When it comes to your diet, keep it super simple.
You may have heard the excitement brewing in the health community about If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) diets. They’re also called flex diets.
What’s the fuss about?
Well, people are losing weight and feeling better about their bodies more than ever before … all because they’re focusing on eating whole foods full of basic macronutrients. And lots of them.
Eating by basic macro-guidelines frees you from calorie-counting and having to avoid your favorite foods, which can drive anyone crazy.
What does this mean for your everyday meals?
Simple. Eat anything you want! Just be sure you’re getting the necessary balance of macronutrients. Want that chocolate chip cookie? No worries – just be sure you’ve got the carbohydrates to spare for it.
A refresher: Macronutrients are the three dietary foods staples humans need for a well-rounded diet:
And as we’re going to talk about in this article, consume them in this order of importance.
IIFYM diets flip the outdated food pyramid on its head. Classically trained dieticians from the last 60 years have told us that protein intake should be around 10-15% of calories, fats should be less than 30% and carbs should be 60%.
However, the classically trained dietary guidelines have overseen catastrophic increases in obesity and inflammatory diseases and a serious decline in public health. All those carbs sure aren’t helping.
It’s time to reconsider how we think about what enters our bodies.
From Mark Sisson’s Primal Diet, to the Paleo Movement, to intermittent fasting, more natural, biologically-aware eating plans have made huge strides towards the mainstream in recent years. Plus, they deliver more of the essential micronutrients you need for optimized health.
Let’s look at how to create your perfect daily IIFYM diet.
How to Calculate Protein Intake
“Have you eaten enough protein today?” Try to get used to answering this question.
Protein is the only macronutrient your body actually needs. Because of this, we’ll start our meal-building with what’s most important.
As the building block of life, protein is found in every cell in the body. You need protein to construct and repair cells and to build and maintain muscle mass.
This macro is an essential, stable form of energy that’s also proven to assist in weight loss. It both prevents cravings and maintains feelings of satiety.
Protein provides 4 calories per each gram consumed.
Like we mentioned, your body needs protein to maintain muscle mass and stay in shape.
How much do you need? Well, that depends on what your goals are:
- 0.5 grams of protein/per pound of lean body mass – if you’re sedentary.
- 0.8 grams of protein/per pound of lean body mass – if you’re moderately active.
- 1.0 grams of protein/per pound of lean body mass – if you’re an athlete.
To calculate our daily protein needs, we need to find our lean body mass. That’s super easy: subtract your body fat from your total body weight.
For example, if you’re a 180-pound man who’s moderately active and therefore maintaining fitness, let’s say your body fat is 14%.
180 lbs. – 14% body fat (25.2 lbs.) = ~155 lbs. of lean body mass
Protein has 4 calories per gram. And as a fit, moderately active guy, you need 0.8 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. So.…
Eat 124 grams of protein a day at a minimum. Multiplying by 4 for calories….
You’ll want to eat a minimum of 496 calories from protein a day.
But how many total calories will you need?
For every pound of lean body mass, you need to eat 13.8 calories per day.
So our fit man with a fit plan can eat a theoretical 2,139 calories per day and not gain weight.
How to Eat Enough Protein
First, you need to observe the differences between complete and incomplete proteins.
Complete Protein Sources
Complete proteins contain all essential amino acids that our body needs to grow and maintain itself. Typically, these are animal-based proteins, but you can see a few exceptions:
- Dairy products (milk, yogurt, whey)
Incomplete Protein Sources
Incomplete proteins don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids or lack quantities sufficient to meet the body’s needs.
- Nuts and seeds
However, you can combine incomplete proteins to make complete proteins. For example:
- Whole wheat and peanut butter
- Whole wheat pita and hummus
- Spirulina and grains or nuts
- Rice and beans
What does this mean for our average man’s perfect meal, assuming he’s eating 3-square meals a day?
He should shoot for about 166 protein calories per meal.
To satisfy his protein minimum requirement for the meal, he could eat:
- 1.5 servings of meat (3 oz. per serving)
- 2 servings of salmon, tuna or shrimp
- 2 servings of Greek yogurt (6 oz. per serving)
- 4 servings (cups) of beans
- 7 eggs
- 14 servings of spinach
Look at these amounts and you’ll get a sense of the amount of food by type you’ll need to satisfy your macro meal protein requirements.
As we said, these calculations assume a 3-square daily meal program and a certain weight and fitness level. Adjust your calculations for your own situation and preferences.
Ok, now let’s talk carbohydrates.
How to Calculate Carbohydrate Intake
Carbohydrates supply us with 4 calories of energy per gram consumed. Carbs come in three forms: sugars, starches and fibers.
Unfortunately, carb calories aren’t the same as calories from protein. Science has long known that carbohydrate consumption increases insulin – and insulin increases fat gains (Cahill 1965, Taubes 2007). Carbs create fast glucose in the body which circulates in the blood and gets stored as harmful fat when not used right away (which it rarely is). High blood sugar and high carbohydrate consumption are linked to inflammatory diseases, diabetes and cancers.
Carbs also block ketosis. Ketosis is a normal metabolic process. It happens when your body doesn’t have carbohydrates floating around – instead, your body burns fat as a fuel source.
Yep, it’s the beautiful, scientific truth. If you eat fewer carbs you will burn more fat.
So, the perfect macro meals limit carbohydrate consumption. However, carbohydrates are good, quick energy so they have a function.
How to Eat Enough Carbohydrates
What carbs should you eat for quick-burning energy until the slow-burn calories from proteins and fats arrive?
Vegetables. Vegetables. Vegetables. As much as you want. Fruit too, but fruits carry fructose sugars so overconsumption can prove to be an unhealthy habit long-term.
How many vegetables should you eat?
Well, really you can eat as many as you want. They have so few calories and are rich in essential micronutrients.
The recommended daily servings of vegetables in 5-6 per day. Assuming we abide by our 3 meals a day plan, we should eat at least 2 servings each meal. This means we’ll be getting our antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins and mineral intake, too. Win!
The average vegetable has 13 grams of carbohydrates.
So, two servings a meal gives 26 total carbs. At 4 calories per gram, two serving of veggies nets only 104 calories.
Total meal calories from veggies is about 208 calories.
That’s 624 calories from carbs per day.
However, what about other healthy, non-produce carbohydrates that won’t spike insulin? Pickings are slim but…
- Whole grain breads = 12 g (per slice)
- Chia seeds = 12 g (2 tbsp.)
- Sweet potatoes = 26 g carbs (1 potato)
- Brown rice = 45 g carbs (1 cup serving)
- Rolled oats = 58 g carbs (1 cup serving)
Outside of these choices, other carbs can’t be recommended because they’re processed, loaded with sugars (watch out for “low-fat” options!) and full of added chemicals.
How to Calculate Fat Intake
Our last macro group is fats. It’s understandable if you’re afraid of fats but you needn’t be.
Fat is crucial to many of your body functions. For example, fats allow us to absorb essential vitamins and provide us with vital omega-3 fatty acids.
Saturated fats used to catch a bad rap, but their name’s been cleared now.
However, avoid trans fats or your health will suffer. Eating fried food, baked goods and cheap, processed foods are a direct source of this cholesterol-spiking, heart-damaging compound.
Help yourself to these fats:
- Saturated fats: animal products and coconuts
- Monounsaturated fats: red meat, whole dairy products, nuts, olives, avocados
- Polyunsaturated fats: fatty fish
Here’s a macro-meal status check: Our Fitplan example-guy has about 1100 calories out of 2100 spoken for by carbs and proteins. That leaves 1000 calories to eat from healthy fats.
This is great because fats are a slow-release and satisfying source of daily energy.
Fat provides 9 calories per gram consumed, so it’s the most energy rich macronutrient available. And fats create feelings of fullness and satiety – so we don’t feel hungry or low on energy.
Our example Fitplan macro-eater can eat a little more than 900 calories a day – or about 100 grams of fat a day – to keep his waistline trim.
At each meal, he’s consuming 30 grams of fat.
How to Eat Enough Fat
To create our perfect macro meal, we’ll need to see what 30 grams of fat looks like at one meal. For example, mix and match:
- .5 cups mixed nuts
- ~1 cup of cheese
- 1 avocado
- 1.5 cups coconut or olive oil
- 3 salmon fillets (3 oz. servings)
- 7 eggs
Now we know what kinds of fats to eat and how to recognize a healthy macro fat intake.
Making the Perfect Macro Meal
OK, so now let’s make ourselves a perfect macro meal by combining fats, proteins and carbs.
No matter what combination you choose, our Fitplan macro-eater will keep his calories under the daily 2,139 in our example. And he’ll stay full.
For example, here’s a beefy lunch salad taken from the food lists above. All calories are sourced from Google:
1.5 ounces beef = 106 calories
1 bunches spinach (for salad) = 79 calories
1 cup carrots = 53 calories
1 avocado = 322 calories
Total Macro Meal = 560 calories
x 3 (daily) = 1680 calories
That leaves another 500 calories he can eat! Add some olive oil to the salad, another 4 servings of meat, quadruple the size of the salads … you get the point!
Let’s try another example combination, breakfast:
2 servings Greek yogurt (6 oz. per serving) = 240 calorie
1 cup rolled oats = 300 calories
*(18 of our 30 grams of fat come from the Greek yogurt)
1 tbsp. (12 grams of fat) coconut oil = 117 calories
Total Macro Meal = 657 calories
x 3 (daily) = 1,971 calories
There’s a super-healthy breakfast full of balanced energy. Plus, it’s filling – 1 cup of oatmeal is a lot! Drizzle some honey over or top with some mixed nuts or chia seeds if you like!
OK, now let’s try dinner:
2 servings salmon (6 oz.) = 354 calories
½ cup brown rice = 108 calories
½ cup sauteed broccoli, garlic, onions = 16 calories
*(22 of our 30 grams of fat come from the 2 servings of salmon)
1 tbsp. (12 grams of fat) olive oil for cooking = 119 calories
Total Macro Meal = 597 calories
x 3 (daily) = 1791 calories
So every one of these large meals is well under our 2,139 calorie example. Yet, they all satisfy the macro balance we planned out for our moderately active friend.
If we combine breakfast, lunch and dinner…
657 calories for breakfast + 560 calories at lunch + 597 calories at dinner = 1,814 calories
That’s guaranteed health and weight loss! You could have a half-meal afternoon snack and maintain the weight you need just by eating healthy macros!
Macronutrient IIFYM diets work because they emphasize eating the right proportion of whole foods. By focusing on the proteins, fats and carbs in the foods you’re eating, you can forget calories. Figuring out what your body needs to function is key here – whether it’s more protein for a weightlifting lifestyle or more healthy carbs for lots of aerobic exercise. Once you start to understand how much energy you take from food, you’ll be able to limit yourself by not eating the foods that compromise your macro balance. You’ll be able to relax around food and enjoy a healthier, trimmer body overall.