Going Broke & Getting Fit: Oxymoron or Perfect Storm?

My #BrokeAndFit #RoadToShredded

Photo shoot with Jorden Keith at The Knick hotel in NYC

In July 2016 I quit a secure, ultra-comfortable, well-paying job I had for 3 years out of college in Cleveland, Ohio. I had absolutely no plan of what I would do once calling it quits, but I knew deep down in my gut my time was up. The paycheck and health insurance were phenomenal given modern American standards, but I couldn’t continue living my life sitting in a puke-colored chair dressed in suit and tie staring at a computer screen surrounded by puke-colored cubicle walls punching my own ticket of corporate malnourishment and unfulfillment. So I straight up quit — snapping for the last time. As somewhat frugal, I had saved as much cash as I could while living in Cleveland — my biggest expenses at the time: rent, car insurance and enough alcohol to keep a consistent flow through my body when out of the office, which fortunately and unfortunately for my well-being was not all that often. I had nothing to lose by quitting my job, except a great paycheck. I had (most) everything to gain.

I quit my job, threw my stuff in a U-Haul and moved it back to my parents’ house in Syracuse, New York. Oh, how happy they were. Then I boarded a plane to Yosemite National Park to celebrate my newfound freedom. Once that incredible trip was over and I was back on the east coast, I packed a duffle bag, grabbed a sleeping bag and headed to Hoboken, New Jersey to shack up with a couple friends from college… rent free. I had this shit all figured out! I snagged an air mattress and pillow, and I was SET. Here I was, the Big Apple at my fingertips a quick $2.75 train ride away, no more bullshit thankless work and enough Jay-Z and Biggie to motivate an army of sloths.

“NOW THE FUCK WHAT?” (underemphasis added)

After a couple weeks going out with friends and ordering dinner most nights, I knew I couldn’t keep up with my spending habits even with my only living expense being a portion of a monthly utility bill. Living rent free anywhere — let alone one of the most expensive cities on Earth — only goes so far when you have no income. JR Smith was right: “There was too much to do.” I didn’t have JR money, and the words resonated more and more each day — shaking my psyche.

It was time to reverse engineer a budget. I always enjoyed the idea of living as a minimalist and I enjoy challenging myself, but I never thought I would be able to deal when it came to eating because I consume far more than my 160 pound frame would suggest. But I no longer had the luxury of choice, so I got to work.

My goal: get physically shredded in the cheapest and healthiest possible way while still having some diet variety. What follows is a documented minimal fluff summary of my journey and findings from personal experimentation from October 2016 through January 2017 as I landed a photo shoot with professional photographer Jorden Keith and got in the best physical shape of my life with a dwindling checking account and no income. This writing is simply a summary of my experiences researching and experimenting with the cheapest, best-tasting and healthiest ways to eat in order to maximize efforts in the gym and the dwindling dollars in my checking account. I’ve always been highly interested in fitness, but I am not a fitness or nutrition expert. My experience comes from an obsession with understanding how I could get in great physical shape by spending the least amount of money possible doing so and then actually executing on it. Resources I used for this experiment are supplied at the end of this writing. Combined with a consistent bodyweight workout plan provided for free online from Body By Fish as well as Steve Weatherford’s #ARMageddon weight training program, the following reflects the nutrition of my broke and fit road to shredded.

Best aesthetic shape of my life. Below is how I did in the cheapest, healthiest way possible.

Veggies

  • Vibrant Health — Green Vibrance powder. Vitamins, minerals and 25 billion probiotics in every serving (yes, wtf is right!). At ~$70 for 60 servings, one scoop per day costs $1.20. To save a little money, I settled for only 12.5 billion probiotics per day and mixed a half scoop ($0.60/day) with some type of 100% juice (usually cranberry).
  • Steam bagged broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, Brussels sprouts, peas, carrots, beans, water chestnuts, etc. Each microwaveable bag from the Hoboken ShopRite cost $1.15 — ate veggies with all meals for nutrients/minerals but mostly for fiber — since I was limiting carbs and upping protein — and as a filler to curb food cravings, especially at night. Mashed cauliflower offers a mashed potato texture I really enjoy. I also LOVE peas, so eating a lot of them to fill up was easy. Adding spices for taste but also for great health benefits is a way to cheaply tailor taste of plain foods to your liking; I highly recommended it!
  • Brussels Sprouts — cut in half and sauté until soft in olive oil, garlic and ginger powder. Absolutely DELICIOUS.
  • Iceberg lettuce as a pure filler — use as a wrap with chicken or make a hearty salad. I would eat lettuce with balsamic vinegar and ginger many nights before bed to fill up my stomach.
  • Mushrooms (I know, a fungi not a vegetable, but worth adding here) — sauté in olive oil and add to any meal for great taste and added nutrients.
  • Sauerkraut — mix with some ground pepper and feed your gut bacteria with this delicious fermented food. In the corporate world, I would sit in my cubicle and crush sauerkraut for a snack. Needless to day, my coworkers never understood it…
  • One ‘veggie’ I did STAY AWAY from was corn. I was getting enough fiber from other vegetables, and the sugar content in corn was not worth eating.

Protein

  • Organic Whole Eggs — 1 whole egg each morning mixed with 2–3 non-organic egg whites (mix with ground turkey, white rice, broccoli, lentils or other bean).
  • I figured eating the yolk of an organic egg was probably the best way to go.
  • Egg Whites — buy by the large carton or purchase bulk packs of regular eggs from supermarket to use the whites.
  • 99% Fat Free Ground Turkey — $4.49/lb. // 27g protein per 4oz // $0.04/g protein — Ate ground turkey every morning with eggs, and usually for a post-workout meal with rice and any veggies readily available (add spices for taste).
  • Tilapia Filets — $4.99 (3 filets) // 56g protein total // $0.09/g protein — cooked in coconut oil on stove with pepper and garlic powder. Would eat as a treat meal every now and then. Ate heavily during week leading up to photo shoot.
  • Chicken Breast — $1.99/lb — trim fat and skin. Dice and marinate in apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder and ginger for a few hours before cooking in frying pan. I would made lettuce wraps with chicken and sriracha mustard for a dinner/filler meal.
  • Chicken Drumsticks — $4.00 (12 pieces) // 20g protein per drumstick // $0.33/g protein — It was a rare occurrence for me to not eat five drumsticks in one sitting. Prepare by taking off all the skin (pulls right off) and cover in olive oil, garlic powder, ginger, oregano and basil. Bake 30 mins. @ 400F and prepare to be impressed. Not a bad price to pay for all that delicious protein.
  • Wild Planet Wild Sardines — 12-pack for $20 ($6.10/lb.) // 25–27g protein per tin // $0.06-$0.07/g protein — I averaged about a can per day. When really feeling hungry I opted for a tin of extra virgin olive oil soaked fishes for the extra hunger-curbing fat. When just looking for a quick lighter snack, I’d go for the marinara sauce covered fishes — they are pretty tasty.
  • Starkist Tuna Packets — 4/$5.00 ($7.69/lb.) // 17g protein per packet // ~$0.07/g protein — I would eat one tuna packet mixed with rice and some kind of bean every 2–3 days for an afternoon meal. Being from Syracuse, I’m partial to Wegmans tuna (it’s the absolute best), so Starkist was definitely a huge downgrade. I wasn’t complaining because it didn’t taste too bad, but it was far from the most cost effective way to get protein at $0.07 per gram of protein.

Carbohydrates = Love

  • White Rice — By far the cheapest carbohydrate option available at $4.99 for a 10-pound bag, and a staple of my diet (for the many reasons why, click here). A 10 lb. bag lasts a long, long, long while. Roughly 2–3 months for me. With 35g carbohydrate and 3g protein per 1/4 cup serving of dry rice, a 10 lb. bag with 100 servings contains 3,500 grams of carbohydrate and 300g protein. 1/4 cup dry rice produces 3/4 cup cooked rice — 75 cups of cooked rice per 10-pound bag.
  • Goya Beans: Baby Lima, Black, Kidney, Lentils, Navy, Pinto — $0.99-$1.99 per 1lb. bag // $0.01-$0.02/g protein — With ~100g protein and ~250g carbs per bag, depending on bean type, each bag lasted me ~6–7 meals as I mixed beans with white rice and a protein in just about every meal I ate. With a protein to carbohydrate ratio of 1:2.5, beans were a staple in my diet due to the nutritional punch, great taste and wonderful low price point.

Supplementation

  • Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Protein — $50 for 68 servings // 24g protein/serving // $0.03/g protein — cheapest strict protein option available. I would consume in 2–3 spaced out servings per day (ex. morning, afternoon, night just before bed) so the body has a mix of whole food and protein powder throughout the day to course through its veins. Mix with peanut butter powder, cinnamon and an apple or banana for a delicious, naturally sweet snack. When drinking prior to bed, I used a NutriBullet and blended protein powder, peanut butter powder and cinnamon with as much ice and water as I could to fill me up. DELICIOUS!
  • PBfit Peanut Butter Powder — $8.40/lb. // 5g protein, 2g fat per serving // $0.04/g protein — as a peanut butter lover, I need my fix daily. Peanut butter powder has all of the protein with nearly none of the fat found in regular peanut butter. Add to protein shakes for a peanut butter taste or mix with water and consume on its own to feed a craving.
  • Optimum Nutrition BCAAs — I would drink 1 scoop (half-serving) in morning upon waking up prior to breakfast and one serving during workouts (peri-workout) to feed the body.
  • Creatine — mix with BCAAs for peri-workout consumption.
  • Glutamine powder — mix with protein shake before bed to aid with overnight recovery.

Consumption Notables

  • Water — drink a TON of it, 1.5–2 gallons per day was my average. I didn’t bother adding salt to my meals while consuming this much water due to some of the canned/packaged foods (ex. sardines, tuna, sauerkraut, etc.) I was eating. Drinking significant amounts of water — especially loads of carbonated seltzer water — curbed my hunger and helped me maintain a feeling of fullness and satisfaction. The only downside was quickly trying to find a restroom in public when the time came.
  • Coffee — when the Brooklyn coffee startup I did some work for wasn’t supplying all the fresh specialty coffee I could drink, I brewed Chase & Sanborn coffee — the cheapest, best tasting stuff I could find in ShopRite that came in a large round tin. I drink coffee by the pot, so cheap caffeine was essential.
  • Coconut Oil — use for cooking along with olive oil. Great coconut taste and healthy fats (medium chain triglycerides) support healthy brain function.
  • Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar — used for cooking, as dressing on salads, and anything I thought it might taste solid with.
  • Medjool Dates — $19 per 2 lb. bag — kept on hand to dip in protein powder as a rare snack when in the mood for something very sweet. Ate 2–3 dates prior to a gym session to maximize elevated blood sugar levels and get a great pump during workouts.
  • Condiments: Ketchup (NO High-Fructose Corn Syrup), Mustard and Siracha Mustard (fire!).
  • Spices: Garlic Powder, Ginger, Cumin, Cinnamon and Pepper.

Consumption Guidelines

  • Minimize carbohydrate intake prior to bed — huge component to staying lean.
  • Stay feeling full with some walnuts or almonds or a protein shake with a lot of water (as noted above in Supplementation)
  • Maximize simple carbohydrate intake prior to workouts and complex carbohydrate intake immediately following workouts.
  • Get in tune with your inner chef and be creative trying new spices and spice combinations to explore and find tastes you enjoy. Fun and delicious!
  • Buy in bulk from Amazon and local grocery to maximize cost of food.
  • If choosing to consume alcohol, a cheap red wine was my go-to. I prefer wine drunk to beer and liquor drunk, and it feels much healthier drinking a glass of fermented grapes than empty bubbly calories or jet fuel; if I did drink liquor it was Tito’s Handmade Vodka with seltzer water (NOT TONIC filled with sugar!) and a lime. 2 weeks out from my shoot, I stopped all alcohol consumption.

Not reflected here are the many hours in September, October, November, December and January spent in the basement that is Hoboken’s New York Sports Club on Newark Street. One luxury I did have was hitting the gym in the afternoon when the gym was pretty empty. Consistently going to the gym, walking/running in the morning and fast-walking at night for 30–45 minutes with music did wonders for burning fat, feeling good, and maintaining a clear and focused mind. Walking at night listening to music is one of my favorite ways to de-stress, and it prepped my body for burning fat throughout the night while sleeping on my air mattress next to the garbage can in the kitchen.

Resources

TNATION: Dave Tate Talks Bulking & Cutting

TNATION: Shredded in 6 Days

TNATION: The Perfect Carb for Lifters

Weight Training: Steve Weatherford’s #ARMAGEDDON Training Program

Bodyweight Training: Body By Fish

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