Nutrition

The Easiest Way to Gain Muscle and Lose Fat: Really Flexible Dieting

Really Flexible Dieting

I've used Flexible Dieting to track my diet for more than 400 days in a row.

I've tracked my food while bulking on 3,700 calories and cutting below 2,000.

I've made slow changes and I've made fast changes.

And I've played with every possible macro distribution that exists.

In other words, I've experienced everything that Flexible Dieting (or If It Fits Your Macros) has to offer.

And after all that, I've found the most effective tracking method for me is not just IIFYM or Flexible Dieting, but something even simpler.

I call it Really Flexible Dieting (for reasons that will be obvious later), and it's a system that gives me 90% (or better) of the results with only a fraction of the effort and restrictions.

Who should follow Really Flexible Dieting?

Currently, the gold standard for enjoyable dieting is If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM), or Flexible Dieting.

If you're not familiar with this approach, Flexible Dieting/IIFYM allows you to eat whatever foods you want, as long as you consume a specific amount of fat, carbs, and protein every single day, down to the exact gram.

And it produces great results!

But while this level of analysis and restriction is appropriate for competitive bodybuilders and avid enthusiasts who love tinkering with their programs, it may not appeal to guys who just want to look good naked.

At the end of the day, Really Flexible Dieting will only require you to focus on two numbers (which we'll discuss in a moment).

So if you can relate to any of the following statements, Really Flexible Dieting is right for you.

“I would track my diet but:

  • “I'm way too busy”
  • “I don't know where to start” or
  • “Macros bore me to death, I just want results!”

Fair enough. Worrying about hitting all your macros on the head every single day can get extremely tedious and can really put a damper on your social life.

To remedy that, I present to you: Really Flexible Dieting.

I'm going to show you how to track your diet without the process consuming your entire life.

Tracking Macros Made Easy with Really Flexible Dieting

really flexible dieting my fitness pal cheat meal

After trying every possible variation of calories and macros under Flexible Dieting/IIFYM, I've come to a simple conclusion.

Controlling overall calories and getting enough protein are the two most important factors in physique transformation!

Everything else is a minor detail only worth worrying about if you have the interest and time to do so.

None of the little details matter if you aren't seeing the big picture.

  • If you eat under maintenance, you lose weight regardless of macro distribution.
  • If you eat over maintenance, you gain weight independent of whether you eat “clean” or “dirty.”
  • And not getting enough protein means you won't retain or build muscle at an optimal level.

So not only is obsessive macro tracking restrictive, it isn't entirely necessary as long as you hit your calories and protein goals.

And it's not just my own experience I'm citing. I've also had numerous readers, fellow gym goers, and friends confirm the very same results.

While tracking anything at all may seem like a pain in the ass, if significant physique changes are your goal, actually keeping track of the quantity of food you eat is a necessity.

Without that, it's far to easy to revert back to comfortable old habits and you'll never know exactly what's working or why.

So although this method still requires some tracking, I promise it's simpler and easier than traditional IIFYM and it's one that I rely on when I get super busy (like I've been lately).

The Basics of Really Flexible Dieting

In pretty much every aspect of life, it's best to employ the “80/20 rule” whenever resources are limited (i.e., time, money, or energy).

Simply put, that means that 80% of your results are going to come from 20% of your efforts.

This is especially true with dieting. For the best results, you have to focus on what matters.

And the two most important dietary factors (80% of your results) are PROTEIN INTAKE and OVERALL CALORIES.

Nail just these two numbers and the rest is history.

Now that you know the that you can get all the results of IIFYM while still maintaining more normal eating habits, here's how to calculate your numbers.

Step 1) Finding your true maintenance calorie level

really flexible dieting my fitness pal weekly averages

Most fitness authorities recommend that you use elaborate calculators and formulas to determine your maintenance calories, rather than tracking and averaging as I recommend.

But I don't like using formulas because:

  1. They're always off by 300-1,000 calories for me
  2. Accounting for exercise and daily activity can get tricky
  3. The numbers don't mean a damn thing unless you're going to track your diet anyway!

So I think a much better way to find your maintenance calories is to track your own intake for a few days of normal eating and then use the average as a starting point.

Since you're going to track your diet anyway (albeit loosely), why not just start there from the beginning?

Tracking and averaging your own intake is a foolproof method to give you a custom maintenance calorie level because it takes into account:

  • YOUR current daily activity levels,
  • YOUR regular training schedule,
  • YOUR unique metabolism,
  • YOUR preferred meal frequency, and
  • YOUR exact body composition.

Any other method is just a guessing game that requires corrections later on anyway.

So if you're currently maintaining your weight and want to figure out exactly how many calories put you at maintenance, just track your normal eating for 3 days (or more) and take the average.

Example Maintenance Calorie Calculation

Let's say you ate 3,389 calories on Monday, 2,931 calories on Tuesday, and 3,247 calories on Wednesday.

We have our data, now let's crunch some numbers.

3,389 + 2,931 + 3,247 = 9,567 calories total

9,567 calories/3 days = 3,189 average daily caloric intake for maintenance

Done!

(Note: My Fitness Pal will do this for you like in the image above)

If you consistently eat at this level, your weight will stay the same.

If you average more than 3,200 calories per day it'll go up and less than that will cause you to lose weight.

That's all there is to it.

Step 2) Calculating your protein requirements

Protein recommendations are all over the board depending on who you ask.

Nutritionists and dietitians might have a very conservative approach around (0.4 – o.7g protein per pound of bodyweight) while many strength and bodybuilding coaches will recommend 2g per pound or more.

For a 200 lb athlete, that's a very wide range (between 140 and 400g protein per day!).

So what's a guy to do?

A safe bet for most lifters is to aim for at least 1g protein per pound of bodyweight (or 2.2g protein per kilogram of bodyweight).

Taking in any less than that and you risk not building or preserving muscle at an optimal rate, while doubling it may not net many additional benefits.

Example Protein Requirement Calculation

This is another super easy calculation. Using a 200 lb (or 91 kg) lifter as an example:

200 lb bodyweight x 1g = 200g of protein per day minimum

That's it!

To make things even easier, you can absolutely go over your protein minimum, but it isn't necessary.

Step 3) Use an app like My Fitness Pal to put it all together

Excuse me while I play the old man part for a moment and tell you about how easy things are these days.

When I first started tracking my macros in high school (in a spiral notebook), restaurants didn't list any nutrition information and there were no real online communities to go to for help.

I had to search through books or pray to the god of gains to find something on the internet that could help me make an educated guess.

Now there are multiple apps at your disposal to easily track your macros.

I use the My Fitness Pal app (it's free), which has an enormous database of nutritional data, including fast food and even store brands.

You just search and select everything you eat and it organizes the macros into totals for each meal, totals for the day, and averages for each week.

And it's these weekly averages that are key for Really Flexible Dieting.

You can even view most of the info in list form or as graphs. That sure beats the hell out of pen and paper.

Setting up My Fitness Pal

Sticking with the easy -to -use theme of Really Flexible Dieting, here's how to simplify the process of tracking your diet with My Fitness Pal.

  • Don't bother tracking exercise, it'll just throw off your numbers
  • Don't worry about setting your goal weight or desired changes (you'll do this manually)
  • You don't have to track water intake

really flexible dieting my fitness pal calories

Once you download the app, go to the “Goals” Menu and then select “Calories & Macronutrient Goals.”

Set your calories manually to the number you calculated in Step 1 above.

Next, click “Protein” and change the percentage to whatever setting gets you closest (without being under) to your protein requirement calculated in Step 2 above.

really flexible dieting my fitness pal macros

Then you can set carbs and fat however you like so that the total equals 100%. I like lower fat and higher carbs when I'm bulking because it helps keep me from becoming too full.

General Considerations for Really Flexible Dieting

Since we're human beings with preferences and social lives and not mindless machines, there's a lot more to eating than a simple equation.

With that in mind, here are some tweaks, tips, and notes to help you get started:

  • If you tend to carry a lot of body fat, aim to eat more dietary fats and less refined carbs.
  • If you're naturally skinny, favor higher carbs over fat.
  • Eat more carbs and less fat before and after your workouts.
  • Divide your protein fairly evenly between meals.
  • Eat between 2 and 6 meals per day. I prefer 4.
  • “Clean” foods are better for your health, but you can still make progress eating some junk.
  • When you find something that works, get excited and do it more consistently!
  • Enjoy your food and try not to become obsessive.

Gaining and losing weight doesn't have to be as complicated as most people make it out to be.

It can be a truly simple and straightforward (but not always easy) process and Really Flexible Dieting will help you have fun along the way to your ideal physique.

Remember that one day of clean eating isn't going to do a damn thing for your body, but a year of getting it 80% right will result in a huge improvement.

Consistency is KEY!

And Really Flexible Dieting is a plan that you can stick to for the long run.

Start Today With The Really Flexible Dieting Cheat Sheet

This is your quick start guide. Following these simple steps will help you to start gaining muscle and losing fat right away.

  1. Download My Fitness Pal and track your diet for 3 days
  2. Find the average calories of those three days (current maintenance level)
  3. Increase calories to gain muscle and decrease to lose fat (about 300 in either direction)
  4. Make sure you get at least 1g protein/lb of bodyweight (or 2.2g/kg bodyweight) everyday
  5. Get the rest of your calories from fat and carbs in whatever ratio you want
  6. SEE RESULTS

Combine Really Flexible Dieting with a solid strength training program and everything will fall into place.

Just be consistent and raise or lower your total calories a little more whenever progress stalls.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!

All the best,

Nate

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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Shobhit Choudhary
    September 27, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Most people conclude flexible dieting means eating whatever you want just because they have their 20% excuse. This post it to the point Nate, very well curated. One has to plan out 20% carefully.
    You didn’t publish any content on the blog for about a month. I hope all is well at your end.

    • Reply
      Nate
      September 27, 2016 at 7:26 pm

      You’re spot on as always, Shobhit. I’ve been really busy (and distracted) recently. I started a new full time job last month with a long commute, searched for and bought a house, and had to market and get a tenant for my apartment before my lease ended. With being so busy I didn’t want to put out junk content because my mind has been somewhere else. But I’m moving this weekend and everything should settle down and I can resume my regular posting schedule.

  • Reply
    Vincent
    September 27, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    Point for finding your macro nutrient ratio: EXPERIMENT. Many programs recommend different macro breakdowns, but every body will tolerate numbers differently. For example, I run carbohydrate 35%, protein 30%, fat 35%. 40/30/30 isn’t a bad place to begin.

    • Reply
      Nate
      September 27, 2016 at 6:39 pm

      Great point, Vincent! Everyone is going to respond to and feel more/less satisfied with different ratios. You gotta find what works for you.

  • Reply
    AlexC
    September 27, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    Wonderful article! This is essentially what I do now and it works great. You mention this and I would like to emphasize it here. Averaging calories over three days can be tricky. The distinction should be made to average your calories around an amount that corresponds to minimal weight change (+- 2lbs of body weight). That is, as you mention, a good starting point for your maintenance calories and, in all likelihood, is close to the theoretical predictions (which would be fun to calculate after the fact). Make adjustments every two weeks at the earliest. Stick with something for two weeks before making a single adjustment. I feel this gives the body time to adjust to new things and produce a meaningful result. Lastly, eat whatever you want, but realize that some foods have different effects than others. For instance, if I make an amount of white rice with a certain macronutrient profile and I take a quantity of cookies with an identical macronutrient profile, I notice distinct differences in the way those two foods make me feel. Rice does the job while cookies make me feel sluggish and tired despite the two quantities having the exact same macro profile. That’s just something to consider when finding foods that work best for you.

    • Reply
      Nate
      September 27, 2016 at 7:33 pm

      Great contributions, Alex. Most importantly, you point out that adjustments need to be made. A lot of guys make the mistake of thinking that they can do some calculation and eat at that number forever. Then they just end up frustrated with the lack of progress. You always have to move up or down with your daily intake depending on how your body responds.

  • Reply
    Sim Campbell
    September 30, 2016 at 12:42 pm

    Woo! Great article, Nate! I will say that as an “ectomorph”, i find myself perpetually bulking and I can slide through on carbs while staying pretty lean. I’ve calculated my maintenance calories and I hover perpetually around 2700 per day.

    I’ve heard a lot of conflicting advice about protein intake. Some people say that you don’t really need that much protein because carbohydrates will help to develop muscle and replace glycogen stores. Others say that a “majority protein” diet is better because:

    1. It’s metabolized different than carbs and fats
    2. It helps in the process of lean bulking by having a higher ratio of protein in your macronutrient break down

    I’d like to hear what you think about this, Nate.

    • Reply
      Nate
      October 6, 2016 at 10:37 am

      I like a higher protein intake when in a caloric deficit (and carbs are low) because it gives me the best chance at preserving muscle. It also takes more calories to digest, meaning I can eat more calories for the same net effect. And protein helps control my appetite a little better than delicious fats and carbs that just seem to increase cravings. When bulking, however, the surplus calories have a protein sparing effect, meaning really high protein levels aren’t as important.

  • Reply
    John
    October 2, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Thanks! I didn’t knew about Flexible Dieting.
    I read the article and picked up some golde nuggets. I will for sure use the app fitness pal.
    Was looking already a long time for a decent tracker.

  • Reply
    luc
    October 13, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    Very useful !!!! Now i know how to really work on my diet. It was a pain in the ass to evaluate each meal. Very easy to work with Fitness pal. Many thanks !

  • Reply
    What I Like Best About Phenibut - John Doe Bodybuilding
    October 16, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    […] have to be strong minded to drop bodyfat, it’s the only way. You can throw all of that “flexible dieting” or “IIFYM (if it fits your macros) bullshit to the wayside, the reality of it is this; the […]

  • Reply
    JJ8
    October 27, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    This is pure gold. I’m in pretty good shape but I always found tracking every macro to sound absolutely ridiculous and obsessive (so pretty much I’d never stick with it). I can definitely work in tracking calories and protein. I think you’re absolutely right. At the end of the day those two are what determine weight gain / loss and body composition.

  • Reply
    Ashton
    November 19, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    I saw this same approach on fitmole.org, and now after seeing more than just one person use this method, I’m thinking I should try it.

  • Reply
    Mikel
    January 5, 2017 at 7:35 am

    Hi, what You doing if You see, after a few days of counting macros, your client eat to little calories? And this may be a reason beacouse his metabolism works more slowly. We must then add calories, and slowly spin it. Do You experience situation like this? Or maybe You dont believe in slow metabolism?

    • Reply
      Nate
      January 5, 2017 at 5:44 pm

      Yeah I do run into that situation. First, I have them start weighing and tracking absolutely everything they eat. I stress the importance of being accurate because most overweight people tend to not count little snacks between meals and underestimate the size of their portions when eating meals. Likewise, underweight people severely overestimate the amount they eat. If someone truly does have a slow metabolism (most likely from crash dieting) I have them slowly build their calories to a manageable level and then reassess.

  • Reply
    Mikel
    January 9, 2017 at 6:03 am

    Thanks a lot Nate :)

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