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How To Gain Weight On A Budget

Grocery Store Weight Gain Hacks, Shopping Lists, & More To Optimize Your Weight Gain On A Budget

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES. PN-L1


Looking to gain weight on a budget so you don't break the bank each week?

If so, I want to teach you how to shop in a way that will align with your goals and will save you a few bucks.

First, I'll teach you how much you should be eating to gain weight on a budget.  From there, we'll break down specific techniques to find cheap ways to gain weight.


Find Your Calorie Surplus Target And Protein Intake Goal

It doesn't matter if you want to gain weight on a budget or you have endless amounts of cold hard cash.

The first thing you need to know is how many calories and grams of protein you need to ensure you are shopping for the right items and ingredients.

If you are trying to gain weight on a budget, you must be in a calorie surplus.

How to gain weight on a budget - Make sure to know how many calories you need
A calorie surplus occurs when you bring in more energy (in the form of food), than what your body needs to maintain your weight.  The left over calories will be stored as fat or muscle.

Obviously you don’t want those excess calories to be stored as fat.

You want muscle. 

In order for your body to maximize muscle growth, you need to be eating an adequate amount of protein and lifting weights.

Since this article isn’t discussing exercise, we will focus on your calories & protein.

To find your numbers for your body type:
    • Multiply your weight by 16 - 20.  That number will put most people in a calorie surplus
    • Find your protein target range by multiplying your weight by 0.8 - 1.0.  Hitting at least 0.8 grams per pound of protein will help with muscle growth.

As I mentioned above, you need to be lifting weights on top of eating the correct way. 

If you need a workout plan to pair with your nutrition, check out The Premier Ectomorph Body Type Guide .

You'll find a full workout program, specifically designed for people trying to gain weight.

How To Gain Weight On A Budget - Smart Shopping For Your Proteins, Carbs, & Fats

You could easily gain weight by eating garbage and loading up on mac & cheese, Fritos, and all your favorite candies.

That’s not the optimal way to do it though. 

You want your diet to compliment your life and help enhance it.

Since you know that protein is the most important macronutrient for muscle growth, that should be your priority when you go shopping.

To begin your weight gaining grocery list on a budget pick 2 - 3 proteins you will want to eat for the week.

Cheap Weight Gain Proteins

Protein guide for weight gain grocery list on a budget

That ribeye steak, swordfish, or scallops are great sources of protein, but they are expensive and will put a big dent in your budget.

You don’t have to shop organic or full grass fed beef right now.  It’s better for you, but you can eventually get to that point.

It’s possible to still be healthy and make good choices on your protein while on a budget.

Low cost proteins to help you gain weight on a budget that you can add into your routine are:

    • Ground beef - The higher the fat percentage, the cheaper it will be.  85/15 is good balance between decent quality and a good price.
    • Steaks - Chuck eye, hanger, & top sirloin are cheaper steaks.
    • Ground turkey - Similar to ground beef, you can choose your fat percentage, which is usually less than beef since it’s a leaner meat.
    • Chicken thighs - The thighs have more fat and some dark meat on them, so they will be cheaper than regular chicken breasts.
    • Fish - White fish such as tilapia and Swai are usually on the cheaper end.
    • Pork
    • Eggs - An easy, quick protein source in the morning.  Eggs get a bad rap but they are actually really good for you.  
    • Milk - Easy calories right here.  Adding a glass of milk into 1 -3 meals is an easy way to get more calories and protein.
    • Protein powder - An affordable powder will help you hit your protein goal and is great for a post workout treat
    • Greek yogurt & cottage cheese - If your stomach can handle it!


Need a cheap way to gain weight but don't like to cook?  Try this crockpot chicken recipe.

weight gain meals on a budget

Cheap Weight Gain Carbohydrates

carbohydrate sources

Eating in a calorie surplus means that you will be eating more calories than you are used to.

Most people think this is easy, but depending on how much you need to eat, it can be quite challenging.

That’s when carbohydrates become beneficial.

The nice thing about carbs is that they can be easily digestible for people, especially ectomorphs. Whereas proteins and fats can fill you up and keep you full for longer, eating carbohydrates can leave you hungry again in a couple hours.  Which is great for when you need all those calories!

Another great aspect of carbohydrates?

They are relatively inexpensive!

Good sources of carbohydrates to add to your weight gain grocery list on a budget are:

    • Rice - Brown, white, jasmine, your choice! Just stay away from the boxed rices like Rice a Roni that are loaded with sodium.
    • Oatmeal
    • Potatoes
    • Sweet potatoes
    • Breads - Bagels, english muffins, hamburger buns.  All are cheap and easy calories.
    • Bananas
    • Apples
    • Pasta
    • Cereals - Try for lower sugar cereals and you can pair it with a fruit for added calories.  Instead of a bowl of Lucky Charms, maybe you do a bowl of cheerios with a banana on it.  You get the healthy sugar from the banana with the added calories!

Cheap Weight Gain Fat Sources

Just like I said carbohydrates can benefit you, so can fats.

If you look at the macronutrients in terms of calories per grams, 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of carbohydrates is 4 calories, while 1 gram of fat is equal to 9 calories!

More than double!

Fat calories go a long way to helping you hitting your calorie goal so use it to your advantage. 

Some healthy fats can be more expensive that other macronutrients so do your best to fit them into your budget.

Here are your go to fat sources to round out your grocery list for weight gain.  Pick 2 -3 main staples you want to add to your diet:

    • Olive oil - A healthy fat you can cook with to get extra calories.
    • Peanut butter and other nut butters
    • Nuts
    • Avocados
    • Cheese and greek yogurt - These also have a decent amount of protein.

How To Gain Weight On A Budget Grocery Hacks

When it comes to cheap food for weight gain, now it's time to hack those grocery stores and optimize your shopping experience!  These little tips and tricks will go a long way to helping you save money and be able to stock up on weight gaining foods.



Shop The Weekly Ads


We all get them every week.  And most of the time they end up right in the trash.

But if you are willing to put in extra work, you can reap the benefits.  

Every week, look at the ads for your local grocery stores and see what is on sale.  Anytime there is something that you usually get and is now on sale, you should stock up on it.

You definitely should do this with protein.

Since you can freeze them, there is nothing wrong with paying the extra money now and taking the savings down the road.  This is going to be the cheapest way to gain weight.



Shop Your Warehouse Clubs


Buying in bulk is always a better deal, so it might be worth it to invest in a membership to a Costco, Sam’s Club, or whatever type of warehouse club you have near you.

Similar to stocking up on the deals from the weekly ads, your initial investment will be higher, but it lasts you longer and ends up saving you money.

The warehouse clubs are great for many of my go to foods that I keep in my house.

Usually a once a month trip can cover all the proteins I would want for 3 - 4 weeks and the price per pound is much lower than a normal grocery store.



Buy Frozen

If you are really trying to optimize your weight gain meals while on a budget, buy frozen.

Vegetables are an easy frozen choice since you don’t have to worry about it going bad and they come in large quantities.

When it comes to proteins, sometimes the frozen meats have added sodium or rib meat, but it is cheaper and will do the job for now.

If you like any of these cheap weight gain foods, buying them frozen can help you save money.

    • Chicken
    • Fish
    • Breakfast sausages
    • Any standalone vegetable
    • Vegetable medleys
    • Berries for protein shakes
    • Potatoes - fries, hashbrowns, etc
Don't Forget About These Items!


An overlooked expense when making your weight gain grocery list on a budget is realizing the small things you need to cook with.

  • Seasonings  - salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion flakes, etc
  • Cooking oils
  • Cooking sprays
  • Condiments


It seems like these are small, one off items, but they can add up quickly when you have to buy them often.

If you can, buy these items in the largest size possible, usually at a warehouse club.

Similar to everything we’ve talked about, the investment will be more up front, but it will save you money on the back end.

It’s happened to me many times where I remember I need olive oil, ketchup, salt, and hot sauce and then I just added $20 to my grocery bill.

Cheap Foods For Weight Gain Snacks Edition

On top of your meals with your proteins, carbs, and fats you've learned about above, sometimes you are going to need extra calories to hit your goals.

You can load up on bigger servings with those meals, or add in snacks that are high in calories and proteins.

Try a few of these snack ideas to help you round out your weight gain meals on a budget.

how to gain weight on a budget - eat high calorie snacks

Gain Weight On A Budget By Planning Ahead

You have all the tools to be able to make the smart decisions when you grocery shop.

If you want to gain weight on a budget, it’s up to you to plan ahead and make it work for you. Before you go grocery shopping you should know:

    • How much you are budgeting for this trip, week, month, etc.
    • The amount of calories and protein you need to eat each day.
    • What proteins, carbs, and fats you like and know how to fit them into your calorie and protein goals.
    • Where you want to shop based on local deals and memberships.
    • If you want to buy frozen or fresh.
    • Whether you will need any of the small items like condiments, cooking oil and sprays, or seasonings.

When you have a good grasp of all the key points above, you are well on your way to not only gaining weight and muscle on a budget, but doing it in a healthy way.

If you want more information about the optimal diet for an ectomorph body and a bulking meal plan, check out these articles:

The Complete Guide To An Ectomorph Diet

Bulking Meal Plan For Skinny Guys

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