A Primer on DCA/IIFYM for Aspiring Dieters


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This is a 3J approved sticky

This is my attempt at an educational guide to incorporate and implement the principles of 'If It Fits Your Macros' (IIFYM) and Discretionary Calorie Allotment/Allowance (DCA) if you so choose. I hope the information presented here is practical and can aid you in your quest to achieve your dream physique.

What is IIFYM/DCA?

IIFYM and DCA are ways to arrange your diet so that you may achieve your physique, strength, and lifting goals in a manner that's consistent with your lifestyle and personal choices. They allow the inclusion of certain 'fun' or 'dirty' foods into the diet, which is contrary to current bodybuilding dogma. They are NOT excuses to eat Cheetos all day and guzzle down 6 liters of soda daily. Many people commonly mistake this as being accepted by DCA/IIFYM, when in reality, only some extreme followers go to such lengths and behaviors.

The ideology behind DCA is this; energy and macronutrient intake must be specifically calibrated to the needs of the individual or user in accordance with their current state (stats) and future state (goals). Once calorie levels have been determined, macros must then be allotted to at least meet the minimum nutritional needs of the essential macronutrients; i.e. dietary fat and protein intake (that's right, carbs are NON-essential). Once you have these numbers, DCA says "the majority of your food intake should be coming from whole-and-minimally-processed-foods so as to provide sufficient micronutrients, fiber, and satiating power. Once these 'needs' have been met, the remainder of your intake can come from 'fun' foods or foods you wouldn't see in a typical bodybuilder diet".

What's important to mention is that the foods you include, whether they're staples or fun foods, should be foods you enjoy eating. Consistency in nutrition and diet is usually where most people fail and numerous studies, anecdotal experiences, and even personal experiences have shown that when people are allowed to include foods they enjoy eating, they tend to gorge on them less or 'cheat' their diet less, rather. Those of us with no will power or who can't stop at one serving might find it easier to avoid these foods completely but that's a personal decision you must make on your own.

What happened to clean and dirty dieting?

An objective definition of clean and dirty is an impossible task. We each have our own definitions of clean and dirty, therefore, it's impossible to define the terms in relation to food choices. The 80's were characterized by the "Low Fat/No Fat" diets and dietary fat, regardless of the type, was deemed dirty while every other macronutrient was clean. Today, we know that dietary fats are an essential nutrient for life. After a Consumer Reports article about the evils of protein (February 1998 issue) some thought protein was dirty, which led to plummeting sales of animal proteins and powdered protein supplements in many fitness circles. Now, many studies and case studies have shown the safety of relatively high protein diets in otherwise healthy individuals and even less dangers in the athletic/lifting population.

The 90's was where we first dichotomized saturated fats as dirty and unsaturated fats as clean. Today, we know that while saturated fats aren't the essential fats, they still play a critical role in hormonal production, satiety, increased cardiovascular fitness (by decreasing lipoprotein (a), which no current medications can bring down), lead to stronger bones, a healthier heart, increased liver repair/function and many other benefits. The concept of Glycemic Index (GI), was popularized by fitness enthusiasts during this period as well, which I'll touch on later.

In the 2000's, we transitioned to carbs being 'dirty' and responsible for all the fat gain in the world. Sugar was dirty and eating 700g of carbs from a sweet potato wouldn't make you fat because of the low GI.

As you can see, every decade is filled with a new food or a macronutrient group we begin to demonize. Clean vs dirty is a SUBJECTIVE view and one I'd like to personally see eliminated. Science has made the attempt and failed to define it, your definition varies from mine and varies from my neighbors, etc. Furthermore, labeling a food outside the context of the entire diet is fruitless. The common fallacy of appealing to an extreme is usually made here and the argument "Would you bulk on just pop tarts and butter?" Is often heard. How about we use the same fallacy to 'clean' eating: "Would you bulk on nothing but oatmeal and olive oil?" It just doesn't make sense. Finally, restricting your vision to individual food choices outside the context of the whole diet can be misleading: how detrimental to your goals is having a few cookies or some other dessert or treat per week when 95% of your diet is veggies, fruits, whole foods, lean cuts of meat, etc? You really think a couple of cookies is going to sabotage a diet in its entirety?

How DCA works?

DCA works on the principle of energy balance; a calories in vs calories out view, if you will. Your body is a closed system, energy (fat and muscle) can neither be created nor destroyed without adding more calories or taking them away by eating in a caloric surplus or deficit. Calories are the sole determining factor of WEIGHT gain or loss. To determine where that loss or gain comes from (if you gain muscle or fat or lose muscle or fat) is where the particular macros come in. Micronutrients are important for optimal bodily function, health, and more.

Calorie, Micro-, and Macronutrient Needs

Micronutrients: Micronutrients are called micronutrients because of the small quantities they're needed in. This group contains compounds such as macro minerals (calcium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorous, etc), micro minerals (copper, zinc, iron, iodine, etc), organic chemical compounds or vitamins (A, B12, C, D, etc), antioxidants, and more. These compounds are essential to good bodily function and cannot be synthesized on their own in sufficient quantities; they have to be taken in through diet and/or supplementation. There are minimum micronutrient needs as set forth in RDA's (Recommended Daily/Dietary Allowance) but this does not mean more optimal levels cannot be had. Although micronutrient deficiency is more common, micronutrient toxicity can still be an issue with overdosing and absorption rates can be altered depending on co-administration of other micronutrients. This would be outside the scope of this article but should anyone wish to find more info in the topic, I suggest this thread as a great start:


This article goes into more detail on some of the more important micronutrients and the author, Austinite, is well versed on supplementation regimens to achieve more optimal levels.

Calories: The best way to calculate caloric needs is to get an accurate body fat measurement from a bod pod or Dexa scan. To do so google search (your city + bod pod/Dexa scan) and a list of locations near you will come up. Once you have a good body fat estimate, you can use the Katch-McArdle formula to calculate BMR. BMR, or basal metabolic rate, is the amount of energy in calories the body requires to maintain itself in basically a catatonic state (no activity). If you can't get an accurate estimate use an online BMR calculator to calculate your metabolic needs based on age, weight, and height. The Katch-McArdle method is the most accurate formula available now but requires and accurate body fat estimate because it makes use of lean body mass not total mass. The formula is:

BMR = 370 + [21.6 x LBM (lean body mass in kilograms)]

To get kg from lbs simply divide by 2.2. To get lbm from body weight, simply multiply body weight by [1 - (BF% divided by 100 to get decimal)].

So, if you're 200lbs @ 10% you would do:
[1 - (10/100)] x 200lbs = [.90] x 200lbs = 180lbs lbm
180lbs lbm / 2.2 = 81.81kg lbm
BMR = 370 + [21.6 x 81.81] = 370 + [1767] => BMR = 2137 calories

To get TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) from BMR just multiply by an activity factor:
1.2-1.4 sedentary, little activity, desk job, not much else
1.4-1.6 moderately active, physical job, play light sports,lift several times a week,etc
1.6+ extremely active/athlete, training 2x/day, etc

So assuming our example is moderately active and we pick a 1.5 activity factor we now get:

BMR X Activity Factor = 2137 x 1.5 => TDEE = 3205 calories

Now to bulk you'd add 10-20% calories and to cut you'd drop 10-20% calories. The smaller the surplus in a bulk means less fat gain but slower overall gains. More would yield the opposite. The smaller the deficit in a cut means less muscle loss but slower fat loss. A higher deficit means more fat and muscle loss is likely. The amount of surplus or deficit should be determined by each individual based on current stats, future goals and their limits (how fat/skinny you're willing to get while bulking/cutting).

Now this calculation is just a guess, a good guess, but a guess nonetheless. You must try it and see if it works for you. Eat at maintenance for 2 weeks and monitor physical appearance and scale weight. If you lose weight, add 200-300 calories and check again in 1-2 weeks until weight is steady. If you gain weight, reduce calories by 200-300 and check again in 1-2 weeks until weight stays constant.


Protein: Meeting minimum protein needs will help ensure that muscle is either not lost on a cut or built on a bulk. Protein sources should be varied to get a wide range of amino acids and micronutrients. Whey has its own set of advantages and disadvantages over whole foods but make no mistake, it is an extremely useful way of increasing protein intake if needed. Also, protein will never realistically be stored as fat. You can over-consume protein and the protein will not be stored as fat, HOWEVER, doing so ensures all dietary fat is stored and net fat balance goes up, even though the protein is not directly responsible for the fat gain, it certainly is -- indirectly (don't believe anyone who tells you to eat lots of protein because you won't get any fatter, that's a myopic view). Protein needs as set and defined by the RDA and CDC for men aged 19-70+ is 56g/day. That's right, 56 grams! While that may be enough for survival and daily activities, it's certainly not enough for us as bodybuilders, strength athletes and generally active individuals. On the opposite end of the spectrum, excessive protein provides little return over more moderate levels and can in fact, be detrimental to kidney function as can be evidenced by BUN, creatinine and BUN/creatinine ratio via blood test results. Now, slightly elevated health markers aren't necessarily indicative of severe damage, but protein consumption of approximately 2g/lb of body weight has been shown to be tolerated well in athletes and strength competitors. Is it necessary for protein to be so high? Not really, because protein synthesis can only be stimulated so much and eating excess protein invariably leads to less carbs and dietary fat in eucaloric and isocaloric diets. (An eucaloric diet is one that maintains a certain amount of mass regardless of what it may be and an isocaloric diet is one that contains similar calories relative to another).

How We Get Fat | BodyRecomposition - The Home of Lyle McDonald

Protein Recommendations: Aim for no lower than around .8g/lb of body weight and preferably around 1g/lb body weight. It's fine to go higher but this amount should meet minimal needs and more.

Dietary Fats: Meeting minimum fat needs will help with endogenous-hormonal-production (choelsterol/fat are steroidogenesis precursors), helps with brain, lung, heart, and liver function, increases satiety, tastes great, and is essential towards survival (99% of bodily function can be ran off ketones instead of carbs/glucose and protein can be converted to glucose for the 1% by gluconeogenesis). Now, it's important to get a wide variety of fats which include your omegas, saturated fats and poly/mono unsaturated fats. The only fats to avoid are artificial trans-fats as these serve no biological purpose. Natural trans-fats can be found in steaks and/or beef products and should not to be confused with their artificial brethren, which are made via hydrogenation processes. Fat's primary role is storage as fat, but the net effect on fat loss or gain is determined by your caloric intake levels in relation to your requirements. So just because the fat you eat gets stored in fatty tissue and cells, it does not mean you're actually getting fatter; since if you're in a calorie deficit the rest of your energy needs comes from fatty acid oxidation and thus, net fat levels drop.

A Primer on Dietary Fats - Part 2 | BodyRecomposition - The Home of Lyle McDonald

Dietary Fat Recommendations: Aim for around .3-.4g/lb of body weight as a minimum. Going much less than this can be detrimental while being at this amount or greater isn't. Gluconeogenesis (conversion of protein to glucose) can occur when fat intake drops too low, which is less than ~10% of total calories. The .3-.4g/lb body weight recommendation is enough to avoid gluconeogenesis while not being excessive.

Carbs: Carbs can help stop the breakdown of muscle, catabolism, post exercise and are the primary fuel source for intense exercise. Protein has no effect on catabolism, it simply increases protein synthesis. Carbs on the other hand cannot increase protein synthesis but they can stop catabolism which is a normal response to training (don't be freaked out by this and/or cortisol response to training). To get the best of both worlds, it's advised to get some form of protein and carbs in AROUND your workout whether that's before, during, after, or all 3. Do what's convenient and works for your schedule. Carbs are the body's primary source of fuel and especially so for intense anaerobic exercise such as weightlifting. Having carbs in your diet will allow you to keep intensity high. When you eat carbs they will be used for energy. Carbs do NOT get stored as fat directly though. Carbs do NOT get stored as fat. De novo lipogenesis or the conversion of acetyl coenzyme-A to fatty acid to form new fat tissue is an extremely rare process in humans. It requires extreme situations such as eating 700-900g of carbs a day for several days straight. How We Get Fat | BodyRecomposition - The Home of Lyle McDonald

Am J Clin Nutr. 1987 Jan;45(1):78-85.
Carbohydrate metabolism and de novo lipogenesis in human obesity.

Acheson KJ, Schutz Y, Bessard T, Flatt JP, Jéquier E.
Respiratory exchange was measured during 14 consecutive hours in six lean and six obese individuals after ingestion of 500 g of dextrin maltose to investigate and compare their capacity for net de novo lipogenesis. After ingestion of the carbohydrate load, metabolic rates rose similarly in both groups but fell earlier and more rapidly in the obese. RQs also rose rapidly and remained in the range of 0.95 to 1.00 for approximately 8 h in both groups. During this time, RQ exceeded 1.00 for only short periods of time with the result that 4 +/- 1 g and 5 +/- 3 g (NS) of fat were synthesized via de novo lipogenesis in excess of concomitant fat oxidation in the lean and obese subjects, respectively. Results demonstrate that net de novo lipid synthesis from an unusually large carbohydrate load is not greater in obese than in lean individuals.

Carbohydrate metabolism and de novo lipogenesis in human obesity.

^^^500g carbs in the form of dextrin maltose was ingested by patients. The only fat synthesized with 500g carbs was 5-7g of fat....yes that's GRAMS!

Am J Clin Nutr. 1997 Apr;65(4):908-15.
Metabolic and behavioral effects of a high-sucrose diet during weight loss.
Surwit RS, Feinglos MN, McCaskill CC, Clay SL, Babyak MA, Brownlow BS, Plaisted CS, Lin PH.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA. surwi001@mc.duke.edu
In response to evidence linking obesity and high amounts of dietary fat, the food industry has developed numerous reduced-fat and nonfat food items. These items frequently derive a relatively large percentage of their energy from sugars and the effect of these sugars on weight regulation is not well known. We studied the comparative effects of high- and low-sucrose, low-fat, hypoenergetic diets on a variety of metabolic and behavioral indexes in a 6-wk weight-loss program. Both diets contained approximately 4606 kJ energy/d with 11% of energy as fat, 19% as protein, and 71% as carbohydrate. The high-sucrose diet contained 43% of the total daily energy intake as sucrose; the low-sucrose diet contained 4% of the total daily energy intake as sucrose. Twenty women aged 40.6 +/- 8.2 y (mean +/- SD) with a body mass index (in kg/m2) of 35.93 +/- 4.8 consumed the high-sucrose diet; 22 women aged 40.3 +/- 7.3 y with a body mass index of 34.93 +/- 4.4 consumed the low-sucrose diet. Mixed-design analysis of variance showed a main effect of time (P < 0.01), with both diet groups showing decreases in weight, blood pressure, resting energy expenditure, percentage body fat, free triiodothyronine (FT3), urinary norepinephrine, and plasma lipids. Small but significant interactions were found between group and time in total cholesterol (P = 0.009) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (P = 0.01). Both groups showed decreases in depression, hunger, and negative mood, and increases in vigilance and positive mood with time (P < 0.01). Results showed that a high sucrose content in a hypoenergetic, low-fat diet did not adversely affect weight loss, metabolism, plasma lipids, or emotional affect.
Sucrose in weight-loss regimens. [Am J Clin Nutr. 1998]
PMID: 9094871 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

^^^Surwit et. al. performed a study on two groups of hypocaloric dieters (those eating in a calorie deficit). One group, low-Sucrose group, got 4% of total calories from sucrose while another group, high-Sucrose group, got 43% of total calories from sucrose. The results were NO SIGNIFICANT impact on weight or fat loss between high-Sucrose and low-Sucrose groups. So eating 43% of your DAY'S TOTAL CALORIES from TABLE SUGAR is not enough to stop the fat loss in a hypocaloric diet. Both groups felt less hunger, depression, and mood swings. Does any more need to be said?

The Effect of Two Energy-Restricted Diets, a Low-Fructose Diet vs. a Moderate Natural Fructose Diet ***8211; Research Review

Madero M et. al. The effect of two energy-restricted diets, a low-fructose diet versus a moderate natural fructose diet, on weight loss and metabolic syndrome parameters: a randomized controlled trial. Metabolism. 2011 May 27. [Epub ahead of print]

One of the proposed causes of obesity and metabolic syndrome is the excessive intake of products containing added sugars, in particular, fructose. Although the ability of excessive intake of fructose to induce metabolic syndrome is mounting, to date, no study has addressed whether a diet specifically lowering fructose but not total carbohydrates can reduce features of metabolic syndrome. A total of 131 patients were randomized to compare the short-term effects of 2 energy-restricted diets-a low-fructose diet vs a moderate natural fructose diet-on weight loss and metabolic syndrome parameters. Patients were randomized to receive 1500, 1800, or 2000 cal diets according to sex, age, and height. Because natural fructose might be differently absorbed compared with fructose from added sugars, we randomized obese subjects to either a low-fructose diet (<20 g/d) or a moderate-fructose diet with natural fruit supplements (50-70 g/d) and compared the effects of both diets on the primary outcome of weight loss in a 6-week follow-up period. Blood pressure, lipid profile, serum glucose, insulin resistance, uric acid, soluble intercellular adhesion molecule-1, and quality of life scores were included as secondary outcomes. One hundred two (78%) of the 131 participants were women, mean age was 38.8 ± 8.8 years, and the mean body mass index was 32.4 ± 4.5 kg/m(2). Each intervention diet was associated with significant weight loss compared with baseline. Weight loss was higher in the moderate natural fructose group (4.19 ± 0.30 kg) than the low-fructose group (2.83 ± 0.29 kg) (P = .0016). Compared with baseline, each intervention diet was associated with significant improvement in secondary outcomes. Reduction of energy and added fructose intake may represent an important therapeutic target to reduce the frequency of obesity and diabetes. For weight loss achievement, an energy-restricted moderate natural fructose diet was superior to a low-fructose diet.

^^^Madero and colleagues broke down participants in a low-Fructose group (<20g/day) and high-Fructose group (50-70g/day). Patients were randomized to either 1500, 1800, or 2000 calorie diets based on age, sex, weight, etc. This means the high-fructose group had ~12-16% of total calories come from fructose alone, not including other forms of carbs. Results? Weight loss was higher in moderate-Fructose group than low-Fructose group.

Take home point: Don't be scared of carbs. Low carbs does not mean you won't get fat just like high carbs doesn't mean you will get fat. It's about energy balance first and foremost.

Carb Recommendations: Unless you plan on doing a ketogenic diet or prefer low carbs/carb cycling diets, you should try and include at least 100-150g/day of carbs as a bare minimum. It will help keep your intensity up in the gym among other benefits.

So for our guy above 200lbs @ 10%BF who wants to bulk on a 15% surplus we have:
3200calories x 1.15 = ~3700calories

Minimum macros are:
Protein- ~200g of protein
Dietary Fat- ~70g of fat
Carbs- ~150g carbs

This comes out to around 2030 calories just to meet minimum needs/requirements. DCA tells you to fill these needs with whole and minimally processed foods, so items such as chicken, steak, burgers, fish, whey protein, oats, veggies and fruits, potatoes, rice, avocado, olive oil, etc. That means there still about 1700 calories left unaccounted for, which can come from any single or combination of macros and the sources here are not as important meaning they can be your fun foods or dirty foods. Veggies and fruits should not be skimped out on here as they are amazing sources for micronutrients and fiber. Get a wide variety of sources while meeting needs and you're all set to go.

Common Myths

1) You cannot eat pop tarts and candy all day and chug back a protein shake. This is not DCA/IIFYM and is a deficient diet.

2) You do NOT have to eat 'dirty or fun' foods. The food choices are entirely up to you. Personally I love chicken, oats, eggs, whey protein, ribeyes, veggies/salads, etc so most of my food choices are whole/'clean' foods but I do love brownies and ice cream lol so I fit those in whenever possible. If you only want to eat common bodybuilder foods that's quite alright but don't develop an inferiority complex and think your diet is better than someone else's who incorporates other types of foods.

3) You will not get any fatter or leaner, any more muscular or less muscular doing DCA than any other type of dieting when comparing eucaloric diets with similar macronutrient composition.

4) Dirty foods make you fat due to insulin spikes. FALSE!!! High GI foods can be slowly released in the presence of protein and/or fat. Protein and fat slow the digestion of carbs, making the glycemic load of the meal low. You can avoid spiking blood sugar while eating a candy cane just by eating a bit of protein with it or some fats. Also, what's assumed here is that an insulin spike will cause fat gain. First off, insulin cannot defeat a calorie deficit in healthy individuals and secondly, insulin still remains in physiological range no matter what you eat and how high the GI of any food is and physiological ranges of insulin do not have the anabolic/catabolic effects that bodybuilders obsess over. The only time to consider GI or fast/slow carbs is if you're diabetic or using insulin exogenously. If not one of those two groups STOP OBSESSING OVER INSULIN FOR NO REASON!

Bottom Line

The successful bodybuilder, power lifter, physique athlete, etc... will use a diet that he/she can be consistent with and is consistent with his/her goals. There are many tricks at your disposal: carb cycling, low carbs, low fat, ketogenic, IF, etc. What tricks you use is up to you. DCA/IIFYM simply allows you to not hate your daily diet and include foods which you personally want to eat. If you dread your diet and plan cheat meals religiously, you can still get results but who wants to be miserable when it comes to food/nutrition?

When bulking, DCA allows for more freedom in food selection but when cutting extremely lean and doing contest prep, the freedom is reduced because overall needs are reduced. If your needs are 2000 calories while taking in 2200 calories and doing cardio to make the difference, you really have little room to play with, forcing you to choose more whole foods and less fun foods.

Contest prep is a completely different set of circumstances as fat loss or muscle gain aren't the sole requirements. A contest prep diet will take fat loss, muscle mass preservation, water weight, deadlines, etc into account and use those factors to manipulate things like sodium/electrolyte intake, water intake, carb intake, use of diuretics, and more. The DCA/IIFYM approach could still be used for contest prep but since calorie intake will drop to extreme levels, the amounts of fun foods one can have are very very few. Getting bloated a few days out from a show or holding too much water can be detrimental. For expert contest prep advice, an experienced nutritionist such as 3J is needed.

He can be reached through his site:
3J's Nutrition | Diet and fitness consulting to get you to the next level.

or by email:

DCA/IIFYM does not prescribe to nothing but 'junk' food and protein shakes nor does it say that you must incorporate any single food item, but by allowing you certain individual 'luxuries' while still staying within sane and scientifically backed nutritional guidelines it is a very easy way to stick to your diet and succeed at attaining your goals. I hope the information provided here will allow some to better achieve their goals.

Good luck!
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Wowsers... Not just a pretty face I see!
Knowledgeable post bud, I'm tipping my hat to this :mexican:
Deffo a sticky for me
This is a great article Dre. I'm just printing it out for my daughter to read...minus a few tidbits associated with Ology ;) Its priceless info worth its weight in gold. Thank you for the awesome write up buddy!
Thanks friends! Appreciate the kind words.

MM- it's just as applicable to females. If your daughter needs help just have her ask her questions through you but she should be able to get a good start from this alone :)
Thanks friends! Appreciate the kind words.

MM- it's just as applicable to females. If your daughter needs help just have her ask her questions through you but she should be able to get a good start from this alone :)

Ya I've been wanting to put something together that was reader friendly for her. This should cover the basic for her and get that mumbo jumbo shit her mother tells her out of her head.

You wanna hear this one today from her??! I was getting on her about how much my daughter eats out and eats kinda crappy (we don't live together lol) And she proceeds to tell me that she needs at least one week a month to eat really starchy and fatty foods. Women as a whole need it when they are on their period because their body craves it so they need to eat it and its ok....I was dead silent. Yup, welcome to my world :)

This is great tho man. I'm taking her to the gym tmrw to work legs. Its gonna be a fun day. She gets a take home pamphlet. :)
Great work dreday
I'm congratulating myself we have you on this board , before saying thank for this great thread.
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i love ology... members like dre make my day.. look at what a wonderful job he did with this article...

hats off to you dre... well done.. again

again, if you guys have articles that are of this caliber please feel free to pm me about it.. if i approve it i'll personally make it a sticky myself..