What is 'If It Fits Your Macros' (IIFYM)?

What is 'If It Fits Your Macros' (IIFYM)?

If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)

'If it fits your macros' (IIFYM), also known as flexible dieting, has become a common way for people to meet their dietary goals while not having to restrict their lifestyle.

The IIFYM nutritional approach has completely turned the old-school, restriction-based dieting by purely focusing on monitoring individual macronutrient intake. What this means is that as long as you hit certain macronutrient (i.e. protein, fat, carbohydrate) numbers, theoretically there are no limitations on what type of foods you may consume to meet them.

At face value the fundamental idea of flexible dieting seems simple, however making IIFYM work as a lifestyle requires a decent comprehension of the main nutritional principles; otherwise, it can be done very wrong. Executed correctly, IIFYM may be the diet that will help you stick with your nutritional goals on a more consistent basis.

Below is an outline of the IIFYM protocol, use it wisely, and as always, we recommend you do further research to ensure that you're well informed should you want to undergo this dieting approach.

The Basics:

Macronutrients (i.e. Macros) is the term used to represent the three major nutrients necessary in the human diet. These are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. 

Rather than only counting calories, IIFYM concentrates on meeting the daily macro goals for an individual. When done correctly, IIFYM provides you with a consistent calorie intake that's personalised to your specific needs. By focussing on specific amounts of each macronutrient, you're able to tailor the diet so that it meets your goals, suits your tastes, and most importantly fits your lifestyle.

The real beauty of IIFYM is that you can eat what would be considered an unhealthy meal (e.g. a Big Mac combo from McDonald's) every so often and still manage to stay on track with your macronutrient goals so long as you're on point the remainder of the day. 

Let's say you're on a 2000 calorie diet with the following macronutrient splits 170g protein, 138g carbohydrates, 83g fats. In the example of eating a Big Mac combo from McDonald's, this would mean that you've consumed 945 calories, 30.3g of protein, 108.8g of carbohydrates, and 43.5g of fat. Therefore, the rest of your day would be making sure that you're having high protein, low carb, medium fat meals to ensure that you meet your macronutrient requirements. Having a meal like bacon and eggs, with some form of vegetable (such as kale, broccoli, or green beans, etc.) would be a good way to stay in line with your macros. Also, having a protein shake would be good in a situation like this where you can only really consume protein as your calorie intake.

Meeting your Macronutrient Targets:

When it's perfected, IIFYM is a good balance of moderation and flexibility in your dieting habits. Once you've set your daily target macros, you're able to consume a variety of foods (i.e. no food source is off limits) to meet your goals. However, it needs to be noted that while you can get calories from anywhere, you'll have to get your macros from specific sources.

To be successful in this diet regime, you'll want to learn to build around a few key food sources, so that you then have room to indulge your taste buds when necessary.

Proteins consist of units known as amino acids, that are strung together in complex formations. Proteins are complex molecules, and so the body takes longer to break them down. Because of this, protein is a much slower and longer-lasting source of energy than carbohydrates. Each gram of protein contains 4 calories.

There are twenty amino acids. The body synthesises some of them from components within the body, but it cannot synthesise nine of these amino acids, these nine are known as essential amino acids. These essential amino acids must be consumed through diet. The human body needs eight of these amino acids: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. The ninth one, histidine, is necessary for infants.

The percentage of protein that the body can use to synthesise essential amino acids varies from protein to protein. For example, the body can use 100% of the protein found in an egg, and a high percentage of the proteins contained in milk and meats. On the other hand, the body can only use under half of the protein contained in most vegetables.

Protein is necessary for the human body to maintain and replace tissues and to function and grow. Protein is not normally used for energy. In saying this, if the body is getting an insufficient amount of calories from other nutrients, or from fat stored in the body, protein will be used for energy. Any excess protein consumed than what's necessary will be broken down by the body and stored as fat components.

The human body contains massive amounts of protein. Protein is the main building block in the body, and so it's the primary component of most cells. The body's muscle, connective tissues, and skin are all built of protein.

There are two types of carbohydrates, dependent upon the size of the molecule; they are either simple or complex. Like protein, each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories.

Simple carbohydrates: Small molecules that can be broken down and absorbed by the body quickly, and thus are the quickest source of energy (e.g. sugar - glucose and sucrose). Simple carbohydrates quickly increase the level of blood glucose (blood sugar). Food sources such as fruits, dairy products, and honey contain significant amounts of simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates are composed of long strings of simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates molecules are larger than simple carbohydrates, and because of this, they must be broken down into simple carbohydrates before the body can absorb them. Because of this, they tend to provide energy to the body at a slower rate than simple carbohydrates, but still quicker than protein or fat. Because of the slow digestion, complex carbohydrates are less likely to be converted to fat (than simple carbohydrates). Complex carbohydrates also increase blood sugar levels at a slower rate and a lower level than simple carbohydrates, but for a longer time. Examples of complex carbohydrates include starches and fibres (e.g. bread and pasta), other grains (e.g. corn), beans, and root vegetables (e.g. kumara).

Fats are molecules composed of fatty acids and glycerol. Fats are necessary for growth and energy in the human body. The body also uses fats to synthesise hormones and other substances required for the body’s activities.

Each gram of fat contains 9 calories, which is more than twice the amount of energy supplied by proteins or carbohydrates. As fats are an efficient form of energy, the body will store any excess energy as fat. The body stores excess fat in the abdomen (known as omental fat) and under the skin (known as subcutaneous fat) so that it can be used when it needs more energy. The body may also store excess fat in blood vessels and within organs. This can lead to blocking of the blood flow and damage organs, which can often cause severe disorders.

The Key Benefits:

1. Flexibility
Being able to balance your diet purely on the macronutrient content as opposed to a food restrictive diet (such as ketogenic etc.) enables you to have more choice in regards to what you eat. 

2. Less Pressure
The pressure of sticking to a restrictive diet puts a lot of individuals in a tough situation, and can ultimately lead to failure in their nutritional goals and the potential to drop their health and fitness regiment altogether.

3. Social Situations
Having a restrictive diet will mean that at times you're unable to indulge in certain delicacies that are presented to you (e.g. birthday cake at work). What's worse is the feeling of guilt should you succumb to these types of treats. Likewise, eating out with friends, you don't want to be the disturbance in limiting where to go to eat. IIFYM eliminates these situations by allowing you to adjust your diet to accommodate any food source available.

The Cons:

1. Health Problems
The potential to have vitamin and mineral deficiencies when using the IIFYM diet approach can be very common. All too often people will forget the staple foods that allow them to attain their necessary micronutrients, and over time this can take a toll on the body. These risks can be mitigated by making sure you're eating a sufficient amount of foods that contain the micronutrients necessary to keep the body at its peak state.

To find out more about micronutrients, read the Guide to Micronutrients article.

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