Managing Your Macros

Posted on: March 27th 2016

What does “If It Fits Your Macros” Mean?

If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM, also known as Flexible Dieting) has gotten pretty popular in the past couple of years.  First off – Macro refers to “macronutrient” – the carbohydrates, fats and proteins found in everything we eat.  IIFYM focuses on giving you daily targets for each macronutrient based on your body composition and goals.  As long as you’re hitting your macros, the food sources can be anything you want.

IIFYM goes a bit deeper than counting calories – it makes you think about where your calories are coming from.  It challenges you to make sure you’re getting enough carbs to replenish glycogen stores, enough protein to build and repair muscle and enough (of the right kinds of) fat to support your bodily systems.

How does it work?

Basically, you want to calculate what your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate – the minimum number of calories you need to sustain regular function) is, then figure out your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure – based on your daily activity and exercise).  Once you’ve got those numbers, you choose your goals – cutting, maintaining, bulking which will give you a breakdown of which percentage of each macronutrient to eat.

When meal planning, remember that different macronutrients have different caloric measures.

  • 1g of carbohydrates (carbs) = 4 kcal
  • 1g of protein = 4 kcal
  • 1g of fat = 9 kcal

So, for example – If I’m a 130lb skater, with a lightly active job who trains hard 6 days a week and I want to lose some fat in a moderate way my macro breakdown is: 25% protein (104 g), 28% fat (52 g) and 46% carbs (192 g), with a TDEE (and therefore total calorie intake) of 1958 (BMR is 1258).

Curious about your own macros?  Use this calculator to find out!

Once you’ve got your macros sorted out, get to tracking!  You can use an app, like My Fitness Pal to keep your macros managed.  My Fitness Pal will also calculate TDEE for you (based on your entry of daily activity – so your calorie count may be different day to day).  You can also change the auto-macros in the app, so that they match what the IIFYM calculator suggests. Make sure you’re paying special attention to portion sizes so that your numbers are accurate.

What does IIFYM claim?

Mostly that you’ll feel good and achieve your goals – just like any other diet.  One of the reasons that people are drawn to it though, is that there is less rigidity in how you get there.  And that has spawned a major criticism of IIFYM which is that you can eat total junk and still hit your macros.  And realistically, those who have the best results tend to eat “cleaner” than those who just hit macro targets.  Keep in mind, you also need fiber and micronutrients – vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals – and those are harder to find in junk food. It’s also important to consider the quality of protein sources and the amount of sugar you’re ingesting. Most supporters say that the 80/20 rule gives you a pretty easy path to success – 80% whole, nutrient-dense foods and 20% foods you enjoy.

Are there any studies to back up those claims?

Well, sort of?  IIFYM follows basic nutritional science – you need a certain number of calories to function.  You need those calories to come from certain sources (carbs, protein, fats), and depending on your goals, those sources vary.  Since it’s a pretty new dietary plan, I couldn’t find any actual peer-reviewed papers on IIFYM per se.  There’s a ton of research about discretionary caloric allowances and that’s where the basics of this plan come from.

To get a better idea of how IIFYM fits into the derby lifestyle, let’s talk to someone who lives it  – TCRD Skater LippyWrongstockings.

What’s IIFYM to you, in a nutshell?

For me it’s about flexible eating. I don’t go for dieting, this is a way of eating always, not just short term. I am pretty Type A personality and I need to control things, track them, watch them, count them.

Why do you follow this particular dietary strategy?

I am not very good at denying myself things I like. I will fail. I can’t diet. For me, this is a way to still eat that hamburger if I want it, and my Greek yogurt has 2% fat *gasp*!. Tracking my macros lets me know that I am getting what I need for my goals. By tracking my food, I can see where I need to back off for my following meals and where I need to pick it up to meet my macro goals. If I restricted myself to chicken and green beans 6 times a day, I would quit and eat a bag of Doritos every day for a week.

What is the most challenging aspect of eating IIFYM?

There are two, the first being that I am a notorious meal skipper. I used to eat breakfast at noon. Or I would skip lunch. You cannot do this and expect to hit your goals. The second and equally challenging aspect for me is that just because it’s flexible eating doesn’t mean you can actually eat whatever you want as often as you want. Meeting your macronutrient goals within the calories you need to hit can be tricky. So if you decide you ARE going to eat a bacon cheeseburger for lunch, you have to more carefully plan the rest of your meals so that you don’t blow your fat/carbs (hello chicken and beans).

What is the greatest benefit of eating IIFYM?

For me it’s that I can maintain this “diet”. I was looking for a way to lose fat (not necessarily pounds) and build lean muscle. There are literally hundreds of fad diet plans out there. Eat all the bacon, eat 0 carbs, eat like a caveman, eat 6 meals of only chicken and green beans. These are not sustainable to me. I knew I needed to make a changes and sort of fell into this. I’ve only been doing it for about 3 months, but so far it is working. I accidentally lost 6 pounds since starting this and I do not stress about food. I might obsess over it, but that’s right up my alley.

What do you eat on game day?

Game day for me is about being properly fueled so that I can have enough energy from the first whistle to the last, so I eat a LOT for breakfast and lunch. There are eggs, whole grain breads, and smoothies with banana, oatmeal, blueberries, protein powder etc. For lunch I love quinoa, chicken veggies. Lots of water.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where NoFair gives IIFYM a try and shares a few macro-conscious recipes!

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