POSTED April 6, 2020

Flexible Dieting Explained

What is flexible dieting?

“Diet” can almost seem like a dirty word. It can conjure up images of giving up eating out, getting takeaway or indulging in your favourite foods. But what if that wasn’t the case? Welcome to the world of flexible dieting.

Flexible dieting is a method of tracking your dietary intake which can be used to lose fat, gain muscle, or simply make sure you are meeting your nutritional needs. 

In a nutshell, it sees your nutritional needs broken down into macronutrient targets for each day. From there, you are free to eat whatever you want, provided it fits those goals. It includes a calorie goal but provides a more targeted approach than simply counting calories. It is also advisable to track other micronutrients such as fibre, water, and other vitamins and minerals to ensure your body is getting what it needs for optimal function.

What are the benefits?

Flexible dieting is just that – flexible.

Unlike other diets which may limit you to certain foods (regardless of whether you enjoy them or not), flexible dieting gives you the freedom to make your own decisions and allows for the occasional treat. It allows you to still go out and socialise, without bringing along your pre-prepped meal. This means that you can have your pizza (or at least a portion of it) and eat it, too.

It is adjustable. You have the ability to adjust your macronutrient targets (thus controlling your calorie intake) when your progress stalls or when your goal changes. You can take control of your diet and results.

The combination of the above benefits make flexible dieting more sustainable. Unlike overly restrictive fad diets, flexible dieting can be maintained for the long-term and adjusted when certain goals are met. Research also shows that those who follow programs that allow greater flexibility in food choices are more successful at keeping weight off over time. The translation? Sustainable lifestyle changes for lasting results.

What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the nutritional component that are required in a large amount (hence the prefix, “macro”). Each macronutrient has a caloric value, and plays an important role in energy levels, metabolism and body functioning. Having a balanced macronutrient intake is essential for maintaining good health. 

Macronutrients provide your body with energy which is measured in the form of calories. Knowing how energy dense each is can help you understand how to use them to achieve your goals:

1. Protein – 4 calories per gram

2. Carbohydrates – 4 calories per gram

3. Fat – 9 calories per gram

4. Alcohol – 7 calories per gram

Alcohol is sometimes referred to as the fourth macronutrient because it has a calorie value, not because it is required in large amounts – contrary to popular belief. It has an energy value of 7 calories per gram (without mentioning the extra calories from mixers) but does not provide the body with any nutrients. In addition, when you consume alcohol it inhibits your ability to absorb other nutrients.  This means if you don’t account for alcohol in your calories, your daily intake (and your belly) can quickly balloon out, without you realising why. 

What is the difference between tracking macros and counting calories?

Your daily calorie intake is a calculation of how much energy your body needs to achieve your goal, whether that’s lose weight, gain muscle or maintain. However, your body needs more than just a set number of calories to function, it needs nutrients. Each macronutrient is processed and used differently in the body, which is why it is important to reach the right balance of macronutrients so your body has everything it needs to achieve your goal, and perform daily functions.

Macronutrients perform the following functions in the body:

Protein is made up of amino acids which are important for growing, building and repairing muscle and cell tissue and protecting your muscle mass. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body but are vital for bodily function. Therefore, they must be a part of your diet. Protein also helps you feel full and satisfied.

Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, the main source of energy for your body. Simple carbohydrates are easy to break down and provide a quick burst of energy, such as sugar and fruit. Complex carbohydrates take more time for your body to break down and will give you longer-lasting energy. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that can’t be broken down and does not provide energy but helps to keep your intestinal tract healthy.

Fats are an essential nutrient and assist with three body processes – vitamin absorption, hormone regulation and brain function. There are different types of fat and the more beneficial kinds are found in fish such as salmon and tuna and plant sources including avocado and nuts – not pizza and cake.

How can macros help me achieve my goals?

Practically speaking, the right balance of macronutrients will allow you to achieve optimum results, whatever your goal. As each macronutrient serves a different purpose, an imbalance can leave you feeling tired, irritable and unwell, leading you to lose motivation and give up.

So how does this translate into real-life goals? Let’s break it down into a case study.

Case study:

Person A and Person B are both aiming to drop some fat. 2500 calories a day is a calorie deficit for both subjects. This means it is less calories than their body needs to maintain their current weight.

Person A consumes 2500 calories per day, in the form of 180g protein, 310g carbohydrates and 60g fat per day.
Person B consumes 2500 calories per day but doesn’t track their macronutrient intake.

Without the macronutrient breakdown of what Person B is consuming, for all we know, they could be consuming 80g protein, 275g carbohydrates and 120g fat. If this is correct, their body is going to struggle to retain muscle mass. This means they will still lose weight, but it will likely be muscle mass and they will still be left with excess fat. In addition, since protein helps with satiety, Person B will be left feeling less satisfied, and hungry.

Ideally, along with increasing their protein intake, Person B would also adopt a higher carbohydrate to fat ratio to fuel training sessions, boost recovery and improve overall performance. Remember, fat is still important (and essential) – it’s just not needed in copious amounts.

So, what’s next?

Ultimately, when figuring out what works for you, it comes down to personal preference and lifestyle. There are many variations to flexible dieting which can all achieve the same goal. Getting the best results for you will begin with implementing realistic targets which are in line with your preferences. At the end of the day, increasing dietary adherence (i.e. not making it too difficult and giving up) will be the overall winner.

The next step is to choose your goal and get tracking. If you are worried counting and tracking your macros sounds too cumbersome, there’s an app for that. MyFitnessPal allow you to track your calories and nutrients by either scanning barcodes, searching for them or manually entering them in.

At Strength Nutrition, we are all dual-certified as Personal Trainers and Nutritionists, which means we can help you set and achieve both your fitness and nutrition goals. If you would like some further guidance, we’re here to help.