Many modern diets allow cheat meals or full loading days during the week. This makes sense, as this approach allows the person to be losing weight to stick to the plan and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Cheat meal prevents metabolic slowdown. Also, a boot day is helpful if you are invited to an event such as a wedding or birthday.
The question is, what should be a cheat meal, how many cheat meals / refeeds are needed per week, and could a boot day be counterproductive?
What is a cheat meal?
Carbohydrate loading can take two forms: carte blanche (eat whatever you want) or one free meal and the rest of the meals remain on the diet. The choice depends on your current calorie deficit and the specifics of your diet.
Let’s start with a calorie deficit. If someone severely restricts the energy value of the diet (cutting calories by 50% against the background of hard training), a loading day is needed.
Why do you need a boot day
You are dieting, cutting calories, increasing cardio, and so on. Your goal is to systematically reduce weight by 0.5-1 kg per week. After all, you did the calculations and created an energy deficit.
Unfortunately, your body hates you for this. More precisely, it loves you so much that it wants to keep you alive and protect you from starvation. To do this, the body makes adjustments that were beneficial for people who hunted and gatherer, but harmful for an athlete who intends to dry out.
What is the point of these adjustments?
After a couple of days on a diet, metabolism slows down, hunger increases, and more and more muscle mass is sacrificed for energy generation. The human body very effectively adapts to new conditions.
What happens at the hormonal level? The secretion of thyroid hormone T3 is reduced by 30%; the conversion of T4 to T3 in the liver is slowed down. The half-life of cortisol is increased and the synthesis of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) is reduced.
There is so little glycogen in the muscles that growth becomes impossible despite training. You are likely to lose muscle mass. At this point, we need to talk a little about leptin, as it also plays an important role in weight loss. It is a regulatory hormone that suppresses appetite, prevents overeating and prevents weight gain.
When you are on a diet, the opposite happens. With a decrease in caloric intake, the level of leptin decreases and the appetite increases. Losing weight quickly finds itself at a disadvantage: in a matter of days, the metabolism automatically slows down by 30%, and bouts of hunger intensify.
It turns out that during a diet all nightmares of losing weight turn into reality: active breakdown of protein is accompanied by a decrease in the concentration of T3, IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor – one of the strongest anabolic hormones), leptin and testosterone. Why is this a nightmare? Because not only are you not burning fat, but you also look worse than before.
Loss of muscle mass leads to a decrease in muscle volume while maintaining subcutaneous fat; people with this build can be seen on treadmills all over the country. Problems start after a few days on a diet, not a month, and training does not solve them. Very soon, you hit a wall; fat doesn’t burn, instead you’re sacrificing muscle mass.
What? So much effort, but I look worse, and I feel terrible in general? Yes, this is one of the reasons most diets fail. But this madness can be ended.
Some are just using pharmacology. They give injections of testosterone, human growth hormone and insulin, combined with oral thyroid hormones to restore hormonal balance. This is not an option for us. We need to find a way to regulate our hormone profile quickly and without illegal drugs.
The refeed helps to solve the problem. To resist the adaptation process, it is necessary to increase the calorie intake and do a load every five to seven days. A refeed is a carefully planned loading day when the calorie intake is 130-150% higher than the energy balance.
An increase in the caloric content of the diet in a short period develops the adaptation reactions by 180 degrees. Increased secretion of testosterone, leptin and IGF-1; the secretion of cortisol is reduced; loss of muscle mass stops, even growth is possible. As a result, the metabolism is accelerated, which creates conditions for further reduction of fat mass.
Cheat meal: principles of correct loading
The calories during a refeed should come primarily from carbohydrates. There should be little protein and very little fat. I recommend 8-9 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight in 24 hours, about 2 grams of protein and very little fat (that is, only fats from food, no fatty foods like vegetable or butter, cheese, oily fish, nuts or beef). It turns out that a person weighing 90 kg per day should eat 800-900 grams of carbohydrates and about 180 grams of protein.
Why eat carbohydrates? Will I get fat from this load?
You will not get fat. At this point, adding carbohydrates to the diet rather than protein or fat offers a number of benefits. Leptin, insulin and blood sugar levels rise, but due to a temporary lack of enzymes, the body cannot store energy in the form of fat.
The body’s primary task is to replenish glycogen stores, and this takes about 24 hours. Next, the deposition of fat begins. Imagine a credit card with an interest-free period of 24 hours. If a person replenishes the balance during this time, he will not start paying for the use of credit funds.
Grace period on credit card provides muscle and liver glycogen; as long as you replenish reserves, the percentage in the form of adipose tissue growth is not accrued. Unfortunately, this interest-free window only opens for 24 hours.
A loading day, or refeed, can be effective if the loser does a heavy workout just after a carb-loading day. This ensures that the glycogen reaches the muscles. Loading day is the perfect time to work on lagging muscle groups, as increased insulin secretion stimulates new growth.
Let me show you how I create a nutrition and training plan for a low fat athlete:
Sample Diet and Workout Program
Monday. Very low carbs, high fat, moderate protein. Workout:
Tuesday. The diet does not change. Workout:
Wednesday. The diet does not change. Workout: 20-30 minutes of medium intensity cardio if needed, no strength training.
Thursday. Training of all muscle groups, loading with carbohydrates begins immediately after training. Workout:
Friday. No training, refeed. Rule number one is 10 grams of carbs for every kilogram of lean body mass (or 5 grams of carbs for every pound of lean body mass) for 24 hours.
Saturday. Normal diet, no calorie deficit. Workout (on this day you can do a hard workout, as there is enough energy):
Sunday. Back to Monday diet, cardio if necessary.
Eating and exercising with a moderate calorie deficit
How to eat and exercise for someone with a moderate calorie deficit? Assuming a 300 calorie deficit, the question is whether you need a full working day in this scenario.
Not urgently needed, but you will still need to change your diet in a couple of weeks.
Changes in hormonal balance in response to diet are similar to those that occur with extreme calorie deficits. The secretion of testosterone decreases and cortisol increases. The metabolism slows down. However, since glycogen stores are not depleted, I recommend only one high-carbohydrate cheat meal to avoid potential fat storage.
Depending on the athlete’s body weight, 200 to 500 grams of carbohydrates are enough to replenish muscle glycogen, increase the secretion of thyroid hormones, as well as the appearance of a general feeling of happiness and harmony with the world.
Changing your calorie intake every few days is a great way to maintain your metabolic rate. A popular scheme is two days on a diet and one day on a carbohydrate load.
Monday. Moderate calorie deficit, 100 to 150 grams of carbohydrates. Workout:
Tuesday. Repeat Monday’s diet. Workout:
Wednesday. You get twice as much carbohydrates, in our example – 200-300 grams. Cut fat in half, no strength training. You can eat a small dessert or a bowl of pasta to replenish your carbohydrate deficit and restore your mental balance.
Thursday. Return to Monday diet, work on weak body parts. Let’s assume this is the back and chest.