Your body composition is never staying still, it is always trending in one direction or another. It is either gaining muscle, losing muscle, gaining fat or losing fat. By switching between ‘bulking phases’ and fat loss diets many people have programmed their bodies in trending in the wrong direction so they actually prefer building fat; your metabolism drops and so does your progress.
Most people see gaining muscle and losing fat as two totally different strategies rather than a holistic approach. As a result you have programmed your body to be stubborn at losing fat and at building muscle. Adding in a cheat day could help with this a lot. So this poses the question:
Firstly, when you are on a calorie deficit your thyroid produces less of a hormone called T3 and T4, which play a role in regulating the metabolic rate. Strategically overfeeding can help produce higher rates of T3 and T4.
Secondly a calorie surplus from a cheat meal causes the body to increase the base metabolic rate. Studies have shown up to a 9% increase in metabolism. This is a huge increase!
Cheat meals cause an increase in Serum Leptin levels. Leptin levels drop a fair bit when you are on a calorie restricted diet for a long time. The increase in Leptin levels following a cheat meal can cause an increased Base Metabolic Rate, increased thyroid output and increased thermogenesis (fat burning).
Besides the obvious physiological effects, there are also great psychological benefits of being able to go off your daily eating plan temporarily. Even if you think about it from an evolutionary point of view, our bodies are built to withstand periods of depravation and periods of abundance. What do you think would happen to a cave man in a famine? And in times of abundance, if a caveman killed a Bison, do you think he would limit his intake to 200g so he didn’t get fat. No, he would eat until he was uncomfortably full. The truth is we are built to cheat and we are built for caloric depravation.
How do you make cheat meals work for you?
There are a few tips with cheat meals that can help.
- Don’t go to extremes, just eat one high calorie meal of whatever you want and when you leave the table it is over. Eat until you are satisfied, not until you are over full and sick. It doesn’t mean you blow out for the next few days, it’s just one MEAL.
- Don’t kick yourself if you have one. Enjoy it, know that it isn’t going to slow your progress and move on.
- How lean you are dictates how often you ought to factor in a cheat meal. If you are already pretty lean, you can cheat once every 5-7 days. Those less than 10% body fat should have cheat days, not just one cheat meal. However, if you are 16% body fat or more you, should only have cheat meals not cheat ‘days’ and once every two weeks.
- Follow a cheat day with a fast day. This will create a calorie deficit and you will get the hormonal benefits of cheating (as listed above) with the hormonal benefits of fasting (Increased growth hormone production). By pairing these two together you get the best of both worlds. Just keep up your BCAA’s (branch chain amino acids) during the day to prevent any muscle loss. Also have your fasted day as your rest day, avoid training.