Ox commanded.
Protein: The Ultimate Priority
Just like in the previous challenge, Ox's first stop was the back wall of the store, where he packed the kiddie seat in his shopping cart with more than 15 pounds of chicken thighs. Wait&mash;thighs? With all that money at his disposal, he didn't buy breasts? No way. With a difference of nearly a dollar per pound, Ox knew the money he saved would make for better all-around meals elsewhere.
Sticking with classic muscle-building foods, Ox hit the dairy aisle and loaded up on jumbo eggs, after debating the nutritional merits of large versus jumbo eggs. Buying four dozen, Ox was able to start each day of his theoretical week with 48 g of protein from six of the big boys scrambled. Instead of the steal he found in the last video, when he picked up eggs at $0.99 per dozen, these demanded $3.19 per. That's a big difference that was going to cut into the budget. But the egg's status as an undeniable nutritional powerhouse helped it make the cut.
Next, Ox headed to the butcher to eye up the red meat. After considering some 85-percent lean ground beef, he opted for London broil, a lean, economical cut of steak. At just $3.99 per pound, it allowed Ox to add an 8-9 oz red-meat meal to each day, tacking on around 60 g of highly anabolic whole food protein. From the start, he had known he wanted to spend a good chunk of his extra $50 on lean beef.
Remembering his early mass-building roots, Ox made his way back to the dairy section to load up on an economical but often overlooked bodybuilding staple: cottage cheese. "That was kind of an old reliable for me coming up, because it was cheap, the taste was good, and it had a lot of protein," he recalled. Loaded with casein and low in fat, each 16-oz. container of cottage cheese packs a whopping 56 grams of protein, making it a perfect meal for before bed. At $2.49 a pop, seven tubs of cottage cheese could be had at such a value, Ox ended up putting some chicken and steak back on the shelves.
"Depending on what your nutritional allowances or requirements are, you can really dress this up," Ox said of the cottage cheese. "I always like adding a couple of scoops of strawberry jam to it. The real way—the fat-boy way—is to get the whole milk cottage cheese, and then add a couple of scoops of preserves in there. It's close to eating cream cheese with jelly. It's really good."
Pro-Level Nutrition Secrets
- Think value even when you've got money. All hail chicken thighs!
- Seasoning, baby. Ox knows parsley helps him get all that rice down the hatch. Find your spice and use it!
- The most important app on your smart phone? The calculator. Use it to determine grams of protein per dollar, not just per pound.
- Get precise. Ox put more than 15 pounds of chicken in his cart at first, when he only needed 14. Once he realized he had overbought, he put some back.
- Lean meat shrinks less when cooking. If you're buying ground beef, go 85% lean or higher.
- Don't be afraid to put something back on the shelf if you find a better deal later on.
- Think size, not just quantity. A 12-pack of jumbo eggs can provide roughly the same protein as a more expensive 18-pack of large eggs, but with less overall fat.
- Buy vegetables that will stay fresh and resist wilting, like cabbage and kale. You'll waste less and eat more.
Earn Your Carbs
His protein needs conquered in style, Ox had room in his budget to branch out with a wider range of carb sources than in the original challenge. He left with hefty containers of oats, long-grain white rice, and a bag of potatoes—the tubers a steal at $1.99 for a 5-pound bag. In all three cases, he bought enough to fuel a week's eating and then some, with minimal prep time required.
Staying in the produce section, Ox turned his eye to scoring some veggies and fruits with his remaining few bucks. Wavering between zucchini and cabbage, he opted for a massive 6-pound head of cabbage priced at $0.99 per lb. Cabbage may not look like a nutritional powerhouse, but it's got twice the fiber and vitamin C as zucchini, with the same type of caloric efficiency. At two-thirds the price per pound, this green head was a no-brainer.
Getting down to the nitty-gritty, Ox strategized how to cram as much fruit as possible into the cart with his few remaining dollars. First he sought out a reliable bodybuilding favorite: bananas. He grabbed a bunch of seven at a cheap $0.49 per pound. He thought he had room for a five-pack of apples, but at the last minute, opted instead for a cheaper package of four pears for $1.96 to use with his daily tub of cottage cheese.
This small choice made all the difference when he got to the checkout line. After a few tense minutes, the total came in at $99.88.
Eat Like A King on The Cheap
His hundred dollars now reduced to 12 measly cents, Ox surveyed the pile of food he had brought home. Including the requisite two quality whey protein shakes, his daily lineup of five whole-food meals was enough to fill a large table.
"I'd say it was a success," he concluded. "We were able to add a whole other meal, and we were able to add some variety. There's significantly more protein. Did it take more figuring and planning? Yeah, but that's to be expected. Everything in this takes planning, especially when you're trying to maximize every dollar you spend, or every set that you do. That's just bodybuilding in general."
But the real question: Was this enough food to power an elite competitor through the type of intense mass-building training Ox does on a daily basis? "I could typically maintain about 270 [pounds] eating a diet pretty similar to this," he says. "Maybe instead of 8 oz. of chicken, it'd be closer to 10-12. The rest of it would be pretty on."
But when you've been in the game for as long as Ox has, you learn that the real key to making any diet work over the long term is in the details—like preparation. Be sure to watch the entire video to learn his secrets for seasoning and cooking his food.