How to Eat Like a Bodybuilder on a Budget

One of the most common question I get asked is “How much do you eat in a day?” When I was a full-time college student, and living in a large college town, most of the time it is a fellow college student asking. Whenever I reply “6-7 meals a day and between 4500-5200 calories,” most are astounded at how I have enough time, or resources, to eat that much.

Most instantly shy away from the thought of eating anywhere near that much (I’m talking about guys right now; if you’re a female eating that much, that’s a conversation I’ll save for another day!) They’ll cite reasons like “I don’t have enough time” or “It’s too expensive to eat like that.”

To address the first excuse, I’ll share with you a lot of cooking methods and foods that lend themselves to being quick and worry free. To address the second excuse, I’ll first put things in perspective for you, and then share the foods that I buy in order to be cost conscious. In addition to this, I’ll share what I personally use to season and make my food more palatable.

Before I start telling you about recipes or easy ways to cook things, you’re going to need a few kitchen appliances: a microwave, a crock-pot, a rice cooker, and a George Foreman style grill.

An oven is a nice-to-have, as is a stove, but definitely not necessary. The possibilities with these four cooking appliances will allow you to prepare, in large quantities I might add, all that is necessary to eat like a bodybuilder while in a college setting. Below is what I personally use each for, but I encourage you to go online and do some research for recipes, as the possibilities are almost endless.


The Microwave is probably the most self-explanatory item on my list, I use my microwave to reheat all of my prepped meals, in addition to cooking my red potatoes and sweet potatoes. To cook any kind of potato in the microwave, make sure you do the following:

  1. Rinse and lightly scrub with your hands in water, as potatoes are grown in the ground, so they will have a little dirt on them, and they typically come in mesh bags, so they pick up other contaminants along the way. Obviously cooking them will kill all bacteria, but who wants to literally eat dirt?
  2. Poke a hole in each potato you’re going to cook, unless you like cleaning exploded potato off the sides of your microwave!
  3. For sweet potatoes, or regular potatoes, cook two at a time, wrapping each one individually with a wet paper towel. This will help keep them moist, as well as your microwave cleaner. For small potatoes, such as red and golden potatoes, lay a damp paper towel over an approximately 10oz serving. The cook time will vary from microwave to microwave, but typically it will take about 6-8 min to cook. You can check for readiness with a knife; if you can put it through the potato with relative ease, you’re good to go. If your knife stops or becomes increasingly hard to push, pop them back in the microwave for another couple of minutes.


We all know how busy a full time college workload can get, and that is why the crock-pot is a must have. Because it cooks at a low heat, meats typically take about 3-4 hours on the high setting, and 6-8 hours on low. A general rule of thumb is one hour on high is equal to two on the low setting. Beyond being convenient time wise, cooking with a crock pot makes your meats leaner, as the fat will melt away into the juice/sauce you’re cooking in, as well as keeps things interesting, because the combinations are literally infinite. My favorite meat to cook in a crock-pot is chicken by far, as it gets so tender and easy to eat. Regardless of the meat, you’re going to want to add some sauce in to help it cook evenly and add flavor. My personal favorites are salsa, low fat bar-b-que sauce, and fat free salad dressings (i.e. ranch, Italian, balsamic, etc…). After your meat finishes cooking, simply pull whatever you cooked out of the crock-pot with a fork, and dump the remaining contents down the drain. There are literally thousands of recipes for cooking with a crock-pot, and I encourage you to find one you like, not only because its easy, but also because you can make some truly delicious meals.


Simply follow the directions that come on the rice of your choice.

Just a couple tips:

  1. Put a bouillon cube in with your rice and water. It will give your rice a better flavor without adding calories.
  2. Dress your rice up with different vegetables and sauces. My favorites are black beans or pesto.


The George Foreman — get the biggest one you can, and you can really cook a lot of food at one time. Some of my favorites to make on this are turkey or beef burgers, chicken breasts, and kabobs.

Because of the design, excess fat runs off, making it acceptable to use a little more fatty meat.

Once you have the above things, you should be able to cook just about any bodybuilding meal you need.


Now on to one of my biggest pet peeves, the people who say they can’t afford to eat the way I, and many other health and fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders, encourage them to eat…

These are the same people that are complaining as they hold the 2 dollar beverage they just purchased at the corner store or vending machine, which happens to be how much a carton of eggs cost; or holding an 8 dollar fast food meal or sandwich, which happens to be how much 10 pounds of instant oats cost at Sam’s Club. Are you beginning to see what I’m getting at? If you were to forgo just one fast food meal every TWO WEEKS and one 2 dollar purchase per day, you now have the most nutritious breakfast one could ask for 7 days a week, without increasing your spending one cent.

When it actually comes down to it, from my experience at least, it is not the investment of money associated with eating like a bodybuilder that turns people off, but the rather the investment of their time that grocery shopping and prepping meals requires. Bodybuilding, or just living a healthy lifestyle, is not just the hour or two you’re in the gym and the shake you drink after, it is a 24/7/365 lifestyle you live that does require a lot of discipline and time. I think the reward is obvious though, because no matter how much money or prestige someone has, you can’t buy or pull strings to get a lean, muscular body. It is a badge of hard work and dedication, so wear it proudly!


I just described how simple it is for you to purchase breakfast for yourself without increasing your spending one-cent, now lets go a little deeper into seeing just how cheap the rest of your bodybuilding diet can be.

First off, get access to some kind of bulk buy grocery store such as Sam’s club or Costco. Key word: ACCESS! That isn’t me saying buy a membership, because I’m almost positive that between parents, family, and friends there isn’t a person around that couldn’t find a member card to use for the afternoon. The reason this is critical is they offer everything in more appropriate sizes and are priced much more reasonably, case in point the 10lb container of name brand oats for 8 dollars.

While on the subject of cheap and healthy carbohydrates, right after you get your 10lb of oats for 8 dollars, mosey on over a couple of aisle’s and grab a 43lb bucket of long grain brown rice for 40 dollars… imagine how long it takes you to go through that. Lastly, 10lb sacks of red potatoes are 6 dollars, and a 4lb sacks of sweet potatoes are $3.50. Granted, these are all carbohydrates, but I hope you can begin to appreciate just how inexpensive eating can be. Now let’s move on to proteins.

Now that you have seen just how inexpensive getting the proper carbs be, let’s take a look at where to buy your proteins, as well as which ones you should actually be looking for. Just like the carbohydrates, shopping at a normal grocery store is a big no-no. I think that the last time I had to buy my food at a normal grocery store I ended up spending as much as I do for a week’s worth of food for 2-3 days. Most store’s frozen fish comes in 8 oz bags… what am I supposed to do with that?!

Not only is it barely a serving, but it also costs as much as the 48 oz bags (they sell for approximately 13 dollars) I get from Sam’s! And before anyone says I’m comparing apples to oranges, both bags are farm raised, frozen, and unseasoned, with identical nutrition facts. And after you grab the tilapia, literally turn around and walk to the other freezer and grab a 10lb bag of boneless, skinless chicken breast for 24 dollars. Add in some lean ground beef and turkey, and you now have 4 different protein sources, not counting any protein powder you might use throughout the day.

Now that we’ve gone over both carbs and proteins, let’s do some math! Let’s calculate this on an every other week basis, and just for the sake of my argument, lets pretend we are all Shrek and can actually eat 10lb of oatmeal and 43lb of brown rice in two weeks:

10lb instant oats $8.00
43lb long grain brown rice $40.00
10lb red potatoes $6.00
4lb sweet potatoes $3.50
48oz frozen tilapia filets $13.00
10lb frozen boneless, skinless chicken breast $24.00
2.5lb lean ground turkey $14.00
10lb 90% ground beef $30.00
Two week total $138.50

As you can see, it is a maximum of $69.25 per week, or 138.50 biweekly, to eat like I have talked about. While I realize this is a financial commitment, I believe it is less than a majority of students spend on food, as long as they aren’t on a meal plan with a cafeteria, per week.

With all the money you save, you might actually be able to invest in useful bodybuilding supplements such as a jug of protein or a pre-workout powder. See my article on supplements for my recommendations on which Labrada supplements I use.

So you see, with smart shopping and a little preparation, you can follow a bodybuilding diet, even on a college student’s budget. That’s a little “food for thought!”

About the Author: Hunter Labrada

Hunter Labrada is an IFBB Pro Bodybuilder, 2020 IFBB Tampa Pro Bodybuilding Champion and
IFBB OLYMPIAN. Hunter was also 2018 NPC Nationals Champion. Hunter is a certified personal trainer and fitness expert who has been featured in, and in Flex, Ironman, and Muscular Development magazines. For more on Hunter, follow him on Instagram and

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.