IIFYM vs. Clean Eating Debate

The debate surrounding the two dieting approaches, if it fits your macros (IIFYM) and ‘clean eating’ is one that is unlikely to be resolved. People tend to classify themselves in one of the two categories however each person’s interpretation of the two methods has varied in almost every individual I have questioned.

IIFYM is a concept widely used in the bodybuilding and fitness industry in order to make dieting more flexible and less one-dimensional. I classify IIFYM as a diet that means you can eat any food source as long as it falls in line with your calculated daily protein, carb, fat, and calorie intake. It can allow the athlete to gain or lose weight but for me, that is all this method offers. People can become over-consumed with numbers on the weighing scales and often can lose sight of what is it that they are actually trying to achieve. ‘Clean eating’ is a phrase, which is abundantly used and has also many different interpretations. For me it refers to a diet that consists of natural and nutrient dense foods. I have adopted both approaches and will explain to you why I feel ‘clean eating’ had a substantial better impact on my progress.

Josh Leader 3 wo from the UKBFF National Championships

I have always been an advocate of tracking my macros or at least writing down exactly what I eat on a daily basis, so that I have something to feedback from when using my weight alteration as a rough guide to determine my progress. For instance, if my weight remains stable after a week and I am trying to add lean mass, I will tweak my diet in order to provide more calories and see how my body reacts by weighing myself the following week. Although weight is a good indicator of progress, the reason why I feel people become over consumed with numbers is that although my body weight remained stable for that week, it could be possible that I added a pound of muscle and lost a pound of fat simultaneously. With relation to the two dieting methods mentioned, I have been able to gain and lose weight utilising both approaches, however, adopting a ‘clean eating’ method had a significantly better impact on my body composition. I was able to gain muscle whilst restricting the amount of body fat I put on in the process. Although I did grow using a more flexible diet, the majority of the weight I put on, I would now consider ‘bad weight’ as it accumulated around those burdensome love handles. Whether you are a bodybuilder or a fitness model, the goal is always to have a tiny waist to exaggerate the v-taper and appear more aesthetic.

Whilst adopting a clean eating approach, the carbohydrates I consume are more complex and have a lower glycemic index [GI]. Carbohydrates are grouped according to their chemical structures into simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are made up of one or two sugars. They are refined sugars that offer very little nutritional value to the body and are often called ‘empty calories,’ so therefore I believe their consumption should be limited to the bare minimum. In comparison to complex carbohydrates, simple carbohydrates are broken down by the body at a faster rate due to their more basic arrangement. Complex carbohydrates comprise of three or more sugars, which are combined to form a polysaccharide. These sugars are mostly rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. As a result of their more complex composition, it takes a longer amount of time to digest them. Furthermore, complex carbohydrates do not spike the sugar levels in the blood as quickly as simple carbohydrates. Nevertheless, this classification is not true 100% of the time as certain foods that are technically termed a complex carbohydrate can actually end up causing a rapid upstroke in blood sugar levels. This is why glycemic index [GI] is another useful tool used to classify carbohydrates. It is based on how quickly and high the carbohydrate raises blood sugar levels. A carbohydrate with a high GI breaks down rapidly during digestion and therefore releases glucose into the bloodstream quickly. However, body's glycemic response is not purely dependent on the type of carbohydrate consumed. If a food is high in carbohydrate content, it will still produce a high blood sugar level, even if it has a low GI rating. A more useful measurement of the effects of a carbohydrate on blood sugar levels is glycaemic load (GL). It takes into account the amount as well as the GI of carbohydrates to give a more detailed description of the effects on blood sugar levels. The only time where I ensure that the carbohydrate source has a higher GI and GL is immediately post work out. Even when incorporating these into my diet, appropriate quantities are consumed and only at specific times. This will be discussed further in my next article, which is about the importance of nutritional timing.

Josh Leader

One of the other benefits of not eating any processed foods or refined sugars is that I am actually able to consume more calories too. This raises another issue of, ‘are all calories created equal?’ Although a calorie is a calorie, one also has to take into account a food’s digestive properties, its effects on the body as well as the secondary nutrients it contains. People often do not think beyond the macro-nutritional value of a food and do not take its micro-nutritional value into consideration. Yes, about 85% of the calories from avocado come from fat but avocados also provide other essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins and folic acid. Moreover, foods can also have a variety of beneficial physiological effects on the body. With regards to the avocado, it can prime the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as lutein in foods that are eaten in conjunction with it.

People often struggle to diet due to hunger however I have felt dieting is far easier whilst adopting a ‘clean eating’ approach as I feel more full. Although I do not have any cravings, I am also a firm believer in what I do not have I do not miss. If I am to schedule re-feeds whilst dieting I would much prefer doing it ‘clean’ rather than via IIFYM as for me this would only worsen my cravings. Furthermore, I am still able to restore my leptin levels without spiking my insulin levels excessively.

I have only been able to achieve the next level conditioning that people associate me with through clean eating. I attribute this to keeping my blood level sugars as stable as possible. Whilst adopting an IIFYM approach, one is more likely to spike their blood sugar levels. In addition, ‘clean eating’ will result in less exposure to preservatives, sweeteners, additives and allergens, which will also help you achieve that grainy and dry look that many aspire to.

Whilst trying to lean up, the primary focus is to lose body fat. Although insulin creates an extremely anabolic environment that it beneficial for muscle growth, it also inhibits lipolysis (fat breakdown). By preventing the body from entering this state, this will promote maximal fat loss. Nevertheless, insulin provides a catch-22 situation as this is also the time when we are most vulnerable to muscle breakdown too. Whilst in a calorie deficit the body will use any source of energy available to it. We are able to prevent the body entering a catabolic state by supplementing with BCAA’s and glutamine.

Josh Leader training in the Free Flex Long Sleeve Top

Eating more complex carbohydrates also had a better impact on my training performance as well as my academic performance. Eating more sugary sources of carbohydrates left me feeling lethargic whereas complex carbohydrates offer a more sustained energy release meaning that I do not experience these highs and lows and consequently am more efficient.

People seem to think that a ‘clean eating’ approach means that you are constantly eating out of Tupperware and are unable to have a social life. This is not the case at all. When I go to a restaurant, I will just opt for a starter and a main course rather than having a dessert. One reason for this is that I want to be the best I can be, so eating for me now is about function and progression but another reason is that I actually prefer eating more balanced meals. My diet is so varied that I actually no longer crave any ‘junk’ food. Every angle is hit from taste to texture and I look forward to every meal because every meal is different. Each meal in my diet consists of a different protein, carbohydrate and fat source in order to provide my body with the most efficient tools to help growth whilst remaining lean but more importantly to ensure optimal health.

In conclusion, ‘clean eating’ for me had a substantial better impact on my success both in and out of the gym. ‘Clean eating’ does not mean that you are restricted to only eating the stereotypical bodybuilder meal of chicken and rice but rather refers to a well-rounded diet that is comprised of natural, nutrient dense foods.

- Josh Leader BSc (clinical sciences: cardiovascular medicine), Medical Student



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