This is the full unedited version of the Men’s Fitness column covering my one year journey. This month: If It Fits Your Macros …
A long time ago in a bodybuilding forum far, far away someone asked a question about eating junk food and the reply came: “If it fits your macros” – and the legend was born.
If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) is a form of ‘flexible dieting’, where you focus on how much you’re eating, not what you’re eating. You work out a target daily intake of the macronutrients – the protein, carbs and fats – and as long as you stick to the targets you can eat what you want.
IIFYM was born out of frustration at constantly having to eat ‘clean’ foods in order to get results. The thinking behind the plan is that the quantities of the different macronutrients you eat, rather than just the calories, is the real key to getting the best results, be it muscle gain or fat loss.
IIFYM promises fat loss with minimal muscle loss while allowing you to eat anything, meaning you have the flexibility to eat out with friends or sit at home and eat a 15 inch pizza, just so long as you track your intake and hit your targets.
If you like maths you’re going to love IIFYM. To get started you first need to work out your calorie target based on weight, body composition and so on, and then subtract around 10 to 20% total calories if your goal is fat loss. Step two is to work out your target macronutrient quantity, dividing up your target calories by the ratios of the different macronutrients. Bored yet? You’re just started.
Each day you take these protein, carbohydrate and fat targets and, logging the grams of each in all the foods you consume, try to hit those three targets at the end of the day. And if all that sounds like a pain, well, it is.
There’s no official guide, but a quick google revealed a range of IIFYM resources that help you calculate your targets. Tracking my daily intake was made a lot easier by apps like MyFitnessPal, but there’s still that creeping grind of regular measuring and recording which is disruptive and boring, and my enthusiasm soon dwindled. You see, no one should have to take food scales to a stag do. I know because I did.
Dietary variety also took a hit as eating the same types of meals again and again makes life much easier, and this quickly made things boring, so I decided to have some fun.
There’s two ways to do IIFYM, some include a daily fibre target with the macros which means in practice you can’t actually eat what you want, well you can, but you have to have broccoli with it. Ignoring fibre allows you a lot more junk and I admit it was fun for a bit, but it didn’t do anything for my skin or ‘digestive health’. In the weeks I ignored fibre I was also starving much of the time, and my mental and physical performance also took a nosedive.
With all the junk I ate I was surprised to see positive changes in the mirror, and these were borne out by the body composition testing, although they weren’t quite the results I was expecting.
Despite opting for a weight loss plan I put on two kilos. The good news was that body composition testing showed that muscle mass had gone up by one percent and fat mass down by one. More muscle, less fat. The impossible dream. Whilst the diet did see me being more consistent with protein intake I was eating a lot more carbohydrate than usual, and more muscle glycogen means more water in the muscle and bigger muscles.
The second eye opener was that despite my total body fat going down, my visceral fat went up. Visceral fat is the nasty stuff gathered around the organs that correlates with heart disease, diabetes and cancer. So, not ideal result. Over to Luke Copeland, Head of Physiology at SpeedFlex who did my testing:
“This could partly be attributed to the nature of the diet, as it negated whether a food was healthy as long as it fitted with the basic macronutrient requirements.”
So maybe there’s more to nutrition than just adding up macronutrients?
There’s nothing fun about counting macros, but if you can put up with that then IIFYM offers two powerful tools, a defined guide of exactly how much to eat, regardless off goal, and a framework that allows you relax when ideal choices aren’t available, or wanted. So, if you’re the type of person who has to have the odd treat food now and then IIFYM may well be the choice for you, maybe even long term.