Mo muscle, no funds
May 28, 2011 3:24 AM   Subscribe

I need protein. I have just started (re-started) weight training and I have very limited funds, but I cannot afford lean steak or chicken or fish. I have some protein powder and can afford chicken thigh meat, canned tuna and any amount of pulses. Which is best? I'm trying to build lean muscle.

Temporary situation
posted by evil_esto to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say alternate between the chicken and the tuna and skip the pulses. The tuna has omega 3 oil and other good fats, but different things have different amino acids and you'll probably want the variety anyway.

Why are you worried about lean? You need to get some healthy fats in your diet, even the conventional diet people say that and the amount in tuna say is not much of an issue.

If you agree with this, you could also consider eggs to add variety.

Pulses are incomplete protein wise and IMO not a great thing to eat for antinutrients. Your opinon may vary.

I was eating a lot of protein, but I've come to agree with the view that you don't need that much extra to get strong. One study says athletes need 1/3 as much as anyone else...seems about right. No need to follow bodybuilders who are putting on daft amounts of muscle.
posted by Not Supplied at 4:14 AM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure what the distinction of "lean muscle" and other muscle is meant to bit - but fat won't do you any harm in terms of building muscle. It's a great energy source in general.

In terms of protein, the list here is pretty good:

Protein powder can be very cheap (whey protein - but not isolate). Eggs are probably one of the best 'natural' protein options in terms of "protein for your dollar". If you are looking to avoid fat, you can get frozen/liquid egg whites, which also work out quite cheap.
posted by mrme at 4:24 AM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

*meant to be
posted by mrme at 4:24 AM on May 28, 2011

And a html link - I'm in poor form tonight:
posted by mrme at 4:25 AM on May 28, 2011

Cottage cheese. 4oz = 14 grams of protein.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:13 AM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just be careful about protein powder -- some of them have insane amounts of cholesterol. Check the label!

Are you trying to pack on bodybuilding amounts of muscle or just get cut? You'd be surprised at how little protein you actually need, and how eating in excess of what your body requires will make you chubby pretty fast.
posted by teedee2000 at 6:51 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Before forking out cash on overpriced, overhyped protein supplements, you might want to define "need" in your context.

A typical person needs roughly 0.4g of protein per pound of body mass per day (as low as half that for a fairly sedentary lifestyle, and nonpregnant females need slightly less than males).

You'll get 6-8g of protein from each ounce of meat you eat. So, a 160lbs person needs roughly nine ounces of meat per day (or realistically less, since even carb-heavy foods like bread or potatoes have some protein in them). An extremely active lifestyle, or weight-training, or pregnancy, basically doubles that. So if you get total of a pound of meat per day, you get enough protein.

Some fad diets (including "bulking" diets popular with weight trainers) may call for quite a bit more protein than that, but put simply, your body can't use it - You end up simply burning the extra for energy, while increasing the nitrogenous waste load on your poor kidneys (which will already go up just from the strenuous workout).

Now, all that said, to actually answer your question - Keep the carbs low at meals, and for "treats" or other snacks stick to protein bars (which IMO may as well count as candy, though they do go up to 30g of protein). You'll have no problem at all topping 150g of protein without resorting to sucking down vile protein shakes six times a day.
posted by pla at 6:54 AM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Getting your protein requirements for the day is all you need to worry about. It can come from any source, but just be aware that solid meals are far more satiating than protein shakes. In fact, protein shakes can be especially good for bulking because, in most people, they have the effect of increasing appetite.

If you keep your ingestion aimed towards 125g of protein a day, you'll be completely fine (unless you're taking anabolic steroids). Any excess will simply not be used and won't cause any harm to your kidneys. I would also highly suggest not going low-carb when trying to gain muscle, in opposition to what others here have suggested.
posted by Evernix at 7:15 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

have you looked into quinoa? if you've got a grocery store near you with bulk bins. It's got more protein than eggs, and in bulk, is quite cheap. It's a grain. Less protein than some meats but perhaps easier to work into your food budget?
posted by entropone at 7:32 AM on May 28, 2011

Evernix : Any excess will simply not be used and won't cause any harm to your kidneys.

Just to clarify - I didn't mean to imply that it would harm them, just that it will make them work harder (and make your pee smell worse). :)
posted by pla at 7:58 AM on May 28, 2011

Cheapest and best way is whole milk. I would suggest that even of you could afford lots of meat.
posted by moochoo at 8:03 AM on May 28, 2011

If you can afford chicken thigh meat then you should be able to afford chicken breast meat. You just need to be willing to cut up a whole chicken to get at the breast. Where I live (suburb of metro area), whole chickens go on sale for $0.77/lb at least monthly. For $5 this gets you enough chicken to last a week.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:08 AM on May 28, 2011

Canned tuna is an excellent source of protein. Eggs are, too, and they are also inexpensive. Alternate between those and chicken thighs for variety.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:48 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cheapest and best way is whole milk.

Skim milk has more protein per ounce.
posted by grouse at 10:00 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cheap sources of protein that I lived on a poor student - ground beef (nutrient dense and endlessly adaptable), canned salmon, eggs. Try to eat your meat with some fat on it. Your body will be much happier this way. See: Good Calories, Bad Calories or Why We Get Fat by Taubes.
posted by sunnychef88 at 10:24 AM on May 28, 2011

You might also want to Google "ketogenic cycle" for building muscle.
posted by sunnychef88 at 10:25 AM on May 28, 2011

Pulses are actually fine for protein — as long as your diet is relatively balanced, you don't really need to worry about complete proteins, and balancing proteins don't need to be eaten in the same meal (a common misconception). Additionally, egg protein is really high in the amino acids that beans miss.

Except soybeans, which are complete proteins. Because of this, any soy product tends to be balanced, and a lot of the fermented options can be dirt cheap if you can find an Asian grocery near you (tofu in Chinese/Japanese/Korean, tempeh in Indonesian).

Beans and lentils, in general, are fucking cheap, and if you have a slow cooker, you can make high-protein Indian meals (paneer, as basically pressed cottage cheese, is also a high-protein option, and you can add cheaper meat too) without too much effort.
posted by klangklangston at 11:46 AM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chicken nuggets, McDoubles, Cottage Cheese, Tuna, Milk, Whey. Get chicken in there somehow.
Eggs. Don't throw away the yolk for any reason.

Really, just eat a lot and lift until your temporary situation ends. The biggest waste of time and money you can do here is not feeding yourself enough.
posted by zephyr_words at 11:50 AM on May 28, 2011

You have a lot of great suggestions here already but it sounds like you're looking for specifics rather than shoveling a bunch of shit into your maw. Otherwise head down to McD's and order yourself up some bad habits and future heart attacks.
- Meat. Obvious, right? If you have a foreman grill, all the better.
Ground Beef is cheap and if you keep tabs on it between the couple of stores near your house you should be able to find the cheapest package available. Around my place it's 2 - 3 dollars a pound. Throw it in a pan cook it up and drain the fats.
Tuna in a can is always a staple of most lifters diet. I've noticed they add soy to a lot of them now, which I try to stay away from but that's for you to decide.
Chicken cut up into pieces can be found in the frozen section.
- Dairy is always a good choice but now we're talking about the addition of carbs.
Eggs are a great buy and a great way to start. Usually I take 3-5 and hard boil them in the morning. You can do an omelette just as easily.
Milk is the easiest way to get some protein but be aware carb/protein ratio is 6:4, and milk does not play nice with a lot of people.
Yogurt, I likes it. Greek stuff is good but more expensive.
Cheese tends to have a lot of fat and may not be that tasty. I've always found it hard to choke down Cottage. If you eat some kinds of chees on a daily basis, make sure you get your cholesterol checked.
- Legumes, some people love the stuff. They're not bad for a little variety.
- Protein Powder is cheap, easy, and usually good tasting. You may have to spend a bit to get it in bulk but this should be a primary meal choice.

As a side note, spend a little extra to get some Creatine. I'm not sure why this doesn't come up more often but Creatine has so many studies backing up it's safety and efficacy as muscle builder, I'm baffled as to why it isn't suggested more often.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:38 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lentils: 32g of protein per cup. Black Beans 36g of protein per cup. You can get small bags of either with about 3 cups for a $1. If your funds get better, or you get a loan, you can buy a much larger bag which is usually a better deal.
posted by yeloson at 12:39 PM on May 28, 2011

Kind of surprised no one's mentioned the risk of mercury levels in canned tuna and albacore, so I am. Here's a chart using the EPA's guidelines for safely eating 'em.
posted by smirkette at 1:17 PM on May 28, 2011

Beans and lentils are not really that high in protein, compared to animal sources. Stick with chicken and tuna. I'm going to go against the grain and say try to get at least 1g/lbs bodyweight. This is not an insane amount, will leave you feeling full, and every lifter and athlete (not just bodybuilders, powerlifters, strongmen, etc) I've ever met who's upped their protein to this amount has seen improvement.

Trying to build "lean muscle" over "bodybuilding muscle" (misnomers in of themselves, they're the same thing) does not mean you require less protein.
posted by Anonymous at 2:43 PM on May 28, 2011

Seconding P.o.B.'s endorsement of, a friend and I have been buying whey from there and it's a great, cost effective alternative to the flashy brands you see a health food stores. Also the fact that it's flavorless makes it easy to add to anything or make your own shake flavor.
posted by mateja at 5:28 AM on May 29, 2011

Do people read the OP? He said pulses. That includes Lentils and black beans and the like.

-For tuna, the cheaper stuff (Not White albacore), is actually better for you for heavy metals. Still try to limit it to a can every other day.

-You can mix pulses and wheat and the like with rice to get all your amino acids.

- Protein powder is a huge scam for the most part. Not in the sense that it isn't cheap, it can be and for good quality. But you don't need it. Like others have said, you don't need 1g per lb or more like all these gym rats and wanna be gym rats say. No study has shown this. In fact, the studies have shown that olympic bodybuilders don't even need 1g/lb/day. Nor do sprinters. Now take a look at those guys. You'll likely never be as big as them so don't worry. It's the gym equivalent of toxins with natural health followers. Well, not exactly, but you get my meaning.

- Soy is a complete protein. Say what you will about it but soy nuts are cheap and tasty.

- You can afford lean chicken if you buy it in bulk and freeze it. Same with any meat really, it just depends on how much space you have and if you can convince yourself that the upfront cost is indeed a savings in the long run.

-It really depends on where you are but in some places powdered milk is somehow insanely cheap. No where I am.

- This is the biggest one and probably the most healthy thing you can eat if it's clean. Calf liver. Find a trusted source where the cow is treated and fed like it was 60 years ago and make sure its a calf. The liver is a filter. The result is a lot of protein and an insane amount of nutrients. Liver has like 1000000000% of everything.

- Food cholesterol doesn't affect blood cholesterol nearly as much as people think, or they think it's one in the same. It's not. So don't feel bad about those eggs if you choose to buy them.
posted by penguinkeys at 8:21 PM on May 29, 2011

Seriously look at liver!

Cholesterol Schmalesterol.
posted by penguinkeys at 8:24 PM on May 29, 2011

Buy a cheap cut of beef like shank or chuck roast. Slow cook it. Wonder why more people don't do this.

Definitely cheaper than tuna, and less mercury. Don't worry about the fats - a meal with protein and fat paired with some veggies is just about the most satiating meal you can eat.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:59 AM on May 30, 2011

The amount of protein a person or athlete needs (next to nothing) is quite a different thing than how much protein is advantageous (>=1g per lbs of bw). This is common knowledge among coaches and athletes, if you are seriously stating otherwise then please provide up to date citations.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:47 PM on May 31, 2011

Response by poster: Wow, overwhelmed (is ` whelm a verb?), thanks Metafilter. To whelm, I am whelmed...She whelmed him... etc
posted by evil_esto at 4:40 AM on June 24, 2011

Yes, whelm is a verb.
posted by grouse at 6:51 AM on June 24, 2011

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