As a bodybuilder, you’re likely eating a lot of protein in a day. Fish can be a great way to switch up your protein source but if you’re not careful which one you purchase you may end up spending a lot of money.
So what is the cheapest fish for bodybuilding? The cheapest fish for bodybuilding is pollock, it costs only $0.07 per gram of protein. Pollock is also low in fat, making it an easy protein to fit into your day without adding extra calories from fat. Other cheap sources include sardines, canned tuna and canned salmon.
Below I break down the cost per gram of protein for 29 types of fish, and explain the benefits and drawbacks of each one for bodybuilding.
In this article I will talk about:
- What makes the best cheap fish for bodybuilders?
- A comprehensive list of 29 fish from most affordable to least
- Whether fish is a cheap protein source for bodybuilders
- Benefits of eating fish for bodybuilding
How We Decided On The Best Cheap Fish for Bodybuilding
To determine the best cheap fish for bodybuilding, we used the price per gram of protein of each type of fish.
As a bodybuilder, you are likely eating quite a bit of protein in a day. Given that, we always want to judge the affordability of our protein sources based on the price per gram of protein. If we only look at the price of the fish overall, we may end up spending more money buying a bigger quantity of the cheap fish, instead of buying less of the expensive fish.
It’s important to remember that just because a fish is the cheapest, doesn’t mean that it’s always the best option for you. It’s important to also consider the fat in each fish and whether that will fit into your overall macros. Additionally, some fish may have a stronger flavour than what you enjoy or take longer to prepare than the time you have available.
Always pick a fish that balances your macro and lifestyle needs with the cost of the fish.
Best Cheap Fish for Bodybuilders: Most Affordable to Least
|Fish Type||Price Per Gram of Protein|
|Atlantic Salmon (farmed)||$0.12|
|Chilean Sea Bass||$0.63|
Pollock is a very affordable mild white fish that has 19g of protein and 1g of fat per 100g of fish making it a great protein source for bodybuilders.
Since Pollock is high in protein but very low in fat, this makes it much easier to fit into a bodybuilders diet. You will be able to get the protein you need in your day but not risk going over your calories but consuming extra fat along with that protein.
The mild taste is also likely to make it something most people, even those that aren’t that fond of fish, will enjoy. Make sure you add plenty of seasoning as this fish won’t have much flavour on its own. Similar to most fish, cooking fresh will be important as pollock does not reheat well. Therefore it’s not the best option for your weekly meal prep.
Sardines are sold in tins, making them a great protein source to have on hand or take on the go. Sardines are high in both protein and fat, making them a better option for bodybuilders that are maintaining their weight or bulking.
When we are choosing protein sources, it’s important to consider the fat that is coming along with the protein. Otherwise, you may find yourself overconsuming fat to eat enough protein, which can impact body composition. Sardines have 10g of fat per 100g which likely makes them a better option for someone bulking or maintaining that is eating more fat.
Sardines have the added benefit of being canned so they don’t require refrigeration. This makes them a good option to have on hand at home or work if you’re in a pinch. When purchasing sardines, make sure you’re selecting the ones packed in water and not oil, otherwise, the fat will be increased significantly.
Learn more in my article Are Sardines Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding? (Pros & Cons)
Canned tuna is affordable, portable and low in fat making it a great option for bodybuilders looking to lose body fat.
Canned tuna is a great option to have on hand as it can be stored in a pantry and used whenever you are in a pinch. Since it’s low in fat, it has the added benefit of helping us to reach our protein goals without adding in additional fat that could cause us to go over our daily calories.
Most people mix canned tuna with mayonnaise but greek yogurt is a great lower fat option for anyone that is cutting.
Canned tuna contains mercury which when consumed in excess, can lead to neurological and cardiovascular issues. The FDA has classified canned tuna as a lower mercury option and therefore recommends consuming 4oz per week, which is approximately 1 can.
Learn more in my article on 3 Reasons Why Tuna Is Good For Bodybuilding (Plus, 1 Con)
Canned salmon is affordable and portable but contains some fat so it’s best to mix with greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise for bodybuilders cutting.
Canned salmon is an easy protein to keep on hand or take with you on the go. However, it does contain some fat, which is important to ensure we are considering our overall daily calories to ensure it does not impact body composition.
The fat in salmon is very beneficial for bodybuilders as it is high in omega-3 helping to reduce inflammation. Bodybuilders experience normal inflammation from the gym, however, if that inflammation is too high you will notice a decrease in performance. Consuming omega-3s can increase your body’s ability to fight inflammation ensuring you are properly recovering.
For bodybuilders that are bulking, mixing it with mayonnaise is a great way to add extra calories but for those cutting or maintaining greek yogurt is a much better option.
Rainbow trout is high in omega-3s which is beneficial for bodybuilders to help fight inflammation. While it contains some fat, it’s a moderate amount with added health benefits so I recommend it to all bodybuilders regardless of your body composition goals.
Rainbow trout contains 6g of fat per 100g serving. This is important to remember so we consider this in our daily calories and don’t risk negatively impacting body composition. While a fish with fat may not seem like a good option for bodybuilders that are cutting, I disagree because of the added benefits the omega-3 in the fat provides.
Inflammation is most bodybuilders is higher due to the hard workouts they are performing. This is normal but it’s important to ensure inflammation doesn’t get too high or performance will suffer. Omega-3s help to fight inflammation and are therefore important for all bodybuilders to include in their diet to help them recover post-workout.
Rainbow trout is in the same family as salmon giving it a similar taste and texture. This is a stronger fish flavour compared to more mild white fish which some may find too strong. I recommend using stronger flavours when cooking it, such as dijon mustard and soy sauce to help reduce the fishy taste.
While carp is an affordable fish, it’s higher in mercury as well as fat making it an option to include in a bodybuilder’s diet on occasion but not as a daily protein source.
Carp contain 6g of fat for every 18g of protein. Given the high amount of protein bodybuilders eat, you are likely to consume a lot of fat in a meal where carp is your primary protein. The extra calories from fat make it a better option for bodybuilders that are bulking but it’s important to ensure you are also eating lean protein sources to get the remainder of your protein from.
Carp is considered to be a moderate mercury fish by the FDA and they recommend consuming 4oz per week. This is only 20g of protein, which is likely not enough for any bodybuilder even for one meal. It would need to be combined with an additional protein source to provide enough protein.
Given the high fat and higher mercury levels, I don’t recommend bodybuilders consume this fish regularly. Bodybuilders that are bulking may consider adding it in on a less frequent basis but there are better affordable fish options to choose from daily.
Tilapia is very low fat and quick to prepare, making it a great option for bodybuilders to achieve their daily protein goals, in particular for those that are cutting.
Tilapia is quite lean with less than 2g of fat per serving, making it a great option for bodybuilders, especially anyone that is cutting and likely eating fewer calories.
If you are bulking, you may want to consider adding a fat source to your meal, such as nuts or avocado, to ensure you are getting the calories that you need.
Tilapia has received a bad reputation in recent years because of some of the bad fish farming practices used to raise them including the use of banned chemicals. This is primarily isolated to tilapia from China so it’s easy to avoid by opting for wild-caught tilapia or something locally farmed in North America.
Learn more in my article on 3 Reasons Why Tilapia Is Good For Bodybuilding (Plus, 1 Con)
Salmon is a fish with a moderate amount of fat but the benefits of omega-3 that it provides makes it a good option for bodybuilders to include in their diet.
Salmon does contain a moderate amount of fat, however, it’s not significant enough that it is likely to negatively impact body composition. It’s just important to consider this fat content and adjust your other fat consumption throughout the day accordingly.
Learn more in my article Is Salmon Good or Bad For Bodybuilding? (Pros & Cons)
The fat in salmon is great for bodybuilders as it is high in omega-3, which is beneficial in reducing inflammation. Bodybuilders experience normal inflammation from the gym, however, if inflammation becomes too high you will notice you aren’t performing nearly as well.
Consuming omega-3s can increase your body’s ability to fight inflammation ensuring you are properly recovering. Therefore, the additional fat is a beneficial addition for most bodybuilders. This may not be the case in extreme circumstances such as a bodybuilder that is close to a competition.
Salmon is on our list of high calorie, low sugar foods (click to read more food choices that fit this category)
Rockfish is quite similar to tilapia in taste and texture, given the higher mercury levels that come with rockfish, I recommend sticking with tilapia.
Rockfish is a moderate mercury fish, meaning the FDA recommends sticking to a 4oz portion weekly. For most bodybuilders, this portion size is not big enough to provide the amount of protein they need in a meal.
Since rockfish is quite similar to tilapia, but tilapia does not have mercury concerns, I recommend opting for that regularly. It’s important to note rockfish does have a firmer texture that is enjoyed by those that prefer a texture closer to chicken. Therefore, it may be an enjoyable swap out to tilapia on occasion.
Learn more in my article on Is Sushi Good or Bad For Bodybuilding?
Tuna is a great low-fat protein source but given the mercury content, it’s going to be challenging for bodybuilders to get sufficient protein from consuming it.
Tuna is one of the most beloved fish, especially for those that enjoy eating it raw in things such as poke or sushi. While it is a great protein source, it’s important to consider its mercury content. The FDA recommends consuming a 4oz serving size per week. For most bodybuilders, this is not a sufficient protein source.
Therefore, tuna does not make a good daily protein source, but it is a good option to add to your diet occasionally especially if you enjoy the taste.
Tuna is on our list of high calorie, low sodium foods (click to read more food choices that fit this category)
Sea Bass, Sole and Cod
While these fish have a lot of benefits for bodybuilders as a low-fat protein source, there are cheaper fish that provide the same benefits and are therefore better to include daily.
Sea bass, sole and cod are quite similar to pollock and tilapia as mild white fish that is very low in fat. Given it does not have any additional benefits, I would recommend sticking with these other two options as they are cheaper per gram of protein.
If you were in a pinch and one of these fish was available, I would recommend opting for that as it’s still a great protein source with all the same benefits as these other two fish.
Learn more in my article on Is Cod Good or Bad For Bodybuilding?
Perch and Pickerel
Perch is a great low-fat fish however given it’s a freshwater fish found primarily in the North East around the great lakes, it’s best to consume during the summer months when it’s in season.
Perch are quite low in fat making them a great lean protein source for bodybuilders. They generally have a mild taste that most enjoy. However, unlike fish found in the ocean, freshwater fish like perch have a shorter season. They are primarily available around the great lakes in the summer months.
During this time, you are most likely to find them at their best price. In the winter months, they are often difficult to find and more expensive so other fish are a better option.
Arctic char is similar in taste to salmon, but with a milder flavour and less fat, it’s a better option for bodybuilders that are cutting.
Arctic char is a pink fish that is similar to salmon but with a milder taste. This would make it a good option for anyone looking to try salmon but finding the flavour may be a little strong.
It’s also lower in fat compared to salmon with only 3g of fat per serving. While we know the fat in salmon is beneficial when we are cutting there is likely to be times where we just don’t have the macros to include a fattier meat source in our diet. In those cases, I always recommend giving arctic char a try.
The reduction in fat does come at a slightly higher price tag though compared to traditional Atlantic salmon.
Catfish is higher in fat and has a muddier, less appealing taste, making it not a great choice for bodybuilders.
When you ask most people about fish and what type they like, they will specify that they like a milder, less fishy taste. Catfish not only has more of a fishy taste, but since it’s a bottom feeder it can also have an almost muddy flavour.
Most recipes hide this flavour through techniques like breading and frying but for bodybuilders that are looking for a lean protein source, these recipes add too many extra calories. On top of that, catfish is also a higher fat fish naturally so wouldn’t make the best choice for a bodybuilder looking to reduce body fat.
When you consider all these factors, catfish is not a great choice of protein sources for bodybuilders.
Haddock is very similar in taste and texture to halibut, but at a cheaper price and less mercury, it is the better pick for bodybuilders.
Haddock is a popular fish given its similarity to halibut in taste and texture. It’s a low-fat fish which is a good option for bodybuilders to consume the protein they need without additional fat. It’s also much lower in mercury compared to halibut so the quantity consumed is not a concern.
It’s important to remember that haddock is a more expensive white fish and therefore may not be the most affordable option for every day. If you do happen to run into haddock, whether it’s at a restaurant or the grocery store, it’s helpful to know that it’s a great option for you as a bodybuilder with just a small bit of an extra price tag.
Barramundi is a low-fat fish with a taste and texture enjoyed by most. This makes it a great option for bodybuilders, especially those that are newer to consuming fish.
Barramundi has a very mild taste and a meatier texture that is generally preferred by people that don’t enjoy fish. This makes it a great way to add in the beneficial micronutrient fish provides, while still enjoying your food.
The low fat of this fish makes it a great addition for bodybuilders with all body composition goals. It’s an easy way to get sufficient protein without adding in too much additional fat.
Shad is high in fat with almost as much fat per serving as protein. This makes it not as good of an option for bodybuilders as it will be difficult to consume sufficient protein without consuming too much fat.
Given the high price of shad as well, I generally recommend skipping this fish option. If you do choose to consume it, pair it with a lean affordable fish such as pollock. This will help boost the protein without additional fat while still keeping the price from getting too high.
Halibut and Monkfish
Halibut and monkfish are mild-tasting white fish that are low in fat, however, with the mercury content, the quantity of fish recommended for consumption is lower in protein than what most bodybuilders need.
Halibut and monkfish are both popular in restaurants given the pleasant taste enjoyed by many. However, the FDA recommends consuming only 4oz of these fish weekly given the mercury content. This is only just over 20g of protein, which for most bodybuilders is not sufficient.
These fish are great options to consume on occasion as a lean source of protein, especially in a pinch where other fish options are not available.
Swordfish is a moderately fatty fish but with the closest texture of any fish to chicken, it can be a good option for anyone looking to start to add fish into their diet.
While there are many benefits to including fish in your diet, the biggest downside for most people is the taste and texture. Fish is much flakier than other meats, which many people do not enjoy. If you are one of these people, swordfish is a great addition as its texture is much meatier and closer to chicken.
Since swordfish has a moderate amount of fat, it may not be the best option for someone cutting, however, if you are generally consuming other lean proteins throughout the day it isn’t enough to be an issue.
If you are a fish lover, the extra fat and price are likely not worth it for you, however, this is a great way for anyone looking to add more fish into their diet but prefer the taste and texture of chicken.
Mackerel is a higher fat, lower protein fish making it not an ideal protein source for bodybuilders. Combined with the price tag, I do not recommend it as a protein source to include regularly.
Mackerel has equal grams of protein and fat per serving, meaning it will be difficult for most bodybuilders to hit their daily protein goals without going significantly over on their fat and calories for the day.
Mackerel is generally sold as a whole fish, meaning preparation is more involved. You will have to remove the scales as well as debone the fish which can take a lot of practice. When you combine that with the higher price tag and higher fat content, it’s not a good protein option for most bodybuilders.
If you do enjoy the taste of mackerel and want to include it regularly, pairing it with a cheaper low-fat fish, such as pollock, is a great way to get the protein you need without too much additional fat.
Flounder is a less affordable protein source making it not a good daily option however given the low fat and mild flavour, it’s a great meal to add in as a treat on occasion.
Flounder is considered a very delicious tasting fish that is low in fat and both mild and moist. It’s similar to other fish like mahi-mahi, grouper and red snapper but with a cheaper price tag.
It also has no size limit due to mercury meaning it can be eaten in a large enough portion size to get all the protein any bodybuilder might need. Given its low-fat content, no need to worry about consuming too much fat either while trying to hit your protein goal. This makes it an excellent fish to add to your diet on occasion as a treat.
Mahi Mahi, Grouper and Red Snapper
These three fish are not an affordable protein option regularly, but given the delicious flavour, it’s a good lean protein source to add into our diet on occasion.
Mahi Mahi, grouper and snapper are considered to be some of the best-tasting fish with a very mild flavour and a moisture texture. Given they are also very low in fat with only 1g per 100g serving, it’s a very macro-friendly dinner option to treat yourself to.
These are all moderate mercury fish and therefore the FDA recommends consuming only 4oz per week. Given the price, this is a very reasonable recommendation.
Chilean Sea Bass
Chilean sea bass is an expensive fish that contains more fat per serving than protein, making it not a recommended protein source for bodybuilders.
The FDA has rated Chilean sea bass as a moderate mercury fish and recommended consuming approximately 4oz per week. A 4oz serving of this fish contains only 16g of protein but also a whopping 20g of fat. This makes it not a recommended protein source for any bodybuilder.
You may be wondering, what about those that are bulking? Isn’t fat a good way to add extra calories? Fat is a great way to add extra calories but if we are consuming more fat than protein from a given food source, we would consider it to be a fat source instead of a protein source.
Chilean sea bass can be a good fat source for a bulking bodybuilder but that means we would also want to consume a lean protein source along with your meal as well. Opting for an expensive fish plus a lean protein may be a good treat but you are likely to find it far too expensive to consume regularly.
Is Fish A Cheap Protein Source For Bodybuilding?
Yes, affordable fish is a cheap protein source for bodybuilders with a comparable price per gram of protein as other sources. Fish also contain additional micronutrients that are important to include in your diet. Fish does not reheat well so other protein sources will be a better choice for meal prep.
To determine whether fish is a cheap protein source for bodybuilders, it’s important to understand what the price per gram of protein is for other commonly consumed protein sources.
Is Fish Cheaper Than Other Protein Sources?
Here are the price per gram of protein for other popular protein sources that bodybuilders eat:
|Other Protein Sources||Price Per Gram of Protein|
|Chicken thigh, with skin||$0.04|
|Whey protein isolate||$0.05|
|Extra lean ground beef||$0.06|
|Extra lean ground chicken||$0.07|
|Chicken thigh, skinless||$0.08|
|Extra lean ground turkey||$0.08|
|Chicken thigh, with skin||$0.09|
Affordable fish is a good cheap protein option for bodybuilders with a similar price per gram of protein as other protein sources. However, most moderate and expensive fish are significantly more expensive and therefore not a good cheap protein source. These may be beneficial for added variety or a treat but are not an affordable way to get protein daily.
Many types of fish have the added benefit of being very low in fat compared to other protein sources. This means it will be easier to fill your daily protein requirements without going over your fat. Fish also contain different micronutrients compared to other protein sources so including both fish and other affordable protein sources in your diet is best.
Fish does not reheat well so other affordable protein sources will be a better choice for your weekly meal prep. Since fish cooks relatively quickly, I always recommend it as a fast dinner option when you’re cooking at home.
Learn more the 19 Best Fish To Eat After A Workout (Plus 10 To Avoid)
Benefits of Eating Fish For Bodybuilding
The benefits of eating fish for bodybuilders are:
- Fish is a low-fat protein source
- Fish keeps us full for longer
- Fish is full of important micronutrients
1. Fish Is a Low-Fat Protein Source
Fish is high in protein which is important for bodybuilders to gain muscle. Since many varieties are also low in fat, by including these fish in your diet, you can get enough protein without impacting your body composition.
For a lean physique like most bodybuilders are looking for, research shows that we want to aim for 5g of protein for every 1g of fat. This will make sure you are getting the fat you need for healthy hormones while also getting enough protein to maximize muscle building.
Many varieties of fish such as pollock, canned tuna, tilapia and rockfish are low in fat but high in protein making them an ideal protein source.
Low-fat protein sources, like fish, are also great options for anyone busy bodybuilders or those just learning about counting macros as it’s just providing primarily protein to your meal. This makes it much easier to hit your macros as you just have to adjust the portion size instead of constantly playing ‘macro tetris’ throughout the day trying to find foods that will fit into your exact needs.
Including fish in your diet is an easy way to simplify your meals and make it super easy to hit your protein goals and obtain the desired physique you’re looking for.
Related Article: Is Shrimp Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding (Pros & Cons)
2. Fish Keeps Us Full for Longer
Fish is a high protein food meaning it takes longer to digest. This keeps you full for longer after you eat, this is especially helpful for bodybuilders who are cutting.
Bodybuilders that are consuming fewer calories than they burn in a day can often result in hunger. By eating slow-digesting food like fish, it can help keep you full for longer after you eat.
When you are more full and satisfied after eating, you are probably a lot less likely to find yourself reaching for a snack between meals. Many snacks like chips, donuts, or granola bars are high in calories causing you to eat more than what would result in successful weight loss.
3. Fish Is Full of Important Micronutrients
Fish is packed with micronutrients such as iron, zinc and calcium which are important for our body to function optimally allowing bodybuilders to hit their performance and body composition goals.
While most bodybuilders are focused on macronutrients, we mustn’t neglect micronutrients in the process. While these don’t add calories to our meal, they are important to keep our body functioning in tip-top shape. If we are experiencing micronutrient deficiencies, it will be difficult to reach the performance and aesthetic goals that bodybuilders have.
By including fish in our diet, in addition to other protein sources, we can ensure we are getting a diversity of micronutrients helping to keep our body functioning at its best and able to help us pursue our goals.
Other Food Reviews For Bodybuilders
- 8 Best Bread For Bodybuilding (Bulking & Cutting)
- 27 Fish With The Most Protein (Complete List)
- 12 Lowest Calorie Fish (Under 100 Calories)
Helms, E.R., Aragon, A.A. & Fitschen, P.J. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 11, 20 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
Mozaffarian D, Rimm EB. Fish Intake, Contaminants, and Human Health: Evaluating the Risks and the Benefits. JAMA. 2006;296(15):1885–1899. doi:10.1001/jama.296.15.1885
About The Author
Laura Semotiuk is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She works with athletes and active individuals looking to improve performance and develop healthy nutritional habits and behaviors. She has a passion for cooking, meal prepping, and creating simple and healthy recipes.
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