If you’ve been around bodybuilding, physique, or any form of serious lifting that involves any bit of nutrition, you may have heard of people incorporating cheat meals – or even cheat days – into their diet plan. Cheat meals can be a double-edged sword. Learn more here on how you can effectively use them to stimulate your progress even further.
Essentially, the prime reason for why you would choose to have a cheat meal, or a cheat day, is to actually KICKSTART your progress and it should be used as a tool to further benefit you. The primary reasoning for this is that when you’ve been dieting for an extremely long time, your metabolism begins to slow down and the primary fat burning hormone, Leptin, is reduced as well. Fat loss begins to halt, Serotonin and Dopamine levels continue to plummet (the chemicals that give you a natural sense of “reward” and general happiness), and you all-around feel like crap.
Cheat meals/cheat days should be used specifically for progress, but that doesn’t also mean they don’t mentally help an individual as well. Increasing levels of Serotonin and Dopamine are important when dieting to keep you sane, focused, and generally WANTING to make progress and complete whatever goal you’ve set out to accomplish – whether it be competition, general weight loss, etc.
When Do You Have A Cheat Meal / Cheat Day?
Many times, you will find weak-willed people trying to find any reason to have a cheat day possible. I’d personally say if you’re above 15% bodyfat, have only been dieting for a few weeks, etc, then a cheat meal is absolutely not needed. Likewise, I suggest incorporating more cheat meals the leaner you get. When you come into the single-digit bodyfat percentages, I recommend having a cheat day once every 4 or so days. During this day, raise the total calories to maintenance or slightly above maintenance, and focus on consuming mostly carbohydrates on this day. Limit protein to about a gram per pound of bodyweight, and keep fat intake as low as possible. Because these days will cause a huge spike in insulin, it’s important to keep fat intake low to avoid the body shuttling them as fat stores. We want to use these days to shuttle the muscles with glycogen as a secondary benefit.
Furthermore, I like to take advantage of this insulin spike – which is the most anabolic hormone your body produces, to accompany weak bodyparts. Train your worst bodypart / muscle group on your cheat day to reap the anabolic advantages.
Epic Cheat Days
You’ll see some bodybuilders have cheat days where they sometimes consume tens of thousands of calories of junk. This entirely depends on the individuals metabolism, so unless you’re sure this will benefit you, I wouldn’t chance it if you’re coming close to a show. It may backfire, causing you to lose weeks of progress from a single day of binging. If you want to experiment to see if this will have a positive effect on your metabolism, do it POST SHOW, where your possible regression will not have a role on competitive placings.
Ketogenic Dieter Cheat Days
For ketogenic dieters, it takes about 3 days to enter ketosis. After about 8-10 days of being on a ketogenic diet, a cheat day can be used. Because most of the diet is void of carbohydrates, a cheat can be scheduled every 4-6 days due to the pancreatic state of little-to-zero insulin spiking that takes place in the body. Ketogenic dieters of a very low production of TSH – thyroid stimulating hormone which converts t4 to t3, drastically slowing the metabolism.
Regardless of the diet you’re going with, it is important to listen to your body. Take notes on how cheat days and cheat meals effect you. If used properly and at the right times, you should usually notice that while your body weight might spike for a day or two, a proper cheat meal under the right circumstances should have you losing weight, tightening up, and improving every time you do so. If you feel the opposite has happened, reduce the size of your cheat meals/days, frequency, etc until they can be utilized more effectively.