Cheat Days: Yay or Nay?
When was the last time you've had a cheat day? If you can't remember, it's time to give your diet a makeover! Cheating is actually good for you! When done right, it can boost your gains and keep you sane.
The Role of Cheat Days
Athletes and bodybuilders follow strict diets to stay lean. Before competitions, they go as low as 1,200 calories a day while training hard. This drains their energy, causing fatigue, tiredness, muscle loss, and hormonal imbalances.
Low-calorie diets raise the stress hormone cortisol levels and slow down your metabolism. On top of that, they deplete muscle and liver glycogen stores, affecting physical performance. You'll no longer have the strength and energy needed to finish your workouts and get the most out of your gym. In the long run, strict dieting may cause nutritional deficiencies and catabolism.
This is where cheat days come in handy. A well-structured cheat meal or cheat day can offset the stress caused by dieting. It's a great way to replenish your glycogen stores and get the fuel needed for intense training. This strategy also helps prevent weight loss plateaus and promotes muscle growth. You can stay lean and build muscle without giving up dessert.
Cheat meals can improve your body. First of all, they balance the hormones influencing appetite, such as ghrelin and leptin. Extreme dieting can mess up these hormones, causing hunger pangs and cravings.
Secondly, cheating will boost your metabolism and keep it from slowing down. When you're on a diet for too long, your body begins to use less energy for fuel. As a result, your resting metabolic rate drops, so you burn fewer calories throughout the days. A weekly cheat meal can rev up your metabolism and help you shed those last few pounds.
Thirdly, this strategy increases your motivation. You're more likely to eat clean when you know that, a few days from now on, you can enjoy delicious meals. Your brain sees dieting as starvation. This leads to hunger and unhealthy food cravings. But if you allow yourself to have weekly cheat meals, you can trick your brain into thinking that you're not a diet anymore.
Contrary to popular belief, cheat days won’t ruin your efforts. Let's say you're eating 2,000 calories a day when dieting. That's 14,000 calories per week. If you stick to 1,500 calories a day for six days and have 3,000 calories on your cheat day, your weekly calorie intake will be 12,000. Thus, you'll end up consuming fewer calories than normal. As a result, you'll lose fat. The best part is that you can still enjoy your favorite foods!
Cheat Meal Strategies to Keep You on Track
The key to cheating is to plan everything ahead. Just because you can eat anything, it doesn't mean you should do it. A cheat meal can have as few as 500 calories or as many as 5,000 calories.
Consider your weekly calorie intake. A well-structured cheat day should fit your macros. If you go overboard, you'll end up gaining weight. Stick to high-protein and high-carb foods, or high-protein and high-fat foods. Avoid mixing carbs and fats in one meal. The carbs will trigger insulin spikes, causing your body to store calories as fat.
Eat mindfully and watch your portions. Ideally, your cheat meal should be high in carbs to replenish glycogen stores. Don't "waste" your calories on foods you don’t really enjoy. Eat your favorite treats - but don't go overboard.
- Cheat days can boost your motivation and bring you closer to your fitness goals.
- Their role is to kick-start your metabolism, prevent plateaus, and replenish muscle glycogen stores.
- A well-structured cheat meal should fit into your diet and provide the fuel needed for intense training.
- Enjoy your favorite foods in moderation and don’t go overboard.