In the land of fitness, people like to know what “diet” you are following. Perfect example is my recent bikini girl Jessica. After posting her results on social media, she was immediately met with, “What diet did you follow to look like that?”

“The one my coach created and adjusted for me.”

It’s understandable how diet information can get misconstrued by general population and mainstream media. But even in the strength world, there are some ideas that seem to get taken to the extreme.  I’m certainly not here to say that these concepts don’t work, but to give a perspective from clients I’ve worked with who have used these “diets” and come to me saying they don’t know why it’s not working.

Disclaimer: I don’t think any of the originators of these diets intended for them to be taken to the extreme. Maybe they did, I’m not sure, but the fact of the matter is we are seeing more and more people who read about how to “do the diet” and either misunderstand it or use it as an excuse (as you’ll see below).

IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)

This concept (I don’t even like saying “diet”) is pretty helpful to many people. The idea is that if you have a meal that calls for 40g protein, 40g carbs, and 10g fat, then you can choose any  foods that fit those macros. That could mean chicken, rice and avocado…or egg whites, toast and peanut butter…or protein cookies and rice krispie treats.

Sure, it’s nice every once in awhile to sub out certain foods and replace them with other options. The problem occurs when it’s done with crappy foods too often. Somehow it makes us feel better to know that by the end of the day, our Fitness Pal shows that we hit those numbers exactly, even though half of our carbs came from the brownies at work.

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While I never use the IIFYM term with my clients, I do give them options and suggestions to exchange things as needed. Most are not competitors stepping on stage, so a little freedom is nice. But it’s always kept in the realm of better food options. Tired of rice? Potatoes are fine. Out for a business lunch? Chicken wrap works. The idea is to teach them to understand what is exchangeable and make those choices.


Carb Backloading

This concept really started popping up about five years ago. The idea behind it is to place your carbs in the evening (which would hopefully be post-workout as well) and it gives you the freedom to eat a little more and even choose some junkier carbs. The science behind insulin sensitivity and the post-workout window opens a door for Gainz.

Carb Backloading worked well for me and is actually what opened my eyes up to paying more attention to my nutrition for performance and aesthetic reasons. I’ve also had countless clients and people come to me asking for assistance with this way of eating as well. 99% of the time I can pinpoint exactly what the problem is: using that nighttime post-workout window to eat whatever the hell they want.

Now I know some diet coaches who love to have pancakes post workout. Or maybe even donuts. But here are a few things to consider with the Carb Backloading idea:

The extreme carb choices and amount of carbs (as seen in the book) are good for hardgainers. You know, that 185 pound dude that no matter what he eats just “can’t get bigger.” If you’re already chubby, or if you’re a woman, those numbers don’t exactly match up well. Yes, I know you did the calculations and it says you can eat 600g of carbs, but come on. I know bodybuilders who don’t even eat that much and you don’t have nearly the amount of muscle they do.

The food choices are still important, especially for us “normal” folk.  You know that bell curve picture where you’ve got the few folks on the left that fit outside the mold and the few folks on the right who fit outside the mold…and 98% of us fit in the middle. That’s YOU. Yes, that’s right. The majority of us cannot eat ALL junky carbs during Carb Backloading and get shredded. Sorry. The times I made the most progress doing this was when my carbs were cleaner and kept under control for what my body needed. It’s not a free card to just pig out for three hours.

Ketogenic (Or Any Low Carb Diet)

I’m going to lump the popular mainstream ones (Atkins, etc) in here as well. What happens with these diets is people hear that “carbs are bad for you” or “make you fat” so they go on this low carb thing. One of the biggest mistakes I see people making is they think that because there are no carbs, they can eat as much fat and protein as they want.

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Remember, fat has over twice the amount of calories per gram that carbs and protein do. Those calories add up quickly.  Carbs get stored as fat when glycogen stores are full. But guess what? Fat gets stored as fat too when eaten in excess. And when fat cells are full the body loves to make new fat cells.


Gluten-Free Dieting/ Paleo

I know, I know — these diets aren’t really all the same. But the common mistakes I see with them can be combined. Gluten-free dieting became a craze and, whether you had celiac’s or not, people jumped on the bandwagon. I’m not here to say whether gluten is “good” or “bad,” or whether you feel avoiding gluten or not. What I am here to say is that just because a food is labeled gluten-free doesn’t mean it should be a regular staple of your diet. Gluten-free cookies, pancakes, brownies, cupcakes, are still junk foods simply made with some type of “gluten-free” flour. They still contain oils and sugar and a host of other ingredients.

And just because you have a list of “paleo” approved foods, again, does not mean it’s a free-for-all to eat as much of those foods as you want. I have no issues with clients who do choose to eat gluten-free or paleo, but we still need to make sure that caloric intake is where it needs to be as well as timing our foods properly.

As with all of these “diets,” an important thing to remember is that calories DO matter. Despite what you read, or think you read somewhere, overall caloric intake does matter. So going overboard on any of the macronutrients never ends well.

Junkier food can be used occasionally for refeeds and cheat meals. And maybe the occasional I'm on the go and grabbed a pop-tart instead of rice cakes situation. But notice I said occasional. The more you make a habit of it, the slower the progress (or lack thereof). We like to joke about bodybuilders eating “clean” all the time — chicken and rice, turkey and broccoli, egg whites and oats. But let’s be honest, people. Bodybuilders have this diet thing down pat.

So whether you’re following a more flexible IIFYM diet or carb backloading, or even taking a short run at low carb, remember some of these points. Cleaner food always works better. And the cool thing is, you can usually eat more of them. Who doesn’t want the ability to eat more?