10 05 2013
Blog : If it fits your macros, bro …
Whatever, right ? Same difference. No matter. Don’t sweat it. No biggie. On your own time. Slogans and exclamations I’m sure you’ve heard a lot. But I’m willing to bet they aren’t the ones you typically associate with gym life. And yet of late a very similar disturbing acronym seems to be contaminating various parts of the fitness community like a viral epidemic : IIFYM. If it fits your macros. Fancy nutritional slang for “you know, whatever, bro”. When I hear it, it really sounds no different than every teenager on facebook putting stuff like YOLO under pictures of binge drinking and other lude behavior.
There was a time, not so long ago, that a healthy lifestyle was associated with lean poultry and cruciferous vegetables. In fact, I think that image alone was responsible for scaring a lot of people away from this lifestyle. Although common sense should have dictated it, science had to come along and say “it doesn’t work that way”. Your body doesn’t make these kinds of narrow distinctions, and a few million years of evolution certainly didn’t shape us in such a fashion that we could only eat such a small amount of different foods to perform at our best. The problem is when you try and extrapolate the biochemistry of this to lay people : it doesn’t translate that well. Especially in today’s environment of everybody-wants-in-on-the-fitness-hype there’s a lot of people out there looking to take every scrap of information and sell it to you, even if it’s available for free elsewhere. And there’s a lot of people, eager to stand out anyway they can, who tend to interpret any piece of actual data showing something isn’t black and white, and screaming “if it isn’t black and white it must be white and black !”. So when data shows that you shouldn’t be limiting yourself to tasteless chicken and broccoli, that you really can have a very tasty and varied diet without compromising your progress in muscle gain or fat loss, there’s a select group of people who tend to translate that as “dude, just eat whatever you like, AS LONG AS IT FITS YOUR MACROS”. And then there’s a much larger group who likes shiny objects and controversial bro-science that ends up spreading this information globally. And then you get to a point, like today, where you go on web boards to discuss nutrition topics, and every other thread has some smartass telling off some kid who is new to this sport that he is a moron for wanting to eat right, that “science” and “studies” show that as long as he is meeting his macros, he shouldn’t sweat it. And then you have kids eating snickers all day every day, because you know, they have protein and carbs and fats right, with all them nuts in there ?
IIFYM isn’t a new concept either. I recently read Phil Learney’s blog, and as he aptly demonstrated there that the concept is really no different from the Weight Watchers pro points plan. And as he poignantly points out, how many Weight Watchers’ aficionados do you see at the beach strutting their abs every year ? So when one goes to these web boards that seem to infinitely disseminate bad information (because even good information tends to become a hazardous object in the hands of people bullying newer folk into absolutes) and points this out, there’s some board guru, usually the one that started the trend on that particular web board, who comes in and says “well you know, that’s cuz people don’t understands IIFYM. It’s like lookin’ at macros and then eating 90% clean food and 10% dirty food”.
Ah, so it’s not IIFYM then ? It’s IIFYMAENPFFAALTSADCCF (If it fits your macros and eating ninety percent foods from an arbitrary list that some arbitrary dude calls clean food). Because I’ve never come across peer-reviewed evidence speaking of dirty and clean foods. And the minute you make any distinction aside from macros, you really shouldn’t be calling it IIFYM, because that’s just inviting trouble in. There are no dirty and clean foods. There is a balanced diet and an imbalanced one. We know that there needs to be a balance between saturated and unsaturated fat, between omega-6 and omega-3 PUFA and so on. We know of the different qualities of protein based on digestion rate and amino acid content. And yet there are people out there saying a carb is a carb ? Sorry, doesn’t work that way. Carbohydrates are a term that encompasses mono-, di-, oligo- and polysaccharides consisting of among others galactose, glucose, fructose, ribose etc. So if in all that all you can see is that a carb is a carb, then why make that distinction at all ? Let’s call a macro a macro and be done with it right ? A calorie is a calorie after all.
There is a ton of research out there showing that IIFYM is nothing but bro-science. One of the last studies I read was on apple polyphenols preventing fructose induced metabolic problems, demonstrating that fruit contains compounds that prevent the negatives of over-consumption of fructose. But if you believe in IIFYM, how can an apple be different from the equivalent in high fructose corn syrup ? Oh yes, I forgot, the apple is “clean”. That’s not confusing at all. So how is it that people of above average intelligence are disseminating this information in this way ?
Simplification is important. We can’t expect all our conversational partners to be top level scientists. So when I teach someone new to the game how to construct their diet, I start with calories, then with macros and tell them that they will be ok as long as they avoid certain refined products, get a healthy balance in their fats and focus on keeping their protein high, the rest will eventually take care of itself. And yes, I tell them if they go with fresh or fresh frozen products, that makes it even easier to avoid over-consuming those refined products. Notice that at no point did I use the term clean or dirty, or tell them that as long as it fits their macros they will be ok. I’m simplifying for a beginner, so they can get their feet wet before I bore them to death with details they don’t need yet, but I’m not selling them a fix-all phrase and saying that will get them where they ultimately want to go.
It’s important that people realize that a good diet does not mean starving or eating bland foods. One of my favorite topics is food and recipes. I cook with protein powders because just drinking shakes with a certain flavor is still drinking shakes. I have a spice cabinet that’s filled to the brim, because I can cook a few kilos of chicken and pork strips with various veggies for a whole week, but with a little help turn that into 5 different meals with some spices and additives. It’s crucial to know that we all have lives and no one expects you to shop and cook every day to get where you are going. What it doesn’t mean is telling them falsehoods that lead them to believe they can get away with the same mistakes they have been making all along, but you know, with a little more protein. People who are new to this game have to make a lifestyle change. That’s one of the most important things they need to learn. And one of the best things you can do is pointing out that this isn’t so drastic or difficult. But please, please, don’t tell them they don’t have to make this change. That’s not helping them. That’s sabotaging them …
Now, i’m off to eat some chicken and veggie wraps in a delicious coriander and cumin salsa.
And not a macro was fitted that day …