20 In health/ nutrition

If It Fits Your Macros experiment

Potato and gorgonzola pizza

A few people in my Crossfit box have been raving about IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros – eating lately and since they’ve become visibly leaner and noticeably stronger/fitter, I thought I’d test it out to see what it’s all about.

Note: I don’t generally weigh myself or count calories consumed or burned. I generally eat quite ‘clean’ Monday to Friday though i.e. no gluten, cane sugar or dairy, but I don’t eat in minute quantities and on weekends I like to have 1-2 meals out.

I talked to a nutritionist and after a few tweaks had a plan that splits my week into 2 heavy lifting days (that means: high carb / low fat), 3 medium lifting days (means: medium carb / medium fat) and 2 light days (means: low carb / high fat).

I logged what I ate for 17 days. I felt like I kept my eyes on my macros every 10 minutes but I was still not able to follow the plan 100%.

Here are some of the things this experiment taught me:

  • I don’t actually have hard, medium and light days when it comes to exercise – I pretty much work out hard on all days.
    Even on my “light” days when I either “just run”, I burn over 700 calories, or when I “just swim”, I swim for 2km and burn over 500 cals. Therefore sticking to 1750 calories on my “light days” is not possible. The hunger is unbearable.
  • I like to eat the same kinds of things every day, meaning it’s hard for me to eat 300-400 calories less on some days and more on other days.
    I either feel like I’m force feeding myself or I feel like I’m starving. I felt that looking at my macros all the time meant I wasn’t listening to my body as much. Often I’m not as hungry on my heavy lifting or long run days as I am the day after but if the day after is a “light” day then I’m screwed.
  • I like to eat a lot of fat.
    It’s made me sad that I’ve had to limit my coconut oil, butter, salmon, mackerel, nut and avocado consumption. I have realised that I need to cut down a little bit but this plan I have has almost no room for two of these items in the same day but I do like a bit of fat with every meal.
  • Counting macros makes me eat weird combinations of things, especially for dinner.
    I often only had carbs and protein left for dinner so I ate a green salad with canned tuna (protein without much fat) but I don’t actually really like canned tuna and I think life’s too short to eat things you don’t enjoy. Also, veggies need to be eaten with fat in order for the body to absorb all the nutrients, but if I’ve eaten avocado and eggs scrambled with butter for breakfast and some fat at lunchtime, I have no fat allowance left for dinner.
  • If I just have protein and carbs left at the end of the day, I had 0% greek yoghurt with honey or fruit for dessert. Totally delicious, but I don’t believe in fat free stuff so it was a bit of a mental struggle to eat fat free yoghurt.
  • Eating out is impossible.
    I don’t understand how people say IIFYM is so great because you can eat WHATEVER you want just as long as it fits your macros. Well, chicken katsu curry from Wagamama’s is 1200 calories. If I want to eat that I just have to gnaw on air for breakfast and lunch.
  • I don’t like to weigh myself.
  • I don’t like to think about calories because fitness is not about calories in / calories out.
    Throughout this experiment I wore my heart rate monitor to everything I did, running as well as Crossfit, bouldering, etc. and I didn’t like it. I like to exercise for fun, I don’t like the mindset of constantly keeping track of calories in vs calories out.
  • Weighing food and recording everything does my head in.  #SRSLY
    There are so many things in my life I need to keep track of – things related to my job and my two children, for example – I just do not have the mental energy to focus on food as much as IIFYM eating requires.

I lost a couple of kilos in those 17 days and felt quite good at Crossfit but all this counting and measuring and recording was too much. It took out all the joy from eating.

I have, however, learned a lot from this experience and there are some changes that I will definitely make from now on:

  • I learned that I need close to 70g carbs after working out so I ditched my post-workout recovery shake because it has just 12g of carbs and changed my post-workout meal to porridge with eggs (or overnight oats with greek yoghurt) instead of my usual eggs/avocado/tomato.
  • I will keep eating greek yoghurt. It’s a great source of protein and with honey and pistachios it’s divine.
  • I will keep waiting when I think I’m hungry. My biggest issue is night-time snacking and I’m slowly learning to have dinner, a small sweet(ish) snack and then telling myself “You’re done now for the day. Tomorrow’s another day.”

As far as numbers go for this 17-day test period:

  • Average calories per day: 2007 (range 1764-2470)
    Should have been 1911
  • Average fat grams per day: 80 (range 52-138)
    Should have been 60
  • Average carb grams per day: 212 (range 131-303)
    Should have been 231
  • Average protein grams per day: 112 (range 87-137)
    Should have been 111

When I was training for marathons I burned at least 6000 calories a week, now with 3 sessions of Crossfit, 2 short runs, one bouldering session and one swimming session I burn less than 4000. That means I need to be mindful about all kinds of energy bars and other stuff that long distance runners love to make and eat. I just don’t need that many nuts and dates in my life right now as I’m not running the distances that I used to.  I sort of suspected that before but now having done the math I know I need to lay off the nuts and the dried fruit if I want to be in control of my muffin top.

Have to tried IIFYM? It works for so many people but as for me – I think I like a more relaxed way of eating. Meat, fish, eggs, veg, fruit, rice, oats, quinoa, nuts, coconut oil, butter, maple syrup, honey, quinoa, greek yoghurt, almond milk are my main staples Monday to Friday. Weekends are a bit more relaxed and no time needs to be spent debating with myself over whether or not I can eat all the carbs that there are in an apple.

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  • Reply
    September 3, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I absolutely don’t have time for stuff like this, I wasted enough of my younger years counting and restricting calories, it takes over your life and it’s a miserable existence. It’s just not an intuitive or natural way to eat.

  • Reply
    Anna @AnnaTheApple
    September 1, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    I think if you have to monitor what you eat so closely and severely it can’t be a natural way to live. It’s cool to do an experiment once in a while to try new things though.
    I’m only just getting used to tracking my macros and was surprised at just how little fat I was eating…macros are such a grey area for me though as I’ve just never thought about them before!

    • Reply
      September 3, 2015 at 9:06 am

      So many people have told me they have trouble eating enough fat. I’m a fat eater all the way 😉 For example, these are some of the things I eat on most days (salmon not every day but then mackerel which is quite fatty as well):

      1/2 avocado – 12g
      2 eggs – 5g
      1tsp coconut oil – 4.5g
      150g poached salmon – 12g
      100g chicken – 14g
      2 tsp olive oil for salads – 10g
      30g almonds – 15g

      Total: 72.5g.

      Easy peasy 🙂

  • Reply
    September 1, 2015 at 9:08 am

    I think your last point — “Weighing food and recording everything does my head in” — is basically why IIFYM will NEVER work for me. I mean, I love the idea and I’ve seen it work for many people (both those under and overweight) but I just cannot handle that level of completely anal food tracking. Even just tracking calories for a couple of weeks made me want to throw the scales out of the window, so tracking every gram of protein / carb / fat would have me fit to rage.

    I will stick to eating well 99% of the time and being flexible when I ‘need’ to. As long as I maintain reasonable levels of activity whilst doing it, I maintain a good weight easily, and that is more sustainable for me long term than anything else.

    • Reply
      September 3, 2015 at 9:07 am

      Anal is the word alright 🙂 As much as I view food as fuel and not as ‘entertainment’, I still want to enjoy it and not over think every single freaking bite 🙂

  • Reply
    Katie G
    September 1, 2015 at 8:15 am

    I loved reading this, I spent 10 week’s tracking my food/workouts (with a few days off to eat as I pleased) and in the end I was so sick of tracking every single mouthful!
    From reading your blog previously, I noted that you have a pretty darn good diet anyway and you’re in very good shape/fit/strong which are all great qualities but it’s natural to want to see if that can be changed.
    I do wholeheartedly agree that 1,750 calories feel’s so low, I don’t understand how people can work out and function on less than 1,500. Getting on the scales is something I hate, my weight varies so much and I actually became stronger and fitter but my weight didn’t budge or went up therefore the number on the scales mean’s very little to me.
    Looking at your statistics was really interesting, I don’t think I eat enough carbs and I’m always over my fat but if it’s good/balanced fat is that really such a bad thing? Esp if sugar is low..
    Thanks for sharing and that pizza, now that looks absolutely incredible!

    • Reply
      September 3, 2015 at 9:10 am

      10 weeks?!? That is impressive 🙂

      I tended to eat a lot less carbs than my plan told me I needed to eat so now I’m trying to eat them around workouts. I think carbs will do me good, eating Paleo(ish) feels good for me in general daily life but it doesn’t grow muscle as fast as I’d like it to grow 🙂

  • Reply
    August 31, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    I tried it for about a week and really didn’t enjoy it either. I think it’s supposed to make eating more flexible but I just found it depressing and I’ve realised I just like eating how I like to eat. I know how to eat healthily and I’m just not interested in the benefits of macro tracking enough to stick to it. Also all that protein is not good for the bowels department!!! X

    • Reply
      September 3, 2015 at 9:13 am

      I don’t know where this “flexible” thing comes from either. You pretty much have to constantly do math before you put any little thing in your mouth 😐 And as for protein – I don’t have a problem eating 100g of it a day but sometimes do feel all this meat is too heavy for my digestion. Too bad my stomach cannot handle legumes for an alternative protein source. I go through a lot of Two Chicks liquid egg whites but just as a filler with other things – egg whites are just not very exciting.

    • Reply
      September 3, 2015 at 9:14 am

      And what did you tell me in person? 😉

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