Calories, Macros, and IIFYM (Flexible Dieting)
Macros, Calories, and IIFYM
If you are not into bodybuilding, the words in the title may mean nothing to you. (Hopefully calories sounds familiar!). Don’t worry if this concept is alien to you; we are about to fill you in on all you need to know about macros and how they relate to calories.
IIFYM and/or (aka) Flexible Dieting
For the purpose of this article we are defining IIFYM (if it fits your macros) and flexible dieting along the same theory. By definition Flexible Dieting (Or commonly known as If It Fits Your Macros) is simply the tracking of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) to achieve a body composition goal.
So first off, I would like to establish this is NOT NEW. It has however became increasingly popular lately due to what appears as an increased knowledge base in the fitness/nutrition industry and social media. (Wahoo!) Learning macronutrients & therefore tracking them to achieve a specific body composition goal is, in my opinion, “BASIC FIRST PAGE PERSONAL TRAINER TEXT BOOK KNOWLEDGE!” So hats off to all of the new flexible dieting macro coaches out there, you have just completed Chapter 1 of your Nutrition certification.
What Are Macros?
Macros is an abbreviation of the term macronutrients. Macros are the three groups which form the basis of all calories a person consumes. To break this down for our average consumer (not the coaches out there) you have 3 primary macronutrients which are protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Water is a 4th macronutrient (do you remember that from the text book, macro coach? ) and you also have macro minerals and micronutrients but we will leave that for another discussion. All 3 of these macronutrients (excluding water) have calories.
For people who are following the IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros – diet, macros and calories are very important. The IIFYM diet works for a lot of people as it leaves room for treats while taking in to account an individual’s health, metabolism and lifestyle.
How Does It Work?
Following a macros diet basically gives you a daily budget for your calorie intake. At its core, this is a calorie-counting diet. A budget is allocated for each of the three groups. Your overall end-goal will help you calculate what your budget for each macronutrient is. A diet for someone who wants to build muscle will not be the same as the diet for someone who wants to lose body fat. The interesting, or for some people confusing, part comes next. You can get your allocated carbs, proteins and fats from any food as long as it meets your macro requirements and stays within your calorie budget. It’s kind of like saying you could get your daily carb intake from potatoes OR a chocolate bar. However, it isn’t really as simple as eating whatever you want in order to hit a target. By tracking your total macros you can track you total calorie consumption for the day, theoretically. However, there is much more to it and this is not necessarily all truth. But that’s an entirely different article, and for the sake of keeping this simple, we are going to run with that.
Protein and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, whereas fat has 9. For flexible dieting to work, you will essentially need to track all of these. Example if are eating 2000 calories per day consisting of 50% protein then you will need to write down everything you consume all day down to the gram of food. Just as an example – 1 cup egg whites equals approx 25 grams protein. 25g times 4 calories per gram equals 100 calories. Do this with all foods at each meal all day to meet your macros.
Brain fried yet? It gets better. So the problem is most people are not knowledgeable enough to do this correctly. Even flexible dieters who CAN count their macros sometimes are not educated enough to properly execute a IIFYM diet. Example, you read a label that says 0 calorie, sugar free, fat free, carbohydrate free. So you pour it on your food-not measuring because it’s zero calories right? Wrong. It is only zero calories within the serving size on the label. Food labeling laws permits companies to label something as zero if the amount is under a specific percent according to the serving size. So know you’ve just used a bottle of zero calorie sauce in 1 day and you track your zero calories from Macros but in reality you just added another 100 calories to your food. Do this repeatedly over weeks and you’ve just halted your fat loss or worse added a pound of fat to your physique!
How to Get Started
Like with all diets and health plans, if you want to follow a diet built around macros and calories, you need to decide why and what your goal is.
- Do you want to build muscle?
- Are you trying to maintain a certain bodyweight?
- Is your aim to lose body fat?
If you decide to achieve your goal through macros and calorie counting, depending on what you want to achieve, you will need to follow a specific daily budget for fats, carbs and proteins. Guidelines are available but these may require some alterations to work for you if you have other specific health or lifestyle requirements. You should also consider your gender, your body type and how sedentary or active your lifestyle is.
|Muscle Gain||Maintenance||Fat Loss|
|Carbs||40 – 60 %||30 – 50 %||10 – 30 %|
|Proteins||25 – 35 %||25 – 35 %||40 – 50 %|
|Fats||15 – 25 %||25 – 35 %||30 – 40 %|
So any diet, meal plan, or nutritional program is essentially a macro diet. All of these are built around a goal number whether is 3000 calories per day consisting of 50% protein and 30% carbohydrates and 20% fat which is still counting macros, or if it’s the Atkins diet and all high protein, moderate fat, and no carbohydrate. This is still counting macros. This is why I say this is not new. Someone has simply taken a theory of a nutritional concept of food swap outs and gave it a name – IIFYM and it went viral.
What Foods Should I Eat?
It doesn’t matter whether your meal plan is chicken, rice, and spinach all day or protein shakes and pop tarts, if you are meeting your macros then it’s all the same-IIFYM. The problem lies where social media has blown up flexible dieting with pictures of bodybuilders eating pop tarts and donuts for their pre-contest diets or cross fitters downing an entire cake at night because they saved up their macros all day. We don’t really mean that you should consider getting all your daily carbohydrates from a chocolate bar or pop tarts. However some “macro coaches will tell you this is ok, but take our word for it, your labs from your future doctor appointments won’t agree!
Unfortunately your body does not work like this. Anything in moderation is usually ok. However this is again another problem. Look at Americans. Does it look like we can handle moderation? Absolutely not. Americans have very little self-control. This is the problem with these new “macro coaches.” They do not understand that for flexible dieting to work and be healthy, it must be done correctly. And for it to be done correctly, only certain individuals can do a flexible diet. Flexible dieting is essentially a skill that has to be taught correctly and implemented correctly and consistently. If not taught correctly, the client will fail. If not implemented correctly and consistently the client will fail again. Flexible dieting IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. A flexible dieter must be advanced, progressed in their fitness and nutrition training, have self-control, and good solid base knowledge and understanding of nutrition. If you cannot read a food label and immediately see, count, and calculate your macros, including total caloric consumption of the entire meal the individual food is a part of, then flexible dieting will absolutely NOT WORK FOR YOU.
A diet revolving around macros and calories should include mainly healthy food that everyone should be eating anyway! You still need to get your recommended daily dose of vitamins and minerals so the foods you eat should offer these too. Getting your nutrients from whole foods is always better than a supplement form, so to answer those questions in the back of your mind, no you can’t just eat donuts and take a multivitamin. Again your body does not work like this. Your body absorbs nutrients at different rates and efficiencies which is why whole foods is better, but that is yet another blog post.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates sometimes have a bad reputation but as this diet shows, they are not all bad! Corn, bananas, peas and potatoes are all healthy foods that are carbohydrate rich. 100% whole grain foods and milk are also excellent carbohydrate sources.
- Protein: Seafood, poultry, dairy, eggs, beans and lean beef are all excellent sources of protein. Tofu, nuts and seeds are also rich in protein.
- Fats: Just like with carbs, don’t be afraid of fats. Avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds and fish should all be on your shopping list when buying your fat foods. Dark chocolate, eggs and coconut can also provide you with some healthy fats.
Counting calories and keeping a close eye on your macros can be an excellent diet plan. However, it is a diet that you may want to speak to a specialist about before you start the plan. The diet is not recommended for “average” overweight people or someone who needs a complete diet and food over-haul. It really is a diet that best suits people who are educated, informed, focused on maintaining or gaining a specific body physique, and half self-control.
I have always said Nutrition is progressive, just like training. You don’t start lifting weights and come in the gym lifting a thousand pounds, you start light and when that’s easy you go up in weight. The same exact concept applies with nutrition but most people don’t know this and sadly most coaches or trainers don’t either. Example, if I have a client that is a junk-food junkie and eats all processed snacks out of a vending machine all day and fast food 3x per day. I cannot simply say “it’s ok, go count your macros and as long as your under 2000 calories 50% protein, 30% carbohydrates, and 20% fat, you can eat whatever you want!” NO, they will never succeed, in fact they will probably never start. This client has probably never even read a food label and now I just told them to count something they’ve never heard of?? Nor can I give them a super strict bodybuilding meal plan consisting of only chicken, fish, spinach, rice, eggs, turkey, broccoli, and oatmeal. They are going to fall off after 1 week because they food is boring, bland, disgusting to them because their taste buds NEED TO BE DETOXED! However, if I sit down with them and write down everything they eat and we make small changes here and there, like portion control and some low calories swap outs, along with focusing on 1 task per week like increased water, daily multivitamin, or just writing down food consumption. Then overtime this leads to a more educated client who will have better success more long term and live a happier life!
In conclusion, IIFYM (aka flexible dieting) is NOT NEW. It’s simply been taken completely out of context thanks to social media. Flexible dieting is essentially a lifestyle concept for the fairly educated fitness/nutrition person who has a grasp on how to eat right and track it correctly, and when done right, can generate great results without any psychological stress from a restricted diet.
Feeling better about your health or fitness shouldn’t be a chore. If you ever need some extra support, come by BEFIT to speak with one of our trainers or simply fill out a Free Consultation Request by clicking the link and a fitness professional will reach out to you within 24 hours.