Cheat meals and/or cheat days are something you hear about very often in the fitness industry. Performing a refeed are also talked about, but they are less common. Some people may think that there is no difference between the two, but I disagree. A cheat is just that, cheating on your nutrition plan and doing what you are not supposed to be doing. A refeed is a planned event where calories are intentionally higher but are still tracked and managed.
You can think of a cheat as a binge without worrying about the results. A refeed is a smart move when it comes to those who are dieting down, since it can boost metabolism and keep the scales moving down.
A personal story…
When I first started training, I was one of those “clean-eating” cheat meal loving people who trained like a bodybuilder in the magazines. Keep in mind, this was about a month after getting my certification and starting my business.
I read things about nutrition and training through my certification with ISSA, obviously. However, I ignored it, thinking that I knew everything. The typical bro science gym guy who doesn’t look the part. I even ballooned to over 230 lbs at about 20% body fat.
This happened because of the restriction I placed on myself to eat clean all of the time. While I might have done good during the week, the weekends were the time for cheats. Sometimes a cheat meal turned into the whole weekend. I could easily eat in excess of 6000 calories on one of these cheat days.
The results spoke for themselves: it wasn’t working. I knew it had to change.
Clean Eating & Cheating
Clean eating advocates love cheat meals because they restrict themselves all week. Then, they turn around and talk shit to flexible dieting advocates. The irony is that if you spread out a cheat day out throughout the week but actually account for the macros and calories, you basically define IIFYM.
Instead of resorting to a one day, or one meal, approach to eat whatever the hell you feel like with no remorse, you should look into flexible dieting. You don’t have to restrict any foods, effectively removing the binge-then-restrict habit.
Cheat meals can work, if they are tracked and used in a way that they are actually beneficial beyond just eating foods that you don’t normally eat. Remember, if you are using flexible dieting, then you don’t have restriction. That makes the point of a cheat meal kind of useless. Or does it…
Enter The Refeed
Refeeds are similar to a cheat in that you are eating more than you normally would. However, the calories are managed and tracked for a purpose.
For example, if you are dieting, you are going to cause some metabolic slow down eventually. Instead of dropping calories further, you can actually implement refeeds to boost your metabolism and keep the results coming. Yes, eating more calories can actually help when you are dieting.
A common practice is to eat at maintenance calories one or two days a week, like the weekend. The other 5-6 days are in the deficit that you have set. While this does reduce the total deficit for the week, it gives your metabolism a boost with those refeeds. This causes the deficit days to be more effective.
There are other tactics that people use, like huge refeeds where the calories can sometimes amount to double their maintenance calories. The crazy thing is that this can even work to keep your metabolism burning fat, even when in a calorie excess for a day.
If you aren’t dieting but still want to achieve an aesthetic body, recomposition might be your goal. One tactic to use for this is calorie cycling. On weight training days, you will eat a slight surplus. On rest days you will eat a slight deficit. One day a week you can use a refeed that is a bigger surplus, usually reserved for your hardest day of training. To make this work, you need the right training plan to go along with the perfect diet.
The only way I see refeeds being useless is if you are bulking. When bulking, you are always in a calorie surplus so adding more won’t do much for you.
The Final Word
Cheats can work for some people. If you have absolutely no problems with self control, then maybe cheats are the way to go. That way, you know you aren’t sabotaging progress with a binge episode that is WAY to high in calories.
If you are dieting flexibly, then a cheat meal becomes kind of pointless. You are already not restricted to foods that you eat, so going out to dinner isn’t considered a cheat, unless you totally blow off tracking the calories and macros. I’ve had clients that have ate our 4-5 times a week and make better progress than when they tried to follow a clean eating program in the past. Remember, calories in vs calories out.
Refeeds are great for a metabolism boost when you are dieting. They are also great if you are undergoing body recomposition (trying to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time – yes it’s possible). When dieting, metabolic slow down is very common. You can avoid these effects by using one to two refeed days per week. Just eat at maintenance calories with the same macro ratio and you’ll reap the benefits!
No more restrict-and-binge eating patterns. Be flexible with your diet, enjoy the foods you love, and get the results you crave! It’s not rocket science.
What is your experience with cheats and/or refeeds? Leave a comment below and lets talk about it!