Do you read IIFYM and think WTF? Don’t stress – we’ve broken down the macro diet and spoken to the experts about whether it actually works.
What are macros?
Macros is just a shortened term for macronutrients, these are the three main nutrients your body relies on to function and they include carbohydrates, fat and protein.
While many foods contain all of these macronutrients, most are composed of one or two for example meat is predominantly protein, bread is loaded with carbohydrates, olive oil is mostly fat.
What does IIFYM mean?
IIFYM means "If It Fits Your Macros" and it's a way of eating that involves sticking to a daily macro goal.
How much of each macro should we be eating?
“There are some guidelines around how much of these we should consume each day for general intake, for the general population,” Accredited Practicing Dietitian Lauren McGuckin told Women’s Health.
“Essentially these take into account risk of chronic disease development, looking at the current diet trends and the current Western diet, but also the availability to meet our micronutrient target within those particular macronutrient ranges.”
These guidelines suggest that carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of our total daily energy intake, protein should be 15 to 25 percent, and fat is 20 to 35 percent of intake.
However, there are an endless amount of ways you can mix up this ratio, from low-carb to high-protein to the ketogenic diet, just to name a few examples. But which one is best? Well, that depends on you and on who you ask.
“Each woman’s ideal breakdown is different,” dietitian Mascha Davis previously told Women’s Health. “Some women will do better on diets that are higher in protein or fat or lower in carbohydrates.”
This can come down to a number of factors including genetics, tastes, lifestyle and activity level, as well as your goals whether they be muscle building or weight loss. A tool like this IIFYM calculator can help you determine your specific needs.
How do you track your macros?
After you have calculated your calorie requirements and macronutrient ratio, it takes a bit of work to stick to them.
For example, a 40/40/20 ratio is a commonly suggested macronutrient breakdown for fat loss. If your daily calorie goal is 2000 per day, this is what that would look like:
2000 calories per day x .40 (percentage of calories from carbs) = 800 calories➗ 4 (the number of calories per gram of carbohydrate) = 200 grams of carbohydrates
2000 calories per day x .40 (percentage of calories from protein) = 800 calories➗ 4 (the number of calories per gram of protein) = 200 grams of protein
2000 calories per day x .20 (percentage of calories from protein) = 400 calories ➗ 9 (the number of calories per gram of fat) = 44 grams of fat
Often proponents of IIFYM invest in a food scale to weigh meals and ensure their portion sizes are correct. You can then calculate the macronutrient content of your meals and track where you’re at throughout the day with apps like MyFitnessPal.
“You have to track to know exactly what you’re eating (and where you’re going wrong),” nutritionist and trainer Sophie Guidolin told Women’s Health. “Women are often guilty of under-eating protein and that sneaky wine after work or muesli bar in your desk draw can push your carbs over your daily requirement. Using a tracker like MyFitnessPal, plan your day in advance – even enter those ‘after dinner munchies’ so you know exactly where you’re at. Then, when the 3pm cookie jar is calling your name, you know if it fits into your macros.”
Do the sources of your macros matter?
If you're strategic about your calorie consumption, this method of eating allows for some flexibility when it comes to food.
“I eat carbs every day, I eat chocolate and burgers regularly and I don’t spend hours training,” Sophie says. “I fuel my workouts with the right combination of carbs, fats and protein, I train smart (maximum output in minimum time) and I don’t make special meals or eliminate foods.”
So if chocolate fits your macros? Go for it… to an extent.
“Two meals – one consisting of chocolate cake and the other of greens with lean protein – isn’t as ideal as two balanced meals,” internal medicine physician Alexandra Sowa previously told Women’s Health.
Ensuring your meals and snacks follow your goal macro ratio will keep your energy levels stable and stop you from starving between meals. So if you’re deliberating between a carb/fat combo like a doughnut or sweet potato roasted in olive oil, the latter is by far the better option.
“A calorie isn’t a just calorie,” Lauren says. “They’re utilised very very differently in the body, very differently in the body.”
So... should we be counting our macros?
“Just like every other fad diet, if you’ve got time for it and it works for you, go for it,” Lauren says.
“To me, it’s not quite practical, it’s not sustainable and it’s not something that can be applied easily throughout the day,” Lauren says.
She recommends being conscious of what you’re consuming, but using tools that are easier to implement.
“I tend to use a method called the plate model - draw and imaginary line down half of the plate and fill one half of that plate with vegetables. Divide the remaining half of the plate into two quarters and fill one quarter with protein and the other with a modest serving of wholegrain carbohydrates.” Lauren explains.
“It’s just a bit more practical in that respect rather than actual ranges or percentages, etc.”
Lauren also highlights that tracking macros can become an unhealthy obsession for some.