When Animal approached me with the Big on a Budget challenge, I was more than up for it. I had squeezed in a 3300 kcal bodybuilding diet for 7 days with a mere $50. Animal now wanted to take off my financial restraints and see what I would buy with no budgetary limits. That’s right, I could spend as much money as I wanted on food. I headed back to Marrazzo’s Marketplace in Trenton, New Jersey to build my optimal bodybuilding diet.
For this challenge, I am currently in the offseason sitting at around 252 lb. This is the highest body weight I have ever been, and it takes quite a bit of food to sustain me. I typically eat six meals per day comprised of 50 g of protein, 80-90 g of carbohydrates, and 15-20 g of fat. I normally don’t go this high in carbohydrates, but it has been necessary to support my continued growth this offseason.
Just like in my previous Big on a Budget trip, diet variety is important to me. A diet that can optimize performance and health must have a variety of food sources to provide vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. All the micronutrients play vital roles in body functions and in athletic performance that would enhance your physique. Even without a budget, I am still a bargain shopper because I am never frivolous with money.
Anytime I walk into the grocery store I am all about being efficient. I don’t like running around back and forth, so I start shopping at the entrance. This is typically in the produce section. I didn’t have an extensive list here, but I did browse for some deals on fruit and veggies. Nothing stood out to me except a pre-chopped veggie mix of bell peppers and onion. These pre-chopped mixes are great to throw in with meats. They flavor food well, give a variety of nutrients, and save on prep time. I usually buy most of my fruits and vegetables frozen since they keep a lot longer and I don’t like to waste food.
The next stop was for my protein sources. I will typically choose chicken over fish, but I do switch it up for the sake of variety. Marrazzo’s had some salmon and tuna—not wild caught like I normally would choose, but still a good option. The supply was limited so I only picked up enough for three days.
Next, I wanted to get some beef in my diet. I found some good priced sirloin steaks that I could chop up and use for two of my meals. Stick to loin or round cuts for leaner cuts of meat, as those tend to have less fat.
For my other meat, I chose some thin sliced boneless skinless chicken breast. You could save a little money by buying bone-in whole chicken breasts and slicing them yourself, but if you don’t mind spending more, these are convenient. They are already trimmed very lean and cook up very quickly.
My last stop for protein was eggs. Since there weren’t any pasture raised eggs, the basic extra-large eggs work just fine. Cage free chickens don’t necessarily have a different diet than regular chickens, so we can’t verify a difference in nutrition value between their eggs.
Carbohydrates were next on the list. Jasmine rice is a staple that I always have. It digests well, even when eating large amounts. I expanded my shopping list to include other rice forms such as cream of rice and Rice Chex cereal. When I am running behind on meals and need to eat something quick, I like to have the Chex cereal with some unsweetened coconut or almond milk. Although I am not wheat intolerant, I don’t eat a lot of wheat products. I do, however, like English muffins because they pair well with many meals.
Fruit gets a bad rap for fructose content and a misguided association with high fructose corn syrup. These are different things, though, and natural fructose in fruit is not associated with any poor health outcomes. Fruits aren’t purely made up of fructose either. They also contain many phytonutrients that can’t be obtained elsewhere. I prefer using a berry medley and pineapple. Berries are full of anti-oxidants and pineapple contains bromelain which helps the digestion of proteins.
After protein and carb sources, I needed some fat sources. The meals with beef and eggs already contained a little fat, but I do like some direct fat sources as well. Macadamia nut oil is a great choice since it is primarily monounsaturated fat. I use it as a topping on my chicken and rice. I also grabbed some peanut butter and coconut oil to add to shakes or my cream of rice.
Vegetables and Condiments
Last on my shopping list were vegetables and condiments. I usually choose frozen vegetables since they are the quickest for meal prep. I can place the frozen veggies in my Tupperware the night before and they will thaw and just need to be heated in the microwave prior to eating. I prefer asparagus so I grabbed a few packs. For condiments, I grabbed mustard and no sugar added ketchup. I also grabbed a seasoning for my fish, chicken, and steaks.
I don’t shy away from sodium as it’s needed for fluid balance. Sauerkraut, a fermented food with live active cultures for optimizing gut health, is another useful addition to my beef meals. It’s a great way to get in probiotics without having to supplement. Check the package to make sure that it contains active cultures and needs to be refrigerated. Finally, I couldn’t leave without my Diet Cherry 7 Up—every bodybuilder needs some small pleasures in their life.
My food selection came right around $180. My normal shopping trip for a week is typically around $120-140. Keep in mind that I wouldn’t have to buy some of these items every week and some would also last longer than a week. Now to make this food into my actual meals.
Meal Plan for the Day
• 7 oz beef (cooked weight)
• 120 g cream of rice (dry measure)
• 1 Tbsp coconut oil
• 75 g mixed berries Meal 2
• 7 oz tuna (cooked weight)
• 300 g rice (cooked weight)
• 75 g asparagus Meal 3
• 7 oz chicken (cooked weight)
• 320 g rice (cooked weight)
• 1 Tbsp macadamia nut oil
• 75 g asparagus Meal 4
• 7 oz chicken (cooked weight)
• 320 g rice (cooked weight)
• 1 Tbsp macadamia nut oil
• 75 g asparagus Meal 5
• 7 oz sirloin (cooked weight)
• 100 g Rice Chex cereal
• 50 g mixed vegetables Meal 6
• 3 whole eggs
• 4 oz chicken
• 2 English muffins
For a week of cooking, I bulk cook all of the meat in advance. I like to portion out my 7 oz protein servings into sandwich baggies and freeze them. Although today I cooked everything in a frying pan, I normally use the oven. I seasoned all of my protein sources and laid them out to have a turn in the pan. While I was preparing the meat, I started cooking my rice since it would take a little while. At home, I always use a rice cooker for my rice because it gives me a very consistent outcome—it never undercooks or overcooks the rice.
Time to cook the meat. My tuna steaks were up first. You can pan fry them for 3-4 minutes per side and leave them a little red in the middle. Over cooking will leave tuna steaks too tough. After the tuna, I put the mixed veggies into the pan to soften. While they cooked, I sliced my sirloin steaks into strips to mix in with the peppers. I cooked those to about medium well doneness. My chicken breasts went in the pan next, which I kept covered to help retain some moisture. These cooked very fast since they were so thin. I also verified that the chicken was cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. I cooked the eggs last, just breaking them into the pan and scrambling them as they cooked.
Microwave items were next. Cream of rice can be tricky to cook. I measured out my cream of rice and then added in double the amount of water. Keep in mind that cream of rice continues to absorb water after microwaving, so stir it after 90 seconds and check for consistency. Additional ingredients such as peanut butter or protein powder will also change the consistency. I heated the asparagus in the microwave and plated it with the meats. Next, I measured out my cereal into a bowl. I added my frozen fruit into my cream of rice and toasted my English muffins to finish off my meal prep.
My goal was to show you what a pro bodybuilding diet looks like. I want you to know that you can still eat a very healthy diet that tastes good and still optimizes your physique goals. Your diet does not have to be only chicken, rice, and broccoli. There is also room for some flexibility as well. This is the plan that has worked the best for me, after many years of experimenting, but I am still refining it to this day. So, while what I do might not be right for you, I hope this helps you to get into the right mindset of building your ideal bodybuilding diet.