If you’re counting macros (grams of protein, carbohydrate and fat), are you stuck with a boring diet full of egg whites, chicken, brown rice and broccoli or, can you indulge in doughnuts and other foods typically considered “off limits” and still get ripped? A recent study from the University of South Florida examined both approaches. I think you’ll be happy with their results.
Macros Study: Flexible vs. Rigid Dieting
In this study, 27 resistance trained men and women (this is huge because many studies use untrained subjects – the kind that have never seen the inside of a gym so almost any intervention is guaranteed to produce results) about 25 years of age were placed on either a Rigid or Flexible 10-week diet phase based on macros and a 25% decrease in calories:
- Rigid Macro Counting (termed “exclusive” in the study) included a pretty basic diet (given they were 25-year-olds on a limited budget) including foods such as eggs, egg whites, protein shakes (they were given preparation instructions), oats, berries, 99% lean turkey breast, chicken breast, fish (they were given specific options), brown rice, potatoes, choices of different vegetables, oils (added if need be to increase fat intake).
- Flexible Macro Counting (termed “inclusive” in the study) – the study subjects could eat whatever they wanted as long as it fit their macros. They were given no food restrictions and could therefore incorporate more variety into their diet.
All continued on their regular training program.
Both groups lost weight and body fat with no differences between groups in weight loss, body fat mass loss and body fat % decrease. However, in the 10 week post diet, the flexible diet group gained a significant amount of fat-free mass compared to the rigid group (+1.53kg vs. -0.59kg respectively) though there was no difference, between groups, in resistance and aerobic exercise (I suspect the rigid group when crazy shoveling in junk food but the study didn’t collect food records + most people lie on food records anyway when they feel ashamed about what they ate). No other changes were noticed in the 10 week post diet phase.
Take Home Message
Does this mean you can go gangbusters on gummy bears and doughnuts? Not exactly. After all, if you’re cutting calories it’s pretty difficult to incorporate high calorie foods that aren’t very filling unless you don’t mind the distraction of hunger pangs later the day. However, it does mean you can loosen up a little on rigid dieting. As stated by study author, Bill Campbell, PhD, CSCS, FISSN, Associate Professor – Exercise Science, University of South Florida. “If you are the type of person that has cravings for certain foods, you may be able to consume them in limited quantities during a diet phase within the flexible dieting strategy – this is very appealing for some dieters. Others prefer to have a meal plan created for them with specific foods that they are to consume during their diets – in this case a rigid/exclusive diet is more appealing.”
Keep in mind macro counting (flexible or rigid) is a tool to get to a quick end destination – shedding fat. It is far from a comprehensive nutrition program that takes into account plant-based compounds, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients important for good health. It won’t cure disease and may not make you feel better and it shouldn’t be done for long term because at some point you should be done with counting stuff and be able to eat primarily when you are hungry and stop when you are full while eating a diet that fits your health goals, taste preferences, and lifestyle.
If you’re interested in more information about macros, physique and fitness nutrition, follow the study authors on social media:
Bill Campbell on instagram: billcampbellPhD and Facebook
Lorin Conlin, IFBB Bikini Pro, MS Research Assistant – Physique Enhancement Laboratory, University of South Florida on instagram: @laurinconlin and Facebook: FB page Laurin Conlin IFBB Pro