Diet and Nutrition

“If it Fits Your Macros”: Are Numbers Enough to Get Shredded?

Much debate exists amongst diet gurus, these days. Many different methods have shown great anecdotal results; and while it may be debatable whether this is despite or rather because of their fundamental differences, the so-called “If it Fits Your Macros” (short IIFYM) approach is unquestionably among the most argued ones.

From a very general standpoint you could say that IIFYM is concerned  only with the quantity of the food in your diet and gives the above mentioned f*** about its quality. Shades of gray do exist, though and not everyone approaches the idea of it’s all about quantity, so discard quality in the exact same manner. This article will provide brief overview of the fundamental principles of this concept, their consequences and a discussion on whether it’s quantity, quality or maybe something in between that will help you to build and maintain that shredded 6-pack so many dieters are striving for.

What’s really the argument?

To truly disseminate the “If It Fits In Your Macros” (IIFYM) approach to dieting, you must understand its fundamental concepts, as well as the various incarnations of their practical realization. Basically, to utilize IIFYM means that your meals, and subsequently your diet, must satisfy but one demand:

The amount of protein, fat, carbohydrate, as well as the total energetic content in kcals must meet a certain, predetermined level. The actual foods, however take a metaphorical backseat.

Layne Norton, IFPA & NGA pro bodybuilder, uses what could be categorized as an IIFYM approach for his physique clientèle, but makes sure that enough fiber is consumed. Norton essentially states that as long as the fiber content is high, and you are truly hitting the correct ratios of macronutrients for a physique competitor style diet, then it would be hard to eat a box of “pop tarts” a day and still be doing it right (see Layne’s point of view here). With Norton’s technique, he himself has had much success brining a well-conditioned physique to the stage, as have many of his clients.

Norton’s style, however, is not necessarily used by all in the IIFYM culture. While some use the IIFYM method to bring some laxity to their diets, others take the freedom a bit further. For them their postworkout meal consists of of about 20oz Mt. Dews and half pint of Ben and Jerry’s – sounds questionable? Well, itdoes “fit their macros” and will create the insulin spike these trainees are looking for.

Yet another instance of “Bro-science” gone wrong, in my mind.

Or, to put it another way, it’s one of those cases, where usually undereducated gym members base their training, nutrition and supplementation regimen on their very own haphazard interpretation of the latest magazine articles.

A more modest approach that would be located right at the other end of the wide spectrum of IIFYM routines would substitute white rice for brown as a carbohydrate source, or lighten the caloric load earlier in the day to allow for a “cheat”-meal with friends in the evening (see Cheat Your Way to 6-Pack Abs!).

Eventually, both examples above use the IIFYM approach, the vast difference between how people apply the underlying ideas to their own nutritional regimen should yet make one thing plain obvious: There is no such thing as a single 100% fixed approach to IIFYM and I guess this is in part what it makes so attractive to dieters from all across the spectrum, as it really allows them to carve out their own IIFYM regimen – whether the latter will produce the desired results is a different matter, though.

Is it just about macros for physique athletes?

Venturing back to the “golden days” of the bodybuilding era really sets the frame for any legitimate discussion on diet. The original basis by which health seekers engaged in this lifestyle was to become just that, healthier. The idea was to eat healthy and nutritious foods and to train in such a manner that the combined effect would create both, a healthy, vibrant look and a congenially healthy inside. It seems as though this mindset of extremes has become transient amongst almost every facet of the sport of bodybuilding and the fitness industry in general.

FIIYM, if you will the latest spin-off of physical culture stands in total opposition to the original approach. It’s like the contrast between a classic bodybuilder who reaches for a banana as his or her post workout carbohydrate source and the IIFYM bodybuilder, today, trying to pack on as much mass as humanly (or inhumanly) possible by guzzling his or her Mountain Dew. From a mere quantitative perspective banana and soft drink may in fact have a similar carbohydrate content. One, the banana, is yet packed with micronutrients and a decent amount of fiber, while the other is devoid of the latter and is loaded with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which in excess has a plethora of proposed negative health correlates.

“If it fits your macros” is sending out the wrong message

If I were to bring about an argument refuting IIFYM, or I should say its mainstream interpretation, this argument would focus on its overall message and abuse. When I work with clients the message I want to get across is that sustained, practical weight loss and beneficial changes in your body composition occur with a habitual adaptation to consuming healthy foods.

The idea is that if you eat the right foods the numbers (i.e. macros & calories) will fall in line.

Any novice can spend the day matching up Little Debbie‘s snack line up to their macro’s, but I think they would be better served reading Myotropics author Stacey Naito’s latest article and start learning, which food items there are which contain the types of healthy fats, complete proteins and starchy and non-starchy carbohydrates that meet their individual requirements.

Wrapping it up: If it Fits Your Macros 2.0

As the list of tips I have compiled for you will show, this food based approach to dieting is not per se incompatible with the fundamental idea behind IIFYM and will allow you to reap all its non-debatable benefits, i.e. decreased dietary rigidity, and increased practicality, and still allow you to eat healthful:

  • Switch up your starches: Don’t be afraid to occasionally use white or basmati rice instead of brown, or red skin potatoes in lieu of yams. One of my favorite treats is Ezekiel sprouted bread made into French toast. The idea is that you don’t have to have 8oz of sweet potatoes at each sitting to get ripped.
  • Swap protein sources: Getting stuck in the extra lean ground turkey and tilapia rut is no fun, and I can certainly empathize. Don’t be afraid to use fattier types of meat such as 93/7 ground meats or even more marbled cuts of steak. Again, if the fat content fits into your fat macronutrients, then it should be fine, just remove what may have been a tablespoon of peanut butter from your meal plan and you’re golden. Using fattier fish like salmon can fit in, and you should certainly make room for egg yolks, one of the most nutritious bodybuilding foods there is – just make sure account for the fat, and you are good to go! That’s what the whole idea of IIFYM really is about.
  • Be compliant, not perfect: I like to use the 95:5 compliance rule with my clients. let’s say you have 35 meals in a week, that’s 5 meals a day, pretty normal right? That means that 2 meals a week can be meals that are not typical meals in your diet. This could be a night out with your friends, when you have a burger and the occasional adult beverage. This “allowance” of a cheat meal can give psychological and physiological benefits as seen in my article Cheat Your Way to 6-Pack Abs.

All these techniques are eventually incarnations of the fundamental ideas behind IIFYM, which can be turned into a healthy and still practical approach to dieting with nothing but one additional requirement: Use  whole, nutritious foods on a 95% basis to reach the assigned macronutrient and use the 5% leeway for the occasional night out where you can indulge whatever you want.

Not only have I found this approach to be even more successful than complete rigidity, but it also keeps dieters sane, so that, when all is said and done, the notion of “If it Fits Your Macros” can make a great contribution to successful dieting, but only if you don’t take it as an incentive to break a more fundamental rule that dates way back to the early beginnings of physical culture, i.e. to eat and train in such a manner that the combined effect would create both, an outstandingly vibrant outside an equally healthy inside!

References:

Layne, N. (Performer) (2012). If it fits your macros iifym part one [Theater]. Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMfaYy2m-iQ

avatar
Adam Bisek

Adam Bisek is a Physique Athlete, Writer, Personal Trainer, and Nutrition Coach practicing in Minneapolis, MN. Certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) he brings a high level of intensity and passion to early morning bootcamps and a dedication to results with his personal training and weight loss coaching clientele. Adam’s love for education and improving the health and fitness of others pushes him to bring his best on the stage, on paper, and in the gym.

Leave a Reply