17 November 2010

If You're Not Cheating, You're Not Trying 2: The Structure of A Cheat Meal

Free yourself from the strictures of your diet with a cheat window.  It's a metaphor.

In case you missed it, I outlined the necessity of cheat meals/free windows in the first installment of this series.  To recap:
  • they should be done either once or twice a week at regular intervals for 3-4 hours  or once a week for the entire day 
  • they're 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.  
  • according to Dave Palumbo. if "you use a keto-diet, you'll need to have a cheat meal (to spike insulin) at least once per week to keep the thyroid functioning normally."  Also, as I stated in my previous blog on bulking, cheat windows 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) [See the 1st part of this series for full cites]
In that blog, I went into great detail as to why you should cheat, but only a bit into how to do so.  As such, it stands that a treatment on exactly how one should structure their diet before, during, and after their cheat to maximize their results.
This picture needs no caption.

The Overall Diet Structure
The overall structure of your diet can play an integral part in the efficacy of your cheat meals.  That's not to state that the general structure of your diet, unless it's an unabashed shit-show, is the end-all be all of the utility of cheat windows, but the manner in which your cheat meal will ultimately effect you changes with your overall diet.

Any dieter who's gotten into the game in the last ten years likely follows a low carb diet of one sort or another.  For the purposes of simplicity, I'll separate them into the keto diet (low/no carb, high fat, high protein) and the paleo diet (low carb, low/low-moderate carbs, high protein, low/moderate fats).  Though both of these diets can be altered further by modulating the number of calories eaten, I'll generalize and state that, by and large, people on a keto diet eat more calories than people on the paleo diet.  It's here that the primary difference lies, and the root of what I consider to be the key difference in the manner in which the cheat meal will effect you.  In paleo dieters, due to the lower calories, they'll see a much greater overall effect on thermogenesis and the endocrine system.  For  keto dieters, however, the effect will lie in the other positive responses paleo dieters also will enjoy- greater thyroid response, insulin spikes, and replenishment of glycogen stores.  Because they're far more likely to be in a caloric surplus than the paleo dieters, keto dieters' thermogenic response won't be as great.  For this reason, it's also far more advisable and necessary for paleo dieters to utilize two cheat windows a week than it is for keto dieters.
Weirdest physique ever, but he knows his keto dieting.

Warren Willey has a great analogy for a method by which dieters should view carbohydrate consumption.  In it, he has his readers envision an empty cup in front of them, which represents their body's ability to handle active carbohydrates.  
"When that cup is half full, your body will utilize the energy from the carbohydrates and the energy from fat.  As the cup approaches fullness, however, the body is more inclined to use the energy from the carbohydrates, and leave the fat alone (survivalist response).  When you eat too many active carbohydrates, or you eat too many at the wrong time of the day, "your cup runneth over" and that excess is stored as fat!  At the opposite extreme, when that cup is empty, your body has little energy to perform activities of daily living and exercise."  
Thus, Willey recommends periods of low or no free carbs prior to a scheduled cheat window in order to empty one's proverbial carbohydrate cup for a refill.(Z Diet)
A survivalist.  Obviously, you'd like to avoid the survivalist response.

Ori Hofmekler's Warrior Diet theory of over- and undereating seems to coincide in many regards with Willey's theory, and falls in line with my anecdotal evidence.  It seems that in all three cases, an undereating phase, followed by an overeating phase, creates a highly anabolic environment.  Ori's cycle is on a much smaller scale, as he recommends a daily period of undereating that is nearly a fast, followed by a large nighttime meal.  Expanding his timeline, one sees that eating a paleo or paleo-esque, lower calorie, low carb-high protein diet, followed by a large cheat meal, can elicit a similar effect.
"WE NEED NOTHING TO DO with anything close to perfectness! I've asked all the skeletons that have already made the sacrifice! To FOLLOW ME! Whether to walk further than all the rest or to stay behind and make the sacrifice... It makes no difference.  FOR AS THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR, I SURROUND US IN THIS FORCE FIELD!... There is no poison, no creation, and no medicine to cure what we have!"

That effect is, in Ori's words, that "nutrients are assimilated at a greater rate, there is an acceleration of the anabolic process of repairing tissues and building muscles" and all of the other shit I mentioned above.  (WDmore necessary and effective to use cheat windows in concert with paleo dieting than keto dieting (where a carb refeed could suffice as you're likely not in a caloric deficit), cheat windows are useful no matter which of the two you choose.  Frankly, I've got doubts if a cheat does any fucking thing at all when utilizing an isocaloric diet, it might give you a slight metabolic boost if your calories are on the low side.  I'll leave that to the more adventurous/dietarily lazy among you to decide, however. 
"Necessary? Is it necessary for me to drink my own urine? No, but I do it anyway because it's sterile and I like the taste." 

The Meal Itself
Interestingly, Hofmekler and Willey agree in many regards in their suggestions for the structure of cheat meals, in spite of the fact that their overall recommendations for dieting differ wildly.  The cheat meal,according to both authors, should have its foods ordered so that you eat your bland foods first, followed by more flavorful foods, and should be veggies first, followed by proteins, and ended with carbohydrates.  Willey doesn't actually give any reasoning in the works I've read, but Hofmekler's will serve- he thinks that the human body doesn't tolerate eating foods that are "aggressive" in taste before bland foods, and that conditioning yourself to eat blander foods will reduce your cravings for fast food.  Beginning, then, with veggies will prep your stomach to accept more nutrients, fight inflammation, and provide vital enzymes to aid in digestion and elimination.  Thereafter, you should eat your proteins and carbs, and both authors recommend that you include as many flavors, colors, and textures as you possibly can, as "the more variety you introduce in your diet the better off you'll be." (WD 57 and BTS 61)  Finally, both authors recommend that you stop eating when you're more thirsty than hungry, as this is a good indicator that you've eaten enough.
Time to commence the drinking.

While these suggestions are great guidelines, they're nonsense if you're out with friends, hungry, probably going to do a bit of drinking, and you're out to enjoy yourself.  What fucking pub serves vegetables?  None at which I'd ever drink, that's for fucking sure.  As such, I personally do the following- start with protein, make sure that I'm consistently eating protein throughout the meal, eat a couple of different things, and stop at exactly three hours.  I'll take digestive enzymes in addition to multivitamins before, during, and after the meal to take care of assimilation, and find that my digestion of the food generally goes off with little to no kickback from my intestines as a result.  Protein is my primary concern at all times, even during a cheat meal, and all else follows thereafter.  Once I've kicked off my meal with at least 40 grams of protein, I'll follow it up with a festival of carbohydrates and calories the likes of which I consider insane, but upon reflection are par for the course for most Americans.  
I guarantee this bitch is not settling for a small popcorn... or a medium.

I've listed a bunch cheat meals in my other blogs on the subject, but my recent favorites are generally something akin to Church's Chicken (a couple of spicy wings will do, as their wings have 1/4 to 1/2 a breast attached to each) followed by half a meat-lover's pizza and then popcorn with butter at the movies.  In keeping with Willey's recommendations in Better Than Steroids, I make sure I eat at least some spicy food, as capsaicin helps increase metabolism.(BTS 61)  Beyond that, I just eat my fucking face off and try to get as much protein as I can while I do it.  A bit of quick calculating tells me that with my average weekend cheat, I kick it off with 81g of protein (900 cals total) and follow it with 60g of protein (1480 calories) and then finish with 509 calories of fat and carbs, for a total of 141g of protein and 2889 calories.  
You'll notice that I eat my carbs last, which I do religiously.  For me, it serves a valuable purpose outside of the nutritive quality- I make sure I eat my protein while I still have room to do so.  If you wait until the end, you might find you've got no room left into which to stuff some protein, and then you'll be that jackass whose protein is low for no reason.  When you eat the protein first, it also serve to lower the glycemic load on your system, which is especially valuable if you're eating something sweet. Finally, this will help keep your carbs to a manageable level, so that your proverbial cup won't "runneth over" as the result of a single cheat.

If I have a second cheat during the week, it's usually something far more tame, like having high protein pasta with extra-lean ground beef in marinara, and maybe some low-fat cinnamon buns for dessert.  The second cheat meal occurs generally only if I'm doing a paleo or lower calorie keto diet, or if I simply happen to be starving no matter what I eat during the day on Tuesday or Wednesday.  Remember, a cardinal rule of cheat windows is to have them on non-consecutive days.
Bear Grylls eating a reindeer's heart- he's the ultimate fucking Predator.

One interesting and compelling argument that inadvertently supports my food choices in cheat meals comes from the Warrior Diet.  I just stumbled across it while researching for this blog, and I thought I'd pass it along, as it's metal as fuck.
"I strongly believe that eating warm food mimics the effect of a fresh kill.  A predator's first bite of its prey always tastes warm (since this is a fresh kill).  Scavengers, on the other hand, who eat leftover corpses, enjoy the cold taste of the animal that was killed by a predator beforehand.  It's my belief that when you eat and enjoy warm food, it triggers the Predator Instinct, and those people who settle with cold leftovers may trigger the Scavenger Instinct."(WD 65)

Finishing Out The Day
Ori recommends drinking water and "any tea that stimulates digestion" like "peppermint, ginger, green and chamomile", which is great advice, I suppose, but it's not really my primary concern.  If you follow my advice, you shouldn't have any problem with digestion.  If you're a Brit, or a member of some other wacky tea-drinking culture, by all means have at it.  Otherwise, just make sure you drink enough fluids to slake your thirst but not leave you overly full- you're still having protein every three hours.  This means you're likely having a shake three hours after the conclusion of your cheat meal.  That'll keep your metabolism rolling and prevent you from consuming a second massive meal later on.  You'll find yourself tremendously fucking hungry the morning after a cheat meal, and a middle of the night protein shake will serve you well in preventing your cheat from becoming a 24 hour affair.
Ridiculously hot champion armwrestler Sarah Baeckman prefers ribs, fries, and chocolate for her cheat.  Shit's obviously working.

So, the moral of this story is that if you're not cheating, you're not trying motherfuckers.
Hofmekler, Ori.  The Warrior Diet.  Dragon Door Publications, 2003.
Willey, Warren.  Better Than Steroids.  Bloomington:  Trafford Publishing, 2007.
Willey, Warren.  The Z Diet.  Bloomington:  Trafford Publishing, 2010.


  1. Because I'm a teacher, I gotta be careful about timing my cheats. I can't be in the middle of the classroom and all of a sudden have to take a Texas-sized dump. So I tend to have my cheat meals after my PWO shake on Fridays. Usually, when I wake up on Saturday, my asshole falls out. Digestive enzymes might be a good idea.

    As I eat primarily paleo, I've noticed lately that my body reacts really badly to pasta. Whenever I eat it now, I end up really bloated and the day after I'm often lethargic and I end up cropdusting for most of the day. Is this my body's reaction to consuming something that it's not used to anymore?

  2. It could be- you could also have a mild allergy to any part of your cheat meal. Having a food hangover is not uncommon after a huge cheat, though.

  3. This cleared up some things for me. I'm currently not doing keto, because I hate having to watch for the smallest bit of carbs in everything. However, I am consuming quite a bit of fat, and thus quite a bit of calories, from my egg and cream shakes (8oz heavy cream and 6 raw eggs + protein powder).

    I'm going to go for a big cheat on Thursday or Friday nights and do a smaller cheat on Tuesday or Wednesday nights. This will work well with my schedule.

    When do you eat vegetables? I haven't eaten them in a long-ass time. I should eat a spinach salad once a week, though. Maybe on weekends, when I'm not out busy. Spinach is good for protein types, according to Wolcott in The Metabolic Typing Diet.

  4. Even when I pig out, I still make sure to include food that I'm supposed to eat in addition to the food that I'm not supposed to.

    Please continue to find ANY excuse necessary to post pics of Sarah B... or don't bother with an excuse. It's a great dessert to every blog entry!

  5. Haha. That chick's so hot, it's stupid.

    Totentanz- I eat them with every paleo meal, pretty much. I've gone back to 4 lbs of chicken breast made into soup with stir fry veggie mix every day, and I'm leaning out quickly. Walmart's got their genemod chicken breasts (boneless and skinless) selling for $1.78/lb right now.

  6. I like a nice line down a girl's stomach. A six pack turns me off (although it's admittedly hard to see much of anything behind a clown mask).

  7. That chick is 18 haha. Thought she was about 25.

  8. After dropping all grains for a good period of time, say a month or 2, the first time I had a sandwich I had the shits within 10 mins.

    Would this mean some kind of gluten intolerance.

    And Yeah Sara Backman she's crazy hot. And props to her for losing weight, its crazy to see that pic of her kind of fat when now shes lean, sexy and jacked for a chick.

  9. Hey Jaime ive been reading your blog for a long time(and exercising accordingly with my own mix), cool post and love the chicks! :) keep it up.

    I remember reading that you disliked fruits, you still feel the same way? I eat paleo and i love fruits but even the paleo community looks down on fruits as a carb source.

    1.78 dollars for 1 pound of chicken!?!? In Denmark where i live chicken goes for around 5-6 dollars a pound. cheapest meat you can get is ground beef(18-22% fat) which is 3-4 dollars a pound.

    Damn i wanna go to the states.

  10. Trade places with me for a while.
    I'm sure you'll love Philly.

  11. Boris - Thats read exactly what Jamie wrote: GENEMOD chicken. I suppose that means gene modified chicken. That shit is illegal here in Europe, I guess thats why it is so cheap...

    Jamie: You are back to that horrible chicken garlic soup...I remember how you used to stink up the classroom in Vienna with that shit, it was disgusting...I feel sorry for your co-workers, hahaha

    - Alex

  12. Hahaha. I am, and it's awesome. I toned down the garlic quite a bit, so no one minds. It's working better, here, since I'm eating 4-5 lbs of chicken, or chicken and beef, rather than just 2 a day in vienna.

    Simon- Let me know if you want to get in a lift at Iron Sport next week.

    Boris- I like fruit, but I wouldn't recommend that you eat pounds a day if you want to get leaner.

    Josh- It could, but I'm not a doc. You might want to have an allergy test done.

  13. Jamie, so I take it you're not on the whole grassfed, organic, free range, pastured, humanely raised bandwagon ?? haha

  14. I think it's a great idea, but it's not in any way economically feasible right now. When I have a shitload of disposable income, I'll be all over that shit, but not until then.

  15. Bear G. is the "ultimate predator"? Are you high?

  16. Off topic, but I was reading about different versions of the standing overhead press and came across a Bill Starr article on Rippetoe's site.
    I don't use Rippetoe's methods or follow anything he says- my google search led me to his site.
    Starr said his original program for "The Strong Shall Survive" Included the Press and didn't have the Bench. The politics involved in removing the press, Weider's popularization of the bench, along with the dearth of incline benches (a "happy medium" Starr suggested) led to what we know today... by default. The original template sounds pretty awesome: Squat, Power Clean and Press.

  17. Yeah I hear ya Jamie, I think a lot of us are in that boat.

    By the way, check this out.
    Pretty Damn funny

  18. Jamie, thanks for the invite, but I'll be out of town next week soaking up beer in Mexico.

  19. Anon- How many people do you know who've killed a 600 lb animal with a knife and then eaten its heart?

    Other anon- I used to like Starr's articles a lot in Ironman. That mag fucking sucks now, however.

  20. Clubs, spears, and knives have killed plenty, for millions of years. For real survival, not a tv show.

  21. Re the problem with eating food in the 'correct' order when out for a social cheat meal...
    I just grab an apple on the way out of the house. Eat it just before I arrive at the restaurant/pub.
    (Chunk of broccholi, carrot etc will also do).
    Seems to help avoid the runs and bloating that may arrise from a pizza binge or similar.

  22. Say you have two cheat windows a week, how do you time them around your training sessions?
    I don't train balls-out heavy at every session per week. I assume to time the cheat meals around the heavy sessions?
    Any further deatil/info to add?
    Before session, post session etc

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