IIFYM vs "Clean Eating"

 I do not wish to bash anyone’s nutritional philosophies. I respect your healthy lifestyle, regardless of its background. By exercising, eating right, and taking the time to read this blog, you are already one step ahead of the game. I am writing this blog to provide you with information regarding another way of doing things. Clean eaters, this message is for you. I understand that reducing body fat while eating junk food is a scary and illogical thought, but it works. Hard to believe? I know, I was once in your shoes. If by the end of this blog, you are not a believer in IIFYM, then consider using both philosophies. Eat clean and track your macronutrients. At the end of the day, you will optimize your body composition results and stay within your comfort bubble. It is a win, win situation.

The Madness Behind The Method

Two nutritional philosophies exist within the aesthetics realm- "clean eating" and IIFYM. Generally speaking, clean eaters "eat healthy", while IIFYM'ers count macronutrients. The two nutritional philosophies are completely different, and advocates from both camps succeed. Yet, success itself is not enough. Fitness enthusiasts are perfectionists, and seek efficiency, optimization, and innovation. With that said, debate ravishes the industry and prompts the question, “which philosophy is more efficient for building muscle and reducing body fat”? I have had the opportunity to incorporate both methods into client programs and on my own. The following paragraphs detail my findings.

Macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate) are in everything that you eat or drink. Think of your early morning bagel as just a giant ball of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, with vitamins, minerals, and water mixed in. Once digested, your body uses each macronutrient to facilitate different metabolic processes. Generally speaking, muscles use a mixture of glucose (carbohydrates) and triacylglycerol’s (fats) to foster energy for muscular contraction (Gleeson & Jeukendrup, 2010). Dietary carbohydrates serve to fuel muscle protein synthesis, while protein functions as a building material for the process. Your body cannot run, let alone survive without “gasoline” to fuel its many functions. Macronutrients are your body’s gasoline.

Your body operates by using macronutrients to provide it with energy and building material. It functions optimally to build muscle or reduce body fat when it is given macronutrients in the quantities that it needs. Needs fluctuate from individual to individual based on several things (weight, body fat percentage, height, age, metabolic functioning, and training status). Giving your body too much or too few of what it needs provides it with less than optimal results. At the end of each day, macronutrients that are not used are stored as fat (Gleeson & Jeukendrup, 2010). Conversely, consuming too few macronutrients each day can compromise muscle mass. Thus, optimal body composition requires a delicate macronutrient balance. IIFYM gives you a platform from which you can determine your body's exact macronutrient needs to maximize success, while clean eating alone does not. Remember, it is possible to eat too much or too little of a good thing.

IIFYM'ers are more likely to stick to a long term regimen, while clean eaters are more likely to binge. Although this may not always be the case, it is a noticeable trend within the fitness community. By counting macronutrients, you can essentially eat what you crave with one caveat, you must hit your macro nutrient numbers at the end of every day. IIFYM promotes food choice freedom and is easier for most to adopt long term. Contrarily, clean eating requires practitioners to “eat healthy” around the clock, aside from the classic “one to two cheat meals per week”. By nature, cheat meals encourage binging. By designating special times for you to eat your favorite foods, you are much more likely to overeat than if you do so when you want throughout the week. You see it all the time on popular social media sites like Instagram- your favorite fitness professional pictured behind a giant 8x8 Burger and a mound of fries. Yeah I get it, you are a super dedicated clean eater and may not binge. But I see it time and time again in the personal training sector. Remember, your average Mrs. Jones is probably not as motivated as you and may need something a little bit more practical to kick start her nutritional journey. 
IIFYM inadvertently encourages “healthy eating”. At the end of the day, the entire point of IIFYM is for you to hit your macros. To get enough protein and fiber, while not overindulging in fats and carbohydrates, you must consume “healthy” foods most of the time. The only difference is that IIFYM permisses occasional junk food consumption depending on where you stand with your macronutrients each day. If you want a couple of pop tarts post workout instead of brown rice to meet your carbohydrate requirements, then eat up.

Introductory Macronutrient Counting Guide

Now that you wholeheartedly believe in IIFYM, it is time to get started. The following section details basic IIFYM macronutrient counting instructions. Note that these basic instructions are just that, and can be creatively tweaked any number of ways*. 
1) Set a goal (fat loss, maintenance, muscle gain). This will determine your daily caloric intake. 
2) Visit IIFYM.com and click on the TDEE calculator underneath the calculators tab. TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure, is the amount of calories that you burn every day (Collova, 2011) . 
3) Fill out your height, weight, gender and exercise frequency information. Click on the Katch-McCardle option and enter your body fat percentage (if known). Click “calculate TDEE”. 
4) Create a daily caloric deficit/ surplus depending on your goal. Follow the instructions below based on your desired goal. 
a) Fat Loss: Choose a number in-between 100 and 500. This will be your daily caloric deficit. To determine your daily caloric intake, subtract this value from your TDEE. (Remember, 3500 calories equals one pound of fat. To lose one pound of fat per week, you must use a 500 calorie/ day deficit [500 calories/ day x 7 days/ week = 3500 calories or 1 lbs fat/week]. Do not begin your nutritional plan with a caloric deficit any greater than 500 calories/ day). 
b) Muscle Gain: Choose a number in-between 100 and 200. This will be your daily caloric surplus. To determine your daily caloric intake, add this value to your TDEE. 
c) Maintenance: Your daily caloric intake will match your TDEE. No calculations required.
5) Next, you must choose macronutrient percentage values. M Choose percentage values based on the recommendations below. You must total 100% (ex: carbohydrates (45%), protein (35%), fat (20%). 
a) Fat Loss: Carbohydrates (30-50%)/ Protein (30-45%)/ Fat (15-30%) 
b) Muscle Gain: Carbohydrates (45-60%)/ Protein (25-35%)/ Fat (10-25%) 
c) Maintenance: Carbohydrates (40-55%)/ Protein (25-35%)/ Fat (15-25%)
6) Calculate the amount of calories that you will consume in protein, fat, and carbohydrate each day based on the macronutrient percentage values that you chose during step 5. Convert each percentage into decimal form (ex: 35% = .35) and multiply it by your daily caloric intake (The number you calculated during step 4). At this point, you should have three fairly large numbers (one for each macronutrient). 
7) Divide the protein number by four, the carbohydrate number by four, and the fat number by nine. By doing this, you convert your daily totals from calories to grams. 
8) Fiber falls under the carbohydrate category. As a general rule, smaller individuals (100- 175lbs) should aim for 25-40 grams of fiber per day, while larger individuals should consume 35-60g fiber per day (175+ lbs). 
9) You made it. You should have values (in grams) for each macronutrient. Download myfitnesspal to your smart phone or desktop, and use it to track your new values. You will need to invest in a food scale, and measuring devices to accurately track your macros.

Note: Your macro nutrient targets must change once you plateau. The key is to reduce each slowly over time at each sticking point. 
*The following steps do not account for metabolic functioning. If you do not consume calories at or near your TDEE daily, then your calculated values may not produce your desired results. If this is the case, then look into a TITIN Nutrition Plan on our websites home page for a more detailed nutrition plan. 


Collova, A. (2011). TDEE calculator. Retrieved from http://iifym.com/tdee-calculator/ 
Gleeson, M., Jeukendrup, A. (2010). Sports nutrition: An introduction to energy production and performance (2nd ED) Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.