If you’re trying to build muscle, you’ve probably been told that you should load up on chicken—and with good reason; each serving of chicken breast has about 28 grams of protein.
But it’s certainly not your only option. And let’s face it: chicken can get old.
We consulted with several experts to get their best suggestions for other foods that help you build muscle — without draining your wallet.
Since Greek yogurt is a more concentrated form of yogurt, it also contains a higher concentration of protein: a massive 15 grams per cup, including a great natural blend of fast-digesting whey protein and long-lasting casein protein.
While not the cheapest option on the list, Greek yogurt is one of the pound-for-pound champions because of its exceptionally high protein content. Prices for the dairy product have been improving, and we recommend buying the store brand or looking for sales to make it even more affordable.
Another way to hack the price: buy the biggest container, not the little individual ones -- it drops the price per serving considerably. Some may worry that a huge tub of Greek yogurt might go bad before they can finish it, but fear not: Because of the healthy probiotics it contains, Greek yogurt stays good much longer than other dairy products. You’ll have plenty of time to use it all up, and your wallet (and gains!) will thank you.
5.3 oz of Greek yogurt: $1.55
There’s a reason this was Popeye’s go-to for muscle-building. Spinach is high in nitrate, which provides phenomenal pumps in the gym. Interestingly, the form of nitrate in spinach is uniquely long lasting. Studies have confirmed it keeps muscles swole much longer than the amino acids Arginine or Citrulline that are commonly used for the same purpose in supplements. It pays to eat your veggies.
Even better, a cup of spinach contains as much protein as an egg – about 6 grams.
Since there’s a ton of spinach packed into each can, you get more protein for your buck than going with fresh spinach.
“I usually sauté canned spinach with olive oil, sea salt, and cracked pepper,” says Corey Peacock, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sports nutrition at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and head performance coach of the Blackzilians, Boca Raton’s mixed martial arts team.
13.5 oz canned spinach: $1.02
All protein is good, but some proteins are great.
Each egg packs six grams of highly bio-available protein. Due to its high bio-availability, the protein in eggs is easier for the body to use for building muscle, making 6 grams of egg protein as effective as 10 grams from plant sources like almonds or spinach. Think of eggs as that rare fighter who wins a belt, then goes up a weight class and beats up even bigger champions just for the challenge.
Eggs offer an outstanding range of muscle-building amino acids, plus choline, a nutrient that’s necessary for cell creation. Numerous studies have shown people who have eggs daily are not only more muscular but also leaner as well.
Be sure to eat them this way to maximize their anabolic potential.
1 dozen eggs: $4.71
Canned beans are cheap, but dried beans are crazy cheap. Each cup has about 15 grams of protein but just 220 calories.
Just combine beans with a little ground beef (also very affordable) and a little chili powder or taco seasoning to complement the amino acids for maximum muscle building. The one-two punch will ensure your body gets all the amino acids it needs to optimize your muscle growth.
15 oz can of beans: $1.24
Research shows that consuming dairy proteins post-workout can aid in muscle-building. Calcium also helps with muscle function, notes Torey Armul, M.S., R.D., an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson.
Milk protein, like that of eggs, is highly bio-available. It also comes with the added benefit of providing casein – a slow-digesting protein that continues feeding muscles for hours. This effect can be particularly useful to keep muscles growing during long periods where we don’t consume any nutrition, such as overnight.
1 gallon of milk: $3.45
Research suggests that natural nitrate may help muscles function more efficiently—and beets are high in the nutrient, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute.
Just be ready: Beets can turn your “waste” red. It’s a 100% harmless side effect, but boy can it be startling if you’re not expecting it.
16 oz of beets: $2.30
New flavored tuna packets (or a drizzle of Sriracha) make this classic, high-protein snack more affordable, portable, and tasty than ever. And for the old school purists, there’s nothing wrong with straight-out-the-can.
Each three-ounce serving contains about 22 grams of protein, making it one of the cheapest ways to get bump of high quality protein. Tuna also supplies healthy fats that fill you up and help maintain healthy testosterone levels.
5 oz of tuna: $2.27
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