When it comes to long-term progress, consistency plays a huge role.
And whether you’re trying to build muscle or lose fat, keeping your nutrition in check is key.
Yet most guys never truly develop the habits necessary to make progress.
Usually, they obsess way too much over training and put little thought into what they are eating.
This leads to a lot of wasted time with little progress being made.
The general misunderstanding is that to build muscle or lose fat, you need to eat 100% clean.
This is where the IIFYM diet(the art of tracking nutrition macros) comes in to prove us wrong and show us how we can still make amazing progress in the gym while also allowing ourselves to eat foods we like.
What are nutrition macros?
A macro is short for macronutrient which is the main source of energy delivered into our bodies through food. There are 3 macronutrients:
Carbohydrates – 1 gram contains 4 calories
Proteins – 1 gram contains 4 calories
Fats – 1 gram contains 9 calories
You can check out this great video by Michael Kory on the topic.
What is the IIFYM diet?
IIFYM is short for “If It Fits Your Macros” and as the name states, this dietary protocol gives you the freedom to eat more of foods you like(clean, dirty, healthy, etc.) as long as you’re able to reach your daily macronutrient needs for protein, carbs, and fats.
You can choose to get your protein from lean meats or a fatty steak, take in most of your carbs from rice and potatoes or eat candy, salty crackers and you certainly can get your fats from olive oil and nuts or high-fat ice creams and other sugary treats.
But it doesn’t really end there. We need to dig a bit deeper to fully understand IIFYM and how to best approach it for great results, starting with a popular misconception…
A popular misconception of IIFYM
Following flexible dieting does not mean that you can live off on pizza and chips and still build a great physique and a lot of people think that avoiding whole foods is basically the goal here when in reality –it’s not, and this is a flawed way of approaching it.
There needs to be a fine balance (getting no more than 20% of your calories from processed foods) between the ‘low quality’ foods and the whole foods that deliver the essential vitamins, minerals, omega-3s and fiber.
I don’t agree with the name If It Fits Your Macros simply because it radiates “Eat whatever crap you feel like, it’s alright!”. I much prefer to call it ‘Flexible Dieting’ because it’s both a more accurate description and it also gives you the sense that you can treat yourself with some ‘bad’ foods every day, but you still need to eat quality, whole foods at the same time!
Looking at the food a person eats on a daily basis who correctly follows IIFYM, you will notice that their calorie intake is mostly made of quality foods and there is little junk food in there. This is a more flexible and less-restricting version of clean eating.
The ‘clean eating’ misconception and why IIFYM is superior
We’ve all been there. I am sure you’ve heard that in order to build a great physique and lose fat.. you need to eat ‘clean’.
Everything has to be clean.
“This guy is built and shredded, his life must suck. I bet all he eats all day are salads and boiled eggs.” – this is what I literally heard from a girl at the gym once.
Here is why ‘clean eating’ delivers results by accident:
When a person approaches a diet to lose some weight, their first instinct is to literally cut out all of the crappy, processed, fatty, salty and sugary foods. They start eating boiled eggs, lots of salads, clean meat and fish and they get results.. at first. These clean foods have a lower calorie count and are more filling, therefore it’s easy to feel satiated with less total calories.
But, because they start craving their old ‘guilty pleasures’, they quit their diet and go back to their old habits.
They quickly regain the weight they had lost and instantly think:“
If only I never stopped eating clean, but this is so damn hard!”.
And from that point on, they believe that clean eating is the key to losing fat.. and make sure everyone knows it!
Simply losing or gaining weight boils down to calories in versus calories out. If you’re eating fewer calories than your body burns every day, you’re going to lose weight, period. It doesn’t matter if the source of calories are whole foods or potato chips.
In fact, one professor named Mark Haub tested this theory and managed to lose 27 pounds in 2 months while eating oreos, sugary cereals, and Doritos chips.
You can eat junk food all day long, get your targeted calories in and be done with it but you would be starving your body of the essential protein it needs to build and maintain muscle, carbohydrates it needs to use as energy and healthy fats that promote hormonal synthesis and deliver many other health benefits. You’d also be starving your body from the essential vitamins and minerals which can lead to a number of health problems down the road.
That six pack won’t mean jack if your hormones are imbalanced, you’re vitamin and mineral deficient and you’re under a much higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer.
How to make IIFYM (flexible dieting) work for you
You don’t need to eat 100% absolutely clean to stay healthy in the long run and make great progress regardless of your fitness goals. I recommend following the 80/20 rule for flexible dieting:
Get 80% of your calories from whole, unprocessed foods and leave up to 20% for things you enjoy.
So if you’re eating around 3000 calories now to build muscle, strive to get 2700 of them from quality sources and leave 300 for foods you enjoy eating. Simply make sure to fit them into your macros.
IIFYM for Fat Loss
When you’re bulking or at least eating at maintenance, you can eat some junk food that fits your macros and still feel full throughout the day. But, when in a caloric deficit, things can get a bit harder. That ice cream you wanted to eat at dinner worth 300 calories doesn’t look as good now because you’ll eat it in seconds and feel hungry in half an hours.
On the other hand, you can eat a full bowl of fruits worth that much calories that are going to take longer to consume(which, by itself, is a big help when you feel starving) and will make you feel full until you go to bed.
But that’s just my take on it and I’m speaking from personal experience.
When I’m cutting, I generally take between 0 and 10% of my calories from ‘junk’ foods and most days I eat 100% clean. Not because I believe that ‘clean eating is the way to fat loss’ but simply because those foods are low on calories, help me feel satiated for long and I can easily hit all of my macros for the day (especially my protein).
However, you can stay true to the 80/20 rule and still indulge in some treats if you’d like. Here are 2 full days of eating of mine (examples for fat loss that follow the flexible dieting principles):
On this particular day, my fat was a bit higher than usual(I normally go for 60 grams max).
And here is another personal day of eating (on that day, I ate pretty much most of my calories from quality foods). I was planning to eat something sugary but since I felt quite hungry post-workout, I decided to go with the greek yogurt and cashew combination to feel fuller until I hit the sack.
IIFYM for Building Muscle
When you are in a caloric deficit and don’t really have much ‘room to expand’, it can be hard to fit some treats into your diet. On the other hand, when you’re bulking, you can easily hit all of your macros, fiber, vitamins and minerals and still have a good 200-400 calories left.
Now, there’s a popular misconception that if you want to bulk, you can go down one of two paths:
1)You can do it in a ‘clean’ way.
This means you don’t go overboard on your calories, only eat in a slight(200-300 calorie) surplus, rather than pigging out on 500-700 even 1000 calories surpluses and all of your calories should come from whole, nutritious foods.
There is nothing wrong with that approach and it’s the ideal way to go, but it’s not the only one.
2)You can do it in a ‘dirty’ way.
This means you approach bulking as an all you can eat buffet and gain a bunch of fat in the process. This method is commonly associated with the IIFYM diet but in reality, this goes back to the IIFYM and eating clean misconceptions I wrote about above.
What most people get wrong is, they think in order to do an effective bulk, they need to be on one of the two borders: eat clean or completely pig out. In reality, a proper bulk is a healthy combination of eating nutritious foods, enjoy some of your ‘guilty pleasures’ and keep a slight surplus.
Here are the 3 things you need to do to make sure IIFYM fits your bulking perfectly:
a)Calculate your BMR, TDEE and add a slight caloric surplus to gradually add mass over time(You can read this post where I go more in-depth on how to calculate your BMR and TDEE)
b)Split your calories under the 3 macronutrients
- 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
- 4 to 0.6 grams of fat per pound of body weight.
- Rest comes from carbs(fiber, starch, and simple carbs).
c) Take 80% of your macronutrients from quality, whole foods and leave up to 20% for stuff you like.
Further reading: Clean Bulking vs. Dirty Bulking: Which Is Better?
But What If I Don’t Want To Track My Macros Every Day? Can I Still Make Great Progress?
If this it the first time you read about tracking calories and macros, it probably feels quite intimidating and annoying.
You might be thinking to yourself:
“Well, what if I don’t want to go through all the hassle of tracking my macros? What if I simply want to eat relatively healthy foods and train hard?”
All I can say is this:
You can try IIFYM, track your calorie and macronutrient intake every day and see how you feel about it in a month. I don’t recommend you try it for just a few days before you draw to a conclusion. I feel that a habit can truly form if you give it at least a month to spur.
The 2 best and most popular ways to track your macros are:
Tactic #1: MyFitnessPal.com
This is probably the most popular way to track your macros and it can be quite easy to do so, especially with some of its convenient features such as the barcode scanner.
You can watch this video that shows you how to set up MyFitnessPal and start using it immediately.
Tactic #2: Old School: A Food Journal
I used to track my macros for quite a while this way. You can simply search for foods you’re about to eat on the google search or any of these 2 sites: fatsecret.com and caloriecount.com (these are the 2 best sites you can use to search for certain foods, provided they don’t have a nutrition label).
From there, you simply weigh your foods and calculate your macros manually. This can be a tad annoying but after a few weeks, you’ll remember the macros of the foods you eat most often and be able to calculate twice as fast.
If at that point you decide that IIFYM is not right for you, it puts too much stress on your life and you’re constantly obsessed over food, you can try a third tactic(although it’s not nearly as accurate as the above two, it can still produce decent results over time):
Tactic #3: The “Pie Chart” Method
This is the easiest way to approach eating but it requires much more experience to be able to accurately measure your food just by looking at it. The whole idea is to fill 40% of your plate with protein(meat, fish, eggs, etc.), 40% with carbohydrates(starchy and fibrous) and leave about 20% for fats.
This approach is simple because you just follow these general guidelines to fill up your plate but it’s not nearly as accurate as actually tracking your macros is. You can watch this video by Jeff Cavaliere who goes more in-depth on the topic and decide for yourself.
As you can see, the IIFYM diet is not as people make it out to be. It doesn’t give you the freedom to eat crap all day and still make progress but it doesn’t force you to eat 100% clean, either.
It’s a fine balance between both worlds and that’s why so many people love and follow it.
You can still make great progress while enjoying the foods you love(to a certain degree) whether you’re trying to burn fat or build muscle.
The fact that it doesn’t need to be all or nothing and that there are no real restrictions makes dieting much easier and more enjoyable.
What are your thoughts on IIFYM? Have you ever tried it or do you plan on doing so? Let me know in the comments below.