The math of meat

A guide to measuring protein, plus: rebranding "off season" for runners, gyms banning filming, the best breakfast cereals. This is Link Letter 108!

The math of meat
Photo by Cisco Lin on Unsplash

This is all about meat and nutrition numbers. If you do not like either or both of those things, skip down to the Eat section!

It is a fact of meats that when you cook it, it loses some moisture. Whatever amount of meat you are cooking, it will weigh more before you cook it than it will after. Every once in a while, this comes up on social media or Reddit when some Clever Guy brings a kitchen scale to Buffalo Wild Wings and weighs his alleged half-pound burger patty, to reveal it weights only—dun dun dun—5.4 ounces.

Is Clever Guy being scammed? No—that burger patty weighed eight ounces before it was cooked. Meat loses between a third and a quarter of its weight during cooking. And we usually—usually—measure it before we cook it.

But. What can confound this process, for some of us, are prepared foods and food-tracking apps. We don’t cook all the food we eat ourselves. Sometimes we are trying to gauge, say, the three ounces of chicken that comes on our Sweetgreen salad. Is this three ounces of cooked chicken, or was it three ounces of raw chicken, meaning now it’s only two ounces of cooked chicken? Which number do you log? How much protein are you actually getting? Whoever made this food entry on MacroFactor or MyFitnessPal—what state of meat were they talking about? The mind reels.

What’s really annoying is getting this math backwards. Say I have a pound of raw chicken, and I cook it, then need to measure out some chicken for my dinner in order to make sure I was getting enough protein.

via the USDA, which, as you are about to see, does itself and us no favors

I look up the nutrition info for chicken. The USDA says “3 ounces” of “chicken breast, roasted,” has 25 grams of protein (see above). Good thing I have my little baking scale so I can weigh my chicken. I take my little Tupperware of cooked chicken, and I put 3 ounces of cooked chicken on the scale. Already this looks like quite a lot of chicken.

But I need to eat 50 grams of protein. So I put another 3 ounces of cooked chicken on the scale. This looks like so much chicken. I despair, put some barbecue sauce on it, and begin the long process of chewing.

Here is where I messed up: The 3 ounces the USDA is talking about is before the chicken was cooked, not after. I think I’m eating 6 ounces of chicken, but really I’m eating 8 ounces of chicken (at least in terms of the USDA’s weight:protein ratio).

Look—more protein is not a bad thing, per se. But no one wants to eat unnecessary chicken. Chicken is expensive. (It’s also annoying the get the math backwards in the other direction, and end up eating way less protein than you think you are.)

What should I have done? If I knew I cooked a pound (16 ounces) of chicken, a quarter of that chicken is 4 ounces. Half of another quarter is 2 ounces. One and a half servings of the total amount of chicken is the 6 ounces of chicken/50 grams of protein I needed. There was no need to even weigh the cooked chicken, really.

Don’t worry, this type of back-and-forth math also makes my head spin.

So, how does one cope? The first trick is to always make sure whether you're talking about raw or cooked meat. Assume nutrition numbers are for raw meat, unless otherwise stated (in a Sweetgreen salad, for instance).

The second trick is use portions to figure out how much you’re eating, if you can. If you cooked a pound (16oz) of meat, a quarter of the cooked meat is 4 ounces. Don't go around weighing cooked meat unless you want to multiply fractions. You never want to multiply fractions. (If you MUST convert between the two, assume it lost a third of its weight in cooking. 4 ounces raw is 3 ounces cooked, etc.)

My last trick is, the best source of meat numbers for those of us in the US is the USDA. If you search in your food tracking app, or online, or wherever, for, say, “chicken breast USDA,” you will usually get a nice clear entry. (Well, except that the portion amount is for raw meat, and the chart clearly states it’s talking about “roasted” chicken.) Look—we're all doing our best. Except for the American government.

Anothe protein blog:

I’m gonna make this easy for all of us: how much protein to eat, period
There’s even a chart. Plus: “rate me” subreddits, Depression Cooking Zine, a great play by play of the Luis Rubiales problem. This is Link Letter 98!

Last week's Ask A Swole Woman:

Tools and practices for writing a book these days
A bunch of stuff that helped me do a big project with no natural ability to focus or achieve on a consistent basis, while beset on all side by attention thieves.



~Liftcord Pick of the Week: “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” metal cover. Also, prompted by a member to share “advice for someone in their twenties,” a bunch of folks said some wonderful and apathetic things! It’s in the #general-chat channel. ~

It’s time to rebrand “off season” for runners. I can’t agree more. Hear me out: Strength training season. Bulking season. LIFTOFF season. We can keep working on this, I have lots of ideas! Hey where are you going

The Stranger columnist gets ripped for a powerlifting event (and casually mentions Claire Zai as if she is a mere civilian!). I love all of these columns, actually! What a great idea.

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Consumer Reports ranked the best breakfast cereals. I need to take this moment to say: Justice for Grape Nuts. I feel the tide unfairly turning against Grape Nuts, and I’m here to say, cut that shit out. If I go in your store and I see no Grape Nuts on your shelves? I’m steamed! Grape Nuts is a perfect food. You can add sugar to taste. You don’t like the texture? Get them wet and wait a while! You want it hot? Throw it in the microwave! She is fibrous, she is nutrient dense, AND she’s delicious? We should be thanking our higher power Grape Nuts even bothers with us.


This Insider post on gyms banning filming is not giving me tons of signs to take it seriously; there have long been some gyms that ban or restrict filming. Some gyms don’t allow filming at all, but it’s very rare; it’s much more common to have signs around that state filming other members is forbidden (before this heyday of people trying to tattle on each other and go viral on TikTok, people used to just creepshot each other to be disgusting). Nonetheless: film your sets responsibly, lest ye someday not be allowed to film at all!

It continues to delight me how social media platforms simply have no idea what’s going on there. An Instagram exec had to be educated by his teen; YouTube said ages ago it was going to start cracking down on problematic dieting and fitness content, only to post this week to say that it’s, uh, continuing to attempt to crack down on problematic dieting and fitness content, for real this time.

“Looksmaxxing” gives me the willies.

The Army is fretting because its measuring tape is not good at all at identifying our nation’s fittest. Reached for comment, I said “LOL

The Jerusalem Post published and then took down a post entitled “How to use the stress from the Israel-Hamas war to lose weight.” Literally, there’s people that are dying.

TikTok shut down its Creator Fund. All social media companies do is bait and switch, so this should surprise no one. Now there is the “Creativity Program,” which only pays out for videos over a minute, if the creator is popular enough. I’m begging everyone to see what’s happening here! Remember when TikToks were 15 seconds long?



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I’ve been thinking for a while that the dominant framework in film criticism still can’t deal with movies from women’s perspectives. There are so many movies I love that center on women characters and end up with mid reviews and mid Rotten Tomatoes scores, and then I watch them and can see exactly what their “problem” is: they concern themselves with women’s challenges. This is why I loved reading Rax King’s review of Priscilla; it feels like she is bringing the level of nuance and understanding a film like this requires. Sorry to Anthony Brody or whoever!

Confessions of a viral AI writer.

A tip of the hat to The Guardian’s new wellness section! Especially to SAB fav Jess DeFino’s column on whether we should be getting Botox.

That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, follow me on Bluesky, thank you, let’s go—