Cheat Meals and Cheat Days
Cheat meals and cheat days during dieting are meals or periods when you consume food that is not strictly calorie-restricted or you consume food that you generally avoid during 'normal' dieting.
Depending on the type of your diet, cheating can be just a single meal or full-day (12-24 hour period). Usually, a cheat meal or cheat day is once a week, usually a weekend.
Updated: March 7, 2022.
One must note, that 'cheat' doesn't mean that you should binge like an animal one day and then spend six days trying to get yourself together :o)
After a cheat meal or cheat day, bodyweight usually goes up because of additional carbs, sodium, and gut content.
Carbohydrate Cycling Diet Cheat Meals
Carbohydrate Cycling Diet Cheat Meals can be once a week or every time we have high(er) carbs day.
Depending on your calorie breakdown, you must calculate the calories and nutrient content of your normal meals and PWM (Post Workout Meal - protein shake) to see if there is room for cheating.
It is recommended not to binge once a week, rather distribute those calories over 2-3 high carb days and use those calories for the last solid meal before and first solid meal after a workout.
That way You will feel more energetic during workouts, You will be able to train harder, and with PWM and a good first solid meal after a workout, You will promote fat loss, muscle building, and faster recovery. After all, that is the point of not only a carbohydrate cycling diet but other low-carb diets as well - more calories around workouts.
If you are very strict during weekdays, even when cycling carbs and want to live a little, have a cheat meal for the weekend. Try to have a workout on that same day - a hard one, hopefully before a cheat meal.
That way the calories from cheat meals are consumed while the body is still under 'shock' of workout and is trying to recover - more calories are burned and fewer calories are stored.
Cheat meals on carb cycling diets should contain protein from animal sources, complex carbs, good fats. Some 'junk' food is tolerable, but don't overdo it. 'Junk' foods are sodas, sweets, candies, pizzas, etc, but you can eat food that is baked or fried with as less fats as possible - all those calories count, remember that.
Keto Diet Cheat Meals
Keto Diet Cheat Meals are in fact a cheat day. Depending on your keto diet, during the week You eat almost no carbs keeping your body is in ketosis.
For a very short period during the weekend (12-24 hours, depending on the athlete), one should eat plenty of carbs, with some protein, and as little fats as possible.
A short 'loading' period will keep the body in ketosis but will make it possible to fill empty glycogen reserves (very simplified, but hopefully You get the picture ...) and keep the willpower strong.
For cheat meals on the keto diet, one should eat foods that are rich in simple and complex carbs, have a good protein profile, and almost no fats.
Cheat meals are a combination of brown and white rice, whole wheat and ordinary pasta and bread, vegetables with some lean meat, and fish.
EPA/DHA/CLA supplements can be consumed, but not much.
Because of ample carbs intake, one should plan (at least) 2 (two) workout sessions in this 12-24h period - at least one hard workout in the gym, one on the track. This is plenty of workouts when dieting, but in this 12-24h period you eat well above your maintenance level.
Liquid Diet Cheat Meals
To keep your sanity on Liquid Diet and to ease transitioning on and off the diet, you can have one 'cheat' meal a week or if you are on not so strict liquid diet, once a day.
Cheat meals are healthy solid food meals with no sugar, no fast carbohydrates, no bad fats. Forget pizzas, alcohol of any kind (beer, wine, etc), candies, cakes, sweets, potatoes, white rice, white bread...
But if You want to get shredded and the last few kilograms of fat stubbornly refuse to go away or if You are so fat that You are sick of your body and want to get rid of 10-12 kg of fat in 4 weeks or if You are anything in between of these two examples but want to lose fat, then the liquid diet (or any similar diet with such low calories) is the way to go - under supervision of your doctor/physician and a good dietician.
Calories in your cheat meal with its protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fiber content must coincide with the calories and content of a shake that this 'cheat' meal has replaced.
Food choices for cheat meals are thus limited to:
- Fish and vegetables,
- Meat and vegetables,
- Eggs and low-fat or cottage cheese omelet with vegetables.
Generally, this meal should contain a lean source of protein (fish, lean cuts of meat, omega-3 eggs, low fat, and cottage cheese) and vegetables.
You can grill, boil or steam your food, but don't add additional oil for preparing food. Olive or similar oils are ok for giving better taste, just be careful – one tablespoon of oil has 15g of oil (135 kcal). Eat lettuce or similar salad with this meal – without oil, just vinegar and some salt.
When you start to eat this meal – eat it slowly and chew it many times – I even often close my eyes when I eat such meals on such diets.
The best time of the week/day for such meal is as the first solid meal after post-workout meal (PWM) shake on training days.
On non-training days avoid having such meals or be very careful with meal content. Many coaches and nutritionists liquid diet with one solid meal per day don't even consider a liquid diet but don't worry about that.
Cheat Meals/Days and Working Out
Generally, cheat meals and cheat days are excellent times for workouts - one just has to combine them in the most efficient way, which can be highly individual, depending on the goals, trainee age, body type, body composition, current strength, and stamina, etc.
But, generally one can have a cheat meal as a last solid meal before the workout in order to increase the energy levels and strength during the workout, or as a first solid meal after the protein shake after the workout, in order to speed up recovery.
On cheat days, one should try to combine a gym session in the morning and a cardio session in the afternoon, giving enough time for the body to slow down before going to bed.
Also, it is possible to have two gym workouts, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, targeting different muscle groups - only in very specific situations should one aim at the same muscle groups on the same day.
Again, this is highly individual and must be done carefully in order to avoid overtraining, injuries, and similar.
Cheat Meals and Cheat Days Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Here are some of the most common Frequently Asked Questions about cheat meals and cheat days and dieting in general.
Is an occasional cheat meal OK?
When dieting, having an occasional cheat meal is generally OK - it must be a meal that is not calorie too rich, but a meal that also helps a person fight various cravings and in the long run, help a person continue with a diet until the desired goal is met.
What can I eat on cheat day?
During the cheat day, it is recommended to eat as clean as possible, while consuming just a little bit more calories than usual.
The actual food list depends on the type of diet, but most people eat lean meat, fish, and similar protein-rich foods, combined with vegetables and perhaps rice, pasta, and bread.
However, having potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread can significantly increase carbs intake and must be done in moderation.
Can You have a cheat meal and still lose weight?
In the long run, yes, but after the cheat meal, and especially after the cheat day, most people gain some weight.
Is pizza a good cheat meal?
No, it is not - it contains simple carbs, often bad fats, large amounts of sodium, etc.
But, if You want to reset your taste buds, have a slice or two of pizza, and then go for a walk ... long walk :)
Why do I gain 5 pounds on a cheat day?
Gaining 5 pounds or even more after a cheat day is normal for some people - they ate plenty of carbs and sodium and they are bloated from all the water they consumed and their gut content. But don't worry, it usually takes 1-3 days for the body to get rid of excess weight.
However, if You are serious about your diet, and You always gain 5 pounds on a cheat day, You are simply eating too much - limit your cheat days to a single healthy cheat meal, combined with a proper gym or cardio workout.
Should You exercise on cheat day?
Absolutely - cheat meals and cheat days allow trainees to work out harder and recover faster than they would normally do on calorie-restricted diets.
How many calories should a cheat meal have?
Ideally, a cheat meal should have the same amount of calories as a normal meal on a diet - one just eat different foods. However, having 200-500 additional calories in a single cheat meal should not be a problem for any individual. Again, check these calories with your doctor, trainer, and nutritionist.
Few Final Words
Cheat meals and cheat days will help you to keep your sanity while dieting, keep your energy levels up, keep your willpower strong. But don't push it too much, because it can backfire easily.
Having a cheat meal can help fight food cravings, cravings for sweets, and similar. And when combined with cardio and/or gym workouts, cheat meals can even improve athletic performances in the long run.
Note: when dieting, be sure to consult your doctor/physician, good nutritionists, and a coach/trainer - they are specialists in their own fields and can help You stay safe and help You achieve your goals.