‘’If It Fits Your Macros’’ or neatly abbreviated as ‘’IIFYM’’ has gained a popular following within the fitness industry as a nutrition template which promise to allow for flexibility whilst achieving your goals. My thoughts are mixed, I don’t like the system as it sits on the shelf for a handful of reasons but I can accept it does in some cases have some good fundamentals. I am going to run through the ‘’pros’’ and ‘’cons’’ based on my opinions and experience. There will be no biased opinions – just what I think and why.
What is it?
IIFYM does what it says on the tin – once you have your daily macro targets prescribed via a list of calculations which determine you’re BMR (basal metabolic rate) you then determine how those calories (depending on calorie needs and goals) will be split across the 3 macronutrient groups you are good to go. You just have to hit those numbers. For example, if you needed 200g of carbs a day, it doesn’t matter if you were to get them through sweet potato or chocolate. At least that is what it comes across as, however I am fully aware that the more seasoned IIFYM practitioner will actually tell you differently. Micronutrients and fibre are also essential to consider, which by default means chocolate and ice cream as your carb source won’t suffice all of the time.
Here lies my first issue with it, people’s perception. I have worked in the fitness industry, especially in the ‘’media’’ branch of it long enough to know some people take things too literally. If you tell them a burger and fries is ‘’OK’’ within the numbers you can bet there will be some person doing it, daily. However, I am not against (I actually agree) that when you allow yourself a little freedom it is better to do so within your limits rather than have the notorious ‘’cheat day’’ aka binge day. I have been there, done that – not productive, healthy or fun (by the end of the day). Your relationship with food becomes a jaded one. This isn’t to be confused with ultra-lean competitors who sometimes go hell for leather on a ‘’refeed’’ day, in some instances this works for THEM but it isn’t entirely relevant to most of us on a ‘’day to day’’ lifestyle diet.
Back to the story. In the context of an isolated diet with no label, I get certain parts of IIFYM. Do I prescribe protein, carb, fat and fibre numbers for clients? Yes. So does IIFYM. Does that mean I follow IIFYM? Not quite. IIFYM generally states you can achieve your numbers any time of the day. It wouldn’t matter if you took on board 90% of your carbs pre-workout, 10% post-workout or vice versa (the 90% and 10% numbers were merely examples, IIFYM doesn’t recommend such figures). This is where I will disagree. Once a client has their daily ‘’numbers’’ I will then advise them I feel is best for them to take them on board, often based on their workouts, working hours, body type, response to carbohydrates and energy levels – even their current body composition is considered.
Recent studies support the idea that consuming the majority of your carbohydrate content post-workout is preferential for body composition results due to improved insulin sensitivity. I would agree with this and it is something I usually apply with many (not all) of my clients with great success. It is also something I know many of the top coaches around the world utilise. The work of Dr Kiefer is certainly worth reading about on this topic as well as Charles Poliquin. Recently I was watching a video with Dr Dan Reardon who also spoke about post-workout carbohydrates, and why he chooses a favourite sweat/candy of his to obtain glucose. In contrast, to have this same type of carbohydrate as your morning snack for example (brunch) would have a completely different impact on the body and the hormones.
I think that people should live on a diet enriched with single ingredient foods, for the most part. Even when they want a treat, learn how to cook with these ingredients to make alternatives! IIFYM would have many believe consuming processed junk on a daily basis is OK, even if it doesn’t mean to. Again, perception is a powerful thing!!
But the KEY issue I have with IIFYM is this – the rules are NOT the same for everyone. In 2012 one of my clients won the largest online transformation contest creating a LOT of interest in the diet we used. Month 1 he was over 19 stone, 36% body fat and obese. Fast forward 6 months and he was 12 stone 7 and 7% body fat. Now, do you think that at each end of the process his ability to use certain ingredients, especially sugary carbohydrates was the same? Of course not! With his fat loss and improved health came better insulin sensitivity (among a host of other things granted) which meant that James had slightly more freedom with his choice of carbohydrates towards the end of the process. Somebody who is shredded (or reasonably lean actually) who tells you eating any type of carbohydrate within your macros is fine is probably telling the truth, for them it works because their increase muscle mass and low body fat means the rules are different. For an obese endomorph it is slightly crazy, in my opinion to say the same rules apply EVEN if the carbohydrate intake is limited. The SOURCE of carbohydrates is still very relevant, especially in overweight people in my opinion.
Take from this what you will. I stand by my beliefs that different foods have different metabolic effects on the body. There isn’t necessarily ‘’good’’ and ‘’bad’’ but instead ‘’useful’’ at different times. One observation will leave you with though. A lot of the ‘’class leading’’ coaches who don’t support IIFYM seem to have fought through things like obesity, allergies and other obstacles themselves. A lot of the IIFYM advocators don’t seem to have (correct me if I am wrong by all means). Just food for thought.