IIFYM stands for “If It Fits Your Macros”. To put it simply, it’s a form of flexible dieting, which encourages you to eat a variety of food groups.
"It's a form of flexible dieting"
In contrast to many fad diets, IIFYM doesn’t cut out carbohydrates or fat. In fact, it centers around a balanced approach to eating all three macronutrients (carbs, fat, and protein). The IIFYM diet requires you to track your macros (what are these?) in relation to your daily recommended calories.
By tracking your macros, IIFYM enables you to adjust your targets in order to lose weight, gain muscle, or maintain your current weight.
WHAT IS THE MACRO DIET?
The macro diet is just another name for IIFYM. It’s also known as the macro-friendly diet. NOT to be confused with the macrobiotic diet, which is based around Zen Buddhism.
Also not to be confused with fad diets; the macro diet is more of a lifestyle. It is often regarded as the most effective diet because of its versatility and subsequent sustainability.
IS THE MACRO DIET HEALTHY?
Of course. The macro diet ensures that you consume all three of the essential macronutrients, which are required by your body to function healthily. In doing so, you’re more likely to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
Nevertheless, IIFYM also allows for a certain amount of flexibility. In other words, you can eat whatever you want as long as it fits your macro targets. Therefore, you have the power to choose whether you want to eat fast food or nutritious food.
Burgers and cake are ok once in a while and shouldn’t affect your fitness goals if you’re careful. However, what you choose to fill your diet with is up to you. Ultimately, the macro diet is healthy as long as you make sensible choices long-term.
DOESN'T EATING LOW GI FOODS MATTER? OR UNSATURATED VS SATURATED FATS?
It doesn’t matter! Well...to some extent.
IIFYM goes on the basis that, once digested, a macro is a macro. For example, let’s take a look at carbohydrates: whether they’re simple carbs from a donut or starchy and fibrous carbs from rice and whole grains, they are all broken down into the same end product - glucose.
Furthermore, whilst saturated fats have received a lot of bad press over the years, many recent studies suggest that they are not as bad as previously thought. Nevertheless, the overall consensus is that fat (saturated or unsaturated), in general, should be consumed in smaller amounts.
Of course, we’re not saying you should always swap your avocado for dark chocolate, or your fruit and veg for a candy bar. The good thing about eating food with unsaturated fats and fibrous carbs, as opposed to snacks with saturated fats and simple carbs, is that they are often found alongside healthy micronutrients, such as vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, etc.
Eating food with unsaturated fats and fibrous carbs will increase your healthy micronutrient intake
Nevertheless, if we choose to indulge occasionally, the beauty of the flexible macro diet is that it’s just that - flexible!
HOWEVER, we do recommend cutting down on your trans fats!
Woops...another complication! Don't worry, here's a video that explains everything:
IIFYM: A LIFESTYLE OR A DIET?
I’m sure the majority of us have tried other diets before (low-carb, sugar-free, paleo, keto, etc.), and how many of us have stuck with them? The problem is, fad diets are unsustainable! Indulging on snacks and unhealthy foods occasionally keep us sane and we’re more likely to stick with a diet if we’re allowed to eat foods we enjoy. That’s why IIFYM is often considered a lifestyle, rather than a diet.
Fear not! You don’t have to be an expert in sport science to follow IIFYM, it’s a lot more simple than people think. Even beginners can easily benefit from this macro-counting lifestyle!
CAN VEGANS FOLLOW AN IIFYM LIFESTYLE?
Some people may claim that an IIFYM lifestyle is too difficult to follow as a vegan, with outdated views on protein & veganism still prevalent. We beg to differ! There are plenty of ways to hit your macro targets, including plant-based protein.
In fact, we’ve got a number of different resources to help you hit your macro targets as a vegan:
Whenever anyone chooses to follow a new lifestyle it can be tough. We know that all of this new information on macros and IIFYM can seem overwhelming, which is why we’ve set out some of our top tips for vegan IIFYM to help you along your way:
1. Plan Ahead
We’ve said it before in our blog on plant-based snacks and we’ll say it again: remember the 5 Ps!
"Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance."
Preparation is key. Every vegan will know this anyway and it’s just the same with the IIFYM lifestyle. When you’re beginning your vegan macro journey it’s easy to get carried away and consume too many of one macro for breakfast, leaving you with limited choices for lunch and dinner.
That’s why it’s such a good idea to use an app like My Fitness Pal to plan what you will eat during the day. You can plan in the morning, the day before, or even a week in advance. As time goes on, it gets easier and the IIFYM lifestyle becomes second nature as you become more aware of which vegan foods contain which macro.
Breakfasts are a great way to get your essential micro- and macronutrients in for the day ahead but it’s easy to forget that you don’t need to add every ingredient to your morning meal.
While chia, almond butter, bananas, coconut yogurt, nuts, seeds, dates, quinoa flakes, and oats can seem like a fantastic way to pack in all of your nutrients, it’s a sure-fire way of maxing out your carbohydrate and fat levels too early in the day.
We try to change our breakfast ingredients every day so that we are still getting a variety of nutrients without gobbling them all down at once!
3. Incorporate Protein Powder
Sometimes there’s only so much tofu, quinoa, and peas a vegan can eat in a day, especially if we're trying to count macros to gain.
That’s why using a great plant-based protein powder that contains low quantities of the other two macros is a good idea! We love this Vegan Performance Protein by Form(it also comes in a biodegradable bag with no plastic spoon).
One of the best ways to manage your macro intake on a vegan IIFYM diet is to control your portion sizes.
We know it’s tempting to follow a vegan recipe and simply spoon the whole thing onto our plates. It may seem insignificant but a slightly bigger portion of something can have a huge impact on our macro intake.
Measuring your food is a great way to track your macros. We’re not saying that you should do this forever but getting an idea of how big your portion sizes should be will help you reach your goals more easily.
5. Eat a balanced and healthy diet
The vegan IIFYM diet is wonderful because it allows you to be super flexible about what you eat. If you want a slice of cake, you can eat a slice of cake!
Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that the majority of the time we need to be eating nutritious foods. It will make it A LOT easier to hit your macro targets.
HOW TO GET STARTED ON THE MACRO DIET
First things first, you need to find out your recommended intake and you can do that using the macro calculator at the top of this page. This will calculate the daily calories needed to maintain your weight and then, based on this, your recommended intake of protein, carbs, and fats per day in grams. Over time, you can gradually adjust your calorie intake depending on whether or not you want to lose or gain weight.
We would also recommend the use of smartphone applications, such as MyFitnessPal to track the foods and snacks that you eat. This will make it a lot easier to hit your macro targets!
Fundamentals About Macros
WHAT IS A MACRO?
Macronutrients, a.k.a. ‘macros’, are carbohydrates, protein, and fats, and are the key building blocks of the foods that we eat. The body uses these macronutrients for growth and repair of cells, to fuel our body and keep us alive.
WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF EACH MACRO? WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?
This macronutrient is often excluded in fad diets but it’s actually used by our bodies as a readily-accessible form of energy. Carbohydrates are digested by the body to produce glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream and, with the help of insulin, enters the body’s cells. If glucose goes unused, the body can then store it as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Once the body has maxed out its glycogen levels, it converts into fat for long-term storage.
Carbohydrates are an important macro and should be included in our diets because they are our bodies’ main source of energy. What’s more, they are an important source of fiber, which is important for our long-term health.
Sure, fat gets a bad rap! But it’s an essential part of our diets in small amounts. Dietary fat is a source of essential fatty acids, which the body can’t make itself. In fact, we need fat to absorb vitamins A, D, and E. Adequate fat consumption has even been linked to better cognitive function, a healthier heart, and important cell growth.
Out of all three macros, fat has the most energy (calories), which is why we should only consume it in moderation.
Here's a great video that explains the different types of fat and why it's more nuanced than simply stating that fat is bad:
Last, but not least, protein. It may be obvious as to why this macronutrient is important, seeming as it is an essential building block in every cell within our bodies. Amongst other things, protein builds and repairs muscle, strengthens our immune systems, promotes a healthy nervous system, and benefits our joints.
Our bodies can’t store protein, so we require a regular supply of this macro in our diets. Otherwise, we start to break down existing tissue to get the amino acids we need (bad news, especially if we’re trying to gain muscle.
Counting macros means keeping track of each macronutrient you are consuming to ensure that they fit into those ratios. What is the macro ratio? Don’t worry, it sounds a lot more complicated than it is!
ARE MACROS VEGAN?
That depends on where you get them from! But yes, they are vegan as long as you get them from plant-based sources.
Vegan carbohydrates can be obtained from sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and other vegetables. Vegan fat can be found in peanuts, avocados, and coconuts. Vegan protein comes in many forms including tofu, quinoa, and peas.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COUNTING CALORIES AND COUNTING MACROS?
“So what about calories?”
If we want to lose weight, we must create a calorie deficit. If we want to gain muscle, we must create a calorie surplus. But not all calories are made equal (fat has 9 calories per gram, whereas carbs and protein have 4) and if we don’t track anything else, we could be missing out on important macronutrients. As we have discussed, all three macros are essential for good health.
The main difference between the IIFYM lifestyle and fad diets is that instead of focusing on calories, we also ensure that we get a healthy balance of all three macros - much more sustainable in the long run!
For this reason, our macro calculator works out how many of each macronutrient you need according to your daily calorie intake.
What’s more, by following IIFYM, it makes it easier to track the consumption of micronutrients and the variety of foods we can eat increases the likelihood we will be including these in our diets. It’s designed to provide the body with consistent calorie intake without the need to stick to a strict diet and it’s not required to cut out enjoyable foods in order to lose weight!
Whilst trying to hit your macro goals, it can become easy to ignore the role and importance of micronutrients too. Whilst not set as part of your goals, and consumed in much lower quantities, micronutrients are crucial in maintaining your long term health, and cover a wide range of important functions in the immune system, eyesight, motor and cognitive function, and bone development.
We won’t go into too much detail on these here, but if you want to learn about why each micronutrient is important, the CDC website covers this well.
The macro ratio is the really important bit of IIFYM. It is the recommended daily allowance of each macronutrient, given as a percentage. See it’s not just about eating the right number of calories to gain, lose, or maintain weight. It’s about whether you’re consuming those calories from the right ratio of carbs, protein and fat.
USDA/FDA released their own macro ratio recommendations but these are given as broad ranges. Therefore, using the research into the current (2020) science behind counting macros and our own industry expertise, we have determined the optimum ratio for health and fitness (that fits within the USDA/FDA guidelines):
Carbohydrates = 45%
Protein = 30%
Fat = 25%
And this is the ratio we use in our Macro Snacks products. It wouldn’t be beneficial to get all of your caloric needs from protein, with carbs being our main source of energy and a good source of fiber, and with fats being needed to absorb vitamins A, D and E, as well as for cognitive function.
You certainly can, and different ratios may work better for different people based on their physiology. Though for the general population, 45% carbs, 30% protein, and 25% fats is a good starting point, as they’re in the ranges recommended by the USDA and FDA.
We’d recommend starting out at this macronutrient ratio and adjusting as the months go, based on how your body responds.
HOW DO I CALCULATE A NEW MACRONUTRIENT RATIO?
To calculate a different ratio you do the following:
First you need to work out your BMR (how do I do this?). In this example, let’s say your BMR is 2000 calories. Now the objective is to fit the number of calories from each macronutrient into the total calories. Each gram of a macro contains a certain number of calories:
Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
Protein: 4 calories per gram
Fat: 9 calories per gram
Let’s say that we want to consume 40% carbs, 35% protein and 25% fats. To expand that out to a full day of eating, we simply multiply the total calories by the percent of carbs, protein, and fat we want to consume that day.
Carbohydrates: 2000 x .40 = 800 calories from carbohydrates or 200g*
*800 divided by 4, remember 4 calories per gram from above
Protein: 2000 x .35 = 700 calories from protein or 175g*
*700 divided by 4, remember 4 calories per gram from above
Fat: 2000 x .20 = 400 calories from fat or 44g*
*400 divided by 9, remember 9 calories per gram from above
So, you can hit your macro goals each day by eating 2,000 calories derived from 200g of carbs, 170g of protein, and 44g of fat.
HOW MANY MACROS SHOULD A VEGAN HAVE PER DAY?
That depends on your individual BMR and activity levels. You will still use the same recommended macro ratio as non-vegans, but just getting those macros from vegan sources.
HOW DOES A VEGAN GET THE RIGHT MACROS?
A vegan consumes macros in the same way as any non-vegan person would, though only from plant-based sources. There are so many different foods which a vegan can eat to hit all of their macros (check out the ‘best macro foods’ section of this article), that there should be no issue of limitation.
For a newly vegan person, macro planning can be a little trickier at first as they adjust to the lifestyle of being vegan, better understanding which vegan foods are best at providing which macronutrients. That doesn’t make being vegan any worse; it’s just a shift in lifestyle and mindset.
HOW DO VEGANS HIT THEIR PROTEIN MACRO TARGET?
There are plenty of plant-based sources of protein available (beans, nuts, lentils, tofu & tempeh just to name a few), including those that contain all of the essential amino acids in substantial amounts. Here are two of our favorites however:
Quinoa - This seed’s protein content varies between 13.81-21.9% and has a fantastic balance of essential amino acids, including an abundance of lysine. It’s also a great source of another macro: carbohydrate.
Spirulina - Quite possibly the best vegan source of protein at 4 grams per just 7 grams of spirulina! All of the essential amino acids are present in sufficient quantities and they are bioavailable and easily digestible as well. If you want to focus on your protein content, then spirulina is the way to go as it’s pretty low in the other two macros.
For More Vegan Protein Sources…
Check out our Plant-Based Protein Handbook to learn all about protein, including suggestions on how to increase your intake, vegan meal and snack ideas, our favorite protein powder, and to discover some amazing plant-based sources of protein!
Sometimes! We’ve definitely been known to snack on some carb-heavy foods...they taste so darn good! BUT carbohydrates are not the bad guys they are often made out to be and are actually our main source of energy, not to mention the fiber they provide.
While many of our vegan protein sources also come with a lot of carbohydrates, these are equally as important for the human body. That’s why they have been given a higher percentage than the other macros in the USDA/FDA recommended ratio (45% carbohydrate).
Nevertheless, it all depends on what we choose to eat. A healthy and balanced diet that focuses on fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole foods is definitely lower on carbohydrates than a diet that includes lots of highly-processed vegan meat alternatives, donuts, and pizza.
This is why IIFYM can really benefit vegans as it makes us evaluate the macro content of our food rather than just the overall calorie count.
Calculating & Counting Macros
HOW DO I CALCULATE MY MACRO NEEDS?
You could work it all out yourself using your BMR (Basic Metabolic Rate) and activity levels, but luckily, we’ve got a free macro calculator to do all the hard work for you!
Our vegan macro calculator is based on the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation, which is one of the most accurate calculations of Basal Metabolic Rate available. The calculator works out an estimated average BMR based on your age, gender, height, weight. This is then used to form a Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) level of calories to maintain your weight at your chosen activity level, which corresponds to a particular number of grams of carbs, protein and fats each day.
WHAT IS A MACRO CALCULATOR?
A macro calculator uses various information to calculate the overall daily calories needed to maintain your weight, and your subsequent macro targets. These results are tailored towards you specifically.
Our macro calculator uses the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation and requires the following data:
This is an equation used to calculate Basal Metabolic Rate, and has been shown in studies to be one of the most reliable calculations available.
WHAT IS THE BASAL METABOLIC RATE (BMR)?
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is a figure expressing the total amount of energy used by the body each day - usually in calories - while at complete rest. Essentially, the amount needed to just about keep you alive.
Want to know more about calories? We love this video:
HOW IS BMR CALCULATED?
We use the Mifflin-St Jeor Equation, and the macro calculator does this for you. It then uses this BMR figure to output a Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). If you’re interested in the math behind the BMR part of the calculation, here goes:
For men: BMR = ((10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) - (5 × age in years)) + 5
For women: BMR = ((10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) - (5 × age in years)) - 161
Note: accurate determination of the calories you burn can only be accomplished by individual physiological testing.
WHAT IS TOTAL DAILY ENERGY EXPENDITURE (TDEE)?
Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) takes into account energy burnt through normal daily activity and additional exercise. It’s therefore BMR + calories burnt through exercise. If a person consumes fewer calories than their TDEE each day, over time they’ll lose weight. If they eat more than their TDEE, they gain weight, or they maintain weight if they eat the same number of calories as their TDEE.
HOW IS MAINTENANCE TDEE CALCULATED?
The maintenance TDEE is calculated using the BMR amount, multiplied by a specific factor for each activity level. Those factors are:
BMR x 1.2 at little to no exercise
BMR x 1.375 at light exercise (1-3 days per week)
BMR x 1.55 at moderate exercise (3-5 days per week)
BMR x 1.725 at heavy exercise (6-7 days per week)
BMR x 1.9 at very heavy exercise (twice per day)
WHY DOES THE MACRO CALCULATOR ASK FOR ACTIVITY LEVELS?
If we only calculated our BMR, then we would only know how many calories we use at complete rest, just about sustaining our vital functions. As it’s almost physically impossible to only use your BMR amount of calories each day, this wouldn’t make the calorie and macro targets very accurate. Therefore, our macro calculator uses estimated activity levels to determine how many calories we expend based on our individual circumstances. Of course, these different activity levels are only averages but they give us a pretty good starting point of how many calories and subsequent macronutrients you need to maintain your current weight.
This can be one of the trickiest parts of the calculator to get right, as the levels are open to interpretation. We’ve labelled the activity levels based on frequency of activity per day each week, but we’re aware that exercise patterns aren’t always as linear as this.
For example, a single 100km cycle each week may burn more calories than three short jogs, but would only count as exercise once per week in the standard bands. Therefore we’ve offered an ‘hours per week’ option to offer a different perspective on each activity band, as well as a couple of examples on how your job might affect your activity:
Days per week activity level
Little to no exercise
0 hours intensive exercise per week
Light exercise (1-3 days per week)
Or - a busy lifestyle
1-3 hours intensive exercise per week
Moderate exercise (3-5 days per week)
3-5 hours intensive exercise per week
Heavy exercise (6-7 days per week)
Or - a labor intensive manual job
6-7 hours intensive exercise per week
Very heavy exercise (twice per day)
7+ hours intensive exercise per week
Note that all exercise times given must be at least moderately intense. Meaning that you should be operating at 64% or more of your maximum heart rate for the given duration. Don’t underestimate your exercise!
COULD I JUST TRACK MY ACTIVITY INSTEAD?
To get a more accurate view of your TDEE, you might want to consider tracking your fitness activity with a fitness tracking device, such as your phone or a Fitbit, which can measure how many steps you take (and the associated calories burnt) as well as other activity such as running, swimming, cycling.
You’ll then have a better idea of actual calories burned via daily activity and exercise, rather than relying on the activity level calculations. You could then use your BMR level of calories, plus your calories from exercise, to work out your TDEE, and then calculate your new macro needs.
That said, it’s quite a labor intensive extra step to go through, and for many people the activity multipliers will provide a good enough starting point to work out what works best for them.
HOW DO I KNOW HOW MANY MACROS I'M EATING?
If you’re preparing your own food at home, you can use nutrition information labels to see how many grams of each macro is in the food you’re eating. If you’re eating fresh products with no packaging, this information is readily available online.
The easiest way to keep track of it all, however, is to log your food intake with an app such as MyFitnessPal. MyFitnessPal has a huge database of foods already, though you can also add your own, and create your own recipes to save. By tracking your food, you’ll be able to see how many grams of each macro you’ve consumed that day, and how many you still need to eat to hit your macro target.
Macros to Lose Weight, Maintain, or Gain Muscle
HOW TO LOSE WEIGHT ON A VEGAN DIET
Put simply, you need to consume fewer calories each day than your maintenance level of calories, whilst continuing to consume the right macro ratio (45% carbs, 30% protein, 25% fats).
This one is simple - just eat the amount of carbs, protein and fats each day that is recommended by our macro calculator. The number it gives you is your maintenance TDEE, which is the amount you need to eat each day to maintain your weight.
HOW TO GAIN MUSCLE ON A VEGAN DIET
Now we know how to lose and maintain weight, it follows that to gain weight, we need to eat more than our maintenance TDEE each day (in the right macro ratio, of course). But how do we ensure that we put on as much muscle as possible, and not just get fat? You need to choose a calorie surplus that isn’t too high, and a calorie surplus of 200-300 each day should help you to maximise your ‘lean gains’.
It’s difficult to suggest vegan IIFYM meal plans that suit everyone because individuals will all have their own unique macro targets to hit.
What’s more, as vegans, it’s especially important that we are getting all of the micronutrients we need - an important thing to factor into our IIFYM meals. To really ensure that you are getting all of the essential nutrients you need then we suggest consulting a professional nutritionist.
Nevertheless, we've put together some meal plans to follow here: