A Powerlifter’s Take On the If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) Diet

In my last YouTube video, I said that I haven’t really dieted in years – that I just eat whatever the hell I want to. That was really misleading, so I want to clarify. Yes, I do typically eat whatever the hell I want to – but 99% of the time, that is these foods:

  • Plain chicken breast
  • Jasmine or brown rice
  • Oats
  • Eggs
  • Salmon
  • Grass-fed ground beef
  • Steamed vegetables

That’s it. That’s my diet. I very rarely eat out; I don’t drink; and I don’t feel deprived by any of it, because it’s been a habit for decades, long before I began powerlifting. My family subsisted entirely on junk food, so my big “teenage rebellion” involved a massive health-food kick at age 13 that’s lasted till this day. Obviously, eating like this, and training for a couple of hours a day, I’m going to be pretty damn lean.

I’m a huge believer in eating healthfully, and it only takes about five seconds of browsing through Instagram to find a story tagged #IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) about some enormous, ripped-to-shreds dude downing an entire pizza with a side of two ice cream sundaes. Invest another sixty seconds and you’ll probably find some guru extolling all the virtues of flexible dieting. With all that “evidence,” why would anyone bother to eat clean?

[To work out your own macros, check out our ultimate macro calculator for athletes!]

It’s All About Mindset

Look, I’m not knocking IIFYM, flexible dieting, Weight Watchers, or whatever the hell other diet you want to name that boasts “you can eat whatever you want and still be lean!” It’s absolutely true: most (not all) of dieting success is going to come down to calories in versus calories out, assuming you have some appreciable muscle mass to begin with.

Nevertheless, there’s a billion-dollar diet book industry because people are convinced there’s some secret to losing weight or looking ripped – and they’re convinced partly because they’re inundated with success stories from people who have found the diet, the one with the answers to all their problems. So Joe Schmoe goes out and buys the book or product his friend recommended and, lo and behold, doesn’t drop a single percentage of bodyfat. What gives?

Well, in reality, “calories in versus calories out” is a really damned hard thing to grasp, for several reasons, but really because of how important food is to our culture and society. Food isn’t just fuel: it’s a way of connecting with friends and family, having fun and adventure, and really, a meaningful experience for many people. So trying to quantify every calorie in the potluck dinner you and your friends put together on Superbowl Sunday is really just a recipe for failure and frustration.

As a result, we’ve got all these surrogate methods of controlling calorie intake: intermittent fasting, keto, liquid diets, and dozens if not hundreds of more. They all come down to calorie control (again, mostly – hormones do play a role here, but for your average guy at 14-18% bodyfat, it’s a less significant one). While you might not be able to count every calorie in your shepherd’s pie covered in nacho crust, you can easily avoid carbs, and you can easily decide you’re only going to eat for a few hours a day. Of course you’ll lose weight: it’s darn hard to stuff your face with 3,000 calories in only a couple hours.

For some people – those who are willing to make those particular sacrifices – those methods work really well. Other people who don’t want to avoid bread or want to get to eat lunch will need to find another method. Maybe they’re willing to go to the effort to count every calorie, and so they find that flexible dieting works really well.

Personally, I don’t want to think about what I’m eating at all, and I don’t mind eating the same, plain foods every day, so I just eat clean, and I don’t have to worry about it. Ever tried to eat 3,000 calories of chicken and rice? That’s pretty damned hard, too.

[Learn about the ins and outs of this diet in our complete guide to IIFYM!]

What About the Gurus?

If it’s that simple, why are there so many gurus who insist on the importance of things like insulin, nutrient timing, macronutrient and micronutrient ratios, and the like? The truth is, those things do matter – when you’re at a high level. Professional bodybuilders need to attain incredibly low levels of bodyfat while maintaining huge amounts of muscle mass, and that’s a big ask.

Once you’re so lean you can literally see through your skin – and probably eating very little to begin with – then yes, an extra hour between meals or an extra tablespoon of salt can have a substantial impact on appearance. Keep in mind that I’m still pretty far away from that level of leanness in the video below:

The vast majority of people never approach those levels of bodyfat, and so all the intricate details are absolutely irrelevant. Yet some become obsessed with these little details, to the point where they very much lose sight of the forest for the trees, so to speak. In my opinion, that’s really just laziness.

It’s like when you decide to reorganize your desk before finishing a report that’s due: concentrating on a small and utterly insignificant aspect of a task both (A) usually requires less effort than dealing with the real problem and (B) minimizes the risk of failure. After all, if your goal is to eat every three hours, and you do that but don’t lose weight, well hey, it wasn’t your fault, right? You followed the rule, and it didn’t work. In reality, though, you focused on the wrong thing in the first place: you got all concerned with a detail like nutrient timing instead of remembering the big picture and controlling your calories.

Wrapping Up

So, if you’re wondering how I stay so lean without trying so hard, now you have your answer. And if you’re wondering how you should begin your diet, you also have your answer. Find a plan for controlling your caloric intake that seems manageable, if not easy, to follow. Then follow it. It’s that simple.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page.