It still saddens me when I get a client from another coach that’s never had a cheat meal. I guess I should be open minded and remember that everyone has their own system that they feel works but for me, hell YES I believe in re-feeds, cheats and loads. I’d never do a prep myself without them and I’ll make a point to strategically implement them in almost every client’s prep.

Now don’t go signing up with me because you want those cheat meals. There’s a way to incorporate them that can improve your physique and then there’s just being lazy or reckless that will do very little to making those muscles pop for that shrink-wrapped look. Most importantly, you gotta earn em! I don’t give cheat meals to clients that I know aren’t being consistent with their diet. They can come to the team event and watch us eat burgers. But for the clients that are following things to the smallest detail and their bodies are communicating the need for it, I’ll drop a cheat meal in at the appropriate times.

Once we’re all clear on that, the most common question I get is – What should I eat for my cheat meal?

What you eat for your re-feed or cheat meal shouldn’t be up to your coach, it should be up to you, while staying within some logical parameters that meet the general objectives of a cheat meal.

Here are some simple questions to address when planning a cheat meal. You want to be able to answer ‘yes’ to most, if not all of them.

  • Is the cheat meal a food you like, enjoy eating and provides some element of happiness for you? (i.e. this is why your coach shouldn’t tell you what to eat – everyone has their own specific foods they personally crave and enjoy)
  • Does the cheat meal provide some form of a ‘break’ from your regular routine? (i.e. if you’ve been cooking and prepping most of your meals, are you going out to have someone else cook for you? If you have all your meals made for you, then why not try being a little creative in the kitchen or with the bbq)
  • Is the cheat meal at least 2-3 x your regular calories of your standard meals? (Confirm with your coach how aggressive they want the cheat meal to be. Many clients will be able to go as high as 3 x their regular intake, while 2x is best for others.)
  • Does the cheat meal provide contain a good sized portion of protein? (all clients should be including a source of protein in their cheat meals – so something like a bowl of ice cream isn’t really cutting it)
  • Does your cheat meal meet the general guidelines of your own nutritional needs and metabolic restrictions? Confirm with your coach if the objective of your cheat meal is to restock muscle glycogen with a large dose of carbs, provide a larger than normal serving of fats for an anabolic effect… or both? (Some carb-sensitive / insulin-resistant clients may not want to go overboard on the carbs and keep them at a moderate level while being more liberal with the fat intake..i.e. fat load. Other clients will aim to pack in a serving of carbs that’s around 3x the regular intake for most of your meals. And many clients will be able to do both – just depends on your individual metabolism)
  • Are you providing any supplemental support to help with the digestion and assimilation of the cheat meal? (because a cheat meal can place a larger than normal demand on the digestive system, it can make sense to supply some supplemental support to prime your body for optimal digestion and even an enhanced nutrient uptake. Some of my favorites would be: chromium picolinate (200-400 mcg), r-ala (150 mg), fenugreek (500 mg), vanadyl sulfate (20 mg) and cyaniding 3-glucoside (C3G)…taken either 30 mins pre-meal or post-meal depending on label directions. You may also want to consider adding in digestive enzymes and a natural source fiber to assist with the processing of the food and transit time after the meal to prevent any post-meal discomfort.
  • Is your cheat meal timed appropriately? I generally prefer clients schedule their cheat meals either in the post-workout window (1-2 hours post-work-out) or the night before a morning workout the next day. This just amplifies insulin sensitivity through the training effect (option a) and pre-loads your muscles to get more out of a specific training session (via the pump as well as strength and endurance). You may also want to look at things like specific bodyparts you are trying to bring up and time your cheat meals around that.
  • Is your cheat meal ‘clean’ and sensible or is it ‘dirty’ and more aggressive? These are just terms I tend to throw around when discussing a cheat meal. A clean cheat meal is something that really isn’t too far off one of your regular pre-contest meals, but it just tastes a lot better – for example, going out for a grilled steak and shrimp with cesear salad, a baked potato with some toppings and maybe half a glass of red wine…..provides plenty of nutritional value without overstepping any boundaries into a possible spillover situation. This would generally be more for clients closer to a show or aren’t really losing weight like they should or have a not-so co-operative metabolism. On the other hand, your coach may occasionally support a ‘dirty’ cheat meal, which for me means more calorically dense foods and much more liberal with options. An example of this might be a burger with bacon and cheese, fries and a desert. You aren’t being as strict with the total calories and have more flexibility with your macronutrients. Confirm with your coach which is more appropriate for you and your metabolism / stage of prep.

I love when some clients want to know the reasoning behind things. If you think I give refeeds because I feel sorry for clients, then you clearly don’t know me too well. I could care less about whether someone feels they are suffering or not. As far as I’m concerned you SHOULD suffer a little during a prep. So here are some general physiological goals of a cheat meal (i.e. non-psychological):

  1. Restock muscle glycogen with a big serving of complex carbs (supercompensation).
  2. Trigger an insulin spike to help drive glucose into muscle cells with some high glycemic carbs. (not all clients)
  3. Boost Leptin levels to keep the metabolism from becoming sluggish.
  4. Provide a big serving of protein to help drive muscle recovery and growth (hyperaminoacidemia).
  5. Provide a serving of fats (even some cholesterol) to help support anabolic hormone and testosterone production.

Coach's Corner


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