Tracking macros, "if it fits your macros (IIFYM)," flexible dieting, balanced eating—it goes by many names—but the principles toss old-fashioned calorie-counting, food group restriction (low carb, low fat, etc), and "diets" out the window and say, "Eat what you want, when you want, as long as you stick to what your body needs." When looking at food intake from a sports-related mindset, this dietary concept has been a game changer for me.
My body has undergone several changes over the last couple years. After Air Force Basic Training in 2014 and maintaining a hardcore half and full marathon training schedule in 2015, I lost nearly 20 pounds. I found myself consuming very few calories (compared to what I was burning), at a very low body fat, running faster in my races, and finally saw a number on the scale that I had for years considered a "goal weight." HOWEVER (I should triple emphasize that), I also noticed that I was having a hard time managing my stress levels, my clothes were now ill-fitting, and I just didn't LOOK or FEEL healthy.
Enter IIFYM. (Note: I'm not going to go into the specifics or science behind IIFYM—if you really want to know how it works, Google it—because I'm not a nutritionist/dietitian, so this is all my personal opinion and should not be taken as "advice.")
Over the past several months, I've been changing the way I look at food—to eat based on IIFYM principles of tracking protein, carbohydrates and fat instead of simply focusing on calories alone. And let me say, I love it. I have been able to throw my idea of a "goal weight" out the window and have put back on about 10 pounds (though my body fat has stayed almost the same!), I feel stronger, I have SO MUCH MORE ENERGY, and goodness gracious—I can actually eat real food and more of it! At first, sure, I felt bloated and like my body was asking me what the heck I was doing. After all, I was consuming a lot more calories (specifically carbs) than I was before—it took a while for my metabolism to catch up and realize that I wasn't depriving it of the nutrients it so badly craved anymore!
There's a lot of criticism out there that IIFYM promotes an "EAT ALL THE FOOD/DONUTS/POPTARTS" mentality, but really, if it fits into your plan, why not? And that's the beauty of IIFYM—people can eat without feeling like their depriving themselves so it's much easier to maintain and sustain over the long term. It's not a diet, it's what you eat all the time! And from a sport-specific perspective, with my still intense exercise & running schedule (the top left post is the most recent), I'm actually giving my body the FUEL it needs to be able to sustain this active lifestyle.
Now, what's working for me is eating a balanced menu that doesn't really include sugar-sweetened drinks, sodas, fast food, or "desserts"—as many people think that's all that folks on IIFYM eat. That's the cool thing... I still get to eat a TON of delicious food and it's not that I'm forbidding myself from having those things (I still have them, trust me, just in moderation), I just also realize that I can eat way more each day based on how I plan my meals. For instance, I could have a small brownie and a half scoop of ice cream OR I could have a giant bowl of oats with peanut butter. For me, volume foods always win.
Here's a sample day of eating to fit within my macronutrient requirements (don't ask for measurements):
- Meal 1: Post-workout protein smoothie including: protein powder, cashew milk, spinach, chia seeds, avocado, frozen fruit
- (Optional) Snack 1: oats, protein powder, nut butter
- Meal 2: baked chicken with hummus, roasted squash & sweet potato
- Snack 2: fruit, unsalted nuts
- Meal 3: zucchini noodles, shrimp, tomatoes, spinach, sauce
- Snack 3: Protein dessert including: protein powder, almond milk, baking powder
What's awesome is that the above is totally just a sample. Some days, I have 3 big meals. Some days it's 3 small meals and 3 snacks. It just all depends and doesn't even really matter as long as I'm hitting my macro goals. And a big item of note: I don't eat at specific "meal times," instead, I eat when I'm hungry and am working on stopping when I'm full (that's a hard one to master!). But with macro tracking and meal planning, I usually know what I'm going to be eating before I eat it, so I know exactly how much I should eat before I need to stop!
Now, since I can't really tell you all of this without giving you some tools & resources, I initially used an IIFYM calculator to help determine my basic macro needs based on my biometric measures, BMR, and energy expenditure. HOWEVER, calculators can only give you so much and don't know your body like YOU know your body. So with the help and recommendation from a friend & nutritionist, I took those numbers that were first generated and adjusted them—and will continue to do so—as my goals/exercise/energy levels change. For instance, I eat a little less fat than they recommended and eat more carbs. But every body is different, so depending on how your body adjusts to your macros, that—and someone to coach you through it to further develop your macros—will help determine what you truly need!
In addition, to keep track of my daily intake, I use the Premium version of myfitnesspal. The Premium version allows me to enter exact macro requirements and gives me the option of not adding my burned exercise calories back into my daily total, which is important since my IIFYM breakdown already accounts for my daily exercise. IIFYM is fun because it's like a little puzzle that I get to solve daily. With the help of a food scale (which I use only sparingly), some measuring cups/spoons, and MFP's calculator, it makes it really, really easy.
Again, I'd like to re-emphasize that I'm not giving any IIFYM-centered advice and this post should be considered my opinion and not scientifically based at all. I have just received several requests to blog about why I choose to do IIFYM and how it's working for me, so this post is it!
While I'd love to encourage questions and am totally able to throw out my opinion on this topic, please don't ask for my macro breakdown—we're all different so everyone has different nutrient needs—and with the goals I'm working toward, my macros are constantly changing. So thanks for taking the time to read this incredibly long post... I hope it encourages you—if you're looking to jump into IIFYM—to do a little research and see if it's the right fit for you!
TL;DR (Too long, didn't read): I have used IIFYM along with exercise to gain 10 pounds (without increasing body fat) and get to eat a lot of delicious food. IIFYM rocks.