Choosing an Affordable Diet to Support Your Fitness Training

Choosing an Affordable Diet to Support Your Fitness Training
By: Evelyn Hartson

If you’re addressing your physical fitness, the chances are that you’re conscious of what you eat too, as eating the right foods is essential to fuel your exercise and cut your risk of future health problems. Though what is the added cost of healthy eating? Research by Harvard School of Public Health shows that on average a diet that is rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish and nuts costs around $1.50 extra each day than a diet that contains largely processed foods1. If you are on a tight budget, this extra cost might be enough to put a strain on your finances. However, healthy eating or a diet for weight loss does not have to be expensive.

Plant-based diets a cheaper option

The rising cost of food is an issue around the world and a report by shows that it is possible to eat well for less2. Reviewing some of the top diets for 2014, they highlight those regimes where the meals come in at under £2.60 on average (equal to $4.30), with a vegetarian eating plan offering the best value for money at £1.40 ($2.30) per meal. This was closely followed by the alkaline diet, which too places an emphasis on plant-based produce, encouraging that fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses are plentiful in your diet. If you thought that fruit and vegetables are expensive, buying seasonal produce from farmers markets can be a cheaper way to purchase them freshly, and opting for frozen or canned versions (without added salt or sugar) is another cost-effective way to increase your intake.

Balancing cost and nutritional adequacy

It’s no surprise that the diets that limit animal produce are the cheapest to follow, as animal protein sources tend to be the most expensive part of your diet. However, protein is essential when working out to aid muscle repair and promote muscle growth, which itself can aid fat burning if you have weight loss in your sights; protein-rich foods also have the benefit that they encourage satiety, reducing your inclination to snack. While you may feel that it’s necessary to eat meat to meet the recommended 1.2-1.4g of protein per kilogram of body weight for endurance exercise3, it’s possible to achieve this intake from a largely plant-based diet. Pulses, nuts, seeds, whole grains and soy-based dairy and meat substitutes all offer an alternative source of protein to meat, as do dairy foods and eggs if you eat them, and according to Michigan State University, these are all a lot easier on your wallet as well4. Just go easy on nuts and seeds if you’re watching your waistline, as these are a lot higher in fat than most meats, so you won’t necessarily cut your calories with this swap.

One of the cheapest vegetarian sources of protein of all is dried pulses and these are also a great source of iron. A low iron intake can be a concern with a largely meat-free diet, which can adversely affect your exercise performance, as you struggle to transport enough oxygen round your body for respiration5. However, if you up your intake of peas, beans and lentils, these are a good non-meat source of iron, as are whole grains, any breakfast cereals fortified with iron (which don’t cost any more), green leafy vegetables and dried fruit; just remember to include a source of vitamin C with these sources to boost iron uptake. You will need to soak dried pulses and cook them thoroughly according to the pack instructions, but even after considering the electricity or gas you use for cooking, they are still very economical.

Similarly, it’s still possible to get enough calcium from your diet to support bone strength if you opt for three portions of low-fat dairy or dairy substitutes daily. If you’re avoiding fish, canola oil and their spreads are a cheap way to boost your intake of omega-3s, which don’t just benefit your heart health, but may also reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and increase exercise performance6.

Economical ways with meat

If you would rather enjoy the weight loss benefits of a high protein diet, such as the paleo diet or the Atkins diet, these are still affordable. For instance, you can choose cheaper cuts of meat, such as chicken thighs and beef brisket, which are just as nutritious. However, if you opt for cheaper cuts of beef and lamb, you will need to cook these more slowly, as otherwise they are tough. This is where a crock pot comes in handy, as according to Ilisagvik College in Alaska, these not only allow you to take advantage of cheaper meats, but they are also a more economical way to cook, using far less power in most instances than conventional ovens7. Using a crock pot can also help you to manage your time better too, as you know that even if you have been out at work all day, when you get back from your fitness class you will have a nourishing meal waiting for you. Alternatively, you can follow one of Nestlé Nutrition’s budget eating tips of replacing a proportion of the meat in stews with pulses, as this helps your money to go further, while still getting as much protein8. Finally, if you favor fish over meat, don’t forget that canned fish also makes a more economical choice9.

If you’re ever in any doubt about the value of a healthy eating and fitness, spending money on your diet and exercise is definitely well spent. The Bank of America reports that 75% of healthcare costs relate to the treatment of chronic diseases, which often have their basis in lifestyle choices, so spending a little extra now to keep your body in good shape will save you significant money in the long run10.


1 “Eating healthy vs. unhealthy diet costs about $1.50 more per day,” Harvard School of Public Health, accessed March 27 2014

2 “Low-cost weight loss plans,” Money accessed March 27 2014

3 “Nutrition for the athlete,” Colorado State University, accessed March 27 2014

4 “Using non-meat proteins and smaller meat portions lowers food costs,“ accessed March 27 2014

5 “The iron story,” Rice University, accessed March 27 2014

6 Timothy D Mickleborough,“Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in physical performance optimization,” International Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 23 (2013): 83, accessed March 27 2014

7 “Are crock pots the most energy-efficient ways to cook?” Ilisagvik College, accessed March 27 2014

8 “Healthy eating on a budget,” Nestlé, accessed March 27 2014

9 “The cost of healthy eating,” University of Illinois, accessed March 27 2014

10 “Five ways to control expenses while protecting your health,” Bank of America, accessed March 27 2014