Bodybuilding and Budgeting

About the Author: Eric Cressey

Bodybuilding and Budgeting
By Eric Cressey
First published at, Sep 27 2002

In response to my call for contributions from the Mark Twains of exercise and nutrition, Sport Management and Exercise Physiology major Eric Cressey applied his pen to the task of teaching bodybuilders how to budget their benjamins in such a way as to be able to afford their protein and eat it too. I immediately liked this article because it is an interesting fusion of business principles and bodybuilding. It’s an article I would have never thought of writing as it reflects Eric’s unique academic training. And that’s why I encourage readers to send me their ideas. Their unique ideas and experiences can and often do benefit us all. — JB

If I told you that being a bodybuilder is a lot like running a business, you’d probably think that I’ve been mixing some Drain-O into my oatmeal, wouldn’t you?

How can I draw such an analogy? Well, for starters, businesses need to generate revenue in order to grow and succeed; and so do bodybuilders. Businesses must allocate those sources of revenue in the most efficient ways to maximize their gain per unit cost. So must bodybuilders. Business owners have to invest both time and capital into their company; and so must bodybuilders. Of course, while the particular needs of the corporate world may be different from your needs in the iron game, very similar principles can be employed to evaluate and hopefully meet these needs.

With all that being said, it’s very easy to liken bodybuilding success to a company’s success; each requires hard work and capital: two needs that can easily serve as limiting factors to ultimate success. Aspiring bodybuilders can have the will to train diligently, intensely, and intelligently, but if they can’t afford to eat or pay for a gym membership, they’re destined for failure. Likewise, there are lots of companies out there with hard working employees, but these companies may never be a “cut above” due to financial shortcomings. As my fifth grade teacher often said, “Money makes the world go round.” (Although I think she said that with a tinge of bitterness since the salary of a fifth grad teacher is barely enough to make a 1978 Gremlin go round, let alone the world).

At the other end of the spectrum are those with seemingly bottomless pockets who still manage to fail because they simply don’t work hard. In a bodybuilding context, these are the folks with the fancy gym bag, clothing, and every supplement imaginable. Meanwhile, they’re doing twenty sets on the hip adductor five times a week, staying out all night, eating junk, and wondering why they aren’t huge yet. Similarly, a business may have all the money in the world, but if its employees spend all their time at work chatting by the water cooler about how great Tribex has made their sex lives, that business will flop like a newbie trying to rock bottom squat 800 pounds!

Alright, now I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you, as loyal Berardi followers, are far less likely than the general population to have trouble training intensely or intelligently. In other words, I’ll assume that the money issue is far more of a concern for you. As you all well know, the bodybuilding lifestyle can get expensive. However, that’s not to say that you cannot afford it.

Think about the last time that you heard someone say, “I can’t afford to eat more protein” or “supplements are too expensive.” While often these are just cop-outs that allow weak minded individuals to have a ready-made excuse for failure, sometimes the money issue is the limiting factor. When this is the case, one of two things might happen. The person will decide to just go on being fat and lazy like much of the world because making excuses is easier than actually solving problems and working hard. Or they may mindlessly search for shortcuts in the wrong places. As a result, they wind up with a nice set of man-breasts from gyno caused by the generic andro they bought or the soy protein they pulled down from mommy’s medicine cabinet. Lame complaints and feeble attempts to cut corners could all be avoided if these individuals had known how to budget properly. This article is designed to cut through the bull and show you how you can budget properly so that you wont have an excuse for not succeeding.

Like any well-organized company, a bodybuilder who budgets appropriately will be taking the steps to ensure that the resources necessary for success will always be present thanks to adequate cash flow. I’m willing to bet that you’ve probably never considered how terrible a bodybuilder you would be if you did not have money to provide you with the wherewithal to eat, sleep comfortably under a roof, train, and supplement. These factors are a bodybuilder’s lifeblood, but cash is the lifeblood of the factors themselves. Furthermore, I’m willing to bet that you’d all like to know how you could afford this sometimes-costly lifestyle.

With that in mind, let’s cover a few broad guidelines that must be considered in creating our Bodybuilding Budget:

1) Prioritize – If you haven’t read Dawg School – Basic Training for Beginners: The Bodybuilder’s Hierarchy of Needs by Testosterone Magazine’s Chris Shugart, I strongly urge you to check it out now. Basically, physiological needs (the foundation of Maslow’s original hierarchy) should always come first, with other items following in order of importance. Some might debate me for putting supplements at the bottom of the budget when they’re what we’re trying to afford. However, in accordance with our priorities, you should only purchase supplements if you can afford all the more important stuff first. Therefore, by leaving the supplement piece of our budget until the end, we’ll see how much we can allocate to supplement purchases. If we aren’t happy with this amount, we reexamine the previous expenses in our budget in hopes of reducing them and, in turn, free up more cash for supplements. This prioritization also includes buying supplements that correspond to your goals (e.g. thermogenics for cutting if that’s your bag).

2) Live and budget within your means – Obviously, it would be unreasonable for someone flipping burgers from nine to five to budget like Bill Gates. Set up a budget in light of your recognized financial limitations, and you’ll be golden, even if you work for the golden arches. On a related note, do not ignore the importance of saving for the future. Personally, I would rather be able to afford to eat once I have retired than live the high life while immediately spending every penny of every paycheck to support my present bodybuilding habit.

3) Take it month by month – As you get more experienced with budgeting, you’ll probably be able to plan out several months in advance. For now, though, just see how accurately you can plan things for the upcoming month. Semi-yearly or one-time expenses should be considered as part of the months in which they occur and placed in the budget according to the prioritization principle. In other words, figure your Christmas shopping expenses into the months in which you buy the gifts. It might mean that you have to cut back on luxuries (like the really tasty milk protein isolate blend vs. the plain old whey concentrate) when your expenses go up for other items in order to continue with your supplementation plans.

4) Leave some wiggle room – Budgets are a plan, and we all know that nothing ever goes exactly as planned. In other words, don’t allocate every penny you have to the month ahead of you. This way, if something unexpected that requires a cash payment comes up, you’ll be able to accommodate the expense without throwing off your entire lifestyle.

5) Always evaluate a budget’s accuracy – Near the end of the month, look to see how well you were able to adhere to your budget. Make adjustments as needed for the following month.

6) Keep it simple and neat – Chances are that if it looks too complex, it probably is. Budgets are useless if you can’t interpret them usefully.

7) Anticipate – Remember that although you won’t have to buy every supplement every month, it definitely helps to know when certain supplements will run out so that you can plan ahead. A good way to avoid having to deal with this often is to buy three or four at a time.

8) Use Microsoft Excel or a comparable program (Quicken or Lotus Notes) to design your budget – If you’re familiar with this program, you know how much time it can save you. Excel will save time in adding up numbers. Perhaps more importantly, you can easily and neatly (no erasers needed) make changes and, provided you reference the correct cells throughout, see how these changes affect the numbers at the end of the budget with which you are the most concerned. Plus, Excel allows you to copy and paste your budget into a new spreadsheet each month and make modifications without having to rewrite everything. Excel is even great for tracking your gym progress too.

9) Adapt – No matter how many sources of cash payments I list, I’ll never be able to cover every possible situation that may arise. As such, you need to make judgment calls on where in your budget certain unique expenses fall in your overall prioritization scheme.

Okay, now let’s get down to business. Here are the components in order of appearance in the actual budget:

1) Cash Receipts – The bulk of this section is the dollar amount on your paycheck (after deductions for taxes, social security, Medicare, retirement, etc.). It also includes any amount that you are willing to make available from your savings, although this scenario is certainly not ideal.

2) Cash Payments – When you need to prioritize a certain muscle group, you know to put it at the beginning of your split so that you can train it when it’s fresh. Likewise, you should put your most important payments at the beginning of your budget where your wallet is fresh. We’ll subdivide this section into several categories based on our priorities:

a) Physiological Needs – Food, hygiene, and shelter for you and those for whom you provide (wife, children, etc.) are the primary components of this section. Be careful not to confuse your monthly food expenditures with your grocery bill, especially if you are someone who buys every magazine in sight, lottery tickets, cigarettes, and all the gimmicks at the end of each aisle. We’ll address purchasing these little treats later. Note: You should include protein powders and MRPs in your monthly food expenses. Shelter payments can usually be recognized as your rent or mortgage payments. If you own your own home, live with your parents, or just hang out in a van down by the river all the time, you can omit this portion. Lastly, payments for medications are included as physiological need expenses. If you really need proof of why these payments come first and foremost, just think for a second: have you ever seen a successful bodybuilder sifting through dumpsters for food or living in a cardboard box?

b) Mandatory Payments – These are the payments over which you have the least control. Examples include loan repayments, membership fees for professional organizations, child support, and alimony. Chances are that if you skimp out on these payments, you’ll be setting yourself up for a whole lot of trouble. But who knows? Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all. I mean, a lot of penitentiaries have pretty nice gyms nowadays; then again, do you think the showers are as pleasant? And, let’s not forget how tough it will be to deadlift after the loan collector has cracked both your kneecaps. Lesson learned? Mandatory payments suck, but you gotta’ deal with ’em.

c) Contingency Fund – We count this as a payment even though you probably won’t need to make it in most cases. How much you allot to this fund depends largely on your income and your perception of how likely it is that an emergency will arise. It might seem unnecessary, but when you get saddled with a $100 traffic ticket for swerving out of your lane while staring at some vixen on the sidewalk, you’ll be glad the cash is available. Plus, if you don’t have to use the contingency fund, you’ll have some cash left over at the end of the month for savings or a treat. Unexpected medical bills and car repairs might also be covered by the contingency fund.

d) Important Amenities – Here’s where we start to have a little more control over our payments. These items are things to which you have grown accustomed to having, but you really could do without them if necessary. Obviously, some are more important than others. They include: payments for car-related bills (lease, gas, insurance, parking); all insurance not provided by your job; gym memberships; telephone usage; internet access; utilities (if not included in rent); newspaper and magazine subscriptions; premium channels on television; and pet-related expenses.

e) Luxuries – These are payments for things that are certainly not essential to our survival or convenient lifestyle. Basically, they include anything to which you “treat” yourself: going to a movie, eating out, and most one time purchases.

3) Total Cash Available for Supplements – This is simply the cash receipts minus the cash payments (what’s left over).

4) Primary Supplement Payments – This is the portion of total cash available for supplements that is allocated to those of foremost importance: Multivitamin, Surge (or other pre/post-workout nutrition), and essential fatty acids. Subtract it from #3 to get…

5) Total Available for Secondary Supplements – This is the last section of our bodybuilding budget. In a typical business budget, this final section is referred to as Net Income, but remember that we’re trying to figure out how to afford supplements, so the section gets a new name. Whatever remains at this point can be spent in several ways to bolster your supplement arsenal from “slingshots” (e.g. glutamine, BCAAs, digestive aids, fiber supplements, alpha lipoic acid, ZMA) to the “heavy artillery” (e.g. Tribex, creatine, thermogenics, anti-estrogens, methoxyisoflavone, ecdysterone), to the “‘uh oh, hide the women and children’ type weapons” (e.g. prohormones, myostatin inhibitors). Basically, you recognize how much you have available and mix and match among these “weapons of mass destruction” according to your physique goals. Whatever is left over goes to savings (if you have already chosen to subtract it as part of cash payments) or treats.

Putting it all together

For our bodybuilding budget guinea pig, we’ll use a hypothetical dude: Rich N. $uave. Rich is a 25 year-old living in Boston with a goal of stepping onto a bodybuilding stage in the near future. He knows not to curl in the squat rack, but, like the rest of us, he’d love to find out how to incorporate a more effective supplementation protocol into his lifestyle. So let’s break down Mr. $uave’s budget:

Cash Receipts

Rich is a college-educated guy with an entry-level position for a marketing firm in the city. At age 25, he hasn’t really climbed the corporate ladder yet. After taxes, he brings in $27,000 per year (or $2,250 per month). Given his uncertain future, he isn’t willing to tap into savings too deeply: only $30 per month. So here’s Rich’s first number:

Cash Receipts = $2,250 income + $30 from savings = $2,280/month

Cash Payments

Rich is a steadfast follower of John Berardi’s Massive Eating principles. As such, from his position atop the food chain, Rich must also be a “Massive Shopper” to meet his calorie requirements. All the grub adds up to about $320 per month. He also figures that he spends $20 per month on hygiene (haircut, toothpaste, shaving cream). Plus, Rich and his roommate share a decent apartment just outside the city; his half of the rent is $700 per month. Luckily, utilities, phone, cable, and Internet access are all included in this figure. Finally, Rich has asthma that is aggravated by the city’s smog. Although he has good medical coverage from his employer, he still has to pay $20 per month for his inhaler. Thus:

Physiological Needs payments = $350 food and hygiene + $700 rent + $25 medication = $1,075

Four years of college are catching up to Rich. He pays off $200 of student loan fees per month. Fortunately, that’s his only mandatory expense.

Important Amenities
Each month, Rich pays $230 for his car lease, $35 for insurance, $50 for gas, and $120 for parking at work. He also has a cell phone ($30/month), a gym membership ($35/month), and HBO ($20/month – Rich just has to watch old Arnold movies, and Sex in the City helps him get in touch with his feminine side). Plus, Rich buys the Boston Globe each day ($20/month). So,

Important Amenities payments = $230 car lease + $35 car insurance + $50 gas + $120 parking + $30 cell phone + $20 HBO + $20 Boston Globe = $540

Contingency Fund
Based on his income and his desire to save for the future, Rich has decided to allocate $70 to contingencies. He plans to take whatever is not used and put it towards his retirement.

Mr. $uave goes to the movies every other week ($30/month) and to a fancy restaurant for dinner once a week ($120/month). He’s also a big Celtics fan, so during the season he’ll splurge and buy courtside seats once a month as well. Factoring in ticket prices, parking costs, and stuff he buys at the Fleet Center, Rich drops $120 on each of these games. Finally, this month, Rich has decided to buy a new Poliquin book ($30) and a set of skinfold calipers ($30). He calculates:

Luxuries payments = $30 movies + $120 restaurant + $120 Celtics + $30 book + $30 calipers = $330

We add all these components up to get $2,217 in Cash Payments. Then, we subtract it from $2,280 Cash Receipts to arrive at $63 Total Cash Available for Supplements. Now, if we assume that Rich spends $40 per month on Primary supplements and subtract that out, we find that only $25 is left over for the “big guns.”

Cash Receipts:
  Net Income
  From Savings
Total Cash Receipts
Cash Payments:
  Physiological Needs
    Food and Hygiene
  Mandatory Payments
    Student Loans
  Important Amenities
    Car Payments
    Car Insurance
    Cell Phone
    Gym Membership
    Boston Globe
  Contingency Fund
    Two movies/month
    Four fancy dinners
    Courtside seats
    New Book
    Skinfold Calipers
Total Cash Payments
Total Cash Available for Supplements
Primary Supplement Expenses
Total Cash for Available for Secondary Supplements

*Numbers in red and parentheses are negative (payments)
.**One line beneath a number indicates that the numbers above were combined.
Not a whole lot that can be done with $25, eh? Then again, does Rich really have any right to complain? Read on.

Making Adjustments and Saving Cash: Why you can afford more and better supplements

One of the foremost characteristics of the bodybuilding lifestyle is the willingness to make sacrifices and do things that aren’t always pleasant. Bodybuilders go to the gym to train hard and push themselves to not only discomfort, but to all-out pain (and worse yet, enjoy it!). The general population merely “works out,” stopping short of anything even remotely challenging. Furthermore, from a dietary standpoint, bodybuilders eat to achieve their goals more often than they eat for taste. Honestly, is there anyone out there that actually enjoys flaxseed oil? Meanwhile, the fact that more than half of all Americans are overweight or obese is perfect evidence that most people eat for taste. So how does this apply to Rich? Well, he doesn’t exactly seem to be overly eager to make sacrifices. Just think about what skipping a few dinners out or just watching the Celtics game at home would save him. Or, he could just subscribe to the Globe instead of buying it each day. Plus, there are plenty of other ways to save some cash besides cutting back, including:

1) Buying in bulk – Wholesale clubs can save you a lot of cash. I pay $2.57/lb. for skinless chicken breasts at my wholesale club, whereas my local grocer charges at least $3.99/lb.

2) Drinking tap water – If you’re buying purified, reverse osmosis filtration mountain spring water with lemon zest, you’re overspending. Stick with the tap, and if it’s nasty, get a purifier.

3) Buying generic food (not supplements, though) – Name brand cottage cheese: $2.79/tub. Generic: $1.73. Same cow. Same protein. For gosh sakes, don’t pay an extra dollar for the label!

4) Reusing empty cottage cheese containers – This is one of the greatest tricks of the trade. You’ll never have to spend money on Tupperware again. Plus, you can toss them when you’re done rather than lugging them home with you.

5) Shopping for supplements online – If you’re not doing so already, do yourself a favor and dedicate this month’s luxury fund to buying a sledgehammer with which to beat yourself over the head, because you are a moron! Retail outlets will always overcharge you, regardless of what kind of sales and/or promotions they’re offering. Basically, you’re just paying the middleman’s salary.

6) Ordering more at once – By ordering more at one time, you’ll save on shipping costs. Some online supplement retailers will even offer free shipping at a certain order quantity or price.

Obviously, these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. Personally, I think the best route is to always adhere to the six aforementioned guidelines (which are based on saving money on food and supplement purchases that you already plan to make) and then to be cognizant of limiting regular expensive social occasions (so that you can free up more money for those food and supplement choices that you’re also now saving money on). Additionally, you should review the individual components of your cash payments section to see where you can cut back.

To see how effective just making a few minor changes can be, let’s use Rich as our guinea pig again. Mr. $uave wants to do three two-week Mag-10 cycles alternated with three two-week M/Tribex cycles. So, he checks out the Biotest site and finds that he’ll need to free up about $360 to pay for three of the Mag-10 Plan for Success packages. We’ll just start from the bottom and work our way up, making sacrifices as we go:

a) Rich won’t go to any movies this month. After all, he knows you have to sleep to grow! $30 to Mag-10 fund.
b) He can also eat “in” instead of “out” on two of his four planned fancy dinners. We’ll assume he saves $25 on each. $50 to Mag-10 fund.
c) Rich can watch the Celts on TV this month. $120 to Mag-10 fund.
d) The Poliquin purchase can wait. $30 to Mag-10 fund.
e) He will read the Globe online. $20 to Mag-10 fund.
f) Rich can carpool or take the bus or train to work two days per week, thus saving on gas and parking. $70 to Mag-10 fund.
g) Using the aforementioned six suggestions, he’ll save on groceries and bottled water at work. $40 to Mag-10 fund.

There you have it: $360! It probably won’t always be this clear-cut, but if you take it step-by-step, I guarantee that you’ll free up a considerable amount of cash, even if you don’t reach your objective completely.

So now you have a strategy for budgeting to be a bodybuilder. Sure, all this planning seems pretty, well, anal. But is it any more so than how we “analize” our training and nutrition lives? No way! Sure, preparing a budget might not seem as important as planning a diet or designing a training program because it seems peripheral, indirect. But I can assure you that rather than peripheral, it’s actually the cornerstone of your lifestyle. Once you realize its utility, you’ll notice that the other components of bodybuilding success are more easily managed.

Just think about everything you’ve done today and then consider whether it would have been possible without adequate cash flow. Instead of shortchanging your hard work in the gym and the kitchen by losing track of your money, draw up a budget and watch your financial worries diminish while your gains soar!