IIFYM or “Clean Eating” for Bikini Competitors…which is better?

Should a bikini competition diet utilize IIFYM (if it fits your macros) or the ever popular “clean eating”?

Its funny that we’re considering bikini competition diet IIFYM and “Clean Eating” to be opposing viewpoints/concepts now.  Just 5 years ago I was in charge of a successful 12 week lifestyle/body transformation program at my gym, and the main talking points in our nutrition lectures were quantification of calories AND (keyword here is “and”…the word that is in all caps) qualification of calories.

Now I know #quantificationANDqualificationofcalories probably makes a horrible hashtag, and an even worse domain name (There are bikini competition diet IIFYM websites now.  And they sell…meal plans?!?!).  But really…why does it have to be one or the other?

What if a coach takes on a new client he/she knows nothing about, they have a show coming up, and they play it safe at least initially and go with meal plans based on the ideal macronutrient targets AND food preferences for that client?  Maybe some guidelines for simple substitution from within the same food groups.  I mean that would take a little effort on the coach’s part, but its still okay to do real work these days.  And those of us who invest $600 on dietitian caliber meal planning software for our clients really don’t mind at all.

Here’s my take:

What I’ve found from my 18 years FULL TIME experience is that most people will do better in the long run if they learn how to fit foods into their macros on their own, but in the short term, they need help getting there.  They need to just get into the right habits and not try to take everything on at once, especially with having a show coming up…possibly their first show.

Not to mention the fact that they need to establish a caloric baseline/maintenance level, and in some cases attempt to build that level up prior to dieting (as discussed in my popular article Bikini Competition Dieting: Building your Metabolism).  With all the digestive issues we see these days (IBS, gas/bloating, etc), there is really a lot more to getting a bikini competition diet dialed in than just calories and macros.

Now imagine trying to pinpoint problem foods, or do any kind of troubleshooting at all if you/your clients are eating 30 different types of food every week…AND you have a show fast approaching.  My experience is that if you don’t solve problems like these quickly or better yet avoid them in the first place, you will be looking for new clients soon.  But you won’t get that viewpoint from someone who only has to write about this stuff to make a living…just from the actual competition prep coaches who have to produce results.

Here’s what we do here at NLPT for Bikini Competition Diet IIFYM/Clean Eating:

So…the AND part I highlighted earlier.  My clients and I do both, but usually in stages.  We stress “clean eating” (I prefer the phrase “whole food”) AND hitting macro targets, especially when first starting and with a contest coming up.  In most cases, we start with a meal plan built around their food preferences, with portions already scaled so macro targets are met.  Targets are listed in the program so the client can see its not just a random assortment of food.

Each biweekly check in, my clients are able to request new foods, or more/less of existing foods, and I fit it all in…portions laid out, recipe instructions, etc.  Since I actually communicate with my clients, I’m able to gauge how well they can be trusted with a calculator and a myfitnesspal app as we progress.  If they seem ready, and are wanting more variety (some people actually don’t), we start with something small, like allowing one meal per day to be substituted as long as macros are met with primarily whole food.  We progress to two meals when ready, and so on.

We are often flexible with carbs/fats for this one meal as long as calorie and protein targets are met (e.g., you can be 50 cals over on carbs as long as you’re 50 cals under on fat, or vice versa).  By this stage, we’ve done enough daily weigh ins and biweekly progress evaluations that I will know if they’re over-indulging once we move to partial control over macros, just by looking at their logs/photos…and they know this too.  Its not like I can’t just check their Instagram pages to find out anyway :).

We also have a good feel for how they handle various foods, and we may have already done some elimination.  Basically, things are going smoothly, there is solid compliance, trust, and progress…and nothing crazy is going to happen, aside from getting into amazing contest shape whilst ignoring all these dumb industry trends we’re seeing.  They won’t be eating twigs and berries, dehydrating, or  joining some of the other bikini girls for the routine Saturday morning pre-contest enema, that’s for sure.

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Leave a Reply 4 comments

Kirsty - 3 years ago Reply

Hi there.
Great article. Completely agree with everything you’ve said. The line ” dietitian caliber meal planning software” sparked my attention and I was wondering if you have one you recommend? I am looking at Dietmaster Pro V11 at the moment but hoping to get some feedback from other professionals before shelling out that sort of money…

Thank you!

Angeli Yuson - 3 years ago Reply

Interesting article. I also prefer “whole foods” or “clean eating”. With IIFYM, i find that i go off the rails too easily with the sweets so i would prefer not to eat it at all!

Joe Lenihan - 3 years ago Reply

Yes! I’ve tried all the popular ones (including Dietmaster Pro) and went with BioEx Systems Nutrition Maker Plus. They’re all pretty dated from a software standpoint but they do the job very well. I’m building my own database right now though so I can get everything exactly how I want it.

Ash - a couple of years ago Reply

Love this article. I do my preps as an IIFYM approach. This is what we learned all through undergrad and i’ve found that I am able to have that self discipline to open up a bag of chips and only have 12 or that one oreo vs 2+. I do agree there are those that are not able to have this discipline, but it’s definitely something that needs to be practiced and I made sure I did so I could enjoy prep. My first prep was all whole foods and although I placed I had a miserable prep ending in an eating disorder that took me a solid year to correct. Now my prep keeps me sane and I’m leaning out with energy!

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