What Are Macros? IIFYM Tracking & Setting: Team ICON Post by Amber Dawn Orton

So the number one topic that has been requested for me to touch on more has been tracking macros.

Everyone wants to know how to do it, how you set your numbers, and what exactly IIFYM means and how to implement it. I haven’t touched on this more in detail for a few reasons but I will give all the information I can here:

The first thing everyone must understand is that setting your macro threshold should be dependent on YOUR individual needs, body composition, goals, metabolic efficiency, etc.

The reason I don’t often list my personal macros is due to the fact that I know I have so many followers (and bless you all for your support and admiration) but you have to understand what I do is done based off my background, the way I personally know my body responds to different macronutrients, and my metabolic efficiency. I have been through hell and back with dieting over the last 4 years and have suffered from some metabolic setbacks, adrenal fatigue, not to mention I know I am much more fat sensitive than carb sensitive and therefore I can get away with a higher carb intake than some, but must keep my fats lower.

This is going to be VERY different than you most likely and copying what I do will not give you the same results. So to save many of you from making a wrong choice in setting your macros, I often ignore these questions. My macros change from time to time as well, depending on if I am in prep, reverse dieting, and how progressive I feel my metabolism has been in increasing my metabolic capacity. I believe the best way to learn is trial and error! However, I did do an interview with Erin Weiss at Live Life Active where I answered these questions in depth. If you are interested in reading that, the link is: http://www.livelifeactive.com/2014/06/05/interview-with-amber-dawn-orton/

What Are Macros?

So let’s start from the beginning. What are Macros? Macros = Macronutrients. There are only three macronutrients that account for every single thing you put in your mouth. Think of them as the atoms that make up the food you eat and everything has to be comprised of one or some combination of these three macronutrients which are carbs, proteins, and fats.

Macronutrients are nutrients that provide calories or energy. Nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, and for other body functions. Since “macro” means large, macronutrients are nutrients needed in large amounts.

There are three macronutrients:

  1. Carbohydrate
  2. Protein
  3. Fat

While each of these macronutrients provides calories, the amount of calories that each one provides varies. Carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram. Protein provides 4 calories per gram. Fat provides 9 calories per gram.

This means that if you looked at the Nutrition Facts label of a product and it said 12 grams of carbohydrate, 0 grams of fat, and 0 grams of protein per serving, you would know that this food has about 48 calories per serving (12 grams carbohydrate multiplied by 4 calories for each gram of carbohydrate = 48 calories).

Besides carbohydrate, protein, and fat the only other substance that provides calories is alcohol. Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram. Alcohol, however, is not a macronutrient because we do not need it for survival.


I want to address the idea behind IIFYM (If-It-Fits-Your-Macros) now because I believe people just don’t get it. The idea behind IIFYM is that a carb is a carb and a protein is a protein and a fat is a fat regardless of the source it's coming from.

Example Scenario:

Now let’s say you have a daily “allowance” of 150G of carbs. That doesn’t mean you would want to eat two donuts (let’s say you know these donuts each have 75G carbs and 8G Fat each) because you would use all 150G of your carbs on those two donuts, and that would leave you hungry the rest of the day, not to mention the micronutrients of what those donuts are made of is not going to benefit you from a health standpoint. So, that being said, if you hit the majority of your macros/meals with healthy, micronutrient dense foods, but you have macros for a meal at the end of the day (let’s say and you want to fit that latte or ice cream in because you have enough to accommodate) then it is not going to change anything or set you back from your goals.

Side note: Another good way to fit “treats” in is post workout as this is when your body will utilize a higher carb source easier.

So if you want to eat something higher in carbs post workout you could cut your carbs from your meals later in the day and that higher carb giant bowl of post workout cereal is not going to set you back. Again, as long as your carbs at the end of the day are still within range of your set macros then that’s okay! Another thing you need to keep an eye on is your fiber intake. MFP will automatically set a fiber goal for you depending on your other macronutrient goals…. fiber comes from plant sources and therefor you will need to make sure you are hitting your fiber goal everyday which will ensure you are eating enough nutrient dense carbs. Because if you ate those two donuts you would use up all your carbs and not even 5G of your 30G fiber goal (that’s an example).

So How Do You Set Your Macros?

There is no 100% accurate system to ensure you are setting the correct macros. Yes there are macro calculators online that are pre-generated to spit out numbers for the numbers you input. You can find such a calculator at http://iifym.com/iifym-calculator/ but just like any pre-generated system this will not be the most accurate for you because any system without a brain does not know you, your background, how your metabolism may or may not have been affected throughout your life, your lifestyle, current and pre-existing eating habits, etc.

There are MANY factors that affect the way our bodies respond to food and therefor there is no way a pre-generated calculator could take all of these factors into account while calculating your macros. This is why professionals and people with experience such as myself and other coaches have jobs, because this is not an easy thing to understand nor explain. Now I am not saying the macro calculator is not a good resource or you shouldn’t use it. Some people have a lot of luck using the macros they get back from calculators such as this. I just want people to know that you will always be better off with using a resource that can understand your background and what makes up your body’s response mechanisms.

That being said, everyone wants to know how you do it, right? Well that is another thing I cannot explain unfortunately. With my years in this business and putting myself through many of my own experiences with tracking plus learning from the hundreds of people I work with everyday I have created my own system in setting clients macros. I send over in depth questionnaires for each client to answer before even attempting to set macros. Again, this is due to the fact that everyone is different and to set any type of accuracy with macros in reaching goals you must understand underlying concepts and components regarding the individual at hand.

Yes there are a few basic “rules” I have found that work in some ways, but again I look much further in to depth than just how much you weigh, how old you are, and how much body fat you have. But just to help some of you out, I will tell you most active females should be eating around 0.9-1.2x bodyweight in protein per day. Most active men should be a bit higher than this, ranging from 1-1.5x bodyweight a day. Again though, this is “most” and not applicable to everyone without knowing your background, goals, and metabolic capacity. Carbs and fat are something that are very variable and dependent on the individual. I cannot even begin to explain my personal methods on how I go about setting these macros as like I mentioned, it is just something I “get a feeling” about when reading through my clients questionnaires.

Again I want to encourage everyone to learn their own bodies as nobody knows your body better than you do. You can figure out your approximate resting metabolic rate, metabolic capacity, macronutrient sensitivity, etc just by applying yourself, doing a little research, and tracking plus adding consistency with your intake to see patterns in where you may stand.

More on IIFYM - Q & A from a client:

Client: I’ve noticed your posts about you finding balance with your flexible dieting by incorporating sweets or foods that aren’t considered “clean” throughout your day & I’ve been trying to get mentally more balanced with eating as well so I was just wondering if you just save your refeed day to add a “cheat” food or eat 80/20 everyday? Also when do you find it best to fit these foods & do you use them as your whole meal or part of it like a topping or side?

My Answer: I think you tend to overthink things. I don’t have any particular methods with my eating habits. I just eat when I feel like eating, if I am craving something sweet I eat it and adjust my macros the rest of the day. I really honestly have no “method”. That is the benefit of flexible dieting and implementing this lifestyle.

Client: But how do you keep from overdoing it? Like do you allow yourself to eat 80/20 everyday or if you knew you had sweets that day already you eat clean the remainder of your day? & according to your meal plan guidelines, I am supposed to eat every three hours but are you saying if im not hungry im allowed to wait longer as long as i fit my macros in for the day & have my pre & post workout meals at the appropriate times?

My Answer: The point of IIFYM is the flexibility to do what you want everyday. Like I mentioned, I don’t have any 80/20 strategy or eat clean for this much of my day and not for this much.. etc. I just make sure to hit my macros each day. If you are hitting your macros and fiber goals (your fiber should be auto calculated in MFP with the macro goals I have set for you) then you will be well balanced in your daily intake and it doesn’t matter. It would be impossible to eat brownies all day and hit your macros as they are comprised of very little protein, too much sugar and next to no fiber. Fiber comes from vegetables and whole grains.. so making sure your fiber intake will ensures you eat some clean meals as well.

The meal planning guidelines I have sent are a reference, mostly for those who don’t eat enough or are in comp prep and cutting. Since you follow more of a flexible approach and understand macros, it doesn’t matter if you go longer without eating and eat bigger meals. The only other important element is your pre and post workout meals, in which I have given you macronutrient timing guidelines for. Other than that, don't think too much about each meal. Eat the majority of your foods from healthy, whole food sources. But if you are more hungry for one meal and want a bigger meal, that is okay! Yes you will have to adjust downward for a meal maybe later in the day, but again… as long as your daily totals are accurate- don't stress it!

And to anyone who is still wondering why such “healthy people” would want to follow IIFYM to fit “unhealthy” things into their diet.. My brother Aaron Orton answered this best on his athlete page:

“I am so glad you asked. The entirety of most people's preparation for a bodybuilding show leads to extremism under the very premise of what you are prescribing. CLEAN THIS CLEAN THAT, NO FALSE SUGARS, NO PROCESSED FOOD, NO DESSERTS, NO GUM, ETC. What happens thereafter, is the competitor binges wildly after the show is done, and cannot stop. They have to fulfill these needs. In fact, most put on every ounce of weight that they dropped in order to get in the best shape of their life. What you just posted HAS GOT TO STOP.

These foods can be fit within any diet, and can serve as they please in any LIFESTYLE change. The key is MODERATION. When you see this food, you think that it is a free for all. You don’t understand that the muddy buddies were measured and separated into individual bags based on their servings. Or that the pringles can be count 1 chip per 1 g of carbs. Or that the ice cream is far lower fat than any other ice cream on the market.

These are ways to improve self control, by FITTING THEM into my macro nutrient (substrate) count for the day. The goal is to prevent extremism, which you are promoting. Please share with me how long you have gone without a single processed item in your diet? Or the very fact that most food is processed in one way or another in order to make it to a grocery store and is 100% fine for you, again in MODERATION. I want to consume these products, and many more, because I can get in amazing shape, pull 500lbs off the ground, sprint a 12 second 100 meter dash, and feel amazing while consuming them. But it doesn’t mean that's all I eat."

[ Guest post by Team ICON Member Amber Dawn Orton (Fokken).  @mishkadawn - amberdawnorton.com]