By Bob Kupnieski
Perhaps the most used acronym in the fitness industry now and days that has become the most popular trend or fad of dieting or eating in general has been concluded as “IIFYM”. The Term IIFYM stands for If it Fits your Macros, meaning that you can eat foods to meet your macronutrient needs in a given day using various sources. While some take this art and practice to an extreme in my own opinion there has to be a fine line met before people should expand on this acronym and take their food sources to a new level. Any chances if you do know or heard about IIFYM you see people eating junk food while dieting or pounding post-workout pop tarts, pixie sticks, or gummy bears to an extreme. In this article I am going to talk about what IIFYM is in my own words., what a macro is, how to set up your macros, and also how we can allocate certain foods once certain minimums are met. Until then lets unveil what this popular fad has to offer.
First of all what is a macro, and how do we determine them? A macronutrient is a component of any diet that is broken down into larger amounts of Protein, Carbs, and Fat. Macro’s also compose of the micronutrients we consume such as zinc, vitamins, minerals, iron, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous. In any case the IIFYM or should we say “Flexible Dieting” as another term has made a statement to people using different food sources besides the traditional bodybuilding foods we claim that are eggs, oatmeal, broccoli, veggies, fruits, rice, potatoes, and so forth and so on with using things including yogurt, cereal, poptarts, pixie sticks, ice cream sandwiches, trail mix, granola, pancake mix, and other store bought goods or processed foods that would be considered a major no no to most who take their diet serious.
Now IIFYM is based around meeting those macronutrients correct? How should we structure our Macronutrients and what are the minimums we should consider? First of all Protein, Fat, and Fiber minimums are without a doubt the most important things to reach for. Protein I Suggest at least 1g/lb as many natural athletes that are gym trainees would aim for, Fat I would consider at least 20% to help with overall hormone and brain function, and the rest carbohydrates. When Protein and fat minimums are met carbs in excess (especially bulking) can aid protein synthesis and also are protein sparing. Fiber on the other hand I always suggest at least 30-40g, this may get tricky when dieting and on extreme amount of calories, but for most people this should be easy to hit with vegetables, fruits, and various other sources they may eat in a given day. Especially those “Clean” eaters or whatever that means that eat a ton of oatmeal (Fiber), veggies, and use things like potatoes or whole grains that are higher in fiber.
For me personally I can maintain myself on around 2700-3000 kcals. So I set up my diet:
Protein – 250g ~ 1000 Calories
Fat – 60g ~ 540 Calories
Carbohydrates – 325g – 1300 Calories
So this leaves me with around 2850 kcals which is right smack in the middle. With that said IIFYM or Flexible Dieting would proclaim that as long as I hit these macros it does not matter if I get my protein from egg whites, chicken, or fatty ground beef…my carbohydrates from pixie sticks, potatoes or little Debbie snacks….my fats from oil’s and nut butters or getting them from ice cream. In the end remember it is if I Hit my macros and I will be able to lose fat and build muscle as desired.
You are probably thinking how could that ever work, how can one eat pop tarts, ice cream, cereal, and still make their diet work and have a decent body composition while maintaining, gaining, or losing weight? The thing is this goes a lot deeper than what people see when they see pictures of these “Junk foods” they like to call them. The first thing to address is calories in and calories out and of course like I have stated before, proper protein, fiber, and fat minimums. Everyday your body is constantly burning calories weather it is via exercise, NEAT (non-exercise physical activity, grocery shopping, cardio, and other forms of activity. The amount of calories you burn with all of those activities added up would be the calories you burned (calories out), in order to maintain your weight you need to input those amount of calories that you did burn (calories in). Going back to my initial point of meeting protein, fiber and fat minimums based off your caloric intake will vary on the amount you need to intake, and how much you burn based off your profession and how active you truly are. Someone doing 1 hour of cardio at the end of a contest prep may be eating nothing but the bare minimums, but someone in the offseason doing only 20 minutes of cardio and working out only 4x a week may not burn as much, but may have a much stronger metabolism because they are not in a contest prep and they are trying to add size, so the overall variance is key here in the goal and intake amount. The energy each individual needs will be the same because they are trying to attain a goal it is just how they allocate those calories to suit their satiety and meeting their minimums.
So lets talk about that person dieting. Could that person eat a piece of candy, or have some cereal and still lose weight? Absolutely and why is that? Because they are in taking less calories than their body needs and therefore keeping them in a deficit. Could they have a donut and a Twinkie and still lose weight? Absolutely, but again lets face the facts. Is it going to be 100% optimal to do this on a daily basis or even attempt to fit this in considering their overall caloric intake? You have probably seen some extreme examples in real life of people eating big macs everyday and maintaining their weight…people eating Twinkies everyday and losing 27 pounds…Jared eating sub way subs and losing 100+ pounds. Why is this? Because they in took less calories than their body needed and they ended up losing weight. Relating this back to a gym trainee and trying to meet proper protein and fat intake may differ, especially fiber intake because some of these treats may take up a large chunk of kcals and making it difficult to try and find a balance of other “Cleaner” or “Healthier” foods to fill in the remainder of their calories. Remember those that try to eat a lot of junk when dieting may not be doing themselves a favor as far as body composition goes and retaining muscle, but could it work to lose some weight? Absolutely. Eating the majority of your carbs from those Twinkies and missing out on micros in broccoli or fruits could be detrimental. The same could be said with trying to slam a bunch of Five Guys for your protein and carbs (fries and buns) where you could invest in some leaner chicken and egg whites to try and balance out your diet again for proper body composition.
This is why I am not a major advocate of IIFYM and trying to get to very lean levels of bodyfat. This is where you start to really mess up your micronutrients and satiety at the same time. Skittles, Twinkies, and other sugar laced goods will leave you craving more, and most of the time will cause people to fall off their diet because of doing so. Doing this will cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies which can lead to health problems in the future and another reason why a lot of Americans are having problems keeping their health in check now. Larger intake of simple sugars as carbs also shows it will lead to chronic disease and diabetes. Going out and trying to eat McDonald’s when dieting may not be optimal because higher fat or trans fat found in those burgers could also lead to heart disease, diabetes and infertility when trying to diet down. Now while this should not be a daily thing some people may try to find a way to fit this in and then eat nothing but egg whites and broccoli the rest of the day to compensate. Not an ideal thing to do, and a reason why IIFYM or Flexible Dieting can get a bad reputation. The main point here especially related towards dieting is your health matters. Now lets talk about how to properly utilize IIFYM with meeting proper protein, fiber, and fat minimums where more towards a maintenance phase or bulking phase can give that individual more leeway.
Now if we talk about someone who is not dieting, a general gym goer, or someone more on a surplus, my suggestions may be a bit more lenient towards the IIFYM crowd because of excess calories compared to be very restricted. Even with that being said my principles will still never change in the grand scheme of things. I am still a major advocate of meeting micronutrients, fiber, fat and protein minimums first and foremost. With that said most of your intake will be mostly whole foods and those that are on the “healthier side”. For instance I will eat some eggs + Veggies to get some fat and protein and fiber in me for a meal, then maybe have a bowl of rice with veggies and then some kind of a protein treat I baked on the side (with pancake mix, sf/ff pudding mix, pb lean or pb2) and topped with some jam or syrup that may be considered dirty to some but in the end I am still varying good sources with other sources to help reach my caloric and macronutrient target. Later at night I may have a 94/6-turkey burger, with some white potatoes and more veggies on the side, then a small protein yogurt (pudding) bowl with whey protein and yogurt mixed together. If I have extra kcals I like to toss in some cereal, granola for crunch, and berries or fruit for volume (to help with micronutrients). These are just some staple meals that I want to show you how flexible your diet can be to help reach macros and also micros.
Now the biggest problem I am seeing is that people will try to stuff themselves stupid on veggies and low fat protein sources like chicken or egg whites so they can just fit in a pop tart and then post pictures all over their instagram or facebook and they caption” I am dieting and eating this” when in reality they planned their whole day of food around 20 seconds of glory to eat a pop tart or a toaster strudel. Doing something like this is not that beneficial or healthy as far as a relationship with food goes, and it also may lead to eating disorders or a binge later in the day because of how drastic the cutback was earlier. So what would the best solution be to this? Try to have steak instead of chicken and fit things like this into your meal plan. Every now and then I will crave some Italian because my grandmother is 100% Italian and I will throw in some whole wheat or white pasta into one of my heavier carb meals to help kill the craving but cut back on carbs either in a pre-workout meal or a later meal in the day to make up for it. Yogurt is a staple for me year round, but if I want a flavored yogurt to compliment a protein flavor or a berry/fruit mix in again I will cut back carbs to help insert that food source in for that given meal.
Some other things that I do see with a lot of gym goers is their fear of moderation or indulging. Just because they are on some kind of diet or track their calories they think certain foods are non-existent or should never be consumed.
“Oh I cannot eat that I am trying to lose weight”
“Bread, Carbs, those are not on my diet”
“If I ate one cookie I would eat all of them”
If this is what you are saying or what you hear saying, then you need to try and explain to them some of the guidelines in this article. If the majority of your intake (like I stated 80% or so) comes from healthy foods and you want a small piece of chocolate then you can allocate some calories and cut back from some of the other sources to fit in a smaller piece of chocolate to help kill the craving or indulgence that may lead to a bigger downfall.
A great tip I have found to help with this is to try and play with your meal timing and frequency. Since most of the foods we crave will be high in calories, try cutting back meal frequency (instead of say 6 to 4 meals a day or 5 to 3 meals a day). Remember Eating every 2-3 hours is a myth. Research done by layne Norton on muscle protein synthesis which has been backed by Jacob Wilson, has shown that meals spread 4-6 hours apart are most optimal for muscle protein synthesis. Alan Aragon has an incredible article on “How much protein can you eat per meal” regarding the size of the meal and digestion time. Your metabolism will not tank every 2-3 hours if you do not eat, You can even head over to leangains.com and read the top 10 fasting myths debunked by martin Berkhan as a refresher and enough studies to make your head blow up showing how MPS (Muscle protein Synthesis) may be better with larger feedings spread out to help allow protein levels to reach their refractory levels before being spiked again.
Hopefully this article was an eye opener for some, and for others it may be brushing up some of the things they have already known or practiced. Moderation is a lost art in many forms not just food. Implementing some of the tactics in this article may be a god sent for some, and for others it may lead to a few downfalls because of an unhealthy practice or relationship with food in the past. Remember you do not need to eat every 2-3 hours of nothing but unprocessed, no carbs, no sugar, and lean proteins to make progress. Try and utilize some principles of flexible dieting, modify your meal frequency or timing, try different food sources, and in the end see how your body responds and enjoy some good eats!