Gaining weight on a budget can be a real challenge - which is why we’re offering you 26 cheap high-calorie foods for weight gain. We’ll be looking at the eBay ways you can gain high-quality weight without spending your hard-earned cash on expensive items.
We’ll be focusing on everything from price to nutrients to pure calorie content. Let’s get into it - discussing why calorie-density matters for weight gain and what foods you should focus on…
Calorie Density And Weight Gain
Calorie dense foods make weight gain easier as they take up less of your appetite and provide plenty of calories.
This makes it easier to gain weight since you’re able to eat more often, and your existing calorie supply is already higher.
These types of foods will be a large part of today’s list, where they provide plenty of calories for your money, as well as for the amount of appetite they sate.
By increasing overall calorie density, you can make your diet cheaper and more effective for weight gain purposes.
What We Look For In A Weight Gain Food
The idea of a cheap high calorie food is to help you build high quality muscle mass on a budget. For that reason, it should fulfill a few criteria:
- Rich in calories (at least relative to cost)
- Easy to eat and use in meals
- A useful macronutrient distribution
- Low cost
- High value (usefulness per dollar)
- Promotes muscle growth, recovery, or health
- Supports better workouts or other muscle-building processes
These are the key to getting the most from your money. Building muscle doesn’t have to be expensive, and can help you build high-quality eating habits that will last a lifetime.
If you’re smart about it, low-cost muscle-building foods can be the staple of a healthy weight gain diet.
The focus will also be on bulk buy items that can be used in multiple meals. If you have a few staple carbs and proteins, you can mix them up, and often you’ll keep up the basic variety and can add more interesting taste with sauces and herbs.
The goal is to get high-quality basics that you can combine and recombine to get the very best from your budget.
Some of these foods are simply cheap and nutritious, while others are valuable for how they combine with others on the list. Sometimes, it’s about more than just price…
Value: Not Just cost
The value of a food isn’t just a low cost – it’s about what you get for the price. For example, flour is one of the cheapest “foods” around, but it doesn’t give you much for the price, all things considered.
Meanwhile, beans are more expensive than flour, but are a much better choice due to their rich nutritional profile, while still retaining a relatively cheap price.
The value of a food is better when you think of it as a measure of “results per dollar”. Those results can come from the NET calorie content of the food, but also from the carbohydrate or protein content, or even the vitamins and minerals.
Value is what we’re looking for – not just price.
The foods we’re sharing today are all rich in value and will make a great investment in your diet.
They’re typically high in calories, sometimes by price and sometimes by weight, as both are important. Sometimes the goal isn’t a super calorie-dense food, but something like pasta which you can get plenty of calories in a cheap bag, spread out across meals.
26 Cheap High Calorie Foods for Weight Gain
These foods are the best staples that you should build a weight gain diet around – they’ll maximize calories, protein, and carbs on a budget. This means better muscle growth and easy, affordable weight gain.
We typically recommend focusing on calories, protein, and carbs. Fats are good for their calorie-density, however - 9 per gram compared to the 4 calories per gram from protein or carbs.
You can also save more money when bulk buying on all of these foods. It may be a smart idea to spend more money now on a large bag of rice or pasta to save money later on each serving.
You should try to balance up freshness against bulk buys, especially on meat items.
Also, make sure to compare the prices of frozen and fresh items, depending on your budget. You can always save some money buying frozen on some items so that you have more to spend on others, if you find yourself extra tight on cash.
Cheap Protein Foods for Weight Gain
Cheap high-protein foods are also important if your goal is weight gain and muscle building. Calories are one important metric, but you also need high-quality carbohydrates and protein to provide the raw materials and energy for building new muscle mass.
We’ve listed some of the most useful, convenient, and high-value options on the market. They’re all about protein-per-dollar, which will usually just measure the protein content of a food, divided by the cost.
1. Beef Mince
You can get cheap beef mince at almost any store and it will be one of the best choices. A lower fat meat will often be cheaper than the fattier, more flavourful choices. This means that you get more protein per dollar.
High-quality beef mince is also one of the most nutrient-rich sources of protein with a wide range of vitamins and minerals you need. A simple beef and rice meal should be a staple for muscle growth.
2. Protein Powder (Whey)
Whey protein powder, in particular, can be bought cheaply for extra protein and is usually the cheapest food per calorie. It’s an easy source of protein and, if you’re not going for the most premium products, can offer a great dollar-value for protein.
It can be mixed with a wide range of foods, and even blended into your own weight gain shakes with ingredients like oats and bananas.
3. Whole Chicken
Buying a whole chicken – or even just thighs – can offer a huge protein intake for the price. Whole chickens are less expensive because they haven’t been butchered, which makes them a part of the cheap foods to gain weight.
Cook a whole chicken and break it down for meat afterwards, and you’ll save money and get a more flavorful result. The meat can then be used however you want, adding cheap protein to a wide variety of staple meals – from pasta to noodles to casserole.
Eggs can be bought cheaply as a way to get a hugely nutrient-dense food into your diet. They’re rich in protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Eggs aren’t super high in calories (even with the yolk) but they do offer some of the most important nutrients for high-quality, healthy weight gain and muscle-building. Looking for the cheapest calorie dense foods? Eggs are your best bet!
5. Evaporated Milk
Evaporated milk is a high-protein choice that is relatively cheap and can be added to a range of foods. It’s better for supporting muscle-gain due to the higher protein content than regular milk, while containing fewer carbs and fats.
Evaporated milk can be bought cheaply, is packed with protein, and even contains a number of the most important vitamins and minerals for healthy weight gain. It shouldn’t be your number one source of protein, but it’s a great and inexpensive way to add more calories.
Yogurt is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals, and one of the best cheap foods to gain weight. It’s not high calorie by itself but can be combined with a wide range of other ingredients to improve the calorie content – as well as protein.
Mixing yogurt and dried fruit is an easy way to get a delicious muscle-building snack. You can also mix it with other ingredients – protein powder, honey, cocoa, or even just add sweets – to change the calorie and nutrient balance.
Yogurt is great as a foundation food for adding other things to and, with a low fat version, may offer a 1-1 balance of protein and carbs. Not to mention half of your daily calcium needs!
Cheap Carbs For Weight Gain
Carbs are often cheaper than proteins or fats, and they provide the energy needed for muscle and weight gain. There are many cheap carb sources that can offer dietary staples for a weight gain diet.
They’re milled from flour, or picked from plants, or simply grow as fruit. Many of these foods are cheap to make and cheap to buy. They provide the majority of calories in a diet and should be mixed with high-quality proteins from the list above to get the best weight gain results.
Bananas are a fantastic, easy, and delicious source of both sugars and starches. They’re also rich in potassium and other nutrients, making them a simple and effective choice. You can buy bananas cheaply in most stores, especially if you get them in larger bunches.
Bananas are an easy snack, and pair well with things like peanut butter. You can also use them as a staple for high-calorie, nutrient-rich shakes with milk and other ingredients.
Rice is a classic staple of high-quality diets, and is one of the cheapest foods per calorie. It’s easy, versatile, and digestible. You’ll be able to use white rice, in particular, to support weight gain – it’s easier to eat. You can also mix it with high-calorie meats and sauces for better weight gain.
Rice is a staple around the world for cheap, high-quality carbohydrates. You can use white rice and sushi rice for easier digestion and a faster turnaround, helping you get hungrier sooner for the next meal.
Beans are perfect for cheap weight gain. They’re some of the most nutrient-dense foods, despite also being some of the cheapest. A bag of dried beans is one of the best carb and protein sources on a budget.
Combining these two nutrients makes beans a great choice, while the price makes them an attractive all-purpose choice. They work with casseroles and rice meals, as well as many other choices on today’s list.
Egg noodles play a similar role in the diet to pasta and rice – staple carbs, and these are cheap foods that are high in calories. The price is low while the versatility and carb content are high. This makes them the perfect foundation for a range of high-calorie meals.
You can use noodles for lighter meals and get great carb content and flavor – with high digestibility. A simple teriyaki chicken noodle bowl with some broccolini is a good addition for extra meals when you don’t want something too heavy.
11. Instant Ramen
Instant ramen is a classic choice for low budgets. If you add some meat or veg, it can also be an easy high-calorie choice. It’s a simple carbohydrate source that also packs a bunch of salts and water, which makes it a great foundation for post-workout meals.
If you’re trying to gain weight, a simple chicken noodle soup using that whole chicken we mentioned above is a perfect post-workout boost.
Pasta is one of the cheapest food per calorie, carb-rich choice for easy meals, making it a favorite of elite athletes. The pasta provides energy from carbs and plenty of calories.
You should mix pasta with a high-protein food, and you can add extra calories from rich, creamy sauces or pesto. These are simple additions and one pot pasta is a great way to cook everything you need in one place while still getting delicious results.
Potatoes are made of starch, making them a great carbohydrate choice. Simple and reliable, whole (i.e. baked or jacket) potatoes are an excellent choice. You can add a range of toppings like tuna and cheese, which allow you to get more calories and protein.
They’re a simple, cheap option for reliably good results. You can also use roasted potatoes and wedges (with high-calorie dips) to get more taste and texture without ruining the nutrient balance.
14. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes play a similar role to the normal potato, as a simple starchy carb – they’re also rich in vitamin A. this makes the sweet potato a popular choice with bodybuilders as another versatile carb source.
Just like the normal potato, they can be bought relatively cheaply in large bags.
Oats are a classic healthy food with a fantastic wholegrain nutrient profile. They’re rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as starch and fiber. Oats are also some of the easiest and cheapest carbs on the market with a wide range of easy, high-calorie or high-protein toppings.
Oats are another foundational food. They also make one of the best “extra meals” when you start eating more often. When it comes to price, nutrient content, and versatility, oats are hard to beat!
Bread products are rich in carbs, easy to eat, and the classic ‘foundation food’ of life in most cultures. They’re relatively cheap foods per calorie and offer fantastic variety – from naan to tortilla to classic sliced white loaf.
Breads work with just about every kind of food in every kind of context. If you’re willing to break some culinary taboos, you can pair most meals with a bread product to add a few hundred calories to your diet.
High-protein breads are common and can be used to get better macronutrients for a slight price bump. Otherwise, breads are cheap carbs that you put your protein and fats on top of – add meats, cheeses, oils, or just about anything else to level up your breads and build more muscle.
Fruit juices are high-carb liquids that can be perfect for keeping your energy up through the day. They may be rich in sugar, but this makes fruit juice perfect for before and after workouts, or for sipping through the day.
You shouldn’t rely on sugars alone, but using them to keep your energy levels up when you need it most is a smart way to build more muscle.
18. Dried Fruits
Just like fruit juice, dried fruits are high in calories and sugars while not using up much of your appetite. They’re not super filling, but they can be bought cheaply and are convenient as a hand-snack when you’re busy.
Dried mango, currants, and sultanas are all simple and easy choices. Dried papaya and dates are also good choices, providing plenty of extra nutrients and easy to mix with other foods like oatmeal.
19. Crackers (and Their Toppings)
Crackers are a good carb source if your toppings are high in protein and calories, making them great cheap foods high in calories. Crackers with a slice of high-quality cheese and some meats can be a fantastic snack to keep on-hand at work or during studies.
The crackers themselves are cheap and provide a reasonable amount of calories, while the toppings can really bump up your calorie intake and protein supply.
Cheap Fats for Weight Gain
Dietary fats make weight gain easy because they’re all packed with calories – at 9 calories per gram of fat. This is more than twice as much as protein or carbs, which is why they’re typically limited in weight loss diets.
On a weight gain diet, these fats can help you improve your calorie intake and they’re very dense, offering little satiety by comparison to their carb and fat counterparts. You should be careful, however, since some of these foods are unhealthy when over-consumed, or when you opt for low-quality sources. There’s still a balance between quality and cost, even on a budget.
Nuts are nature’s high-fat, high-calorie snacks. They’re rich in a wide range of vitamins and minerals your body needs while offering a mixture of fats and proteins. This makes nuts some of the best choices for low-price, high-calorie food.
Peanuts are an obvious and popular choice, while walnuts and almonds are also great for adding extra calories without prep or fuss. Brazil nuts are underrated, but also provide great calories, vitamins, and minerals.
Seeds are typically high in fats and protein, even more so than nuts, making them a perfect cheap weight gain food. Seeds from sunflowers, chia, or hemp can be used to add tons of calories and nutrients to your diet despite having a relatively affordable price tag.
You can also use flax seeds, which are high in both fiber and Omega-3 fats, as a way to get high-quality fats from a healthy source.
22. Nut Butter
Cheap nut butters are some of the best value weight gain foods around – as well as among the best tasting. You can add peanut butter to toast or mix it into oatmeal, you can add it to a high calorie protein shake, or simply eat it with a banana and a spoon.
Peanut butter is famously cheap, high-calorie, and delicious. When you’re trying to gain weight, it’s an easy hack for better results that you’ll actually enjoy. You can get great bulk buy options on
23. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is rich in fats, especially MCTs, which are some of the best fats for short-term energy and overall metabolic health. They’re the best saturated fats and they can be added to a wide range of food and drinks to improve calorie content.
Coconut oil is particularly popular with coffee and whey – especially with a hand frother – to produce a better version of bulletproof coffee.
Cheese is rich in protein, fats, and minerals. Cheddar can be bought cheaply almost everywhere and offers a great source of calories for the money. You can add cheese to just about any savory food, if you’re smart about the other ingredient choices.
Cheese is an easy, popular, and high-calorie choice to make muscle building easier.
25. Olive Oil
Olive oil is one of the most important foods in history and it’s perfect for weight gain. A heart-healthy fat, it’s available at a good price while offering some of the best fats and highest calorie density possible.
Cooking with olive oil is a good start, while you can also use olive oil with breads and meats by themselves. It’s a simple, fresh, delicious choice that can add calories to your diet.
Butter remains one of the most popular fats and it makes this list because of the range of prices out there. It’s a high-calorie fat source that depends heavily on the source.
Omega-3-rich butters are worth the calories with some fantastic fats and a great overall vitamin and mineral content. Low-quality butters and butter substitutes typically miss out on the benefits and offer cheap but low quality calories.
Butter can be used in a range of ways from sandwiches to toast to baking. It’s even the classic choice for bulletproof coffee (especially with a hand blender). However, make sure you get grass-fed butter or it may not be a good choice.
Cheap High Calorie Foods - Honorable Mentions
These foods are our conditional choices that may work for you but typically involve a lot of extra health concerns. You may not want to rely on them too heavily, but should add them here and there for extra calories.
Some of these foods are simply not common weight gain choices, some are difficult to use for weight gain, and some are just ‘unhealthy’ luxury foods. They’re not the best choices, but they can be used to add flavor and extra calories to your weight gain diet in a pinch.
Typically, I recommend these foods if you’re a hardgainer who just can’t make the scales move. They come at the cost of the ‘clean-ness’ of your diet, but can help build muscle if you’re struggling to eat enough.
Milk: high in protein, sugar, and fats. Contains plenty of sodium. Best as a post-workout.
Cream: like milk, but fattier, and ridiculously high-calorie. Add to shakes for more calories or drink neat.
Bacon: it isn’t a health food, but it does offer more fats and protein than most other choices. The combination of the two is perfect for weight gain.
Pizza: bread, cheese, and toppings. It’s delicious, and high in calories. Easy weight gain.
Ice cream: like cream but frozen and usually combined with high-calorie sauces or toppings.
Desserts: easy to eat, delicious, and typically high-calorie. Everything from cake to pudding.
Brownies: carbs and fats, plus a ton of flavor.
Pancakes: make them yourself and they’re some of the cheapest carbs on the market. Flour, eggs, milk, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Homemade protein pancakes are also pretty great!
Conclusion: Final Thoughts
These are just some of the best choices for a cheap high-calorie food. They’re rich in calories per dollar spent, they’re staples and luxuries, and they’re going to provide the basis for a high-quality weight gain diet that keeps you building muscle for longer.
Some of these foods aren’t the healthiest, but represent the compromise you have to make to gain weight. Sometimes, committing to calories first and health second is all it takes to gain extra weight and build more muscle.
Try to find balance and use the best quality foods whenever possible, but don’t be too strict with yourself. Some of the best cheap high-calorie foods for weight gain are luxuries, and they can be as enjoyable as they are effective!