Gain Mass on a Budget

The other day I was asked by a D3 college athlete, “how can I put on mass on a college budget?” He doesn’t want to put on the typical college weight from eating crap and drinking beer either. He wants lean mass that will help him become a better athlete. You might not be a college student but maybe you are in a similar situation, trying to gain mass on a budget. This can be challenging but here are some tips and tricks to help you achieve your mass gaining goals while not breaking the bank.

You may think that just eating more is the key and yes, you do need to be in a caloric surplus (taking in more calories than you burn) to gain mass but other things help too. You need to take care of the big rocks, training, sleep, recovery, and nutrition.


First of all, you should be strength training. Find a plan that focuses on the fundamental movements. Most importantly, find a plan that you can adhere to. You do not want to be program hopping every week. You can build muscle on many different rep ranges so find a plan that fits your lifestyle and goals. Stick with this for at least twelve weeks and you will start to see progress.


Sleep is the best form of recovery, so make sure you are getting between 7-9 hours of sleep. You need to be in bed at least 9 hours to get 8 hours of sleep, so plan. Keep your room cool and dark. Try to keep electronics out of the room and minimize screen time before bed. It is crazy how much better you feel and perform after a good night sleep. Your body builds and repairs muscle when you are sleeping, so get more sleep. I wish I knew this when I was in college.


Like I mentioned before, you need to eat more calories than you are burning. The best way to do this is by tracking macros and calories. Or, use the hand measure method popularized by Precision Nutrition. By tracking, you will know how much you need to eat, better than if you are just guessing. But, it seems like the healthier food options seem to cost more. You can eat quality food but have to spend a ton.

  • Take a look at other spending. First, look at all your other spending and see where you can cut back. Maybe you eat out multiple times per week. Take the money from that use it to by quality food that will help your performance and fuel your body better than most fast food.
  • Buy in Bulk. When you can buy in bulk. Find a cheap freezer at a garage sale or online. One of those bigger freezers for the garage or basement. Then buy stuff you can freeze like meat in bulk. Keep it in the freezer until you need it.
  • Buy in-season. Buy fruits and vegetables when they are in-season. The price is usually cheaper when you purchase in-season.
  • Meal Prep. Take a day and prep your food for the week. This will help you stay on track and eat according to your plan.
  • Shop Sales/Coupons. Find sales and use coupons to your advantage.
  • Buy Generic Brands. Save some money by purchasing generic store brands rather than the big name brands.
  • Shop Cheaper Stores. Shop at a store like Aldi to save money on food. They usually have cheaper prices than the big grocery stores.
  • Don’t Worry About Organic. Organic doesn’t mean better or healthier. An organic candy is still candy. For the most part, it is just a marketing scheme. You will be fine buying non-organic food.

Here are some different foods you can find that are not going to break the bank. They are categorized into the macronutrient groups. Again, we are looking for quality foods that help to gain mass without adding a ton of body fat. We don’t want the Eric Cartman beefcake diet.


  • Chicken
  • Lean Beef
  • Ground Turkey
  • Canned/packaged tuna (better if it has water instead of vegetable oils)
  • Whole eggs
  • Dairy: cottage cheese, other cheeses, milk


  • Rice: white, brown
  • Potatoes: white, sweet, red
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables


  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Natural peanut butter (usually cheaper than other butters. Make sure peanuts and salt are only ingredients.)


You should not worry about supplements until you have the rest of the nutrition dialed in. Supplements are called supplements because they assist a quality nutrition plan. You can get most of your vitamins and minerals from a quality diet. They should not be the focus.

  • Protein powder: find something with minimal ingredients. Use it in shakes when you are in a rush
  • Creatine: this is the most tested supplement on the market and will help with muscle building as well as numerous other benefits.
  • Fish oil
  • Vitamin D: Most people do not get enough vitamin D. Especially in the midwest winters.
  • Magnesium: another area most people are deficient.
  • If you have any other deficiencies you might need to supplement with that vitamin or mineral too.

If you are looking to gain mass in a good way, let me know. I would love to help you with your training and nutrition. Click here to apply and together we will work together to achieve your goals.

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