How to Gain Muscle, Lose Fat & Be Healthy on A Budget

It boggles the mind how much more expensive healthy foods meat and produce – are than crap. Crap – the MacDonal’s, BK’s, and Subway’s, even the cereal and frozen sections of our grocery stores – is what leads our society to early death. That crap is also directly linked to our massive health care bills. Cancers, obesity, heart disease, hypotension, hypertension, stress, ulcers, depression, and almost every other ailment I can think of, is linked, in some way, to a poor diet.

It costs us, both as a society and as a planet, billions in medication and medical treatment, yet we’re basically forced into it. If healthy, organic food didn’t cost so damn much, we’d be a healthier society. We wouldn’t have to pay for all of the aforementioned diseases in our hospitals. We’d be happier, we’d have less stress, we’d live fuller, more energetic lives.

There are reasons why these food groups cost more, but some middle ground has to be made at some point. Until that day comes, if it ever does, we shall go over how to build muscle, burn fat, and live a healthier life on a budget, keeping those dollar bills in your pocket.

Where to Shop and What to Shop For.

Do we buy organic or not? Should we stay away from genetically modified foods, or is it really that big of a deal? What about meat – eat it or opt for vegetables or a vegetarian diet (unless you’ve been under a rock, if you’re a guy DO NOT become a vegetarian)?

Also, where do we shop? The organic stores are over-priced, Costco has little in the way of organic produce or free-range anything, it seems to be a lose, lose.


Mankind is meant to consume meat. We are carnivores. I could get into the argument, but it’s already been done here: Man: A Carnivore or Vegetarian? With that said, meat – as far as the meat we buy in our supermarkets – is not what it used to be. The animals we eat today are pumped full of so many chemicals it’s frightening. What they’re fed can be filled with hormones, chemicals like anti-depressants (true story), and poisons; however, buying organic, grass-fed meat can cost an arm and a leg. So now what?

One tip I’ve picked up is at my local Whole Foods. I’m done with buying non-grass fed or free range beef, poultry, or game… for the most part. So, instead of always buying the insanely-priced steaks, I go for the ground beef. Talking to the butcher, he told me that they grind their sirloin. It’s the same meat, but the ground beef has been put through a grinder – in-house by the way.

It’s also a hell of a lot cheaper. The same thing may be done at your butcher. And whatever you do, find a good butcher. Ideally find one with a connection to a farm where they treat their cows humanely, and feed them what they’re meant to be fed.

Also, mix up your proteins. You should be doing this anyways to get all the amino acids you need, but have beef, turkey, chicken, and, if you can get your hands on it, wild game as well. Turkey and chicken, if free-range, will be a lot cheaper than beef.

One animal you should never forget about is fish. There is no ‘free-range’ or ‘grass fed’ fish. There’s just fish. Yes, our oceans are over-run with pullution – another seemingly lose, lose situation – but fish is still great for you, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to buy it like our grass-feeding friends.

If you have the option, buy norther Atlantic or Pacific-caught fish. Studies have shown that polutants, while they still exist, are less-prevelant in the northern regions of our continent.

I’ll include eggs in this section. Costco has free-run eggs at 16 per pack, for $8. Can’t beat that value. If you’re lucky enough to live by a farmed community, again, buy local and fresh. If you can get your hands on eggs from a farm, it’s the best way to save money and eat how we’re meant to eat.

If you’re into hunting, good for you, you’re going to have higher quality meat (courtesy of Duck Dynasty – great show).


Buy your produce from a farmer’s market. It’s the cheapest, healthiest way to go. The produce is of the highest quality, and you’re going to get an amazing deal.

If that isn’t an option, find a store that sells organic. Study after study is showing the negative effects of genetically-modified produce on our health. They’ve been directly linked to cancer. Pesticides have been known to have adverse effects on our health for years. Packed full of estrogen-raising chemicals, stay away from pesticides, and PLEASE stay away from genetically-modified foods as well.

Also, always buy in season. If a fruit or vegetable is in season, it will be cheaper as it will have to travel a shorter distance to get to your mouth. At my local grocer, there are always deals going on with organic fruits and vegetables that are comparable to non-organics. Pay close attention to the price per pound (or kg). Those extra seconds can save you big time.

Building Muscle & Burning Fat on a Budget

Both goals are focused around meal timing. If your goal is to burn fat, try and keep your carbs to a minimum before a workout, opting for higher-fat and vegetable meals that are also high in protein. After your workout is where you can add carbs – especially in your post workout shake and the following meal.

Then, go back to high fat, high protein, and high vegetables.

For building lean muscle without gaining much fat, we need much more volume. Simply put, eat a lot of food. Focus the majority of your carbohydrates before and after your workout. Have a solid meal that’s high in carbs (oatmeal, white rice) and lean proteins (fish, chicken, turkey). Then, have your post workout shake with a 2:1 carbs to protein ratio, followed by a massive meal. If you want to cheat, cheat after your workout.

The grocery list for both goals will be similar, but the guys gaining muscle will buy more of the following:

Oatmeal – a great, cheap, carbohydrate.

White Rice – we absorb white rice faster than whole, making us hungier sooner. It’s also cheaper.

Eggs – eggs are one of the best foods we can consume. They’re packed full of nutrients, as well as testosterone-boosting cholesterol, monounsaturated, and saturated fats. Have as many eggs as you can handle before bed and upon rising.

The fat loss group should enjoy these lovely little things as well, obviously just not as many.

For the fat loss group…

You guys won’t need more of anything that the muscle building group is eating, what you will need are things that will help you get through the day and reach your goals. Things like…

Almonds – I buy mine from Costco. It’s $12 for a solid-sized bag. Almonds give you something to snack on that actually helps you burn fat. Omega-3 fatty acids boost our metabolism.

Green Tea – green tea is great for both groups as 3 cups a day has been shown to help us repair muscle tissue, but a cup after a workout also extends the metabolic effect of a workout… helping you burn more fat.

Ice Cream – if you find it tough to diet, intermittent fasting might be something you want to try. A high-carb day followed by a day of fasting, results in increased leptin levels (a fat loss hormone), and greater fat loss. Read more about it here: Intermittent Fasting 101.

Coffee – Costco has the best deals on coffee. Coffee is shown to increase the lipid burning process during workouts. Buy your coffee from Costco and get Starbucks to grind it.


Supplements can actually save us money. On a per-scoop basis, protein powder is cheaper than meat – or any other protein source for that matter – while having similar too, or even more, protein. It’s also great for us; both for the fat loss and muscle building crews.

With the food quality on the planet diminishing, we’re also not seeing the nutrients we once did in our produce, poultry, or cattle. It’s diluted and of a lesser quality. This is where a good mutlivitamin can fill the void.

By all means, buy produce. Real, whole foods are always better than supplements, but to insure you’re getting all of the nutrients and vitamins you need, supplements are good, and can be easy on the pocket.

Here are 3 high-quality, reasonably-priced supplements that I use:

ISO SMOOTH Protein Powder

How to Save Dollar Bills & Reach Your Goals

Quality is better than quantity. This becomes easier for the fat loss group as you guys are eating less than your muscle-building counterparts. But still, be wise with what you consume.

The main points to save money:

1. Buy in season.
2. Buy ground grass-fed over steaks.
3. Buy from a farmer’s market.
4. Abuse Costco for nuts, coffee, tea.

Although it isn’t free-range or free-run, there’s rarely a better deal than a rotiserie chicken. As a single guy, it’s a staple of my diet. The skin is covered with salt, yes, but I don’t add salt to my food so I’m fine there – as are you if you don’t add salt to your food. We need some salt, especially if we’re training hard and swetting a lot.

No matter what group you’re in – fat loss or muscle-building – enjoy the skin. It’s tasty, so live a little, and as long as you keep the carbs low with the chicken, you’re all good.

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  • Dan Martin

    With regards to fish. I’d say wild fish is somewhat close of an equivalent to grass-fed meat and does cost more than farmed fish. Wild Planet sells various wild caught fish that is canned and can be purchased for a decent price on Amazon, if you have trouble finding reasonably priced wild fish at the store.

    • Chad Howse

      That’s a great point Dan, I’ll probably add that in the edits if that’s cool? Never thought about buying canned fish online, I’m going to look into it for sure.

      • Dan Martin

        Sure thing. It’s even cheaper on Amazon if you do the subscribe & save. I think you get an extra 10-15% off.

  • Dawson D

    Whats your take on Arian Foster being a vegetarian?

    Ive been contemplated the vegetarian route with Foster as an inspiration. Is it possible to be an elite athlete and be a vegetarian?

    • Chad Howse

      He shows that it is. The guys an absolute freak. But it’s nearly impossible to get the protein, amino acids, and creatine you should get from veggies. We need meat. Men need meat for testosterone production, as well as recovery.

  • pualive

    Great article. For me, beans are the best cheap source of nutrients. 1C of black beans = 240 Cals, 16g Carbs, 22g Protein, 12g, Fat. That’s almost a perfect nutrient composition regardless of your goal. Plus, 1C of dried organic black beans can be purchases for around 50cents.

    My ideal super cheap day:

    – Oatmeal with nuts and seeds

    – Vegetables with 2C beans
    – Salad greens with 1 chicken breast

    * Total cost $5 – $10

    • Chad Howse

      Great point! I’m not a big beans guy, but I should be. I’m meat, fruits, and veggies. I’ll grab some next time I go shopping :)

  • green

    Good article! prices are going up every where.
    For student life nothing beats canned fish and white rice….
    Boiled eggs and milk…
    in season fruits …… Period.
    One of the most common cause of depression is crappy diet and lack of exercise.

    • Chad Howse

      It is indeed, man. I wish more people would realize that instead of heading to the doctor and getting a subscription.

  • Rob

    Watch the documentary Forks Over Knives, it’s on Netflix. Makes a good case for cutting meat and dairy out of your diet. Haven’t been able to bring myself to this yet though. haha

    • Chad Howse

      will do! Check out the “perfect human diet”, it will bring you back to the meatlovers side, trust me.

  • turling

    Always an option, as well, is growing your own produce. I just put into the ground spinach, broccoli, winter squash, lettuce (various types), radishes, celery, onions and garlic. No pesticides and I buy organic seeds, which are more expensive, but we’re talking seeds here. Maybe $1.00 a pack more and you get 100 seeds.

    • Chad Howse

      VERY good point! I might include this in the edits, thanks for this man. Living in an apartment in the city I didn’t event think about this, but it’s a viable option for a lot of people.

  • Joe DeGiorgio

    Good take here, Chad. Careful shopping of only quality items, with an emphasis on protein and produce, can save money in the long run and produce results you want. It’s giving yourself a fighting chance…

    • Chad Howse

      Ya well said Joe, thanks.

  • brandon m

    Didactically and thoughtfully posted Chad,

    It really amazes me sometimes how confused people are over the simplest things, like a diet, that just makes sense with nature. I have eaten primal, as I call it, for ten + years and never knew till recently that it got some stupid title called “Paleo.” I do not consider how I eat PALEO, I just eat what nature can give with out man using and abusing the process. Grew up on the river and farming. MEAT,VEGGIES,NUTS,FRUITS how hard is that. I cannot imagine getting bored either.

    Also I guess I am lucky, I have made it a point to grow many ground veggies (spinach, collards,mustard’s+ herbs), some fruits (blackberries and such), and have chickens,rabbits,and fowl over at my sisters property/CO-OP.
    I spear fish with a manual sling for fish, Hunt with bow for game (mostly bore/fowl/rabbit) and the rest is just cheap and sensible from farmers markets and good store choices (canned salmon is always pacific, and turkey in the US is not allowed to have growth hormones in it no matter where you get it. Plus everyone can get a planter and grow basil/tomatoes/and herbs ….

    Great post and
    Live Primal.


    • Chad Howse

      Well said as always, good info. Thanks bro!

  • Todd – FM

    This is excellent stuff. I hate it when people say that eating healthy is expensive. I also get irked when people say you can’t lose fat while building muscle. You nailed two birds with one stone. Right on brother.

    • Chad Howse

      Thanks Todd!

  • Andrew

    Solid advice as usual.
    Chad, have you read the work of Weston A Price? Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is his classic book. There’s also a charity based in Washington that continues to keep his research alive.
    Worth a google.

    • Chad Howse

      I’ll have a look, thanks Andrew.

  • Victor Balasa

    I couldn’t agree more with the fact that you’ve stated in regards to supplements. I have so many friends that are just eating supplements, forgetting that you should eat food and supplements are for supplementing!

    • Chad Howse


  • Dan

    Not Carnivores, Omnivores. Seems to be lots of great articles here, its a pity so many of the intros and headlines are all marketing and rhetoric.

    • Chad Howse

      In the point I was making in the article, it’s actually carnivores. I focus completely on meat in that article. Give it a read. Not sure how you’d like me to change the titles, I title an article based on what it’s about. And this site has a very little amount of marketing, it’s dominated by free advice. Please don’t complain about a link to a product, if I put it on the site, it’s a product that I’d buy, it’s something that I’d use, and it’s something that will benefit the readers of this site.