Eating for Optimal Performance on a Budget
In today’s uncertain climate, with fitness gurus and “professionals” preaching the necessity of this supplement and that vitamin, the only constant that most fail to recognise or over complicate is food, the most crucial variable in anyone’s arsenal when optimizing performance, although buying the fanciest “high protein” cheese and such products may not always be the most wallet friendly. If you’re looking to find the best way of getting everything you need to support your performance in the gym but have a tight budget, this article explains how to achieve this.
Yes, having a high protein diet and a sufficient correlating intake of carbohydrates and fats is important, but it shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg. No, I’m not about to preach to you the importance of plain chicken, bland rice and rubber like vegetables, because let’s be honest…nobody enjoys that no matter what they tell you. Being a student with an exceptionally tight budget, I found my groove making the basics work for me, finding ways of making meals enjoyable, filling and more importantly…varied.
First thing’s first, shopping at Waitrose, Morrisons and M&S is probably not the best idea as they are exceptionally highly priced. If available to you locally (or even within walking distance, keep that step count high) opt for the likes of Aldi, Lidl or even ASDA, These shops tend to stock your essentials e.g. eggs, milk, meat, veg etc for significantly less than the likes of your local Tesco and I usually find that there is minimal difference in quality.
TIP- Try to avoid smaller chain grocery stores e.g. city center Tesco express etc as I have found them to be up to 50p more expensive for the same item to that of the actual Tesco supermarket itself.
Pick your basics and stick to them
Eating on a budget can be achieved if you try to pick somewhat versatile foods that allow for a bit more freedom when it comes to cooking methods and preparation, e.g. minced beef, chicken mini fillets, eggs, potatoes etc. These can also be bulk cooked into meals for the whole family or multiple meals for yourself, for example, chilli con carne, fajitas, chicken burger and chips etc. Allowing for diversity between meals I find allows one to adhere to a healthy regimen that isn’t so monotonous.
Depending on your goals, be it caloric deficit, caloric surplus or just trying to eat slightly healthier, there are certain high calorie foods that I would tend to use if having a busy day and have limited time, my favourite being peanut butter, yes it may be exceptionally high in calories however it has it’s place in a balanced diet, other examples of high calorie ingredients would be eggs, oats, whole milk and jam.
A personal recommendation for a low price snack with high nutritional value would be quark, with 30g of protein and minimal carbs/ fat per 250g it is an excellent option for those trying to hit their protein intake, not to mention you can find it in ASDA for under £1! Mix with about 20g of jam and it’s a perfect high protein snack that won’t leave a hole in your wallet.
I find (if you have the freezer capacity that is) that bulk buying is your best friend while on a budget, I can usually accommodate a 4000+kcal diet for just over £37 per week when shopping at Lidl, Aldi or ASDA. Bulk buy your meat and starch products, portion the meat out into daily servings and freeze accordingly, seasoning the meat with herbs, spices or even sauces will allow it to marinade slightly in preparation for cooking (this also saves time with seasoning every time you cook).
Buying frozen vegetables as opposed to fresh may seem like a drop in quality however, contrary to common belief, studies have shown that frozen vegetables have little to no difference in vitamin content when compared to fresh.
A study conducted in 2017 for the Journal of food composition and analysis stated:
“In the majority of comparisons between nutrients within the categories of fresh, frozen, and “fresh-stored”, the findings showed no significant differences in assessed vitamin contents. In the cases of significant differences, frozen produce outperformed “fresh-stored” more frequently than “fresh-stored” outperformed frozen. “
When considering the method of cooking your food it would be beneficial to explore multiple avenues as opposed to boiling vegetables and grilling meat. If you are lucky enough to have access to an air fryer, slow cooker/ crockpot or other appliances of the sort, these can vary the taste in food and again remove the monotony from your everyday schedule. With these appliances you can make quick meals with little hassle such as casseroles, chips, stew etc. For some the monotony allows for stability, others may find it hard or boring to cook the same food in the same manner every day.
Another extremely helpful way of getting food in if you’re stuck for time and money is blending your food into shakes. For example I find when sticking to a high caloric surplus, blending the likes of milk, peanut butter, whey and a banana together is extremely helpful in adding an extra 750-1000kcals, again recipes as above are subjective to alteration from person to person and dietary requirements.
When most think of supplements, they think of hefty price tags and technical jargon that sounds nice and convincing on a label. When on a budget, if protein intake is problematic, then I would personally recommend a whey protein powder, using companies such as Bulkpowders or Myprotein etc. These companies provide a reliable and affordable no nonsense product and each 30g serving usually provides around 22g of protein, if buying in 1kg increments, this works out at around 68p per serving and is heavily versatile as well as convenient. The only other supplement I would recommend when on a tight budget would be creatine monohydrate as this is clinically proven to increase muscular output and usually costs no more than 6 pounds for 100 servings. These products can be especially helpful to those with certain dietary requirements as they are typically suitable for vegetarians along with being gluten and GM free.
In conclusion, the myth that eating healthy is expensive and cannot be achieved on a budget is subjective to how much effort you are willing to put in, in order to become accustomed to consistency and not always opting for the convenient option as these will likely break the bank in the long run. Find a sustainable approach that you enjoy and can stick to, it isn’t as hard as it looks, but it isn’t always convenient.
By Tireoghain O’Neill
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