Cheapest Source of Protein (Bodybuilding, Paleo)

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Post by Roark »

I've got a problem, I don't want to give up bodybuilding and my 95kg frame, I get bad reactions from grains, and I realize I spending a thousand or two extra on meat every year for the rest of my life has a dramatic impact on how much I will have to work.
This is a place where many unique interests intersect and I've seen some people who understand the Paleo diet here, so I hope some of you have grappled with this question: where can I get a large percentage of my protein from without breaking the bank?
I've had a lot of success over the last 7-8 years being on the Paleo diet and overcoming issues that people, including my doctors and dermatologists, often believe are not impacted by nutrition. Number one was acne, which was severe and now completely absent, and the second is seasonal allergies, which flare up immediately when I have some gluten containing foods, but are absent otherwise. I want to stick to the diet as closely as possible while trying to incorporate a "safe" protein rich food in order to reduce my expenses dramatically.
I've resigned myself to accept that a grain or legume based option is probably the cheapest source of protein, and then look at how to minimize the negative impact on long term health.
Right now all signs point toward soaked and pressure cooked lentils. There are a few studies on Pubmed showing that pressure cooking lentils destroys most of the antinutrient properties, including lectins and a large portion of the saponins. The soaking drastically reduces phytate content. I am unaware of the impact of pressure cooking on their trypsin inhibitor content (which is very relevant for protein digestion).
I've done the math, and at an average bulk price it seems to be about 20 cents per 26-30 gram of protein serving of lentils, which surely beats a can of tuna or anything else paleo.
If anyone has other suggestions I would love to hear them (for various health reasons I am not willing to have soy, peanut, or wheat protein sources).

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Post by KevinW »

I haven't worked out the $/gram ratios, but the first things that come to mind are dry beans and bulk eggs. Here pinto beans are about half the price of lentils so you might look at different bean varieties. Peanuts and tofu are probably competitive though you've ruled them out.

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Post by tac »

I would definitely suggest soaking legumes as a supplement. I have read a lot of the research on phytates, etc. and the soaking really seems to increase the nutritional potential. I know personally, my digestive tract has an easier time with soaked+sprouted legumes, so that's a good day-to-day incentive to remember to soak them. It does take some planning.

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Post by MattF »

This thread has a lot of discussion on diet / bodybuilding: viewtopic.php?t=2081
Spartan_Warrior has a nice cost break-down in there, too!

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Post by Spartan_Warrior »

The diet I outlined won't sustain 96kg of bodyweight, and it's definitely not Paleo. I've actually modified it myself to contain a bit more protein including a serving of whey protein in my after-workout shake. I'm now getting between 146 and 189g of protein per day. Maybe I'll post the updated version (but again, I doubt it will be what Roark's looking for as I do rely on wheat and grains substantially).
Based on my local prices, catching the 8-packs of chicken breast when they're on sale for 1.99/lb is about the cheapest protein source I can find based on my current cooking expertise (whole birds, etc, might be even cheaper). Comes out to about 1.77 cents per gram. My stand-by meal is chicken, rice, and veggie stir-fry. The main way I added more protein to my diet was by eating this meal more often. ;)
Whole eggs would be another competitive source at about 2.4 cents per gram of protein. For comparison, whey protein (Optimum Nutrition 5 lb, $50 jug) is 2.72 cents per gram.
I haven't done the per-day/per-meal cost analysis on my new diet yet but I imagine it's not more than $150/mo.
Anyway, for Paleo specific, I'm not exactly familiar with it but I believe it's primarily leafy vegetables and animal protein/fats? The ultimate cheap source of these would be gardening and hunting, respectively. I think Riparian might eat this way.

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Post by BeyondtheWrap »

Rice is a non-gluten grain, so it probably wouldn't cause the same reactions you have to wheat. It should be good for filling out your calorie requirements.
And as mentioned before, whey protein is about as low-cost as you'll find.
Of course, neither of these options are strict paleo.

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Post by Ego »

I've got five large screen-covered yogurt cups on a constant sprout rotation. I keep them on top of the fridge and rinse them morning and night. Mainly I sprout broccoli seeds for the anti-cancer sulforaphane but frequently toss in some lentils, garbanzos, adzuki beans and soybeans.
Once they've grown I blend them in the vitamix and gulp them down. The more beans I add the more horrible the taste. The taste serves as a good daily reminder that the food I eat can be medicine or poison, depending on my choices.
The broccoli sprouts cost about 20 cents a serving. The beans vary but are very inexpensive as I buy them from the bulk bins at the health food store.

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Post by zarathustra »

I eat "dirty carnivore" with IF'ing (intermittent fasting), which is almost solely animal products. While I'll never be able to compete with the low cost of legumes, I do lower my food cost by the following methods:
(1) I only have to eat once a day due to the amount of fat I consume, which fuels me for about 22 hrs before I feel hunger again. If I'm hungry more than once, then I do eat, but that is pretty rare and usually due to not eating enough fat the day before.
(2) I buy some higher-cost/quality meat (a rib-eye, roast, etc) and supplement with sales/lower-cost products like eggs, tuna, frozen chicken wings.
This is what my body/energy/mood responds best to and I'm not going to sacrifice that, but I have found that I can easily do 200 a month and sometimes less on groceries.

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Post by akratic »

Can you get away with dairy on paleo? Powdered skim milk is incredibly cheap in bulk, and is basically just protein and sugar.

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Post by Lorraine »

I try to eat Paleo as well, and I've resigned to the fact that it is just more expensive than a grain-based diet. However, I feel it's worth it if it makes you feel better and if it contributes to long-term health. I used to only buy organic/grass fed meat and eggs, but this was breaking the bank so I generally buy conventional protein now. I buy whatever cheap cut of meat is on sale, and tend to make a lot of stew that lasts the week or can be frozen. I want to learn to hunt this year, which I think could eventually lead to a cheaper protein source (money wise, not time wise).

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Post by Mo »

I'm not really into the paleo thing, but my guess for cheapest protein: goat meat, raised yourself, provided you have a small plot of land that grass grows on. From what I can gather goats survive and reproduce regularly, cost very little to acquire and raise. It seems that some of the poorer self-sufficent folks raise goats to eat. I don't really know the cost.
$1.99 chicken breasts is pretty cheap. I buy a lot of whole chickens, and can occasionally get these for around $1/lb, but there's bone and fat in there as well as protein, and typically the cheaper whole chickens have been "fortified" or "flavored" with broth-- meaning that 20% of the weight is salt water, not animal product. I don't try to go cheapest anymore with whole chickens, I concentrate more on quality. I am eating it after all.
During the "swine flu" scare, pork was very cheap, and depending on your region can be very cheap. Buying a whole pig and having it butchered may be reasonably economical if there is someone in your area who does this.
At one point, years ago, soy protein was very inexpensive, but I don't think that is the case now, and it may not meet with your paleo desires.
Other options that may be cheap depending on availability: squirrel, rabbit, and offal.

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Post by BennKar »

I'm no expert on Paleo diet, but I pick up 5 lb. bags of Whey Protein at BJ's Warehouse for about $30 (It might have been $32 the last time I was there). I suspect other warehouse stores (Costco, Sam's Club) would probably sell them for about the same price. I mix it with some water and almond milk and it tastes great and helps with my muscle building. The bag says there are 76 servings which sounds about right. At about $.40 per serving, and 23 grams per serving, you're talking less than 2 cents per gram.

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Post by riparian »

The cheapest protein is a roll of picture wire, which will keep you in rabbit snares for years.
After that would be a few rolls of non-slip twine for a fishnet, if wild fish where you live haven't been poisoned, depleted, or regulated out of reach of the people.
I think the highest quality low cost meat would be beaver snares.
I have guns but I rarely use them in getting meat.

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Post by Roark »

"Rice is a non-gluten grain, so it probably wouldn't cause the same reactions you have to wheat. It should be good for filling out your calorie requirements."
I really have no problem filling out calorie requirements, just protein. I eat rice as my main carb source around workouts, since I've been in Asia the last year. It doesn't cause me any problems, mainly for the reason you stated.
For those who suggested whey, I don't like it that much because in practice I get a bit of acne, nose oilyness, spring allergies, and some minor digestive issues with it. I do like the convenience and the price, but I think some legumes may work out to be cheaper and may not have those effects, which is why I am looking into them now.
Dairy is not as subsidized in Asia as it is in North America, so whey is significantly more expensive here (it is imported from Canada) but when I'm back in Canada I can usually find a reasonably priced bulk purchase.
I started researching sprouted legumes and buckwheat since the creation of this thread. Lectin and phytate content are drastically reduced and the proportion of protein and fiber increase from sprouting. Other micronutrients increase such as vitamin C in most cases.
I am looking more into offal. Unfortunately there is no Mexican community in any of the places I live, because I've heard Mexican butchers offer ground offal for very cheap prices. I'm not sure if butchers throw it away here, or what (in Korea). In Canada... I haven't even seen a butcher. Supermarkets get meat slabs that were pre-butchered, and then they cut them. It is tempting to think of how cheap and nutritious a multi-bean ground offal chili would be, or a ground offal meat loaf thickened with lentils.
To the person that mentioned intermittent fasting. Yeah I do that a lot. Here there are $9-11 all you can eat BBQ beef/pork buffets, so I often just hit up one of those for the day. I might like to get things slightly cheaper even if it means cooking at home and shopping.

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Post by Felix »

I think the cheapest source of protein may be soy flour. For the defatted variety it's over 64% protein by calories (and averages around 50% by weight) and costs $61.29 for a 50 lbs bag on Amazon (plus $4.49 shipping). That's $5.79 for a kg of protein if I didn't miscalculate here and that's just 5 min. of research. Since Amazon tends to take about a 30% cut and you could cut out the shipping it will be even cheaper. May need some fermentation magic to get rid of the lectin stuff, but I am completely ignorant about that.

Soy is heavily subsidized, and if you eat that instead of the animal it is fed to, you basically cut out the middle man.
This is purely theoretical at this point from my side as I have no idea what to do with that stuff. Apparently one can bake things with it. Might be worth it for a cheap protein shake from looking at the macros.
I know soy is not paleo, but it's vegan if that still counts for anything. :-)

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Post by Surio »


Haha... Very funny.
Round of applause from me for "most original" answer within a dedicated thread.

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Post by boltzmannsbrain »

IMO it's very hard to eat paleo on a budget. The meat is supposed to be from a free-range, grass fed source, the vegetables and nuts from an organic source. Pretty pricy stuff!

Legumes like beans, lentils and chickpeas are cheap and full of proteins, dietary fibre and minereals. If you sprout them, even better. Pseudo grains/cereals like quinoa and amaranth are complete proteins and doesn't contain gluten.

Legumes and pseudo grains are easier to store than meat, a lot cheaper and versatile - but yeah, they lose points on the manly caveman scale...

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Post by Felix »

Thanks, Surio. :-)
I guess my idea with making a protein shake out of soy has already been done with the invention of soy milk.

( , but consider this:
Here are some further infos & recipes: ... flour.html
Soy Pancakes: ... ipe=628184
Looks like it's actually feasible at least as a partial source or a cheap protein supplement kind of thing. Now I'm surprised myself ...

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Post by Scott 2 »

There is some debate over whether is healthy for males to consume more than 1-2 servings of soy protein per day.
A lean 95kg is freaking huge! Sustaining that type of size is going to cost you. You probably need 2x as much food as a normal person.

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Post by jennypenny »

@Scott2--I agree about the soy. I've been warned by a couple of doctors not to give it to my boys.
@Roark--I think eggs are the cheapest. Organ meat can also be blended into dishes to add a lot of protein and nutrition. Can't you get enough cheap fish where you are? You could also try and make your own fresh cheese. I like making ricotta. There are lots of recipes out there but here's an easy one ... ta-cheese/

I wouldn't give up just yet. I find it's not just the gluten but the legumes that bother me when I stray from a paleo diet. (I obviously follow paleo + dairy).

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