By Quincy Tejani
I can see it now: someone trying to get in shape, about to take the last bite of his 10th chicken breast of the week. He moves the fork to his mouth but he feels his throat constrict. He just can’t bring himself to eat it. His diet of nonstop chicken breast, brown rice and broccoli has made him hate the thought of eating, and he has even considered quitting because he so misses the taste of hamburgers, French fries and pizza.
Surely tales similar to this one really have caused those trying to lose weight and get in shape to give up their aspirations and dreams of achieving the ideal body, traded in for a fat, piece of decadent chocolate cake. For years we’ve been told that our diet was the most important part of building a fantastic physique, and anything short of impeccable would inhibit the rewards that we’re working so hard to achieve.
Although it is still clear that diet is of paramount importance to creating that “perfect” body, a revolutionary new theory has taken the fitness world by storm, one that allows you to think of food a little bit differently. The name of this new discovery is IIFYM or “If It Fits Your Macros.” According to the IIFYM theory, as long as you “hit” your macros every day—meaning if you eat the correct amount of protein, carbs and fats, and therefore also calories—then it doesn’t matter which foods make up these numbers. Another way to say this is that a carb is a carb, whether it comes from an apple or a donut.
Of course this plan has nothing to do with improving your health. The diet relates only to the building of muscle and losing of fat. But imagine the fitness world when they found out that all the years they’d spent eating spinach and tuna they could have been eating fettucine Alfredo. If you follow the famous “calories in vs. calories out” rule, or in this case a “macros-in” rule, then you as can still build muscle without gaining fat, and you can still lose fat without wanting to kill someone. This is known as flexible dieting. I am not going to debate the virtues of IIFYM over strict dieting, but rather to lay down a few guidelines that will help you succeed if you decide this is the way you want to go.
There’s a difference between body composition and health
While you can sculpt your outer body nicely even by eating junk food, you won’t look as good on the inside. If you are fulfilling your macro intake by eating junk food then your inner body will look and most likely feel like junk as well. Flexible dieting does not necessarily mean eat junk food all the time. (Doing so would make it difficult to hit your macros.) Don’t go overboard with you new dietary freedoms.
IIFYM is not a cop out
IIFYM may seem like an easy way to cheat on your diet, but this eating style simply gives you more things to think about. Sure it’s easy to hit your macros when you’re forced to eat chicken breasts, brown rice and broccoli at every meal, but now you have lots of options, you’ll have to be more careful.
While some people prefer to have their food dictated to them so they don’t have to think about it, variety is incredibly important to others, keeping them excited and adding to their overall enjoyment of life. “With great power comes great responsibility,” is a phrase I’m sure you’ve heard before. Well when you have the power to decide everything you eat, you have a greater responsibility to make sure you do it right.
Tracking Macros and Calories
The flexibility of IIFYM does not change the fact that you have to track every ounce of food that enters your body—in fact, it’s even more important to do so. It was easy to measure out the same foods into plastic containers and forget about it. Although IIFYM gives you more freedom, it is imperative to remember that diet still is everything when it comes to bodybuilding. IIFYM only works if you are hitting your macros consistently.
How do you figure out these macros? This depends on your goals. Are you trying to lose fat, maintain or gain muscle? That will decide your caloric requirement, and this I cannot tell you. It depends on your natural metabolism, your activity level throughout your day, your body composition and your training. The average daily calories needed to maintain for men is 2,500 and for women is 2,000. If you want to lose weight, reduce that by 20%, to 2,000 for men and 1,600 for women. If you want to gain muscular weight, then increase by about 10%, or 2,750 for men and 2,200 for women. NOTE: These are averages, for people of moderate activity level! You may need to play around with these numbers a bit.
A stereotypical bodybuilding/fitness diet is 40/40/20, or 40% carbohydrates, 40% protein and 20% fat. These percentages are by calories. Protein and carbs both have four calories per gram whereas fat has 9 calories per gram. Here’s how you figure out how many grams of each macronutrient you need:
(calories per day) x macro % written in decimal form ÷ calories per gram
So let’s say your diet is 2,500 calories per day. Here’s how you figure out your protein or carbs number to hit:
2500 x .40 ÷ 4 = 250
For fat, here is the number of grams you need to hit:
2500 x .20 ÷ 9 = 55.5 (rounded to 56)
The IIFYM diet is a little different. It suggests approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, then .40 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight, the rest of your calories being made up by carbohydrates. So let’s say you weigh 200 pounds and you are eating 2500 calories per day. You would need 200 grams of protein (1 x 200) x 4 calories per gram = 800. For fat, here’s the formula: 0.40 x 200 x 9 calories per gram = 720 calories. Add those two together and subtract that total from your daily total to get the number of carbohydrate calories. If you want grams, divide by four. The formula looks like this:
2500 – (800 + 720) ÷ 4 = 275 grams of carbs
I hope this doesn’t sound too complicated. If it does, here’s a site where you can just punch in your data and it will figure out your calories and macros for you: http://iifym.com/iifym-calculator/
IIFYM doesn’t mean you can just eat whatever you want whenever we want and expect the same results as you’d receive from strict dieting. Truly fit people care about health and not just physical looks. Be careful and enjoy that small serving of fries.