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Cheat Day: What you need to know

If you follow a restricted or carefully planned diet, chances are you may have come across the concept of a cheat day. What is this exactly, and how can it benefit your health and fitness goals?

Eating a burger

© Dmitry Lobanov / Adobe Stock

 

Cheat day explained

A cheat day essentially involves following a healthy, clean or planned diet for six days of the week, followed by a day off where you’re allowed to loosen your dietary reins a little. For some people, this means eating whatever they want, but for others, it might mean not worrying about counting calories or measuring portions but still eating healthily.

While some people opt for cheat days, others prefer to have individual cheat meals, instead, perhaps two or three times per week.

 

Importance of cheat days

There are several reasons why you should incorporate cheat days into your regime, as you can gain both physical and psychological benefits from having a day off from strict eating.

Studies have shown that eating more calories on a cheat day boosts the production of a hormone called leptin, which can increase your metabolism. This encourages your body to burn more calories and may lead to weight loss. An increase in leptin is also thought to raise motivation and libido levels while flooding the body with feel-good chemicals. A cheat day can also replenish glycogen, giving energy levels a boost for your next workout.

From a psychological perspective, having a day off your dieting regime is good for your spirits, and gives you something to look forward to. It allows you to indulge in your cravings and means you’re more likely to stick at your diet for the rest of the week.

 

Essential considerations

Experts reckon that if you want to gain the most benefits from a cheat day, you need to embrace it in the correct way.

Rather than being a green light for indulging on copious amounts of junk food, you should still spare a little thought to what food choices you make on a cheat day. Research has shown that eating unhealthy fatty processed foods, low-protein options or drinking alcohol won’t increase your resting metabolism.

Bear in mind that your metabolism will only be boosted by between 3-10% on a cheat day, and this effect will only last for 24 hours. Excessive over-indulging might, therefore, lead to weight gain if you’re not careful. Aim for around 10-20% of your weekly dietary intake to be devoted to cheat meals. A good way to incorporate a cheat day into your regime is on social occasions, such as meals out or family get-togethers.

The word cheat often comes loaded with negative associations. Try to remove these from your head and not think of a cheat day as something bad, but rather something you deserve after fulfilling your diet and fitness goals all week. Certainly, if you cheat sensibly (more or less!), there’s no reason to feel guilty.

If you suffer from a health condition, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, be extra careful about what you choose on a cheat day.

 

Cheat day choices from the pros

Many famous fitness experts recognise the importance of cheat days to help achieve their goals, with lots of them revealing their specific dietary choices. Bodybuilding icon Arnold Schwarzenegger once revealed that he scoffed pies during his cheat days, while Dwayne Johnson opts for a Sunday sushi train and double milk chocolate peanut butter chip cookies on his day off. Fat-free frozen yoghurt is the cheat day choice for Jay Cutler, while Mr Olympia legend Phil Heath favours cheat meals every four or five days during the off-season, generally steering clear of fast food – although he’s partial to the occasional pizza and beer.

Making the right choices is crucial to gain the most from cheat days. For additional ways to benefit from your body goals, take a look at the high-quality products available at Strength & Steroids.