Don’t Call It A Cheat Meal If It’s Part Of Your Plan
If you’ve been into fitness for any length of time, you no doubt know how important nutrition is. “You can’t out-train a bad diet” the saying goes. Eating the right foods, in the right amounts (and at the right times) goes farther than your workout. And a bad diet will ruin whatever great training you’ve been doing.
I’d venture to say that for the vast majority of people not achieving their goals, it’s not their workout that’s the problem — it’s their diet!
A Brief – and I Mean BRIEF – Overview of a Bodybuilder’s Diet
This article isn’t about “diet” in the larger sense. I mean, entire books are written on that. But before I get to my main point, here are some of the basics of a good weight trainer’s diet. Scratch that. These are good concepts for ANYBODY, but these are critical for bodybuilders. (Please note: there are a bazillion different diets out there, including some that violate these rules, so we don’t need a ton of comments on all the possible exceptions; but these are the basic rules that work for the most people; I’ll have more posts soon that go into more detail.)
- Eat 5 to 6 smaller meals each day rather than 2 to 3 big meals
- This works out to eating about every 3 hrs
- Eat protein and veggies with every meal
- Avoid processed starches (crackers, white bread, etc.)
- Avoid sugars (soda, most juices, etc.)
- Get 40% to 50% of your calories from protein, 30% to 40% carbs (more if you have trouble gaining weight), and the rest in healthy fats
- Note – don’t confuse “amount of food” with amount of calories; fats are generally more calorie dense, fruits and veggies are less calorie dense, meats, dairy, and most carbs are in the middle
- Never lift weights on an empty stomach
- Eat your starches (carbs that are not fruits and veggies) only right after workouts
and here’s the one I’m focusing on today:
- Have one meal a week that breaks all the rules!
The Rule Breaking Meal
This meal that breaks all the rules is typically called a “cheat” meal. There are many reasons for it:
- Eating Right All Week Is Hard. It’s easier to comply all week with eating healthy if you have a fun meal to look forward to.
- Life Is Complicated. You can’t carry all your proper food with you 24 hrs a day 7 days a week; there are times when you are simply out shopping, at a friend’s, etc where you can’t eat what you would normally eat
- Don’t Be A Party Pooper. Planning a dinner out with your family doesn’t have that same “bonding effect” if you argue about where to go that will satisfy your obsessive-compulsive bodybuilder’s diet. Lighten up once a week.
- Possible Metabolism Reset. If you are trying to lose a lot of weight and are severely restricting calories all week (called a caloric deficit), your body may lower your metabolism as a survival tool because it thinks food is scarce and so it conserves energy. There is some evidence (though not conclusive in my opinion) that one instance a week of such a meal will prevent your body from lowering its metabolism.
For these reasons (and probably more), having a planned meal where you break the normal rules is a good idea.
For The Extremists Out There
When I’ve been my most intense on getting in shape, I’m one of those people who have trouble taking a break. I don’t think I’ve missed a planned workout in over a year. And for a while, I wasn’t even allowing myself one of these fun meals.
But you know what? Once I allowed myself that freedom, I haven’t seen any negative impact on my physique! I’m in the best shape of my life right now, I’m in my 40s, and once a week I’m eating total crap – and loving it!
Now, About That Name…
But I hate the name “cheat meal”. You’re not cheating!!!! By definition, if you are planning for it to occur, it’s not cheating!
And by calling it “cheat” it psychologically sets you up to think that it’s wrong.
It’s not wrong and you don’t need to feel guilty. (Unless you, ah, well, are “cheating”, um, 5 or 6 times a week… that couldn’t be you, could it?)
And I don’t like “reward” meal either, because that word also has a psychological connotation that you reward your hard work all week with junk food. I strongly advise against using junk food to reward yourself. There’s a slippery slope there where you can start turning to junk food every time you need an emotional reward. Bad move.
I’ve heard some people call it a “treat” meal. That’s a good alternative.
But for me, I use these meals to get my fix of empty carbs – breads, cookies, pizza in particular!
So my name for it is my “carbolicious meal”.
Final caution: don’t go overboard. Calories still count and if you sit down and eat two BigMacs, two large fries, a large Coke, an apple pie, and a vanilla milkshake, that is going way too far (I think that would be 50% of my entire day’s calories right there!). Have fun, but be sensible.
Do you allow yourself a meal each week to break the rules? What do you call it?