This question pops up all the time when people begin learning the ins and outs of how to track food. Even more so when when it comes to weighing meat. Many points are straight forward, but confusion arises when it comes to measuring food that has to be cooked. Do you weigh it before cooking or after? Which way is best? How do you know if you’re being accurate? Let’s dive into this.
The short answer is that both methods for weighing meat can work if done properly. Many people will tell you as long as you’re consistent it doesn’t matter…But if you measure wrong consistently then you could be drastically over consuming protein/calories. In contrast, you could also be under consuming protein, resulting in negative protein balance. The same could be said for your carb intake if we are talking about grains. This could most definitely effect long term results!
Weighing Meat Raw
Let’s start with weighing meat. If the meat you are buying comes raw and frozen with a nutrition label such as buying chicken breasts, that would mean the nutrition facts on the packaging are for the raw frozen weight, unless specified otherwise (as in “cooked weight” on the nutrition label). Generally, how the food comes in the package is what will match the nutrition label. So if you can track it before you cook it as is that should pair with the label. So if you buy chicken breasts just weigh it out and track as it pertains to the label.
This same raw food can also be tracked after cooking, but DO NOT track it by raw weight on the nutrition label. When cooking meat you lose a significant amount of weight due to moisture loss, so calories/macros per ounce WILL be different. The same piece of meat will not change in caloric or macronutrient value it will just be a different weight. if you have a chicken breast that is 40g of protein it will be the same raw or cooked, but could weigh about 1/3 less after cooking.
Weighing Meat Cooked
There are two methods to go about measuring meat that is cooked.
The first method is best to use if you often cook in bulk and have the same foods. Weigh the meat before AND after cooking, then compare how much moisture was lost in your preferred cooking method. Figure out the ratio of weight change then use that ratio for future reference. For chicken as an example; it’s usually about a 2:3 ratio for cooked to raw weight. This means that when you have 3 ounces raw, it’ll be about 2 ounces after cooking. More specifically, you could take the cooked weight, multiply by 1.5, and enter it as raw from the nutrition label. Some people prefer this, but for myself I prefer a much simpler second method.
The second method is to find an entry for the cooked meat you’re having in MyFitnessPal or a similar app. This is the method that I personally use. “Cooked chicken breast”, “cooked venison”, “cooked 95/5 ground beef”, etc. may not be perfectly accurate, but it’s close. Nothing you track is perfectly accurate, especially with US food labels (which can be 20% off due to rounding numbers). So let’s say you have a large batch of grilled chicken already made. This could be daunting for some to track as you don’t know the raw weight… But it can still be made simple. You would weigh out what you plan to eat and search MyFitnessPal for “grilled chicken breast” and use that entry.
Weighing Other Foods
This same approach can be applied to other foods that change drastically when cooked, such as rice or pasta. In the case of rice, most people tend to cook it in larger batches, not just what is eaten in a single meal. For this you can either use the weighing before and after method to find the proper ratio, as the nutrition label for rice or other grains is the dry weight…not cooked, or you can just search for a proper entry for “cooked white rice” or “cooked pasta”. Just be sure to find an entry that has a gram or ounce weight you can choose, rather than one based off of volume like a cup measurement. Measuring anything besides liquids by volume is extremely inaccurate.
For foods like oats or pasta, it’s easiest to measure before cooking. It’s simple to just make the portion you plan to eat for that single meal. Weigh that food dry before cooking and use the nutrition label on the package, just don’t use volume measurements!
This might all seem a bit overwhelming, but find a method that’s simple for you and stick with it. As long as you’re being consistent and as accurate as possible there’s nothing to worry about. The main take away is this: However you measure, dry/raw or cooked, make sure the entry you’re using is meant for whatever form the food is in when it’s weighed.