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Can It Fit Your Macro's?

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  • Can It Fit Your Macro's?

    Here's an article I wrote for my facebook page, hope you find it useful.


    Can It Fit Your Macro's?

    IIFYM and Flex Dieting has been a bit of a bit of a hot topic recently with fitness enthusiast. My friend and pro natural bodybuilder Nathan "the Prodigy" Williams was keen for me to do a peace on this, citing he wanted a perspective from a scientist on this latest dietary approach. Check Nathan out he has a crazy amount of muscle and a truly god given shape. Destined to go onto big things in the world of natural bodybuilding, if he's willing to puts the work into it.

    The fact is these sort of dietary approaches are nothing new. Athletes and Joe public have been doing this for years. In fact almost any lifestyle magazine you pick up will no doubt contain a diet based around a variety of foods to be consumed on over a week. This provides a healthy and balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals and nutrients from different sources. All based around the central theme of either helping people lose weight or gain muscle for athletic performance. However most Joes and a lot of athletes at least at amateur level won't weigh food or count calories to the same extent as a bodybuilder or fitness model. Thereís certainly not a need to and result can be achieved with these methods without much compromise to your lifestyle.

    IIFYM or Flex Dieting is no different set a calorie or macro goal and consume your foods based around hitting these numbers from day to day to reach your goal. Ostensibly you can eat what you want a ďcalorie is a calorieĒ is a favourite phrase and some will use this as an excuse to eat junk. Not all Flex dieters or IIFYM will eat ďdirtyĒ however so they shouldnít all be tarred with the same brush. And the clean Flex approach is one that Iím actually quite fond of. Itís the first idea Iíve seen the industry push for years thatís sensible.
    This approach does have its limitations. Any self respecting food scientist worth their weighing balance will tell you that the practical implication of an IIFYM approach is almost impossible.

    Reference food tables from which the nutrient composition of any given food is obtained are inherently flawed and inaccurate. If you do a quick search around the web you can easily find multiple different calorific values for something as simple as an apple. There are multiple reasons for this. Differences in analytical techniques used to determine nutrient composition between labs that could be direct or indirect methods. Source from which the apple was obtained New Zealand vs Spain, growing conditions, variety, processing the list goes on.

    Itís also worth pointing out that when you start to look at processed foods like ready meals, pizzaís, or even burgers the waters become even muddier. Iíve seen duplicate diet analysis of food items matched to food tables where some foods had as much as an extra 500kcals and more than 30g more fat compared to whatís on the label. You even get anomalies where no fat data is available for a food like sausages so the contribution is simply excluded from a meals nutrient breakdown. You may wonder how they could get away with it, but recall the horsemeat scandal. FSA lack funding to police such a thing like recording and comparing the composition of every food item available in the UK. Although they do have a program dedicated to just this. Combine that with the fact that a lot of companies donít employ full time food scientists so nutrient composition might only be outsourced every other year. Or a foods composition might be determined simply by using food tables for as many as 50 ingredients. The likely hood of being able to pick different foods or meals on any day that match your macros because of this can be almost impossible. Fitting things to your macros therefore doesnít practically work.

    And when youíre involved in such a numbers driven sport like bodybuilding, depending how flexible you diet itís easy to see how you could be over or under eating almost on a daily basis. A miscalculation of 150kcals per day in either direction is worth around 1000kcals a week, thatís 3 Ė 4 meals extra youíre having or missing. Something Iíd certainly think of as a loose approach. Which is where following a more structured plan has distinct advantages. The same pit falls still apply but at least the day to day variation in intake will be significantly less and IMO that matters. Where simply taking out 50 Ė 100kcals during a diet can help keep the fat burning process going at the business end of contest prep, keep your training intensity high, keep you full and spare all important muscle. The consistent clean dieting approach works well, and stops you having to be drastic with cuts to the diet, to influence fat loss. The evidence is there to be seen in the top natural bodybuilders to compete over the past 10 years. Names like Rob Hope, Dave Kaye, Ben Tennessen spring to mind.
    Although you do see people who struggle with ďhardcore dietingĒ and you will see shredded IIFYM dieters. For me any IIFYM dieting plan based around contest prep would benefit from having a structure to keep intake consistent over a week (planning foods for certain days for example). And anyone who understands the fundamentals behind dieting theory will know consistent intake over a week is better than one that fluctuates wildly like you tend to see in the general population.

    Bodybuilding and dieting is also very much about how you look and different foods will give you a very different look. Whole foods with lower GI, and less processed ingredients will give a physique a much cleaner look. Compare that to foods highly processed, with large amounts of sodium, sugars and saturated fats you tend to see a cloudier watery physique. Certainly not an ideal place to be when trying to assess progress and another reason why IIFYM dieters would better suited to eating quality foods.
    Another idea Iíve seen perpetuated is that there is no difference between two meals if they contain the same nutrient breakdown. Unlikely as I mentioned already however assuming they do, these foods will have a very different affect on host physiology. There are simply too many variables for the response to be the same. I read recently Layne Norton stating that so long as the fibre content was high enough it didnít really matter what you ate for IIFYM (this obviously forces people to be sensible). However I feel this betrays his fundamentals, the idea that an active ingredient can influence a foods value to a bodybuilder i.e leucine.

    A comparison between foods is no different factors such as arabinoxylan content, resistant starch, starch gelatinisation, amylopectin ratio, amino content, creatine content, fat content (trans fat, SCFA, MUFA, PUFA) and viscosity will all effect how a food performs in the body. In turn influencing things like protein synthesis, carbohydrate response elements, leptin, insulin, CCK, prostaglandins, cytokines, resolvins , PPARís etc. This can also change your bodyís appearance from one thatís crisp to a watery mess. All of the above can be influenced via food processing, additives and simple factors like cooking. You can even take two identical foods, increase the molecular weight of a single active ingredient but keep the content the same (3g high MW vs 3g low MW) and youíll see a significantly different hormonal response between the two foods. Beverages displace different characteristics to whole meals, but the whole meal response compared to a single food is likely to be different though.

    Now this is my take on this story, for the everyday enthusiast I think a healthy flex IIFYM approach works well. For those destined for the stage where extremely low levels of bodyfat condition matter, tweaking the plan would work better. I've said it before and Iíll say it again, there are many roads to London and there is more than one way to skin a cat. There will always be differences in opinion on the best ways to get in shape. Different people will favour different approaches to lose weight and get in shape, some are better than others, and some are certainly healthier. Iíve seen 3 people step on stage this year using an IIFYM, flex approach and 1 out 3 looked alright. Countless others miss the mark though following more traditional methods for the stage. An optimal approach is what we should always be striving for.

    If you do decide to give it a shot then go for it. I can think of distinct psychological and physiological advantages an IIFYM and flex dieting approach offers over the ďHardcore dietingĒ. Most bodybuilders will be much more relaxed in the offseason and aren't afraid to eat flexible. Like any diet though, make yourself a plan, record your progress and be sure to give it a fair shot.
    PhD Human Nutrition
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