I’d venture to bet most people have ordered a cheeseburger at a restaurant. I love cheeseburgers. I have eaten 39 cent cheeseburgers. I have eaten 25 dollar cheeseburgers. And I have scarfed down damn near everything in between. There is something that used to baffle me; how is it these tasty beef patties on buns each deliver a pretty similar heap of food yet there's a huge variance in cost?
Well, I have an answer to that question now, and I’ll share it. But here’s another, much more important question I’m gonna answer for you… Is the difference in price worth it? Stay tuned to find out!
First, why the difference in price?
Over the years I’ve come to learn about the variables to take into account: location and quality of facilities, quality of staff (indirect costs), local minimum wage, the types and sources of the ingredients (production costs), how many locations (buying power), possibly a signature sauce or style that you can’t get anywhere else (exclusivity), maybe something I’ve never even heard of (captive / proprietary technology / hype).
Grind that up, layer on some pricing strategy and smother with marketing expertise to see what customers value most and what a customer’s willingness to pay is, and you have yourself a 25 dollar cheeseburger.
A couple years back I began to take a more pragmatic approach to valuing food. Listen, there is always a time, place, and manner to partake in the premium 25 dollar cheeseburger burger experience, but I have come to grip with the fact that these premium items are not essential to why I need to consume the burger. Sustenance and satiety. That is right, I am not talking about chowing down for pleasure, I am talking about ingesting just enough food matter to support my activity and to adequately alleviate hunger.
This is not a call to action to rely exclusively on extra value meals. As I dig into these criteria, understand that food quality is paramount here. Anything that is packed with crazy preservatives so it will keep for a year in the harsh elements of Central Texas should be carefully considered, and likely avoided.
The thought to whip this post up came to me after we answered a question from one of our listeners / viewers of our live morning show, Sipping Brew with the Crew. We were asked to rank the 3 proteins: Pork vs. Chicken vs. Fish.
Spin-zone! Hard subject change, let’s talk baseball. In 2011, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill graced the silver screen to bring us a sports drama called “Moneyball” based on a book by Michael Lewis, of the same name. Moneyball is the story of how Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s administration challenged the antiquated thinking of baseball. They tested the theory that a team's success was built upon the stats of individual players. That line of thinking would say get yourself a 100 million dollar player who can rip 45-50 home runs a season, where Beane’s Moneyball approach would say get yourself three to five 3 million dollar players who can cover equivalent bases in singles, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI’s, and, probably the most undervalued, walks across the whole lot of them.
The big point here, big ticket stats don’t tell the whole story.
If you look at things as the sum of the parts, you can build a really effective team for a lot cheaper.
Spin-zone! I’m bringing it back to food, remember Pork vs. Chicken vs. Fish on the morning Brew (episode link is at the end of the blog). My instinct was to split the rankings right out of the gate. Were we talking about palatability and popularity (home runs)? Or were we talking about nutrient density (walks, RBIs, etc)? This is where things start to get interesting, and a little detailed, so strap yourself in!
All food contains something called calories, which are units of energy. This becomes the common denominator for the “calories in, calories out” line of thinking when we talk about losing weight or eating to adequately support activity. Those calories, for the most part, can be attributed to the major nutrients in food called macronutrients. These are protein, carbohydrate, and fats. But there are other nutrients in food called micronutrients that don’t carry a caloric load, but play a role in sustenance.
So back to nutrient density, we’re talking about macronutrient balance per calorie + micronutrient content per calorie.
Believe it or not, the most nutrient dense foods are not always the most expensive. How could we be valuing foods if the goal is to maximize nutrient density and minimize costs?
Enter the Money Meals Philosophy
Let's find the true value of satiety and sustenance. The only macronutrient that is muscle sparing and highly satiating is protein. If you train hard, and want that hard work to pay off in the form of strength and muscle gain the metrics you really should consider when shopping and ordering are:
Cost per gram of protein
Cost per 250 calories
The Vig on Fat
I picked 250 calories because, in my experience, this is a meaningful dose of food for most people. Depending on how you schedule and portion your meals throughout the day, you might smash a “snack” of about 250 calories, and hit meals between the 500 - 1250 calorie mark, in increments of 250, depending on your caloric requirements.
Vig is a term that represents a ridiculous interest rate that typically accompanies an illegal loan. As we dig into examples you’ll see why I picked this term. Fat is calorically dense and is astonishingly cheap when purchased on it’s own. Butter costs less than one cent per gram of fat. It’s free at most restaurants. However, fat carries an astronomical cost per calorie when accounted for in animal proteins, like a tomahawk ribeye steak for example. Or, the mystical bacon.
I Just Don’t Dig on Swine
Speaking of the swine, let’s apply my Money Meals Philosophy to the very food I vilified for over a year during the infamous “Bacon Ban of 2018”. The ban started as a result of this very calculation.
Out here in Texas, generic brand bacon is currently $4.11 for a 12 oz pack. Let’s look at our net cost per gram of protein:
6 grams per serving
6 servings per pack
Pay $4.11 for 36 grams of protein and we get
$0.114 per gram of protein
Why go out to the thousandths of a dollar? As a 215 pound male, I average about 215 - 260g of protein a day; peg that at 235g as an annual average and you 85,775g of protein a year. The difference in 5 one-thousandths of a cent is 428 dollars a year. And that’s easily three months worth of whole food protein!
Well take a close look at the same pack of swine. We get 6 servings with 100 cals per serving, so 600 calories per pack.
Let’s take the 600 and divide by 250; this gives us 2.4 servings of 250 net calories
Now we divide the total cost by the total number of 250 calorie servings.
So $4.11 divided by 2.4, and we find out that we get
~$1.71 per 250 cals
Now, let’s see what Vig is. Divide the calories from fat per serving, which on this bacon is 70 per serving, by the total calories per serving, which we already know from above is 100.
70 divided by 100 is .7, then multiply by 100 to get the actual percentage (NOTE, always multiply by 100 to get the percentage, however you won't always divide by 100. This is a coincidence, not all calories per serving are 100).
70% Vig on Fat
This means 70% of the bioavailable energy in that food comes from fat. Which means 70% of what you actually pay for, assuming you are paying for sustenance, is fat!
GFY, bacon! The Vig is too high.
For that year I replaced all bacon with bone in ham steak. Here’s the Money Meals breakdown:
$0.047 per gram of protein
~$2.14 per 250 cals
17% Vig on Fat
Ho. Lee. Shhh. It.
It’s a no brainer, people. Sure you spend 25% more on the 250 cals, but you reap 50% savings on protein cost and save a whopping 53 points on the vig!
Hambone for the win. Fun fact, Hambone was also my nickname in college.
Fat, in and of itself is not bad. In fact it’s essential and should be consumed in a relative proportion to your other macronutrients. What is that proportion? That’s a bit individualized, however, when you can get fat for FREE from a restaurant, or for less than one penny per gram from the market, there’s no way the Vig should be so high on your animal proteins!
From a fiduciary sense, fat is a dirty rotten thief, and is pulling hard earned cash out of your pockets!
Pig v Chicken v Fish - Results
Okay, so let’s take a look at some popular Pork, Chicken, and Fish foods to see, given the Money Meals criteria, who comes out top in the three way match up.
Column 1 is the cost per gram of protein.
Column 2 is the cost per 250 calories.
Column 3 is the % Vig on Fat.
Column 4 is the food
$0.013 | $0.57 | 32% - Chicken Thigh*
$0.021 | $1.17 | 09% - Chicken Breast*
$0.033 | $1.48 | 31% - Center cut pork chop
$0.036 | $1.02 | 51% - Whole Chicken
$0.047 | $2.14 | 17% - Bone In Ham
$0.048 | $2.64 | 11% - 5 oz Canned Tuna
$0.051 | $1.11 | 60% - Large Eggs
$0.061 | $3.09 | 19% - Tilapia
$0.064 | $3.21 | 21% - Pork Tenderloin
$0.093 | $2.47 | 54% - Salmon
$0.114 | $1.71 | 70% - Bacon
* indicates boneless and skinless
This is sorted by cost per gram of protein, aka Column 1.
Winner, winner chicken dinner. Literally. According to Money Meals, the best value of the three is the bird, as long as the only thing you are worried about is sustenance and satiety. Take a look at bacon… SHOCKER! Dead f’n last! Now you get why the 2018 Bacon Ban went into effect. It’s basically highway robbery!
Want to know where other foods fall on the list? Subscribe to the newsletter below and stay tuned!
This is the first of many planned Money Meals breakdowns. I’m going to get your mind right on objectively shopping and ordering out, so that you can fuel your fire in the most economical way.
VIDEO: PROTEIN POWER RANKING - Brew Ep. 17
BLOG: WHAT ARE MACROS by Luke Summers
BLOG: ROYGBIV Taste The Rainbow... by Leah Kay
RECIPE: JOHN'S EGGS BENEDICT BURGER by John Welbourn
RECIPE: THE CARNIVORE BURGER by Luke Summers
I am the COO of Power Athlete, co-host of Power Athlete Radio, and a Power Athlete Coach. I've been coaching athletes, training clients, and educating 1,000s of coaches around the globe since 2007. I'm a lifelong multisport athlete, but my focus was football up through college where a neck injury forced me to hang it up.
Now I'm a stickler for productivity, and have a burning desire to empower athletes, coaches, and every day people who are striving to be better versions of themselves.
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