I wrote the below post for another (bodybuilding related) forum. I think it is still very valid for this forum and, although not particularly well written, anyone who takes the time to read through it will get a lot from it. Enjoy.
The Economics of Fitness
Fitness sometimes seems like an expensive lifestyle. In particular those involved in strength training can seem to be hit hardest financially because of the need to intake adequate proteins at regular intervals (versus those engaged in endurance/cardio sports who are more interested in carbs, which generally tend to be cheaper and more readily accessible than protein sources).
Although not strictly required to reach and maintain fitness, the cost of supplements and gym memberships are almost inevitable for most and will add to the cost of the daily basic nutritional needs.
The implications of this are important because for those of us struggling financially this can deter us from our goals. At a minimum it can create an unecessary nagging feeling that our ambitions are costing us money and this deters us from our enjoyment in reaching our goals. For some it may even stop us from starting on our road to fitness at all.
For me personally I went through a period of finding it hard to justify the cost of my healthy lifestyle. Sure I was leaner, stronger and faster than all my friends, but just how important was adding another few kg to my bench press and 2 minutes off my 10k time, given all the money I was spending to achieve these goals.
I saw people who ate normally and only did moderate exercise who were maybe 80% as well off as me fitness wise. In other words I was paying a lot in order to achieve a little extra. That was how my mind was thinking and it was starting to demotivate me from my goals.. not a healthy place to be.
Since then I have come to a few realisations and now can see my thinking was flawed:
* Natural, healthy foods are infact cheap foods. There is little opportunity to 'add value' to these products. A chicken breast is a chicken breast. There are no gimmicks of fancy packaging to entince you into paying more. Consumers are unlikely to view natural clean foods as 'treats' or indulgences and therefore unlikely to pay the associated premium. There is little doubt that eating cleanly (or more accurately eating A LOT of clean foods, as is required for strength gains), is cheaper than eating dirty foods and being a pig. However the temptation is to revert to normal lifestyle and eat conventional 3 meals a day:
(based on what I eat, what is promoted on forums and so on)
4 eggs - 70pence
200g cottage cheese (or general snack, similar) - 40p
chicken breast with veggies - £1.50
Mixed nuts and some fruit - £1.20
Protein shake - 50p
Meat with veggies or rice etc - £2
Snack before bed - 50p
Total cost approx £7 daily
3 meals a day standard diet
(based on what I see other people eating - family, friends and what I see advertised)
Cereal, milk, glass of orange juice - £1.50
Fruit (or bag of crisps, pop) - 50p
Sandwhich from a shop - £2.50
Pizza or some meat with chips, some kind of microwave meal - £2
Total cost £6.50
Overall no difference. Also note that fitness lifestyle keeps you away from junk which tends to be expensive. A lot of people I see getting takeaways because they are too lethargic to cook for themselves. Add up to £10 for these each time. Those on healthy lifestyle less inclined to drink, save up to £40 per night out where not drinking.
My personal theory on why 'bodybuilder' nutrition sometimes seems expensive is that it involves natural foods which tend to only last a few days. Therefore you are constantly shopping and topping up. Also more frequent eating makes it seem that you consume more food. For instance I bought 2 packets of almonds (600g) at total cost of £5. These will last 1 week but friend commented that 'they're expensive'. When walking out the shop I notice that chocolate bars cost 60p, pop/soda £1 etc. These are infact the expensive items in the shop.
When all is considered, the 'bodybuilder' diet is the cheaper.
* I bought a bike this summer at cost of £350. At first I thought it was a large, even a potentially silly investment. Because of the bike (or more strictly speaking, beacuse of my own hard work and enjoyment of riding the bike) I have reached new levels of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic capacity. I am more flexible and have reduced a knee injury. The bike was clearly a sensible investment. What initially seems like a large investment will infact improve my fitness over many many years to come. Around the time I bought the bike I found out that one of my grandparents had stayed in a nursing/retirement home at a cost of £400 per week. If the fitness derived from the bike allows me to care for myself in old age for even 6 days longer then it has paid for itself. By this logic even the most expensive of bikes would pay itself back if it increased your elderly fitness for 2 months, which would not be a hard feat.
* Benefits of fitness such as increased energy levels, clearer concentration have benefited me at work. I recently received a bonus for work which I do not consider would have been to the same standard had I not been physically active during the same time. The bonus will pay for my exercise endevours for 3 or 4 years. There is also the benefits that being involved in fitness has given me in networking i.e. with triathletes, other weightlifters and so on. Of course this can be generally said about any hobby, that it makes you a more rounded person.
Of course this has discussed fitness cost in purely financial terms. Whilst I believe there is a lot more to it financially which make it very clear that this is infact a cheap lifestyle (i.e. lets say you are more likely to be divorced if you are overweight and out of shape, the cost of this could be thousands), there is also non-financial factors; general happyness, the enjoyment of a hobby, the simple fact of living a longer and healthier life, and so on.
I wanted to write this article for the above reasons. Anyone who is thinking of quitting this, doing it half heartedly or not even not starting because of financial reasons, should think again. Financial reaosns should not deter anyone from a fit and healthy lifesytle. It is a false economy.