Flexible Diet: A Complete Guide
A flexible diet has many critics and even more supporters. But is it suitable for you? The manual contains all the important information with some numbers for a good start!
Author: Paul Salter, Master of Science, Certified Nutritionist
For decades, it all boiled down to the number of calories received per day. Stay in deficit, and in theory you will lose weight. Create an excess of calories and you will gain weight. To some, this approach produced results, but for many it proved to be insufficient, unsuccessful and, ultimately, a failure.
And then someone finally asked the question: "What if calories are just the beginning?"
As a result, a new principle of making a diet called "flexible diet" or IIFYM ("If it fit your macros") broke into the world of fitness. This concept has turned a habitual restrictive approach on its head, focusing on monitoring the consumption of macronutrients. While you fit in certain numbers, theoretically there are no restrictions on the products that you can eat.
Is the "flexible diet" an ideal concept with "protection from a fool"? Of course no. Although the magic idea of a flexible diet may seem simple, making it part of your lifestyle is not easy. You need to have an in-depth knowledge of some key principles of dietetics, since it's very easy to make mistakes! But with proper application it can become that, unlike many diets, it will help you to stick to the planned plan for a long time.
If you are new to proper nutrition, or just looking for new ideas, the information below will be useful for you. We will talk in more detail about macronutrients, the possible proportions of BJU and, of course, the very diet of IIFYM!
Macronutrients, or abbreviated BIO, are the main nutrients: proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Instead of throwing every effort to count calories or blacken fats or carbohydrates, a "flexible diet" is focused on covering the body's daily needs. With the right approach, it provides a stable intake of calories, but the sources of these calories can be represented by an infinite number of combinations.
At first glance, the concept may seem unreasonably complicated: "Why include three counters, if you can use only one?" The fact is that after shifting the emphasis to individual needs for BJU (and the choice of quality products), you will be easier to adapt the diet to their lifestyle, taste preferences and goals set.
Imagine 2000 calories. It's not that easy, right? You could get these calories due to an infinite number of combinations of products, both beneficial and harmful. In the first case, 2000 calories would help you refuel for fantastic exercises, build muscle and feel full. In the second – could leave you at the broken trough, with the usual jumps of blood sugar, an unclear head and a shaky gait in the gym. In short, it is not enough to count calories, it is necessary to pass to another level!
Managing macronutrients is like planning a budget. Instead of spending calories on anything, while this "horrible" fits into the overall limit, you will have to manage the budget of three key currencies – proteins, carbohydrates and fats. If you want to spend the entire budget on pancakes for breakfast, go ahead, but remember that you still need to get the due portion of fats and proteins. Do not be surprised if you are fatigued by dinner. You've used up all the carbohydrates, and now your fuel tanks are empty, although there's still a car and a small cart.
However, the beauty of the "flexible diet" is that from time to time you can deviate from the course, staying within the budget, if in other meals you take into account the errors in the diet. For example, if a dinner is scheduled for a special occasion, it's enough to correct morning and afternoon meals so that in the evening you will be fully drawn.
With proper application, the "flexible diet" offers an excellent balance of stability and flexibility. Determine the daily rate of BJU (we'll soon get to it), and use the right to choose from a variety of products to cover this need. After all, you can get calories from anywhere, but macronutrients have to be found in certain sources.
Build your day around these sources, and you will have room for maneuver when there is a need.
Sources of protein. Egg whites, egg yolks, milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, chicken, turkey, pork, beef, fish, nuts, beans, peas, lentils, soybeans and other legumes.
Biological role. Protein is a combination of amino acids necessary for recovery, muscle growth and regenerative processes throughout the body. But protein is not only biceps, it's also a feeling of satiety, which is useful for training people who want to lose weight or gain muscle mass.
Sources of carbohydrates. Oatmeal, rice, bread, cereal, pasta, kinoa, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, chips, biscuits, candies.
Biological role. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy. This fuel is preferred by both muscles and the brain.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Complex carbohydrates are digested slowly, and the products in which they are contained usually have a darker color. They are full of vitamins and minerals, and due to the high fiber content, they provide a stable flow of energy. Examples – oats, brown rice, starchy vegetables and whole-grain bread.
Simple carbohydrates are absorbed very quickly, and the products in which they are contained are usually lighter. Examples are white rice, white bread, biscuits and sweets.
Sources of fat. Olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil, natural peanut butter and other nut oils, avocados, almonds, walnuts, cashews, red fish, mackerel, egg yolks.
Biological role. Fats are essential nutrients involved in many physiological processes. They play an important role in cellular signaling systems and provide communication within the body. Fats allow the body to absorb vitamins and help maintain a healthy hormonal background. Not to mention the fact that they are delicious.
Unsaturated fats. They are usually called "the most useful" fats, because they have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, mental activity and memory.
Saturated fats. They participate in the synthesis of testosterone, optimize the production of other important hormones.
Trans fats. They are often called "harmful", as they negatively destroy the blood vessels and increase the risk of developing various metabolic disorders.
A flexible diet against traditional diets
If you have gone through the complexities of traditional diets, it may be difficult for you to understand how a "flexible diet" differs from a free diet, but to lose weight it is still important to maintain a calorie deficit, regardless of what products they come from. Let's compare these two approaches.
The difference is 1. Restriction policy
The principle of many traditional diets is based on strict calorie counting, a certain list of foods, and sometimes even on a complete ban of a product or group of products (for example, low-fat or low-carb diet is used for weight loss). This approach initially gives the result, but on a long distance it often does not work.
Because of the sense of lack of balance and power, the error in one meal turns into a day of permissiveness, which ultimately puts an end to all good intentions. A few weeks later, a person returns to the original body weight, and even sets a personal record. This is a vicious circle of many diets.
"Flexible diet" relieves you of fear that a product "does not fit into the limit", and you can choose from all the variety of products. Instead of worrying about violations, you can regularly eat sweets, continuing to move to the intended goal without feeling guilty. It's all about controlling the size of portions. To stick to a diet is still not easy, and from time to time you can be overcome by hunger, but a balanced approach will make the process much more tolerant.
The difference is 2. Fitness in the gym
Everyone who has ever tried to train for wear against a calorie-restricted diet – or during an extreme low-fat or low-carb diet – knows how hard it can be. Your training is severely affected, as is the overall level of energy. Of course, the cubes of the press appear in the kitchen, but do not underestimate the importance of months of high-quality training. If you want to improve the composition of fabrics in the long term, they can not be neglected! And the extreme restriction of calories to you in this is unlikely to help.
The "flexible diet" shifts the emphasis on the importance of each macronutrient, given its unique biological role. With successful implementation of the principles of a flexible diet, you will have enough strength for very intensive training, even in the phase of weight loss, drying, or work on the relief.
If you were on a diet with a specific list – implicit or explicitly declared – of "forbidden" products, you know that even from one thought about the cake you can be covered with a sense of guilt. Too often people give slack, and then in punishment they starve themselves or eat very little. This is not a healthy, nor a balanced approach.
Adhering to a flexible diet, you can avoid stress in such situations. You can get more or less certain nutrients than planned, in some kind of food intake. But do not forget that you still need to fit into the limit! This is a very flexible system, and it can be adjusted to the lifestyle as long as you continue to control calories and BJU.
This principle extends to dinner in the restaurant. People on a diet often cause anxiety, since it is difficult to control the size of portions and how to prepare food. Of course, many restaurants will never be completely frank about calories and BJU, but if you do not want to give up the idea of calculating the proportion of macronutrients, simple math may be enough to make the right choice.
The positive side of the global problem of obesity is that today more than ever restaurants lay out the nutritional value of dishes online, and in some this information can be found right on the spot. Examine the menu in advance and determine what will fit in your limit, or what you can afford. This will allow you to enjoy lunch without a headache about accounting for calories and BJU.
The difference is 4. Scientific arguments in favor of a "flexible diet"
Many studies have proven how inefficient the traditional restrictive approach to diet can be, and statistics is the best evidence of this. But the better the diet of IIFYM? It turned out that a study comparing the traditional approach with a flexible diet was carried out.
When comparing the two concepts, scientists concluded that a restrictive diet increases the risk of a subsequent increase in BMI, a deterioration in self-management and the development of mental disorders on the basis of food intake and weight gain. Consider this another victory for a flexible diet.
How to avoid the traps of a flexible diet?
I'm not going to protect all the variations on the topic of a flexible diet. Many people distort its principles and leave vivid proofs of their mistakes in the Instagram. Because of this, a flexible diet has a reputation of "unhealthy," although it certainly should not be!
1 error. Ignoring micronutrients
Vitamins and minerals, also known as trace elements, are very important if, of course, you want your body to function just as well as it looks. They are equally important for the training process and recovery! Unfortunately, many IIFYM dieters too often choose cakes instead of carrots.
Solution. Make a conscious decision to include in the diet a lot of nutrient-rich foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. They should become the rule, not the exception. Moreover, I insist that you should make a portion of non-starchy vegetables "voluntary" and forced at least three times a day.
Of course, occasionally on your menu can appear fatty steaks and fried foods, but they have to pay a high price in the form of calories. On the other hand, if you do not carefully select the proteins of plant origin, you may miss the key essential amino acids necessary for optimal muscle growth and recovery.
Solution. Find out what is the difference between a full and inferior protein; sources of poor quality protein should not be taken into account in the total amount of protein. I like the example of peanut butter. In a dose may be 8 gram of protein, but this is an inferior protein, that is, it lacks one or more essential amino acids. If you do not spread it on toast, or combine it with a full-fledged protein (any source of animal protein), you should consider it only as fat. Keep protein numbers for low-fat high-quality sources. They are nutrient-rich and support growth, muscle recovery and a sense of satiety without excess calories.
If you are a vegetarian, be sure to combine different sources of protein, such as rice and beans, or choose high-grade vegetable proteins such as kinoa or soya to get enough essential amino acids every day.
3 error. Awful choice of carbohydrates
By analogy with the ignoring of microelements, many prefer sweets with natural, rich fiber, but not so tasty foods. I'm talking about Snickers instead of oatmeal, or Skittles instead of an apple. Both are carbohydrates, but you will definitely feel the difference: a short burst of energy and a subsequent energy crisis. As a result, it is difficult not only to train, but also to work productively throughout the day.
Solution. Do not think that a "flexible diet" allows you to eat as a child. Periodically you can pamper yourself with chips, cookies, pastries or sweets, but this is still a treat, not the basis of the diet. Pre-plan meals and make them a source of fiber-rich sources of carbohydrates, such as oatmeal, brown rice and other products that provide a constant flow of energy. Not all carbohydrates are the same! The source of carbohydrates, timing and quantity – all this has a big impact on energy levels, performance and recovery.
4 error. Lack of essential fats
Pizza, hot dogs and ice cream – it's very tasty, but if it's the only source of fat in your diet, you have problems. These products have a lot of fats, but they practically do not contain useful fats that strengthen the heart and blood vessels, lower the cholesterol level and help improve the composition of tissues.
Solution. Treat delicacies as delicacies. In the rest of the time, lean on nuts, seeds, egg yolks, vegetable oils, fish oil and avocados, which will provide you with the best combination of fats beneficial for the heart and speeding up the recovery.
Get to what you were waiting for with such impatience! If you are interested in the concept of a flexible diet, but you did not know where to start, start from here. Yes, at first you will count calories – I hope that by this moment it is clear that this is not the end of it! – and then try one of the several time-tested proportions of BJU.
Step 1. Determine the need for calories
It is enough to enter basic information into the online calculator of calories, and you will find out how much you need energy to maintain your body weight. Depending on whether you plan to gain or lose weight, add or subtract from the received 300-700 calories.
This is an important step, and it can not be missed. Remember that the calorie calculator only calculates your daily energy requirement. If you are not used to evaluating the calorie content of your diet, I recommend starting with the figure obtained, assessing the dynamics of changes in body weight through 5-10 days, and then cut back or add calories to create the necessary deficiency or excess energy.
Step 2. Choose the proportion of macronutrients
Proportion of BJU is the percentage of calories that each macroinutrient accounts for. It is usually indicated in the following order: carbohydrates / proteins / fats. Here are three classic options:
In the example for bodybuilding 40% of calories comes from carbohydrates, 40% accounts for proteins, and 20% remains fat.
Perhaps by the end of the year your proportion will change significantly, but the figures given will be an excellent starting point. Choose the ratio of BIO and stick to it. Very soon you will learn to quickly count macronutrients, without guesswork and stress from analyzing each gram.
Step 3. Translate BJU into calories and grams
Calculate the energy value of the diet by the percentage of your proportion, and check that it corresponds to 100%. So you will learn the total number of calories from carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Let's continue to use as an example a diet of a bodybuilder with a daily norm of 2500 calories:
Divide the total number of calories from each nutrient by the number of calories that are contained in one of its grams. So you will find out how much protein, fat and carbohydrates should be in your menu.
Round each digit to the nearest gram (or, to make it easier to remember, round up to five grams). This is your daily need for BJU.
There is no "wrong" proportion of BJU. Ultimately, you will come to the most comfortable option for yourself, which you can maintain at a long distance. While you maintain a deficit or excess calories, you are moving in the right direction. Your proportion affects your well-being and performance, as well as the speed of approaching your goals.
The longer you exercise and keep track of food, the more you learn about how your body reacts to a certain level of fats and carbohydrates. However, if you want to choose the proportion of BJU that matches your training goals and taste preferences, I recommend starting with protein, and then working on finding a balance between the two remaining macronutrients. Here's how this process looks:
- Step 1: determine the daily calorie content of the diet that is appropriate for your goals.
I will give two examples based on a diet with 2100 calories for a woman with a body weight of 70 kg:
Menu with an average fat content
Frequent questions about a flexible diet
Why can not you just count calories?
Consider calories when choosing healthy foods, and the final balance will work! While you maintain the necessary deficiency or excess, your weight will change. However, counting BJU will help focus on each nutrient, which means that it will be easier to adjust the proportion to individual training goals and training features.
Do as you see fit, just do not try to dramatically reduce the calorie intake. To many people, excessive concern about the caloric content of the menu leads to the same old trap: they feel deprived, exhausted and tired. I'm sure that such a scenario is not included in your plans for improving the diet.
When it comes to calories, absolute accuracy is nothing more than a myth. If you are not preparing to enter the Olympia stage, do not bother to trivialize yourself. Plus-minus 10 grams of protein and carbohydrates – no problem. This will give you more flexibility and eliminate the need to carefully analyze each meal. If your goal is 250 grams of carbohydrates, it's enough to stay within 240-260 grams. The difference does not exceed 40 calories in any direction. And then there is nothing to worry about.
On the other hand, fats contain more than twice as many calories as proteins and carbohydrates, namely 9 calories per gram versus 4. To minimize the risk of excess calories, try to stay within 5 grams of the intended target. If your goal is 60 gram, all within 55-65 gram will fit. The total fluctuations within 45 calories can also be called minimal.
Count BJU as you like. Mobile applications can help a lot, because many of them allow you to keep a record of the diet on the go. Most of them already have a huge database of nutrients and products, which allows you to find almost every product. In some, there is even a barcode scanner, which helps to account for every product you eat.
In my menu, three portions of non-starch vegetables a day. Do they have to be counted?
Most vegetables contain very few calories (except for starchy vegetables such as peas, potatoes and corn), and many are against inclusion in BZH. However, they still have calories and carbohydrates, so there are arguments for the opposite point of view.
My recommendation is to include non-starchy vegetables in at least three meals. Do not count this amount, and make an effort to have vegetables present in every meal.
If you have more than one serving, consider carbohydrates from the following servings to monitor the total number of calories. For example, in the 1 cup of courgettes 7 grams of carbohydrates. If you plan 3 servings for one meal, count the carbohydrates only from the second and third portions. In this example, you would calculate 14 grams of carbohydrates for meals.
Should BZU be the same every day?
Here everything is your choice. To make the preparation and accounting of food as simple as possible, many experts recommend to follow the same proportion of BJU, regardless of the availability of training on that day. Of course, this can save you a couple of minutes, but on the other hand, your calorie needs differ on days of rest and on hard days of training. How much time does it take to weigh another 100 gram of brown rice? Personally, I think not.
Probably, you do not need specific proportions of BJU for every day of the week, but I recommend to vary them on training days and rest days. In those days when you do not exercise, you do not have such a high demand for carbohydrates, because you spend a lot less calories. Cutting carbohydrates will help bring about a common denominator of nutrition and exercise, which is especially important during weight loss and drying. I recommend that you reduce the carbohydrate share by 30-50%, and leave proteins and fats at the same level.
Example of diet on a training day
Example of a diet for a day of rest
If I got the norm of BJU, do I need to "get" the missing calories?
This happens often. Say, the daily requirement for calories 2500, and you got the norm of BJU with a deficit of 110 calories. Do not worry about the "gain" of these extra calories. Focus on BJU, and calories over time are adjusted.
The choice of foods that you do every day affects the total number of calories, and this quantity differs on different days. For example, a serving of olive oil will give you 15 grams of fat, and 15 grams of fat from peanut butter will also give you minimal amounts of protein and carbohydrates and about 80 extra calories. The difference in calories over time is trimmed when you include a wide variety of foods in your diet.
In reality, today's insignificant deficit can be counterbalanced by tomorrow's small surplus. There is no need to "get" the missing calories. It is also necessary to relate to a slight excess of the calorie limit.
One of the main advantages of a "flexible diet" is that you can eat delicious combinations of nutrient-rich foods and your favorite treats. Formally, you can enjoy a piece of cake or a piece of chocolate every day.
However, periodically all need a psychological respite, during which you can not include counters. For optimal progress – especially at the stage of losing weight – it is better to limit such "free meals" by one in a couple of weeks or one per month.
This may sound like a restriction, but remember that you can eat anything every day while watching for the size of portions. And it's worth a lot!
I am confident in my initial BJU and I want to aim at a set / weight reduction. What is the pace to move forward?
Regardless of whether you want to gain or lose weight, your goal should be to change the body weight by no more than 1% of the initial mass per week, so that changes in the composition of the tissues are optimal.
This means that 75-kg to a woman who wants to lose weight, we should strive to dump no more than 750 grams per week in order to minimize the risk of losing muscle mass. 80-kg a man who wants to gain weight should by analogy strive to gain no more than 800 grams per week in order to minimize the set of fat mass.
Keeping this information in mind, as soon as the dynamics of changes in body weight begins to slip, make adjustments to 300-500 calories to continue to move in the chosen direction. In most cases, the best approach is to maintain protein intake at the same level (provided it is sufficient) and manipulate carbohydrates and fats to slightly change caloric content.
"Flexible diet" is not a strict system without the right to make a mistake, like the Atkins diet. This is a personalized approach, which is very popular today, and there are as many ways to approach the preparation of a diet as the number of products on the supermarket shelves.
I'm sure you can get lost in the jungle of analysis and calculations, but this approach should bring pleasure! Remember this, do not forget that you need to be honest and conscientiously keep a record of calories and BJU, and you will find yourself on the road to success. If you have any questions, or you have a successful experience with the IIFYM diet, share it in the comments!
I'm even on such a flexible diet is difficult to keep, nerves are not enough, already even with the Eularea glycine purchased, that would be crazy not to go from hopeless .. Well, how do I tune in to a diet? Disruption after a breakdown, I can not!
I made myself proportions 1200 kcal BZHU 90 / 40 / 120, I eat so half a year already, the result is. But it's very hard to invest in a tunic-in-tyutelku, you have rejoiced me that a couple of grams back and forth nothing terrible), I did not seem to get very tired, but the sediment was))) there is a tomato you eat 200 gr, and this is almost 8 g carbohydrates, and one banana 22 gr. So it turns out bust. Thanks for the article, I took a lot for myself!
It seems to me, or the egg yolk does not contain protein, but only fat?
It seems) In fact there is more protein in the yolk than in the protein