IIFYM – (If It Fits Your Macros) or AYJKY- (Are You Just Kidding Yourself)
What is IIFYM?
In the modern pursuit for the perfect physique, we are all looking for that panacea that will get us lean and ripped by taking the least amount of effort possible, and that allows us to eat what we want when we want.
That would be amazing wouldn’t it?
Traditional bodybuilding, or even just regular dieting has been forged on dogmatically eating meals such as; chicken, rice, and broccoli five times per day, which can become mind-numbingly monotonous very quickly. You grind away tirelessly in the gym breaking your body down, pounding the treadmill for hours, with the simple goal of getting shredded, your only reward is a bland meal of complex carbs, plain protein, and flavourless vegetables. It’s no wonder that so many people fall off the wagon.
If only there was a way to eat the foods you like and still get the results you want…. This is where IIFYM was conceived. It stands for; If It Fits Your Macros, and, it is gathering speed and popularity in the fitness world.
Firstly, lets look at the principle of how it works. The first point to understand is what is a Macro? Macro, in this instance, is short for macronutrient. A macronutrient refers to when you break down the foods you eat they can be divided into proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These are the three main constituents of food and they are what gives us our energy and building blocks to fuel our bodies.
The second concept you need to understand is that when you eat or diet for the purpose of adding muscle, losing fat, or simply maintaining your weight, there is a set number of calories you must consume to achieve this, and, there is an optimal split of macronutrients that make up this total. For example; If one were to need 2500kcal per day, your macronutrient split may be 180g of protein (720kcal), 265g of carbohydrate (1060kcal), and 80g of fat (720kcal). This makes up your daily total of 2500kcal. Easy so far.
Typically, a bodybuilders diet would be lean meats and fish, rice and potatoes, vegetables, and some fats or oils. This can be wholly unappealing. Wouldn’t it be more fun if we ate some; Whey isolate powder, coco pops, and peanut butter? The calories and the macronutrients split could be the same if you play with the amounts of each. This is what they mean by IIFYM. If you had 120g of chicken breast, there is the same amount of protein in 35g of whey isolate. 50g of dry rice is pretty much identical to 50g of coco pops, 10g of flax oil has the same number of fats as around 15g of peanut butter.
The theory is, it is irrelevant in what form you eat food because, when it comes to absorption into your blood, it all breaks down into either glucose, amino acids, and free fatty acids, and, it is purely the volume of each macro that will have the overall effect, be it fat loss or muscle gain, it all ends up doing that same thing. Well hallelujah and praise the lord! You can lose fat and eat cake at the same time. Problem solved, we can all go home and have pop tarts…..or maybe not.
As with all great ideas there are often flaws
The first issue is that one of complexity. For any good fat loss or muscle building plan, having a straight forward set out meal plan is key to consistency and therefore results. It is easy to see your macros as most of the foods are single ingredient foods, in that, chicken is just protein, rice is just carbohydrates (give or take) and oils are pure fats. You can plan your meals and manipulate the volumes easily and you can see how much of each you’re having. This makes it simple when you’re working out exactly what you should be eating, and in its preparation, especially for batch cooking etc. Also, if you were to need to switch a meal out you know the basic volumes of foods and could source that anywhere.
IIFYM has most of its macros combined into more complex foods which have hidden details and calories. A ready meal, protein bar, or treat foods have combinations of carbs, fats, and proteins. This makes it more complex to initially design a plan as you’ll need to study the packages carefully and calculate the amount you should have. Often you get undesirable ratios of macros which mean it’s tough to find balance in your meals. This is relevant when you consider meal timings and glycaemic index. You may want 30g of protein, 50g of carbs, and 10g of fat in a meal. What if your pop tart has a high proportion of your fat allocation for the day in one meal? You would need to lower other fat consumption throughout the day.
What if you need to change your calories? You could be doing high and low carb days or just need to eat a bit less to keep the fat coming off. These mixed foods make it much tougher to swap ratios around or to tweak. If you wanted to lower your protein slightly you could have half a protein bar, but that would mean you’ve reduced your carbs and fats too. On the other diet I could just have a little less chicken or fish without it affecting anything else.
Do you want to eat the same thing each day or do you want variety? If you’re planning on IIFYM get ready to have a calorie app as your best friend, it’s a total headache planning seven days of foods with combination macros and getting them to balance in caloric total. If you were to do the traditional diet you could easily switch protein and carb sources as many are very similar in values. Most lean meats are around 25% protein, so you could have; chicken, turkey, fish, beef etc without it upsetting your balance. Most grains are equivalent. Cooked rice and raw potatoes are almost interchangeable in their weights and carb content. With the use of spices, seasoning, and low kcal sauces you can have a massive variety of flavours and textures which can be calculated and manipulated with ease.
Lastly, or maybe it should have been firstly, there is the health aspect. Eating junk foods because they technically are the same when digested is not the same as quality natural whole foods. Whole foods come with their own unique vitamins, minerals, fibre, enzymes, and bacteria’s that promote a good healthy body and good digestion. Processed food largely lacks these quality elements. You may be eating the same calories but you are almost certainly missing some nutrient density.
My final thoughts
Personally, I am an advocate of the more traditional approach to diet and exercise. Having been a natural bodybuilder for many years and having worked in the health and fitness industry for as long as I have, I have seen many fads come and go. The one approach that still stands strong is eating whole foods in a balanced way.
That being said, I’m not adverse to using some supplements for ease and for optimizing my intake, albeit I don’t rely on these solely, and the closer I get to a competition, the more I use whole foods as I believe they are better for digestion and for super sharp condition. I do believe there is space for a synergistic approach, where, if you were to eat for the majority of the time in the traditional way, you can have the occasional flexibility to switch out a meal or two for something for pleasure or to break the monotony. I often let my prep clients have a meal or two if they are on track which is ‘off plan’ as it works well with adherence and psychological health. If your last meal of the day were 150g of beef, 300g of potatoes, some vegetables, and some coconut oil, is that really that far off having a burger and chips instead? Not really, probably a little more fat and a little less protein, but that would ruin a solid diet plan? Unlikely. Would I do that every day? No chance, but, by using some elements of IIFYM to slip into your otherwise nailed down diet plan it is a tactic that can work very well for the overall long-term goal. It can also teach you how to eat off plan if you ever get caught short without your prepared meals, which ultimately, is how most people should be able to function in the real world as it all comes down to moderation of the things we want vs the things we need.