Now that you have a good grip of calories, macros, and what goes into the calculation, let’s talk about how to fill those macros. This is where the controversy begins, because technically you could eat poptarts all day, have some protein shakes, guzzle olive oil and hit your macros perfectly. Consequently, people are quick to diss IIFYM because they think it’s a justification for eating junk food all day.
But is it a good idea to fill your macros with not-so-nutritionally-dense foods? Probably not. While you have the freedom to fill your macros as your heart desires, you need to remember that thing called moderation. This is where micronutrients come in. Micronutrients are the more invisible numbers – potassium, calcium, sodium, niacin, and beta-carotene – aka vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are crucial components of a functioning body, and it’s not in your best interest to neglect them.
Consequently, what IIFYM truly means is that you need to eat your whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, nuts, and seeds, and then you can have your cake and eat it too. Whole grains are the “brown” carbs such as whole wheat bread, pasta, bagels, quinoa, rice etc. Whole wheat hasn’t been refined, so it still contains the bran (lots of fiber) and the inner germ (lots of vitamins and minerals). Might as well get more bang for your buck – carb macros, a ton of micros, and some fiber.
Fruits are my favorite, and I am guilty of eating too many. They are naturally sweet, they are great decorations for pancakes and waffles, they make oatmeal taste better, they’re rich in vitamins and minerals (ones that act as antioxidants too), and they are a great snack after the gym (along with some protein of course).
Vegetables are arguably more important than fruits – although I like to think otherwise – because they contain even more vitamins and minerals. What’s important for vegetable intake is to 1) get more veggies in than fruits and 2) get an array of color in your vegetables. The more yellow/orange/red vegetables have potassium, vitamin C, and beta-carotene in them, and green vegetables are high in folate, iron and calcium, to name just a few.
Nuts and seeds are healthy fats, along with avocados and salmon. Your body needs fats to function because fats play a vital role in your body, one of which is cell membrane structure. Examples include almonds, walnuts, pecans, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios – the list goes on.
Dairy is important because it includes calcium and vitamin D, both of which are important for bone health and growth. Foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D include milk, cheese, and yogurt. However, fear not, because if you are lactose intolerant like myself, you can get the bulk of your calcium from dark leafy green vegetables, and you can buy calcium-fortified foods like orange juice.
Protein is super important, and is available in many sources. Whey protein is one – people usually supplement their diet with protein shakes because it’s an easy way to hit protein macros. But there are other ways too – dairy products (especially greek yogurt), tofu, meat, and seafood are all great examples.
Water is also important, seeing as most of your body is made up of it. I noticed my skin cleared up a bit when I drank a gallon a day. Whether it was related directly to the water or not, I did notice that I felt better drinking more water than I did drinking less.
Having fun with Macros
Now that we have the necessary micronutrient food groups covered, what to do with the leftover macros..?
The brilliance of the aforementioned foods is that they are nutritionally dense, which leaves some wiggle room for “indulgence” foods, which are usually higher in calories. Fill your remaining macros with whatever your heart desires and your macros can accommodate.
All in all, IIFYM is a sustainable diet – it balances out and allows you to eat in moderation. While it’s essential to nourish your body with nutritionally dense foods, it’s also essential to nourish your soul with ice-cream and waffles and pizza.