Nick Mitchell is a leading body composition expert and the founder of the Ultimate Performance global personal training gym. He is based in Los Angeles.
There is more than one way to skin a cat. And this adage is never truer when talking about diets because we all have unique triggers and motivations. There is no guarantee that what works for me will work for you. That said, based on my experience since founding Ultimate Performance, I have never seen a personal trainer consistently produce results if he deploys a flexible diet or ‘if it fits your macros’ (IIFYM) nutritional strategy with his clients.
My business has been built on successful body transformations, and I think I have a fairly unique insight into what gets results and what doesn’t with ‘real’ people. Those trainers who work for me who we have allowed to follow IIFYM with their clients haven’t produced any results in comparison to those who take a more didactic approach.
I’m not saying that flexible dieting doesn’t work. I have no problem accepting the theory behind it, or that it works for some people over the long run, especially bodybuilders or physique athletes in their off-seasons, or for people wanting a long-term and sustainable diet plan that keeps them relatively lean year-round. My issue is that it is far from the best strategy when wanting to make genuinely impressive body-composition changes in a relatively short period of time.
If you are a personal trainer wanting to get remarkable results rapidly, or are a non-fitness professional who wants to make significant changes to their physique as quickly as possible, then following a flexible diet won’t produce optimal results. Why? Let’s take the client example, which applies to anyone who wants to improve their physique who doesn’t work in a gym.
They will have a job, most likely a busy and stressful one. They are likely to have a family, which takes priority. They can probably only train three or four times a week. Consequently their time and resources are limited so you want to make their transformation journey as mindless and as easy to follow as possible. Yes, IIFYM can work for serious athletes who live, breathe and sleep training, but we are talking about real-world people here, who have full-time lives outside of the gym.
Path of least resistance
In my experience a simple and straight-forward diet works best because there is little or even zero room to manoeuvre, so there is no choice but to stick to it religiously. Tell them they can do an IIFYM-style diet and suddenly you’ve got them almost constantly thinking about their macro and calories considerations on an hourly and daily basis, when this is something they shouldn’t be concerning themselves with.
It eats up their time, energy and willpower. In my experience if you give clients too many choices or options they always find the path of least resistance. They find it very easy to justify eating what they want when they don’t have time to prepare food, falsely convincing themselves they will make up for it later in the day by eating cleaner, or even skipping meals to keep under their daily targets. This is not behaviour conducive to getting maximum results.
Protein and portions
Instead of worrying about macros or calories I instead focus on a daily protein target and portion sizes. I see no point getting hooked on calories. I have always told clients to hit a rough protein intake each day – from a wide variety of meat and fish – and manage their plates so there is plenty of mixed vegetables in each meal. Yes, of course we play around with fat and carb intakes, but measuring everything is crazy for a so-called regular person. And it allows the mental door to be always open to ‘cheating’ and can get them to fixate on cheating, so their results never quite there. Get the straightforward approach right and everything else starts to take care of itself. Simple, yes, but undeniably effective.
By all means build in a ‘free’ meal – I don’t like the term cheat because you’re not cheating anyone – once a week, if it’s warranted or deserved, but don’t over-complicate it by counting every crumb that enters your mouth. And in my years I’ve seen that a simple nutritional approach, combined with tough training, gets results quickly and people can see their bodies changing. At this point, they are so motivated to keep progressing that their desire to eat junk food evaporates.
This simple approach takes the thinking process out of it for them, and they very quickly get into a routine. Yes, it’s hard at first, but new habits form quickly. And remember, we are not talking about a long-term nutritional strategy here. This approach is short-term to increase lean muscle mass while significantly reducing body-fat levels.
This is goal-driven eating and when that goal is reached you can back off to a more flexible approach. In my book ‘flexible’ does not equal the weird and overly-obsessive state of IIFYM. Seriously, who wants to count every single macro? Unless I am an aspiring pro bodybuilder I want to have a bit of a life.
If you are the type of person who loves calculating the calories in your food, and finds it motivating to track them day in and day out, then absolutely keep doing it. But my point is that most average people have far too much stress and pressure going on their lives to worry about macros. Give them too much to stress about and they will rebel. Keep the diet simple and clean, bust a nut in the gym, and you’ll get the results you want and deserve.