For the past couple of years there has been a huge debate between two different “diets” or contest prep approaches. There’s the IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) style meal plan, or the clean eating way. Now, before all of the trolls come out of the wood works and start hashing things out, I’m going to touch briefly on the pros and cons of each, in conclusion, I will give my personal opinion and experiences with the topic.
IIFYM is pretty simple once you have the concept down. It’s simply a matter of counting your macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats). It’s more of a flexible approach to your eating. With this approach you can essentially eat anything that you want as long as it fits into your macros for the day. Hell, it’s been around since the beginning of time and even the cavemen were doing it, they just didn’t know they were. But don’t tell that to the paleo dieters.
Meal Plans or Clean Eating is a more common approach. It’s a restricted meal plan that pretty much tells you what to eat, how much to eat, and what time to eat while eating 6-8 meals a day. 99% of the time you are restricted to certain foods such as fish, chicken, broccoli, asparagus, brown rice, oatmeal, sweet potatoes etc. There are some fat options in there like almonds and such but most of the time it’s a very low fat diet.
IIFYM – I’ll start with the IIFYM side of things. This approach is meant for you to have some flexibility in your diet but it shouldn’t be abused either. You can essentially eat whatever you want just as long as you keep it within your macros. But that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t still be responsible about it either. We should still eat nutrient dense foods but still have some other foods outside of that so you can feel “normal” and not so restricted. It’s more for those occasions where if you are out with friends, family, or a loved one, you can order form the menu, still hit your macros with and not feel awkward with pulling out your tupperware of food out at the restaurant. Or you can have that pop tart or slice of pizza and not feel like you have lost progress with doing so. So there is a lot more flexibility there.
Here are the pros and cons of both….
-More flexibility / Less restriction
-Less prone to binging
-More variety of foods therefore more micronutrients
-More practical / sustainable
-Can prep longer (will most likely get leaner)
-Higher chance of keeping the weight off permanently
-Will learn more about their body and how to eat post show/diet
-Post show you possibly won’t crave as much “bad” foods
-If not used responsibly, more “junk” food could be eaten
-Lack of control
-Less nutrients if abused
Meal Plans – Meal plans have been around forever and it’s not a bad thing as long as you are eating enough food so you don’t go through metabolic suppression to the extreme. A lot like this approach and it works if you can handle the restriction during the entire prep or diet.
The most common plans are set up so that one are restricted to certain foods such as the foods stated above. Some of that list is probably a little wider than that but it’s not much more. It’s usually very low calorie and you are required to eat a certain amount of meals every couple of hours so that you don’t go “catabolic”.
Here are the pros and cons of both…..
-You are on a “tell me what to eat and when to eat plan” so it’s mindless for some
-Can save some time
-You might have more structure to the diet since it’s laid out for you
-Easy to shop for groceries
-Restricted to certain foods
-More prone to binge
-Less chance of keeping the weight down
-Most likely very low in calories
-Won’t know how to deviate outside of the meal plan if you don’t plan well
My Experience & Point of View
Just a little bit of insight on what I personally have seen with competitors and my own experience. When I first started competing I was on a restricted meal plan for 12 weeks. I felt terrible, very low energy the whole time, hours of cardio, and was restricted to a certain meal plan with zero flexibility. It was hard and I binged, often. The psychological feeling that came along with the binging wasn’t great. I would regret it and felt that my progress was ruined, so I just kept eating during those binges. Needless to say I was lean, but I tore away a lot of muscle along the way. I was also very flat and a twig on stage. It was my first show so I was happy, but I knew that there had to be another way out there.
Since then I have applied the IIFYM approach and with my clients. Since using this approach, I am eating a lot more food, looking my best every time I get on stage, and I’m able to diet much longer because I feel sane and “normal” during my prep. I have helped several dozen people overcome their eating disorders or binges because of the variety and less restriction that they are getting in their diets. They are making this more of a lifestyle change in their life and are able to sustain this forever because they were taught how to eat rather than just being told.
I hope that you aren’t taking this as one is better than the other, but simply do what is best for you and what works for you and go with it. Just make sure you give it 100% if you are preparing for a show.
Tyler Mayer is an IFPA and PNBA Pro competitive natural bodybuilder, diet coach and powerlifter. He has been competing for over five years and has been in the fitness industry for over 13 years. Tyler has a strong nutrition background and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Human Nutrition at ASU. He has a specialized nutrition program (Tyler’s Nutrition Training LLC & The Diet Doc Phoenix) that he can design specifically for your body
You can contact Tyler at Tyler@teamtnt.info