The terms “cheat meal” and “refeed” are most commonly heard during a diet or prep phase, and are often accompanied by a photo of some massive meal. Both can be beneficial, but for very different reasons. In this article, I’ll try to explain my views on each and how, when and why you can use these to your advantage.
The human body
The human body is built to survive. It does this by cleverly adapting to any situation you put it in. So, when less calories are consumed over a lengthened period of time and therefore energy intake is lessoned, it adapts by lowering the demand for energy. This means the body’s metabolic process will slow down. The two main hormones affect this are the thyroid and leptin hormones.
Obviously, this isn’t an ideal state for the body to be in when we’re trying to lose body fat, so the way we get round this is by ingesting a large amount of calories over a short period of time. This is known as a refeed or a cheat meal. This will cause the body to think it’s in a fed state and restore normal hormone balance.
A cheat meal or cheat day is basically a term used to describe a situation in which an individual eats whatever they want for either one meal or a day with total disregard for food choices and macro tracking.
- You can eat what you want without having to track any macros
- This will generally provide a big increase in calories that will take the body into the fed state and restore some hormone balance
- You can use this meal to satisfy any cravings or food fantasies you’ve previously had
- If your goal is extreme fat loss, then ingesting loads of fat calories probably isn’t a good idea
- Fats don’t have impact on the leptin hormone
- There’s a temptation to overindulge
Refeed (or high-carb day)
This is a structured day of eating mostly carbohydrates and some protein for the benefit of restoring the body’s metabolic processes and aiding in further fat loss.
- If done correctly and timed appropriately, refeeds will restore hormone balance and ensure your body is still primed for fat burning even when you go back down to restricted calories.
- It enables you to eat A LOT of carbs without feeling guilty. This is because carbs have the largest effect on the leptin hormone over protein and fats.
- It provides some structure to the day’s eating and also gives you a good idea of how insulin sensitive you are, which is very useful when carbing up. If you can work out how many carbs fills you up without spilling, then it saves the guess work when it’s show time.
- Training when calories are low is a chore, so it’s good to keep your refeeds for your toughest training day. This will give you some added energy for the session and then you can replenish all that lost glycogen afterwards with more carbs
- It’s not really needed during the off-season when carbs are not low. Off-season is suited more for cheat meals as a reward for sticking to a clean diet.
- When calories are restricted for a long period, hunger will be through the roof. This means there is still a possibility to have an all-out feeding fest and not stick to the structured macro plan for this day.
- Having a big-carb meal prior to training could leave you feeling sluggish or even make you feel sleepy.