When you are in a bulking phase, you are going to be consuming a much larger quantity of carbohydrates in comparison to your normal intake. With all those extra carbs eaten automatically comes extra money spent on your grocery bill.
So what carb sources are going to be the most affordable, while also still being good for you?
The cheapest carb source for your bulking phase is chickpeas, which cost $0.048 per gram of carb. Chickpeas are not only inexpensive, but very nutritious, and high in protein and fiber.
Not far behind is wheat pasta, which costs $0.061 per gram of carb. Other cheap carbs include rice, oats, potatoes, and bananas.
While it is absolutely possible to bulk on a budget, you want to make sure that you are not filling your carbohydrate requirements with a lot of processed and refined foods.
Doing so could have a negative effect on your overall health and performance in your workouts.
For this reason, it can be just as important to concern yourself with the quality of your carb source in addition to the price.
In this article, you will learn:
- What defines a cheap carb?
- Differences between good carbs and bad carbs when bulking
- Cheap carbs for bulking: 15 options
- How many carbs do you need to eat when bulking?
- Benefits of eating cheap carbs for bulking
What Defines A “Cheap Carb”?
In order to define what a cheap carbohydrate is, we are going to be illustrating the cost per gram of carbohydrate each food source contains.
Luckily, there are many amazing carb sources that are cost effective, while still being healthy for you.
While the definition of cheap vs costly will depend on the individual, we have concluded that a cheap carb can be defined as any food source that costs under roughly $0.25 per gram of carbohydrate that it provides.
It is also important to note that there are many carb-rich food sources that are extremely cheap (that are not on this list), but are not healthy choices for your body.
For the purposes of this article, we are going to be focusing primarily on the affordable carb sources that also support a healthy diet.
Differences Between Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs When Bulking
While a common narrative in the diet industry is that carbs are bad for you, this is simply not the case. In fact, carbohydrates are an integral part of a healthy diet. The key is understanding which carb sources are healthy for the body, and which are not.
When you are bulking, you are much better off to choose healthier carbs. The main differences between good carb and bad carb sources are:
- Whether or not it is a “simple” or “complex” carbohydrate
- The glycemic load of the carbohydrate
- How much fiber is accompanying the carbohydrate in the food source
- The amount of processing and additional additives
1. Whether or Not It Is a “Simple” or “Complex” Carbohydrate
When we are choosing what types of carbohydrates are going to be best to eat, it is helpful to understand the difference between simple carbs and complex carbs.
Simple carbohydrates are quick-burning fuel for the body, while complex carbohydrates take longer for the body to break down, which results in a longer-lasting, more sustained energy source.
For this reason, it is better to choose complex carbohydrates most of the time.
While you don’t want to be consuming too many simple carbs, you also don’t want to avoid them altogether. There are many whole, unprocessed foods that are full of simple carbs that are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
- Related Article: Can You Eat Sugar While Bulking? (Complete Guide)
Some examples of simple carbs that are good for you include:
- Dairy products such as yogurt and milk
As mentioned above, you want to make sure that the majority of carbohydrates that you eat are in the form of complex carbs.
The reason that complex carbs are considered superior is because they are made up of longer molecules of sugar that take longer to break down. This results in less spikes and falls of energy throughout your day.
Some examples of complex carbs that are good for you include:
- Whole grain bread
- Vegetables and starchy tuber vegetables like potatoes
- Oats, rice, and quinoa
- Beans and legumes
2. The Glycemic Index of the Carbohydrate
If you want to ensure that you are eating in a way that supports the health of your body, you should be paying attention to how certain foods affect your blood sugar.
Regardless of whether you have health issues such as diabetes, maintaining steady blood sugar is critical for your overall health.
Managing your blood sugar and keeping your levels within the recommended range will not only help with preventing energy dips in your day, but it will also prevent health problems and long term disease such as heart disease, kidney disease, and even vision loss.
One of the best ways to manage your blood sugar is to consume carbs that are low on the Glycemic Index. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a tool that is used to measure to what degree certain foods raise blood sugar levels.
Foods are measured on a scale of 0-100, with food scoring 55 or less being low, scores between 56-69 being medium on the GI, and any score 69-100 considered high.
For the purposes of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, you should aim to consume foods that score low on the Glycemic Index.
To learn more about the Glycemic Index or to view a chart of carb sources and their GI scoring, refer to this chart.
3. How Much Fiber Is Accompanying the Carbohydrate in Your Food Source
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate the body does not break down and digest, so it passes all the way through our digestive system until it is eliminated.
It is recommended that adults get a minimum of 30 grams of fiber a day in order to maintain optimal health.
Consuming enough fiber is important to help the body maintain healthy blood sugar levels, aid in digestion and elimination.
The less fiber a food source has, the more it will raise your blood sugar. In addition to this, consuming all your carbs from low fiber sources can result in digestive issues like constipation.
Carbohydrate sources that are high in fiber include:
- Oats, buckwheat, and quinoa
- Chickpeas and lentils
- Most vegetables
Related Article: Do Macros Matter for Bulking? (Yes, Here’s Why)
4. The Amount of Processing and Additional Additives
If you want to avoid any type of carbohydrates, it should be the ones that have been highly processed and may contain additional additives that are harmful for your health.
The most common source of processed carbs come in the form of refined sugar and refined grains. These foods have almost always been stripped of their fiber, minerals and nutrients, which make them poor sources of fuel for the body.
In addition to having their nutrients removed, highly processed foods may also come with additional food additives that could have a negative impact on your health.
For example, if you were to choose between plain, original Quaker oatmeal, and Kellogg’s Fruit Loops, by choosing the oatmeal you are avoiding harmful added sugars, food dyes, and refined flours and oils.
You are also going to be intaking fiber and other nutrients in the oatmeal that you would not receive in the sugary cereal.
For a visual, you can see here that:
Quaker Plan Quick Oats
- 1 serving (40g) of Quaker plain quick oats contains: 150 calories, 27 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, 5 grams of protein.
- Ingredients: Whole grain rolled oats.
Kellogg’s Fruit Loops
- 1 serving (40g) of Kellogg’s Fruit Loops contains: 150 calories, 25 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fiber, 15 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein.
- Ingredients: Cereals (60%) (maize flour, wheat flour, oat flour), sugar, vegetable oil, salt, natural colors (paprika extract, carmine, curcumin, vegetable carbon, copper chlorophyll), minerals (iron, zinc oxide), vitamins (niacin, vitamin B6, riboflavin, folate), natural flavors (orange, lemon, lime).
When you are choosing which carbohydrates to include in your diet on a bulk, it is best to choose foods that are minimally processed and have no additional additives.
Cheap Carbs For Bulking: 15 Options
|Carbohydrate Source||Price Per Gram of Carbohydrate|
|Wheat pasta||0.61 cents|
|White rice||0.64 cents|
|Brown rice||0.65 cents|
|White potato||0.81 cents|
|Whole wheat bread||0.98 cents|
|Quick oats||1.01 cents|
|Rolled oats||1.01 cents|
|Sweet potato||1.09 cents|
|Basmati rice||1.16 cents|
|Black beans||1.29 cents|
|Rice pasta||1.75 cents|
|Frozen vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower green bean, corn and pea mix)||2.23 cents|
Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a tasty legume that contains roughly 27 grams of carbs in a 100 gram serving. Chickpeas also contain an impressive 9 grams of protein per 100 grams, and 6 grams of fiber.
Chickpeas come packed with a variety of different nutrients, with the highest being manganese and folate. The protein and fiber that you get from chickpeas will help with keeping you full, along with aiding in digestion.
Chickpeas have a low Glycemic Index, which is a great benefit to avoid unnecessary blood sugar spikes.
Chickpeas are a super versatile food that can be added to soups, salads, and stir frys. If you are looking for convenience, you can buy chickpeas canned at an affordable price that are already cooked.
However, if you are looking for an even better bargain, you can buy chickpeas in bulk uncooked.
Wheat pasta is not only very affordable, but it is versatile and tasty.
While pasta may not come with as many vitamins and nutrients compared to other whole-food carb sources, it can be a great staple in your bulking diet if you are looking to get your carbs high for a low cost.
When you are choosing what type of pasta to eat for good health, you are better to go with whole wheat pasta vs conventional white pasta.
This is because, in white pasta, many of the nutrients and the fiber have been stripped away, making it more of an empty source of carbs.
One of the easiest ways to increase your carbs while still making a healthy choice is to eat more bananas. Bananas can be enjoyed in so many different ways, such as:
● In a smoothie (check out our recipe banana protein shake)
● On a peanut butter and banana sandwich
● On top of oatmeal or yogurt
● Baked into banana bread
● On their own
Bananas don’t require any refrigeration, making them an easy and portable “on the go” snack. They are rich in the essential mineral potassium, which can help you to maintain a proper balance of sodium in your body.
Bananas also contain a form of resistant starch that serves as prebiotic fiber, feeding the good gut microbes in your gut microbiome.
White rice is a staple food for over half of the world’s population, and is a grain that is packed with carbohydrates.
While unenriched white rice will have less nutrients and fiber in comparison to brown rice, the fact that it has been stripped of most of its fiber will make it a bit easier to digest.
If you are easily prone to bloating or digestive upset from eating too many high fiber foods, white rice will be the better option for you. Try pairing your white rice with a protein and a vegetable in order to reduce the impact on your blood sugar.
Brown rice is not only an inexpensive carb source, but it is full of nutrients, and has more fiber than white rice, which lessens the impact it will have on your blood sugar.
Brown rice contains nutrients such as calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and B vitamins. It also contains the antioxidants known as phenols and flavonoids that help to reduce cell damage.
While brown rice comes with some amazing benefits, it does take longer to cook and can be a bit harder to digest due to the fact that it still has its outer layer (the bran and the germ) intact.
White potatoes are often thought of as an unhealthy food, however this could not be further from the truth.
Although white potatoes are slightly higher on the Glycemic Index in comparison to their sweet potato counterpart, the GI of a white potato is reduced when you bake it.
In addition to this, white potatoes are a great source of fiber, and similar to bananas, they contain a resistant starch that provides prebiotic fiber for your gut.
Potatoes can be enjoyed baked, boiled, or even pan roasted. If you are looking to ensure that you are eating potatoes in the healthiest way, avoid eating fried potatoes, as the oil that is used in fried foods can be harmful to your health.
Whole Wheat Bread
Unlike white bread, whole wheat bread is full of fiber and other beneficial nutrients. Not only that, but 100 grams of whole wheat bread will provide you with 20 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.
Whole wheat bread is widely available at most grocery stores and very affordable. The most common ways to eat whole wheat bread are by making a sandwich or toast.
Oats are one of the healthiest carbohydrate sources that you can have in your diet. Quick oats are just as nutritious as other forms of oats, but they have been processed to be much thinner and faster cooking.
Because of this, they also come with a milder flavor and a mushier texture
The most cost effective way to eat quick oats is to buy them in bulk. If you are looking to save money, avoid buying quick oats that come in individual packets, as this will drive up the cost.
In addition to this, typically quick oats that come in individual packets have had additional ingredients and sugars added in order to enhance flavor.
This can decrease the nutritional value of the oats. Therefore, it is best to stick to plain quick oats with nothing added.
Rolled oats are very similar to quick oats in nutritional value and cost, however because they have gone through slightly less processing, they take longer to cook, and come with a slightly nuttier flavor and chewy texture.
The one health advantage that you will get by choosing rolled oats over quick oats is that rolled oats have a lower GI compared to quick oats, meaning that you will experience less of a blood sugar spike after eating them.
Similar to quick oats, in order to get the best bang for your buck, it is best to purchase rolled oats in bulk rather than buying individual packets.
Both rolled oats and quick oats are not limited to being a breakfast food, they can also be used as a substitute for flour in baking, or in meatloaf or burger recipes.
Sweet potatoes are a tasty carb source that come with a ton of added benefits. They are high in vitamins E, vitamin C, and iron. With a sweet flavor, sweet potatoes can be a great alternative if you are looking to switch it up from a regular white potato.
Similar to white potatoes, sweet potatoes can be eaten baked, boiled, or pan roasted. You could even try making your own sweet potatoes in an air fryer to avoid the harmful oils that are typically used in conventionally fried foods.
Lentils are an amazing option to increase your carbs while bulking if you are also looking to boost your protein intake. Half of a cup of cooked lentils contains 23 grams of carbs and an impressive 12 grams of protein.
Lentils also contain a good amount of fiber and other essential nutrients for your body such as potassium, folate and iron.
If you have trouble with digestion, be mindful of how many lentils you consume, as they can cause stomach discomfort and gas if you are not used to eating them.
While basmati rice is slightly more expensive in comparison to white and brown rice, it is still considered to be an affordable carbohydrate. Unlike normal white rice, basmati rice comes with a distinct taste and smell that sets it apart.
In addition to this, basmati rice actually has a lower GI score in comparison to regular white rice. For these reasons, basmati rice is worth giving a try during your bulking phase.
Black beans are a great source of carbs, protein, and fiber, along with other essential nutrients such as zinc. You can purchase black beans that are already cooked in a can, or you can buy black beans in bulk that are uncooked.
There are so many different ways that you can enjoy black beans in your diet, such as in soups, burritos, salads, and salsa. You can even make a dip out of black beans!
Although rice pasta comes with a slightly more expensive price tag, it is a great option if you don’t digest wheat products very well. Similar to regular pasta, rice pasta can be bought in bulk, stored easily, and consumed in a variety of ways.
If you want to get slightly more fiber and nutrients, go for brown rice pasta rather than regular white rice pasta. One of the best ways to enjoy a rice pasta is paired with a tomato and meat sauce.
Even when you are on a bulk, it is still important to eat your vegetables. If you are minding how much you spend on groceries in your bulking phase, getting your vegetables from the frozen section might be the best option for you.
Other benefits that come with frozen vegetables is that you can store them for very long periods of time, and they won’t go bad in your fridge like fresh produce does (we’ve all been there).
You can add frozen vegetables to stir fry meals to add in more carbs, nutrients and fiber.
How Many Carbs Do You Need To Eat When Bulking?
The exact number of carbohydrates that you should eat during a bulking phase will vary depending on the individual.
However, it is generally agreed upon that during a bulking phase, eating roughly 4-7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight is acceptable.
For example, a 150-pound (68 kg) female who is bulking would be able to consume between roughly 272-476 grams of carbohydrates a day.
Experts generally recommend increasing your calorie intake by 10-20% while you are bulking.
- Check out these bodybuilding recipe ideas: Best 500 Calorie Bulking & Bodybuilding Meals
Benefits Of Eating Cheap Carbs For Bulking
One of the main benefits that you will notice from eating low-cost carbohydrates on your bulk is that you will have additional grocery money to invest in higher quality protein and fats.
During your bulk, you should still be able to consume high quality carbohydrates for a low price. This allows you to spend more money on items that tend to be a bit more expensive, like your meat, fish, eggs, and protein powder.
If you shop around for the right food sources, carbohydrates can be the least expensive part of your bulking diet, while still making up a good chunk of your calories.
Related Carbohydrate Articles
- 2 to 1 Carb To Protein Ratio Foods (8 Meal Examples)
- What Happens If You Go Over Your Carb Macros (Is This Bad?)
- 8 Best Bread For Bodybuilding (Bulking & Cutting)
Lambert CP, Frank LL, Evans WJ. Macronutrient considerations for the sport of bodybuilding. Sports Med. 2004;34(5):317-27. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200434050-00004. PMID: 15107010.
About The Author
Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.
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