Awesome to look at... intolerable to eat with.
First, a bit of semantics. I initially believed that the precepts I held regarding cheat meals were at odds with those of John Berardi, whose opinion on all things diet I value highly. Not so, it seems- we merely disagreed semantically. Rather than rewrite his description of cheat meals, refeeds, and planned overfeeding (as some of my fellow bloggers have done, without giving credit where it's due), I'll simply cut and paste Berardi's definitions:
Cheat meal = unplanned dietary transgression in which someone eats foods not on their diet (and not considered “clean”) and/or over consumes these foods. Cheat meals are usually the consequence of getting hungry and not having good food options available. An example of a cheat meal is being on the road and not having a chicken breast and vegetable dinner available so you stop at a restaurant and eat a burger, fries, and a milkshake.
Planned overfeeding = planned increase in calorie intake for a single meal. Planned overfeedings usually occur when eating maintenance intake or above since this meal will probably bump your calories up above the maintenance or habitual level of intake. Planned overfeedings can be carried out with excess amounts of “clean” foods or with other foods not considered bodybuilding friendly and are usually in place to allow time to eat “fun” foods so that athletes don’t feel so deprived as well as to help with recovery. An example of a planned overfeeding is ordering 4 large pizzas for yourself and 3 friends every other Sunday afternoon when in the midst of a serious strength and power phase.
Refeed = planned increase in calorie intake that lasts 8 – 12 hours and usually consists of a large increase in carbohydrates. Refeeds usually occur when dieting and are planned in order to provide a brief day of psychological relief as well as a number of physiological benefits that we’ll discuss later. An example of a refeed is following a strict diet of 1500kcal 5 days per week and consuming 2500kcal of clean bodybuilding foods (the additional kcal coming mostly from carbohydrates) on the other 2 days.Frankly, it's never occurred to me to define an unplanned dietary transgression, because they're nearly impossible to make if you've got a scintilla of willpower. If you don't, stop reading this blog and go back to playing with your Star Wars figurines and eating Cheetos while you wait for something, anything, to happen in World of Warcraft. Fuck my life, that game is beyond boring. In any event, when I refer to a cheat meal or cheat window, it is the second, not the first, definition to which I am referring.
The key, then, is that these are scheduled, timed affairs. They should last only 3 hours at a time, in my opinion, and they should occur one to two times per week. I plan these out in my head prior to engaging in them, purchase whatever I need for them just before doing so, eat my fucking face off, and toss anything that's still extant at the 3 hour mark. No starving kids in Africa is going to be able to eat the two chicken fingers you were unable to stuff down your gullet, and they'd likely cut your cock off for being a godless infidel if they were around, so fuck them. That adage is a pile of bullshit, and it will only serve to fuck your dieting goals by tempting you while you're playing Call of Duty or when you come home hammered and starving at 4AM. Don't stock up on forbidden foods- when you need them, they'll be easy enough to find.
In re the duration and frequency of your cheat windows, there are basically three schools of thought on this- don't do it at all (Chris Aceto, Pauline Nordine, and various other psychotics), do it twice a week at regular intervals for 3-4 hours (Lyle McDonald, Warren Willey), and do it once a week for the entire day (same guys). I've already addressed the first school of thought, so I'll now hit the latter two. Obviously, I think that cheat meals are essential- at least one study has shown that short breaks from high fat diets will not have an adverse effect on lipolytic activity, and lipolytic activity in people who take high carb breaks from high fat diets are actually higher than those who are on a high carbohydrate diet.(Saitoh) As I advocate low carb diets, this is rather important. It becomes moreso when you consider one of Dave Palumbo's comments in re cheat windows, wherein he stated that if "
speed the metabolism, (Matsumoto) replenish your glycogen stores, (Bowden) and increase your thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormones, (Poehlman) in addition to providing an awesome forced break from clean eating.(Westrate) Given that you're reading this blog, I think it's no mystery that I'm hyper-intense, slightly insane, and not terribly amenable to long-distance, low intensity events, which is what a cheat day would be. For those, most authors recommend that you keep your cheating fairly reasonable, or you run the risk of undoing a lot of the metabolic goodness you've created with your 6 days of dieting. They also recommend those days for occasions wherein dieting simply isn't feasible, like taking a trip to an amusement park, or some other day-long event at which it'd be a pain in the ass for you, and a major inconvenience and annoyance to those around you (mostly the latter, because no one gives a fuck if you have veins on your abs but you).
In re the shorter, more intense cheats- that's not to state that it's a foregone conclusion that they're better, but the science (cited above) seems to point in the direction of shorter, more intense cheats in order to obtain the more extreme metabolic enhancements. Luckily, that's my cup 'o fucking tea- brief, vulgar, and going for the jugular.
I have always been uncomfortable around babies. Now I know why- they eat motherfuckers.
Thus, in my 3 hours cheat windows (which should always come on non-consecutive days, or you'll again run the risk of obviating the point of the exercise), I eat as many calories as I can possibly fit down my gullet. I find that I'll generally have a raised core temperature (i.e. I sweat my ass off while eating), and more energetic, and feel like a giant killer robot with a 50 foot boner who shits hundred dollar bills- that's how I know that I'm getting the proper metabolic response. What do I eat to achieve this sensation? This sort of shit:
1 Small Pepperoni and Sausage Pizza
10 piece Chicken Nuggets
Small, heavily buttered movie popcorn
12 KFC Hot Wings
Most of a Digiorno 3 Meat Pizza
Half a bag of Baked Ruffles or Low-fat Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls
Medium Papa John's Spicy Italian Pizza
20 Breaded Spicy Garlic Hooter's wings
Large DQ Blizzard with Heath Bars and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
As you can see, there's a pattern- I literally eat for three straight hours. If I'm not eating, I feel like I'm missing out. Thus, I usually pick foods on which I can graze. There's no metabolic reasoning for this- it's just what I like to do.
For those of you who are about to throw Lyle McDonald in my face, relax, I've read the same shit. His contention is that during these structured refeeds, you should definitely not "use the concept as an excuse to eat yourself sick or eat three times what you’d normally eat."(McDonald, 34) I'll tell you this from experience- the farther you get in a given diet, the less you can consume in three hours- it's a matter of pure biology. Thus, at the beginning of your diet, you'll be able to eat more during your cheats, which will likely slow your progress. It will, however, completely obliterate any reason you'd have to abandon the fucking thing. As you get further along in your diet, and you start seeing definition you'd never seen before, or veins you never thought you'd ever see, you're going to naturally restrict yourself on your cheats, or cut yourself down to one ball-out cheat a week and one minor one. If that doesn't happen naturally for you, take McDonald's advice. I, however, like challenging myself, and seeing how much food I can fit down my throat in 3 hours serves 3 purposes: physical, because I get the metabolic advantages listed above, psychological, because I get all the foods I might want on a regular day at once, and emotional, because I feel satiated and satisfied with my personal level of success and freedom in my diet. Should you find that your body is not responding thusly, start putting the brakes on manually- treat it like you're a blind man at an orgy... you're gonna have to feel this one out.
Greatest comedic genius of our time.Timing:
I usually choose to have my cheat meals at night. From a insulin standpoint this is probably not ideal, but from a lifestyle standpoint, I don't care. There's not enough of a difference in hormone levels between morning and night to justify worrying about my insulin levels, and I find that it's awesome to go to bed full to bursting and have the night to digest and bomb out my place in peace, rather than force myself to eat a meal when it's inconvenient.
Some nutritionists believe that pre-workout is the best time for a scheduled cheat window. Anytime I've tried to schedule a cheat meal early in a day and train later, however, I find that my lift's a disaster, and I spend the majority of the time trying not to throw up or shit my pants, or both. As such, evening cheats seem to be absolutely ideal, as I'm already operating in a caloric deficit, so my body's sucking up nutrients, it fits with social events like going to the movies, and it allows me to digest my massive influx of calories in bed, where blood can pool in my stomach and occur with a minimum of disruption from physical activity. Additionally, it's on this day that I'll occasionally take the opportunity to drink absurd amounts of Jager or some other liquor, and I'm of the opinion that the cheat meal both mitigates the possibility of hangover and facilitates the assimilation of far more alcohol without negative effect, in addition to dropping the glycemic index of sweeter liquors (like Jager). I realize that some of you may be screaming "but it lowers your test levels! SCREEEEEE!" Relax. According to a study published in 2003, "Heavy acute alcohol drinking decreases blood testosterone in men due to an effect on the testicular level", which means that if you drink your fucking face off, your test levels will rise accordingly.(Sarkola) A far more in depth explanation was provided by Patrick Arnold in Muscular Development, in which he stated that alcohol consumption gives a short-term testosterone boost due to the manner in which ethanol is processed by the body.(Arnold)
Two supplements that will increase the effectiveness of your cheat meal are:
ECA stack- It increases your thermogenesis anyway, but "ephedrine alone can increase the thermic effect of a meal by 30%"(Berardi). As such, make sure you whack that back prior to the initiation of your feeding frenzy to ensure that you're getting the optimal metabolic response to your overfeeding.
Digestive enzymes- Before, during, and after. Trust me, they'll help. If you've been eating clean, your body's going to have something to say about what you're eating, and it's going to let everyone in the room know what it thinks about it. This should prevent any non-alcohol-related pants-shitting, and keep you from smelling like you've shit them. Lastly, it'll increase the absorption of the nutrients you'd so rudely and crudely stuffed down your ravenous gullet, increasing the positive effects of that meal and hopefully negating any of the negative ones.
One last word on this, which I also mentioned in my last bulking blog- don't include these feeding frenzies if you're not already lean. If you're a fatass, you don't deserve them from a mental standpoint and cannot really utilize them from a metabolic one. As such, you'd be wise to steer clear until you can see some abs. For guys, this means under 15%, tops. For girls, that means... whatever the female equivalent of 15% is. We'll call it 25-27%. If you can see abs, have at it- otherwise, wait until you can. Additionally, if you find that cheat meals are either not helping, or they're actually hurting, monkey with the timing, duration, and what you're actually eating. I find that at times I have a hell of a time leaning out using these if I'm not on an ultra-low carb diet for at least three days out of the week and I'm eating massive amounts of both carbs and fat during the cheat windows. Make a note of what works and what doesn't, and actually utilize that information.
On that note, it's time for me to begin mine.
One can never have too many pics of Pauline Nordin.
Sources:Arnold, Patrick. A Steroid for Flu Prevention. Muscular Development, 2/10/10, p. 276.
Berardi, John. "Q & A with John Berardi." Iron Magazine. http://www.ironmagazine.com/article466.html
Bowden VL and McMurray RG. Effects of training status on the metabolic responses to high carbohydrate and high fat meals. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2000 Mar;10(1):16-27.
Faigin, Rob. Natural Hormonal Enhancement. Cedar Mountain: Extique, 2000.
Matsumoto T, et al. Comparison of thermogenic sympathetic response to food intake between obese and non-obese young women. Obes Res 2001 Feb;9(2):78-85
McDonald, Lyle. A Guide to Flexible Dieting. Taylorsville: McDonald, 2005.
Palumbo, David. "Q&A with Dave Palumbo." http://www.rxmuscle.com/articles/qadave/590-qaa-with-dave-palumbo-august-6-2009.html
Poehlman ET, et al. Genotype dependency of the thermic effect of a meal and associated hormonal changes following short-term overfeeding. Metabolism 1986 Jan;35(1):30-6.
Saitoh S, Matsuo T, Tagami K, Chang K, Tokuyama K, and Masashige Suzuki. Effects of short-term dietary change from high fat to high carbohydrate diets on the storage and utilization of glycogen and triacylglycerol in untrained rats. EUR J APP PHYS OCC PHYS; 74 (1-2):13-22
Sarkola T, Ericksson TJP. Testosterone increases in men after a low dose of alcohol. AL Clin Exper Res; 27 (4): 682-5.
Westrate JA, Hautvast JG. The effects of short-term carbohydrate overfeeding and prior exercise on resting metabolic rate and diet-induced thermogenesis. Metabolism. 1990. Dec;39(12):1232-9.
Willey, Warren. Better Than Steroids. Trafford: Pocatello, 2007.