I’ve been looking at my diet a lot recently and know that I need to increase my protein if I’m to be building muscle effectively. Problem is that my wife then grumbles about the cost – it can certainly be an expensive game and we’ve been investigating budget protein options! So what cheap protein sources are available and is all as it seems?
Of course budget is relevant and what is cheap to me might be expensive to you, and what is expensive to me might be ok for a single bloke with only his own mouth to feed. If you have any ideas and suggestions leave me a comment below – always on the look out for more options.
12 cheap protein sources in the UK
I’m in the UK so all prices are in pounds and of course might change. I’ve calculated the volumes of protein using my supermarket or looking at the packs in my cupboards – different brands might vary. The figures after each item is the macro breakdown so you can see how much protein, fats and carbs each food gives.
- Liver is something I need to eat more of really. You can get 400g of liver for around £1 or even less depending on which kind you go for and of course the type determines the protein content. If, like me, you’re not sure what to do with it, there’s some good recipes here. About 20g of protein per 100g (chicken) 100g=20.7p/1.7c/9.7f
- Beef mince is cheap and readily available no matter where you are. It’s a fattier option than chicken breast, but of course much cheaper! Either go for lean mince (which is a little more expensive) or drain off as much fat as you can from the cheaper packs. You can buy it frozen in kilogram bags for about £3.50 or get it fresh for about £2.00 a pack (500g). 100g of the 20% fat mince yields about 24g of protein. 100g = 23.7p/0.8c/19.4f
- Eggs are a great source of cheap vegetarian protein and of course can be eaten in loads of ways. Stick to eating the egg whites if you want a low fat source of protein, but if you don’t want to waste it all and will have no use of the yolks otherwise, just eat them as is. One medium egg is around 6g of protein and even if you stick with free range varieties can be had for less than 20p each. One egg = 6g/1c/5f
- Cottage cheese is good in place of mayo, with a salad or even on top of a baked potato. It’s high in protein and if you go for a low fat or fat free version can really help with if you solely want to to increase protein while keeping the other macros low. It’s around £1.40 for a small 300g tub, but that could easily last you all week depending on how you use it. 100g of my fat free version gives 10.7g of protein. 100g = 10.7p/7.4c/0.5f
- Greek yoghurt, or even my new favourite, Icelandic yoghurt is really high in protein, thick, tasty and a great way to add protein to desserts or even as part of breakfast. If budget is low go for the supermarket own brands of greek yoghurt but keep an eye on promotions as they can be just as good, especially for the Skyr brand which I really like. Incredibly thick, high in protein and low fat. Supermarket brands are about £1 for a 500g tub and gives about 7.3g of protein per 100g. 100g=7.3p/5.2c/0.5f
- Chicken is the holy grail of protein, but comes at a cost. Chicken thighs are much cheaper than chicken breast and some people might find they like them better – I know my wife prefers them and can’t really stand chicken breast (too dry). They do have a higher fat content than breast though (8.9g vs 1.7g) but they are still a good choice if funds are low. Cooking a whole chicken is the most frugal way and gets you the best of everything and is about £3.00 for a small one which could feed a family well with some leftovers or could be portioned up if you’re on your own.
- Turkey mince is becoming more commonplace now in the chilled section of supermarkets. You can sometimes get minced turkey breast which is obviously more leaner, but generally it’s more common to see turkey leg mince. It’s fairly cheap too at around £2.50 in Asda for a 500g pack at the moment, a little more than beef mince, but a nice change and much less fatty. 100g gives you 19g of protein. 100g= 19p/0c/6.9f
- Kidney beans are great for both vegetarians and vegans. I’m not either so I’m afraid this list is a little heavy on the meat side! However if you’re looking for a meat free day or even to bulk out a meat dish like chilli you would do well by adding in a tin of kidney beans. They are really cheap, sometimes less than 30p a tin for the value versions so excellent to have on hand in the cupboard. 100g gives 7.4g of protein. 100g = 7.4p/15c/0.6f
- Tinned tuna is another good staple to have on hand in the cupboard for if you’ve forgotten to go to the supermarket! Not only is it high in protein but it’s also low in fat and carbs. It can get quite expensive so look for deals or use the own brands. I’m not so keen on the basics brands but in a pinch they can be ok. Asda currently does a 4 pack for £2.50. 100g of tinned tuna will give around 26g of protein (A whole can drained is around 120g). Other tinned fish is also a good idea and can be quite cheap – I like mackerel and salmon. 100g= 26p/0c/0.2f
- Frozen white fish can be a good base for lunches or dinners. I personally don’t find it as filling as other foods, but it’s a good option for a low fat protein source. You can get big or small bags in the freezer section – pollock is a popular cheap option. I like to get the Sainsbury’s basics which is £1.70 for 520g. 100g of white fish provides about 20g of protein. 100g= 20.4p/0.5c/0.5f
- Broccoli is often touted as having more protein per 100 calories than beef. I’m not sure about that, and you’d have to eat a lot of it in comparison, but it’s still a good source of protein and other nutrients so worthy of a place in this list. You can get bags of frozen broccoli for less than £1 which will give you enough for over a weeks portions (80g is considered a portion). 100g of broccoli will give you around 4.4g of protein. 100g=4.4p/1.8c/0.9f
- Protein powder is the last thing on this list and the only non ‘real’ food here. I include it as I’ve found that it’s a cheap way of me increasing what I’m taking. I’m currently using the MyProtein whey protein powder as I got it at a good price on Amazon. I add it to my porridge on a morning and make myself protein shakes too. If I’ve not planned a good balanced day that’s high in protein I’m really glad to have it on hand! One scoop gives you around 20g of protein and you’ll get around 40 servings to the bag. The price varies of course, but when I got it it worked out at around 30p per serving – hard to get such a cheap source from real food. You can get protein powder from supermarkets nowadays and health food shops, but I find Amazon is the best place to get it cheaply. You can see the MyProtein I’ve been using here.
I’ve tried to keep this list to foods that aren’t also too high in the other macronutrients (fats and carbohydrates) as there’s no point in suggesting eating a tonne of peanut butter without also bearing in mind the fat content. Unfortunately some options mean the cheaper you go the less quality you get so for example getting fattier beef mince.
If you’re not too fussed about the macros and want some more ideas for cheap high protein foods then the following might also be good to add to your list.
Cheap carbs that are also high in protein
Although not my absolute favourite, it’s a big hit with the rest of the family so I end up eating pasta quite a lot. We often use Sainsbury’s Spelt Spaghetti and it has a protein count of 6.2g compared to the 4.2g of wholemeal version per 100g of it dried which is approximately what we have as a serving. At the moment it’s £1 for a 500g pack.
I’ll admit that we have a bag of this in the cupboard untouched! But, it’s often touted as a good source of protein and as it’s becoming more common in our diets you can find it a bit more in the supermarket. A 300g bag is around £1.80 in Sainsbury’s and a recommended serving is around 40g. 100g of quinoa gives around 4.6g of protein so probably better than rice, but not the greatest source.
Chickpeas are excellent for adding to curries and chillies or even as a main part of a salad. You could make your own hummus too for dipping which means you can control the fat content. You’ll find them for around 30-50p per can in most supermarkets (check the asian food aisles as they sometimes have cheaper cans there) and each 100g packs around 7.7g of protein (just less than half a can drained)
Red lentils are super cheap and can be bought in both small bags and really big bags (again check the asian food aisles for big value packs). I tend to find that with most beans and pulses that I prefer the ease of cans, but red lentils take hardly any time at all to cook. 100g of dried red lentils has 25.8g of protein and you’ll get a 2kg bag for about £3.30.
Another good and cheap carbohydrate that still has a high protein content is oats. You’ll find cheap basic oats in most supermarkets for about 75p for a 1kg bag and 100g of them gives you 11g of protein.
Cheap foods that are high in fats that are also high in protein
A food that’s often touted as a great source of protein but that forgets to mention the fat is peanut butter (or any nut butter for that matter but other kinds are much more expensive). I do like it though and often add a spoonful to my protein shakes. Some of the cheapest jars and brands will have added sugar so always check the label. If you just want a small jar go for Sainsbury’s organic version which is just £1.70 for a 340g jar, or if you’re going through a lot of it try the big tubs of either whole earth or meridian. They come in big 1kg tubs and they are really good quality, just nuts and a bit of salt normally. I’m seeing them more and more in the supermarkets nowadays but Amazon is another place to look to get it – check the latest price here.
nuts and seeds
To be honest nuts and seeds can be expensive if you’re staying away from the salted varieties in the snacks section – you can pick up cheap packs of seeds – sunflower and pumpkin are my favourite – which are good as a snack. Just remember to bear in mind the fat content, it’s easy to eat a lot!
Are protein enriched foods good?
It’s becoming more and more popular to see protein marked on products on the supermarket shelves these days and often they’ll boast about the protein content. There are snack bars, cereals and yoghurts all trying to get in on the good image of protein. So are they any good?
Well it’s hard to say, but my tendency is to try to go for real foods if I can, so I keep these to a minimum. If you’re already eating Weetabix and don’t want to change your breakfasts, then switching up to their higher protein version might make sense for you.
Check the ingredients and most importantly check the other nutritional values. Don’t be blinded by the claim that it has a lot of protein – does that come with a high side of carbs or fat, or both?