ARE CHEAT MEALS OKAY WHILE BULKING OR CUTTING?
So you’ve been “eating clean” for the majority of the week… you’ve taken in your fair share of chicken breast, fish, oatmeal, rice and veggies… and you’re wondering if it would be okay to sneak in that chocolate bar or cheeseburger at the end of the week without compromising your results.
This is typically referred to as a “cheat meal” – a small amount of “junk food” that you include in your diet as a reward for the hard work you’ve been putting in.
But are cheat meals okay to include?
Is having some high sugar/high fat food here and there going to have any negative effect on your muscle building or fat burning progress?
To put it simply… no, it’s not.
Always remember: your body does NOT view your diet within the context of individual food items.
It does not distinguish between a piece of fish, a potato, a cup of broccoli and a Snickers bar. All it sees is the entire diet as a whole– the total calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber and micronutrients all combined into one giant ball of chewed up goo.
If you’re “eating clean” the majority of the time and then have a slice of pizza, it’s not as if a giant red light begins flashing within your body, fat storage goes into overdrive and your health and energy levels plummet.
Proper nutrition is all about the big picture. The key is simply moderation and tracking.
You’ll see different figures thrown around, but the one I rely on and recommend is the 80/20 – 90/10 rule.
Simply put, this rule states that if 80-90% of your diet is coming from traditional “clean” fitness foods (lean proteins, high fiber/minimally refined carbs and healthy fats) then the remaining 10-20% can come from whatever foods you’d like as long as it fits into your total daily protein/carb/fat totals.
The 80-90% of “clean foods” will ensure that your needs are being fully met when it comes to quality protein, fiber, micronutrients and essential fats, leaving you with 10-20% of your total daily macronutrient to play around with however you’d like.
For example, if your total carbohydrate intake was set at 275 grams per day, then 28-55 of those grams could be allotted to whatever foods you’d like.
As long as your total diet remains within your calorie/protein/carbohydrate/fat ranges, including these “cheat” foods is NOT going to magically cause you to get fat. It’s physiologically impossible, in fact. This applies whether your goal is to build muscle or to burn fat.
This is why I hate the term “cheat meal” or “cheat foods” to begin with, because it implies that you’re doing something wrong or outside of the rules.
The reality is that, despite what those who are overly absorbed in the “eat clean 24/7 or it means you’re a lazy wimp” fitness culture might tell you, having a slice of pizza or a bowl of ice cream here and there is not going to negatively affect your results, nor does it make you inferior in some way to those who eat nothing but plain chicken breast and broccoli all day.
If you really have no desire to indulge in these types of foods in moderation, then that’s totally fine. But if you’d be interested in getting into awesome shape while still being able to eat in a flexible way, just know that it’s perfectly fine to do so.
Just remember that this isn’t a free ticket to begin stuffing your face with donuts and Twinkies. The “flexible foods” that you include still need to reasonably fit into your overall diet as a whole in terms of calories/protein/carbs/fats.
That’s the whole point here: As LONG as it fits the totals, you have nothing to worry about. However, if you take this advice too far and it pushes your total calorie intake into an excess of say, 200 calories a day, then yes, you WILL gain fat, or slow down your progress if you’re in a fat loss phase.
Again, tracking and moderation are the name of the game here.
If you have a reasonably good idea of what your daily macronutrient needs are and how your “flexible foods” are fitting into the totals, follow the 80/20 – 90/10 rule and you’ll be good to go.
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