Cheat meals should be an essential part of your nutrition plan because they help to reset your hormones, replenish your glycogen stores and boost your metabolism.
Your ratio of your training diet and cheat meals should be 90:10 and if used correctly they can help you to chisel out your physique effectively.
Here are five key facts regarding cheats meals:
Have a clear understanding of the science behind cheat meals
Cutting calories and the carbs in a controlled manner within your diet plan can help you with your lean body goals, by dropping your % body fat.
This is a very similar approach to using cheat meals as hormones play a vital role within this strategy. To have a clearer understanding of why cheat meals have the benefits mentioned above; the role of hormones within this process needs to be clarified.
Leptin is made by the adipose tissue; it helps to regulate appetite and energy balance within the body. It stimulates the hypothalamus to reduce food intake and increases the use of energy, in the form of calories.
Therefore, it is a key hormone in helping to maintain body weight and the right amount of fat mass, within the body.
Research has indicated that a prolonged reduced calorie intake will lower leptin levels by around 25% and this can lead to overeating and weight gain.
In addition, ghrelin which is a peptide hormone is made predominantly in the stomach and can stimulate hunger.
Sustained low calorie diets and high intensity exercise over a length period of time, can lead to weight gain and an increase in body mass. This has been partly attributed to an increase in ghrelin levels within the body.
Reduced calorie diets over a sustained period can also cause the body to conserve and hold onto its energy by reducing the T3 and T4 hormones. Primarily, these thyroid hormones regulate metabolism and are major fat burning hormones.
Therefore, you start to enter into a vicious cycle of holding onto the unwanted body fat and your body also enters into a catabolic state.
Here comes the kicker, due to a restricted calorie intake you may start to find your training harder and you may feel sluggish. This a consequence of having depleted glycogen stores within your body.
Many competition diets are geared towards cutting up and are based around a severe cut in calorie intake. These diets are sometimes on the verge of starvation which causes a negative distribution in your hormonal balance and a reduction in your metabolism; as the body attempts to converse energy.
As a competitor you must have the right balance of training intensity with the restriction in calories.
A good strategy is to allow for weekly cheat meals into your diet schedule and sticking to the 90/10 ratio is also paramount in achieving your training goals.
Learn how to use hormones to your advantage
After only 70 hours on a calorie restricted diet there are significant changes in the leptin and ghrelin levels. Weekly cheat meals that are higher in calories and carbs can help to increase both leptin and ghrelin levels.
It is this mechanism that will return the hormone levels back to normal and this reduces appetite, boosts your metabolism and energy expenditure.
An added bonus is that this boost in energy expenditure will increase the secretion of T3 and T5; thus revving up your metabolism even further.
This boost in metabolism can last between 24-26 hours post consumption, this is caused by the digestion of the cheat meal and by the body offsetting the reduction in hormones when the low calorie intake is resumed.
Therefore, a scheduled cheat meal can enhance your body’s hormones to promote weight loss, avoid plateaus in weight loss and stop you from starvation mode.
Creating the right cheat meals for you
Be realistic when it comes to choosing and creating your cheat meal; don’t go overboard with your food intake and calorie intake.
Another top tip is: don’t over indulge in sugary junk foods and foods that are poor in their nutritional content, as this will only set you back with your physique goals.
Instead, eat a cheat meal that is healthy, well balanced, has the right portion size of macros, has a higher calorie/ carbs than you normally eat and leaves you feeling satisfied.
One of the main aims of the cheat meal are to optimise its impact on leptin levels and to replenish your glycogen stores. A key point to remember is that leptin is stimulated by the secretion of insulin.
Insulin is released from the pancreas when your blood sugars are high after eating a meal high in complex carbs. When insulin levels are high, the body will automatically store fat which is not good when building muscle.
Plan your cheat meals
Cheat meals are replacement meals that should fit smoothly into your eating schedule. The best strategy for fitting cheat meals into your schedule is to plan ahead and the focus should be ‘cheat meals’ and not ‘cheat days’!
On the other hand you should not be skipping meals before or after the cheat meal, as this maybe a trigger for you to eat more because you might be feeling hungry.
In terms of the logistics of the cheat meal; plan a meal that allows you to indulge in a controlled manner and not to go overboard with snacking for the rest of the day once you have finished e.g. dinner is a better choice than breakfast.
Have an understanding of your cheat meal tolerance
Unfortunately, cheat meals are not for everyone and the only way that you will determine whether they are for you or not by trial and error.
If you are finding it difficult to stick to your diet schedule and/or having craving after eating a cheat meal then maybe it is time to reevaluate whether this strategy is working for you.
Be honest with yourself and by noting which foods are producing cravings could be pointing to a deficiency within the body.
These cravings are the body’s way of trying to sort itself out and carvings for particular foods are increased when your macro intake is too low. A solution could be to adjust or slightly tweak your macro intake and see if this has any positive results on your physique goals.