In honour of the upcoming long weekend, I thought it would be fitting to share my tips on enjoying the perfect “cheat” meal.
First of all, what is a cheat meal? I’d define it as strategic overfeeding within a goal-oriented nutrition program. This means for people on a structured fat loss, muscle building or athletic performance program, a cheat meal delivers a significant increase in calories and macronutrients at one scheduled meal. Cheat meals can be very useful for athletes for a number of reasons, including: .
Breaking through a plateau during a fat loss program.
One of the drawbacks of being on a prolonged fat-loss program is the dreaded plateau. A plateau occurs when you have been doing everything right – compliant on your diet, consistent weight training and regular energy system training – with nothing to show for it. A plateau can be extremely frustrating for hard working athletes, and often the best cure is a cheat meal. This serves to boost the metabolism and kick-start the fat loss process
Refuelling glycogen stores to support hard training
Athletes on a calorie-restricted diet who train at high volumes can experience significant depletion of their glycogen stores. This can negatively impact training performance, strength and recovery. Regular cheat meals scheduled at the appropriate times can minimize the performance decline experienced by athletes on calorie-controlled diets. Providing a mental break from the “grind.” Athletes in the final stages of contest prep often experience a decrease in motivation after chronic twice-a-day training and hard dieting. A well-timed cheat meal can provide something to look forward to while providing a mental vacation from the demands of being an athlete.
A cheat meal is definitely not for those athletes who
1. Have no idea about their daily energy intake.
2. Are not consuming an abundance of high fibre, colourful vegetables on a daily basis.
3. Are not consuming adequate high quality protein and dietary fats.
4. Are not compliant with their nutrition program. I define compliance as following the 90% rule. This means that 90% of your meals in any given week are aligned with your goals.
So what are the keys to enjoying the perfect cheat meal? Follow these five guidelines below and you can’t go wrong:
Burger and fries? Pizza? Fried Chicken? Ice Cream? Go for it. Make your cheat meal one to remember. Food quality is still very important, and a cheat meal is no excuse to disregard quality. At no point should you be putting garbage into your body. A cheat meal is not an excuse to run through the local drive thru! You can still enjoy all of your favourite foods and choose high quality sources. Go BIG and go local, organic, and natural as much as possible.
1 Hour less
The 1-hour rule is an important discipline to practice when enjoying a cheat meal. By restricting your meal to an hour or less, you can prevent a meal from turning into an all-out binge fest and turning the positive physiological and psychological benefits of a cheat into a negative setback.
Cheat the day before a heavy training session.
The extra calories, carbohydrates, protein and fats from your cheat meal should be used to fuel an intense training session the following day. Your glycogen levels will be topped off and for those athletes interested in body composition, your pumps will be incredible. Athletes who have been dieting for an extended period will find that the workout following a cheat meal is always a great one.
A cheat meal always tastes better when you can enjoy it with family and/or friends.
Have no regrets
This is probably the most important rule, as it relates to the relationship you have with food. A cheat meal is meant to be enjoyed without self-doubt or second-guessing your decision. If you are following a well planned, goal oriented nutrition strategy a cheat meal can be a healthy, beneficial part of that plan. Don’t obsess or overthink it. It’s one meal. Plan it out, enjoy every last bite, and get on with your life.
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