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Vegan IIFYM Guide
If It Fits Your Macros Meal Plan for Beginners

Rafid Nassir
Published by Rafid Nassir
Fact checked by Markus Oliver, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: February 28, 2021

It is easy to log and track the food we eat every day in our digital world. There are a ton of apps, trackers, diets, and fitness programs that do exactly that.

But can you still hit all of your macros on a vegan diet with a vegan meal?

Much to the surprise of non-vegans, of course, you can. It is the same but without the animals. Let us take a closer look.

What Is IIFYM?

IIFYM Background

IIFYM is an acronym for “if it fits your macros” which means a healthy diet with fewer restrictions and still focused on losing weight.

It is the ideal diet to help users lose weight, change their eating habits, and still enjoy their favorite foods.

In a nutshell, here is how it works:

  • First, you work out your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE)
  • Then you eat 15-20% fewer calories than that number for a weight loss deficit
  • Split those calories between eating proteins, fats, and carbohydrates with a decent fiber intake to ensure you are eating a healthy and balanced diet

The IIFYM philosophy is a simplified formula for healthy eating. For those who have been tracking our macros for a long time, it is common sense, but the program has connected with a large base and made the information accessible to a whole new audience.

“Our clients report the IIFYM is the easiest and most sustainable weight loss plan they have ever followed. Many tell us that they don’t even feel like they are dieting, due to a large number of calories we often give them.”

 

- Anthony Collova, IIFYM Founder

You can also use the IIFYM mentality to build muscle. Follow the same formula but instead of eating 15-20% fewer calories, eat 5-10% more [1].

Can You Do Vegan IIFYM?

It is just as easy to follow a vegan IIFYM diet as it is a carnivorous one. When you pay this much attention to the foods you are eating you will be surprised by just how many rich alternative sources there are for any vitamin, mineral, or macronutrient vegans need.

While most vegans focus on whole foods and healthy eating, there are bad habits and pitfalls [2]. Just because you are plant-based does not mean you are instantly a health god, and so, we still have to pay attention to meal plans to make sure you are getting a balanced diet.

“Ironically, when viewing things from a sheer macronutrient perspective, the vegan diet plan closely resembles the stats on the Standard American Diet program, (you know, pizza, burgers, nuggets, lattes, etc.), which accounts for far too much carb and fat intake and not nearly enough protein.”

 

- Anthony Collova, IIFYM Founder

The big question on educated and uneducated lips alike will be: can vegans easily hit protein goals on a plant-based IIFYM? And the answer is an emphatic yes, you can hit any nutrient goal you like with meal plans focused on that exact goal. That should be obvious, but as a writer researching this article, I found it was not.

The Importance Of Balanced Nutrition

woman measuring her waist

Whether your goal is to lose weight, upping your game at the gym, or to eat a plant-based diet with whole food vegan protein sources, you need to think about your nutrition.

By examining your macronutrients and making sure you get a healthy spread, you are ensuring you get a well-balanced diet.

Diets that target just fats or just carbohydrates as the enemy above all else usually fail. Not necessarily while you are on them, but when you come off.

This leads to a yo-yo effect of weight fluctuation due to the fact these low carb diets are unsustainable and not realistic for the long term [3].

A typical IIFYM diet will mean you’re still eating all the foods you love with meal plans tailored to hitting a healthy spread of the different macros.

This builds more healthy and achievable eating habits that will hopefully stick with you even when you achieve your weight loss goals.

When it comes to plant-based IIFYM it’s just as important if not more important (because it may be new to you) to be tracking macros and getting a decent spread.

There are lots of delicious and healthy vegan protein sources as well as carbohydrates and fats and by making sure you’re hitting those macros you’re more likely to be introduced to them. Imagine being vegan but having never tried an avocado? Hell freezes over.

Powering Up For Performance

Being a bit of an amateur bodybuilder myself, I know how important it is to be in a caloric deficit, and that sometimes you need to enforce some fairly strict food restrictions. That said I also really enjoy my food and so for the majority of the year, I eat what I like, when I like, with only a loose amount of tracking.

Now I admit that in the past I was a complete nerd when it came to tracking my macros. So much so that it is now at some level ingrained in my snake brain what a caloric deficit and a caloric surplus feel and look like in my food choices.

I view my food as something to be enjoyed. It fuels my muscle growth, evolution, and improvement at the gym. If I need to lose weight I focus on that goal, if I need to build muscle I focus on that goal. Building focused meal plans without restrictions is easier and more enjoyable too.

The science and goalposts are changing as to what is the best diet for performance-based athletes and dieters alike [4]. A macro focused eating plan is the simple basics of healthy eating. It is what I have been doing with great effect for years.

Forget Calories, Focus On Macros

It would be ignorant to say that calories do not matter, they do. It would be ignorant to say that calories do not matter, they do. Focusing on them above all else is kind of like listing a recipe without any specific ingredients. It is overly simplistic and vague. Plus it makes for some disgusting tasting cakes.

By moving the target to be more about achieving specific macronutrients instead of broadly reducing calories, you make an eating plan that is more goal-focused instead of restrictive. Flexible dieting teaches you healthy eating habits and builds a better relationship with food and staying positive is a big part of that.

The brain's role in healthy eating can not be understated and focusing on macros instead of restricting food sources means it will be better fed [5]. By improving our mood, releasing endorphins for achieving goals every day, and genuinely eating healthier, we can feel like a winner day after day.

If you’re just focused on limiting fat intake, you might consume foods heavy in carbohydrates but no decent vegan protein sources. If you’re worried about carbohydrates you might eat only vegan protein sources but forget about the fats.

Once again louder for the people at the back, “balanced nutrition is key to healthy eating [6].”

8 Tips For Tackling A Vegan IIFYM Diet

preparing a meal

1. Be Organised (Enter Your Macros In The Morning)

When I first began tracking my macros I quickly realized that to keep my body running on real food I was going to need to be more organized. Don’t fall into the trap of entering your food into whatever tracking app you’re using as you go, instead, take a more measured approach and do some planning.

It doesn’t have to become robotic with you knowing every piece of food you’re going to eat a week in advance, but just little steps like preparing your breakfast and lunch for the following day and tracking those macros means you’re dinner and snacks can be whatever you want it to be within the target.

2. Don’t Pig Out Early (Light Breakfasts)

Coming from a guy that can only just about manage to glug down a smoothie after he’s had his coffee in the morning, this might sound rich, but keep your breakfast small. This gives you a lot more wiggle room with what you want to do with lunch, dinner, and all the snacks in between.

You will also be surprised by just how powerful a macro focused light breakfast can be. My morning smoothies are a macro-friendly breakfast that has a substantial gain towards my goals while also providing excellent nutrition in terms of vitamins and minerals. I primarily do this because I don’t have much hunger in the morning, but since learning how macro-friendly they are I’ve enjoyed them even more.

3. Control Your Portions 

It may seem like common sense or just painfully obvious but if you find yourself running out of available macro goals every day, you might be eating too much. An easy fix for this is to cut back your portion sizes, by eating less of the things you love, you can eat more of the things you love… just later in the day.

When I first tried out a macro-friendly eating plan I was surprised by just how overindulgent my lunch bowls were, I thought I needed all those extra calories to build muscle. I cut the portioning practically in half, hit my macros with a bigger allowance for a delicious dinner, and have never looked back.

Related: Vegan Intermittent Fasting - Everything You Need to Know

4. Supplements Are Your Friend

If you find yourself constantly checking packs of food for the grams of protein and still find that the soy protein content is still lacking, don’t be afraid to use supplements. Supplements are a macro-friendly way to fill a gap in your eating habits. Whether that be a vegan macro plan or an omnivorous one.

There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to force down the grams of protein I need to hit my goals. So I use pea protein powder in a shake instead. It’s convenient, it’s delicious, and it is an important part of my daily routine that ensures I’m getting enough protein per day.

 5. Prepare in Advance

By laying out what you need to eat ahead of time you can make sure you’re getting the right ratio of protein to carbs and fats. This makes it easy to make small adjustments to a meal like adding hemp seeds or some extra carbs (side of fries please) to make it more rounded.

I cannot stress enough how helpful meal preparation can be and how much easier it makes day to day life, and this is coming from someone who is naturally chaotically organized. Now, I like to bulk prepare lunches so that I have more time on the weekdays for working and working out. It doesn’t have to be that intense though and you could start small preparing something simple like overnight oats for breakfast.

6. Treat Yourself, Don’t Indulge

While tracking my normal food intake I found that carbs were my weakness for overindulgence and protein when left to my own devices was something I lacked. By recognizing this I am better able to give myself little carby treats and also find fun ways to get a little extra protein like vegan jerky.

My snack foods now focus on protein while I usually treat myself to a well-portioned dinner that tends to be carbs heavy. This is a complete switch from what I was doing before but it helps me to stay on goal. If I just eat carbs for snacks I feel less full, and I miss them in my dinners even more.

7. Keep It Sustainable

As I mentioned above concerning carbs it’s important to recognize your habits, both good and bad so that you can build healthier alternative habits going forward. By making sure you’re enjoying your diet (no matter if it's carb rotation, keto or even a crazy one like the Tarahumara diet), it will be easy to keep it going when your goals are achieved.

Adding hemp seeds to lunches is not only a good source of protein for me but I also really enjoy the texture and taste they add. Using almond milk instead of soy cut back on my macros considerably allowing me to add more in the way of snacks, and now I prefer the taste. Use your macros to build a better diet and you won’t regret it.

8. Hit Your Goals

So for me, one of my most important goals is my protein intake because I’m looking to gain muscle! This means I have to carefully monitor my protein per day. By setting this vegan macro goal and achieving it every day it became easy to also track and hit my fat and carbohydrate goals at the same time.

When you start tracking your goals and achieving them every day is a victory. Whether with a soy protein powder or a cheeky slice of cake because I had fats and carbs leftover, tracking taught me about what healthy eating is.

IIFYM Vegan Meal Plan Example

salad and chia seeds in a bowl

Everybody’s personal macro goals will be different. Building a meal plan will be entirely focused on your own individual goals, your personal likes and dislikes, as well as what is readily available.

This means that no two macro focused meal plans will look alike. What we can do though is look at a typical day’s meal plan for someone following their macros to get a good idea of what and how much food we are going to be getting.

Here is a taste of what my day looks like when I’m tracking what I eat.

1. Breakfast

A smoothie or breakfast bowl made with fresh fruit and berries, almond milk, and chia seeds.

I add spirulina to the smoothies but not to the breakfast bowls.

2. Post Workout Meal

A protein shake blended with fresh fruits.

If you’re not looking to build muscle or if you just have a sweet tooth you could use these calories later on in the day for your favorite dessert instead.

3. Lunch

A buddha bowl with roasted harissa spiced vegetables, grains, tempeh, and green leaves.

I use a basic bowl template but with different spices, vegetables, or dressings every day, but it always has a good dose of all three macros deliberately.

4. Dinner

Practically anything I want; be it a veggie burger, Italian style pasta drenched in oils, or a kale salad with a naughty chili and lime dressing.

I leave the bulk of my caloric intake for dinner with the majority of my macros already hit, this is because I am less worried about losing weight and more performance-focused and I keep it fairly casual. Do what works for you.

5. Snacks

  • Spicy roasted chickpeas
  • Vegan jerky
  • Peanut butter, chocolate, and banana biscuits

As you can see I eat incredibly well when I’m tracking my macros. I don’t feel restricted in any way and the best thing is you can make adjustments and allowances whenever you want. But by setting a semi-strict/loose plan for breakfast and dinner the majority of the work and tracking is already done for you.

FAQs

What Are Macros?

Macro is a shortening of macronutrients and put simply they are the three foods we consume the most of and that provide us with the most energy; proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Counting your macros means paying much more attention to the grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fats you eat every day.

Can you count macros as a vegan?

It is easy to count macros on and still be vegan. None of the macronutrients needed for flexible dieting and healthy eating are exclusively animal-based. You can ensure you’re getting enough vegan protein, vegan fat, and vegan carbohydrates by tracking your macros and following something like the IIFYM eating plan.

What should your macros be if you’re vegan?

Vegan macros will split your caloric intake to be around 45 to 60% carbs, 15 to 25% proteins, and 20 to 30% fats. Finding out your macros is much more personal than that though whether vegan or not. Technically you should speak to a professional. Do some research and work out your macros based on goals and lifestyle.

Do vegans eat too many carbs?

Vegan and vegetarian food can be heavy in carbohydrates from all the grains, bread, fruits, and vegetables but no more than any other diet is. A better question is, do we all eat too many carbs? By tracking your macros and following IIFYM you can be sure that you’re eating more healthily.

Is A Plant-Based IIFYM Diet Good For You?

As a passionate advocate for the vegan lifestyle and as someone who has been working in the health and fitness sector for many years now, I can honestly say the IIFYM diet is one of the best I have come across.

It does not hide behind the science. It also does not confuse or obfuscate the basic truth behind what healthy eating means. For many, it may seem a little foreboding and intense to track your foods on that level. Once you get going, it is surprisingly easy to do. The effect it has is unbeatable.

Using a free macro calculator like IIFYM or My Fitness Pal to keep an eye on your macronutrients and choose more nutrient-dense foods can change your eating habits for the better. This can boil down to supplements and easy fixes like less wheat gluten and more protein powders.

It can also lead to new whole food additions to your everyday diet, like sprinkling seeds or changing soy for almond milk.

Have you tried an IIFYM meal plan using only vegan protein sources? Are you running on real food and tracking your performance progress? Let us know all about it in the comments below.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4033492/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK396513/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945587/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6680710/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221839/

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