Skip to content

Does Where You Shop, Determine What You Get?

  • 6 min read

by Christian Duque

In Spanish we have an old saying, tell me who you’re with and I’ll tell you who are. Another saying that’s appropo for this article goes something like this, “you get what you pay for.” I mean, we’ve all heard that one and know it all too well. The crux of this article and of pretty much everything dealing with building quality muscle, is diet. As with anything, sources are key. If you’re buying a creatine product and the source is a cheap raw, you probably won’t see results. If you buy cheap luggage at a tourist trap, it’s likely your belongings will eventually wind up all over the floor because the bag won’t stay together long.

Usually where you buy something isn’t as important as what you pay, largely because the store doesn’t make the goods, it just sells them. Most stores have a wide variety of products and it’s up to the buyer to pick what type of quality they want. But what if the store you went to only had cheap goods and what if your selection wasn’t based on a spectrum from great to worst, but just a collection of junk? Now, let’s move the scenario to something more relevant to a physique-based athlete than, say, luggage. What about groceries? We all need groceries. Some people are on a budget. Those people especially need to eat at home more and save that hard-earned cash; however, savings take a backseat to nutrition for athletes. They need to ensure they’re staying true to their diets, getting the right macros, and of course getting enough of food. If you drive around town – any town in modern day America – you’ll see a number of markets ranging from boutique to mainstream commercial to Aldi to Save-A-Lot, all charging different prices for groceries. Many of these markets have cost saving measures to bring you the same products for less, others offer store brands, and others will save you the money but offer very slim pickins. In this article I’d like to discuss the type of markets out there, including which should be avoided. I will also discuss some legitimate cost-saving practices. Finally, I’ll speak to what some companies are doing to charge less, sometimes even engaging in hokey practices that you should be keen to.

First and foremost, not all grocery stores are created equally. Sure, most have shopping carts, aisles, and freezer cases. Most have cash registers, plastic bags, and produce departments. In terms of appearances, most grocery stores look alike, but what items are used to stock the shelves is what we’re here to really address. On the top end of the spectrum, there’s boutique stores for the rich and famous. There’s elegant markets like Whole Foods and Epicure. For those looking for wholesome, non-gmo groceries without the cost of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s is a great alternative. The next level is the general category of supermarkets, whether we’re talking Kroger’s, Publix, Albertson’s, etc. I’d include Walmart Super Centers and Grocery Stores here as well. The general category charges regular price, has all the major name brands, but also have better value store brands (which are generally of very good quality) and higher-end good, sometimes even in their own section of the market – sometimes it’s a few aisles, all the way to what seems to be a full market within a market. Everything is fine up to this point. Do you need to go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s? No, not really. Should you be going to a general level market? No, but once you start going below this level, you might run into issues.

Before going into the various discount markets, a great cost-saving measure is to invest in an extra freezer. Don’t go out and buy a new refrigerator because that’ll run you a lot of money; however, a large freezer is just what the budget called for. Having freezer space, one of the best investment is a wholesale club membership, whether Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s or another like market. Buying in bulk lets you buy top brands, while saving considerable money.

If wholesale shopping isn’t for you and you want to go slightly below the general market level, then a great alternative is ALDI. ALDI is a German market here in the United States. They operate on a skeleton crew in terms of manpower, they don’t bag your groceries (unless you pay for the bags), and you normally have to put on a trivial deposit to use the carts in store; however, you can’t take them to the parking lot. ALDI has plenty of name brands, but I don’t feel like they have the same variety as regular chain. Also, the size of ALDI markets is substantially smaller, as that’s part of their whole approach.

Once you below ALDI, now you’re looking at Save-A-Lot, Dollar Stores, and bargain type stores. Here, it’s unlikely to find name brands (same sizes and selection), first class produce, meat, and/or organic or gluten-free options. Many foods at Dollar Stores and other discount type stores, usually come in smaller sizes, which is a way to keep costs low. You’ll also start seeing a lot of bizarre-looking ingredients, lots of fillers, and lots of trans-fats. Many of these foods are watered down – literally – meaning that even the measurement of food they claim to provide, could be mostly water. They sell very low quality products, of questionable nutrition, yet nonetheless some athletes on a budget (particularly college students and people on very tight budgets) might be fooled by the amount of goods they can get for practically no money. Just because something purports to have 25g of protein, it may be such inferior quality protein, that the body may not even properly digest. Imagine that, eating something so low quality that you not only don’t digest it, but it causes you GI distress. Not only do you save money, but you end up sabotaging yourself.

The best way to save money is to look for good deals, but not buying cheap food. You can buy store brand at regular markets, get breaks on produce at farmers markets, and buying wholesale whenever possible. Athletes should avoid dollar stores, buying near-expired groceries, and/or buying always looking to lowest priced items. Sometimes inexpensive items are far smaller in size, sometimes the nutritional quality is garbage, and sometimes ingredients are so inferior the body can’t even digest them. The key to saving money is finding value for less, but value requires quality. Don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is to build muscle, keep muscle, and improve health. If you sabotage yourself, then what’s the point?

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and look forward to your comments, whether here at Iron Magazine or wherever you may see this article.