Beer-battered hot wings. Stuffed-crust pizza. Double-digit scoop sundaes. This is the stuff of cheat meal fantasies. But more often than not, it's also the stuff of weight gain nightmares. The problem most guys run into when they're straying from their diets is they don't know how to properly splurge. Eating like garbage for damn near 24 hours once a week doesn't equate to renewed resolve in your diet and exercise regimen any more than it stimulates muscle growth and fat loss. There are scientific and personalized components to a cheat meal you've probably been overlooking—until now.
"A cheat meal is high in calories and all macronutrients—protein, carbs, and fat—and is not something that would normally be part of a proper diet plan," says BuiltLean contributor and nutritional scientist Eva Lana, MSc. It's not to be confused with a cheat day, which is an eight- to 12-hour window in which you go outside of your grilled-chicken-and-roasted-veggie diet, and straight out binge. In fact, cheat days aren't really recommended for the average guy who's in the gym four or so days a week. A cheat day, she says, is recommended for those who are serious, competitive athletes and body builders. For the average guy, Lana suggests a weekly cheat meal.
When it comes to cheating (on meals, that is), there are two hormones you need to be concerned with: leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is the "hunger hormone." It's mainly produced by fat tissue, and it regulates your appetite and energy stores. Grehlin is a hormone mainly produced by the stomach. It's an appetite stimulant that signals the release of growth hormone.
"Weekly cheat meals that are higher in calories and carbohydrates can help raise leptin levels and lower ghrelin," Lana says. When your hormones return to normal, they can help reverse or even prevent any negative effects on metabolism, hunger drive, and energy expenditure. What's more, she adds, the increased calories may also help to increase thyroid function, further boosting metabolism; so a scheduled cheat meal may actually help optimize your body’s hormones to avoid weight loss plateaus and prevent chronic metabolism depression."
And hey, if nothing else, it's a welcome reprieve from your typical diet that can help you stay on track the rest of the week. (Think: Looking forward to pizza or wings on Friday night can help you make a healthy choice for lunch on Wednesday.)
Read on for her tips for using cheat meals to lose weight and gain muscle.