Cheat Day: a good or bad idea?

 In Nutrition, Voeding

The idea sounds amazing: one day (cheat day), when you can eat everything your heart desires in the amounts you would love. Fries, burgers, shawarma, cookies, pizza, candy; everything is allowed. During a cheat day, we tend to go for products that are higher in fat and sugar. Otherwise we wouldn’t be calling it cheat meals. The rest of the week should be according to a strict regime of healthy nutrition and exercise. All of this with top body results: lower fat% and higher muscle mass. Right?

Energy balance
If it’s your goal to lose weight, then the energy balance is important. Energy is another word for “kilocalories”. You want to create a negative energy balance by burning more than what you eat. You can achieve this by burning calories with exercise and by eating a suitable amount of healthy foods. What you do for a longer amount of time is important. At the end of the week there is a certain number of calories consumed and calories burned. With a cheat day, there is a good chance you’ll end up in a (positive) energy balance, which will make your body composition stay the same or even get worse than what it was.

Cheat Day yes or no?
The problem is not the eating a greasy snack once in a while. Occasionally eating something else might even help you to stick to a healthy diet for a lifetime. If getting good body composition results are important to you, I would tackle the cheat day differently: switch your cheat DAY for a cheat MEAL! In this way, you’ll only eat 1 meal, which is not particularly beneficial for your final goal, and not all-day long. 

Tailor-made cheat meal
Your cheat meal-size might have different consequences for others. This all has to do with your goal, gender, current muscle mass, exercise intensity and your body size. For example, Jan’s height is 186 cm and Janna’s height is 160 cm, and they started working out together to lose weight. Theoretically, Jan may eat more than Janna during his cheat meal, simply because of the difference in body size. He therefore burns more. A cheat meal of 1 big double burger with a big portion of fries and mayo has bigger consequences for Janna than for Jan. So, keep in mind to get a tailor-made cheat meal.

The cheat day is no a sole ruler. You can also choose to go for the ratio 80/20 healthy eating/unhealthy eating. If you are trying to improve your body composition or if you are an athlete, I would recommend the ratio 90/10. In this way, you are not stuck to a specific day of the week, so you can decide when and if you take something that is not a healthy food staple.

Do you want to know how to improve your body composition using the right nutrition? Send us an e-mail asking about the options. PS: did you know that your Dutch health insurance covers a big part of the nutritional consultations? #noexcuses

Dietitian(RD, BSc), Sport performance dietitian (CSSD) and NSCA-CPT.

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