I’ve logged over fourteen years into my lifelong fitness journey. But as a broke single mom, I have struggled with stretching my budget to meet my caloric and nutritional needs as well as covering gym membership. Some years were good, others were bad, moneywise. I’ve always had to scratch my head and figure out the best way to meet my fitness goals and at the same time take care of my son and other expenses. When I was a full-time personal trainer, I sometimes had no money for food at all. Now, as a part-time business owner and part-time employee, I have a bit more money to work with — just a bit. So I’ve asked myself, what do I really need to stay lean, grow muscle, and be healthy while being a broke single mom? If you’re in my situation, the tips below may help you.
The magic 3: carbs, protein, and fat. How to buy them cheaply.
Protein – Lean meats. Shop in bulk if possible. If not, price shop and stick to poultry and lean beef over seafood. Seafood is more expensive, so when I’m broke (which is always as of late), I buy seafood once every two weeks. Another tip is to check out your local organic market. I live near a Sprouts and they sell boneless skinless chicken breast for $1.30 to $5.00 a package, depending on the pounds/packaged.
Other affordable proteins:
- Eggs – separate the whites from the yolk from the whole eggs. Buying a container of egg whites can be much more expensive.
- Cashews and peanuts – sorry, no almonds and other more expensive, fancy nuts.
- Peanut butter
- Peanut powder
Carbohydrates – Obviously, to get or stay lean, fuel your workouts and have long-lasting satiety, whole grains are the types of carbs you should purchase. You can cheaply buy the following:
- Oatmeal – the cheapest route
- Brown rice – Uncle Ben’s, Minute Rice, Store brand brown rice
Other affordable carbs:
- Whole Wheat Pastas
- Whole Wheat Bread
Veggies and Fruits – Buy on sale, in-season, and buy frozen for the cheapest prices.
Affordable fruits and veggies:
- Most greens are affordable
- Different types of lettuce
- String and green beans
Check the food dispensers at your grocery store for nuts, grains, even protein powder. With this option, you can buy a small, affordable amount of a product as opposed to paying full price for a ready-made package. I’ve done this a few times with protein powder. When I couldn’t afford a whole container of ON, for example, I bought a pound or less of flavorless whey. It was better than nothing.
The gym or the living room? The cheapest method is to workout at home. I did for five years before I joined a gym.
You don’t need much for a home gym. There are no recurring membership fees, and if your goals are just fitness and good health, all you really need is a floor, a wall and yourself. Oftentimes, DVD, TV (Roku fitness channels) or Internet trainers can teach you basic fitness principles, and the best of them can help you lose a lot of fat and tone up. I started working out with Cathe Friedrich via FitTV, when the channel existed. I still purchase a digital video or two from her per year when I train at home.
Optimizing your home workouts:
All you need is a one-time purchase of equipment like exercise bands, hand weights, a stability ball and so on . . . depending on your goal(s). However, equipment can get expensive if your goal is to grow any significant amount of muscle and you lack the needed weight/poundage for progressive overload; the driving force for continued muscle growth.
Paid Gym Membership:
This is the more expensive route, but there are many reasons to join a gym. I decided to join one; overcoming my hate for crowds and giving up the peace I feel when working out alone, because my home gym was insufficient for my goal(s). I learned this after reading Championship Bodybuilding by Chris Aceto, back in 2007ish. Aceto basically said forget bodybuilding (my then goal) if you lack access to the poundage necessary for progressive overload — and that’s found at a real gym.
Everyone knows they need food. Everyone knows they need a place to workout. Here are a few words in support of supplements. I believe in the power of supplementation. But I didn’t in the beginning. After a year of working out, back in 2003, my son’s dad told me I should drink protein shakes after lifting weights. I normally look to authorities for advice, and he was no authority on fitness, so it didn’t immediately listen. But when he came home one day with a bag of Optimum Nutrition whey, I gave it a try. After having it as a pre-workout for a whole month, I noticed muscle growth. That experience convinced me that some supplements are the real deal, and for best results, taking them is a must. Five or so years later, I was spending $100+ per month on supplements. I was happy with my results.
I believe in the power of supplementation. But I didn’t in the beginning. After a year of working out, back in 2003, my son’s dad told me I should drink protein shakes after lifting weights. I normally look to authorities for advice, and he was no authority on fitness, so it didn’t immediately listen. But when he came home one day with a ten-pound bag of Optimum Nutrition whey, I gave it a try. After using it post-workout for a whole month, I noticed muscle growth — finally, after a year of working out. That experience convinced me that some supplements are the real deal, and for best results, taking them is a must. Five or so years later, I was spending $100+ per month on supplements. That was overkill, but I was happy with my results.
In 2011, I hit a really rough bump in life and my budget went to hell. My son and I were nearly homeless. As you can imagine, I was not exactly on track with my fitness goals. For that whole year, I could not afford a gym membership, and I certainly couldn’t afford supplements. So I focused on bodyweight and cardio. Since my workouts weren’t very intense, I didn’t necessarily need the supplements. It took the full year before I started to notice muscle loss. So, did I need $100+ worth of supplements each month? No. The fact that it took a year for me to start noticing muscle loss told me that I didn’t. Now, I stick to the basics and the must-haves. These supplements will set you back around $50/month.
The most basic of needed supplements
- Protein powder – Whey is sufficient for most people and is needed post any weight training or intense bodyweight workout to aid in maximum recovery and repair of muscles worked.
- Multivitamin – athletes and people who workout at a high intensity 5 days/week burn through many nutrients. It is recommended by many professional coaches that their athletes supplement with vitamins to replenish lost nutrients and for best recovery and results.
If you have more money, add these to your list:
- Omega 3, 6 & 9 capsules, or all three in one supplement – for heart health, body fat regulation, and muscle growth stimulation.
- Supergreen food – few people meet the daily requirement for greens.
- Pre-workout – if you train hard, this will help you get started and get through it. Definitely a luxury, not a need.
Let’s hope you never stay broke (assuming you are, because you’re reading this). I also hope that you never end up broke, if you’re not already. But in case you find yourself low on cash, and still high on motivation to reach your fitness goals, I hope my above tips help you to stay on track with your diet and training needs. It has been hard supporting my fitness habit as a broke single mom, but I find ways to make it work because I love it. When there’s a will, there’s a way!
If you have your own low-budget fitness tips, drop me a line.