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Do You Make These 5 Cheat Meal Mistakes?

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Do You Make These 5 Cheat Meal Mistakes?

If you want to know the 5 biggest cheat meal mistakes you can make as well as the “rules” for cheating without getting fat, then you want to read this article.

 

Sometimes it feels great to just let go.

To stop striving and trying to control everything and just give in to your impulses.

You know…to just “be human” now and then.

When it comes to dieting, we all know what that means: ignoring the plan and “cheating.”

No counting calories. No estimating macros. And no worrying about what you are and aren’t “supposed” to eat.

There are quite a few opinions on cheating.

Some people believe that even mild deviations from your diet plan can prevent you from reaching your goals.

Others are of the mind that you can stray so long as you don’t turn to certain forbidden foods.

Others still just throw caution to the wind and gorge on anything and everything their hungry little hearts desire.

All of these people are misguided.

You certainly can have “cheat meals” without ruining your progress and you don’t have to stick to a short list of “approved” foods, but you can’t eat yourself unconscious every week without paying a price.

And that’s what this article is going to be all about:

How to get maximum enjoyment out of your cheat meals while simultaneously minimizing the downsides.

In fact, when done correctly, cheating can ultimately make it easier to stick to your diet and see results.

Yes, you can have your cake and eat it too. 🙂

Let’s find out how…

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The Truth About “Cheat Meals”

When I talk about a cheat meal, I’m not talking about eating sugar or dairy or some other food deemed “unclean” by one guru or another.

I’m not even necessarily talking about eating something not on your meal plan.

All I care about is caloric and micronutritional intake because when it comes to body composition, how much you eat is much more important than what you eat.

[Read: How to Get the Body You Want With Flexible Dieting]

“Cheating” is eating more calories than you planned on eating, regardless of what you eat to get there, and/or not worrying about the nutritional content of the food.

That is, cheating consists of eating a lot more food than you normally would and/or disregarding nutrition.

For example, if you ate according to plan throughout the day but ended with a high-calorie blowout at your favorite restaurant, that’s cheating.

No surprise there. That’s the type of cheating that gets most people into trouble.

Another form of cheating, though, is (more or less) sticking to your calories and macros but ignoring nutrition.

For example, if you skip the fruit, veggies, and whole grains for a day to fit fast food into your macros, that’s cheating.

The reason being is: doing this occasionally won’t get in the way of anything, but doing it too frequently can give rise to micronutrient deficiencies.

(And your goal shouldn’t be to lose fat and build muscle as unhealthily as possible.)

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

The 5 Biggest Cheat Meal Mistakes You Can Make

cheat meal rules

Cheating itself is not a mistake.

In fact, I think you should cheat.

It makes your diet as a whole more enjoyable and generally improves dietary compliance and thus long-term results.

That said, how you cheat matters.

For example, the biggest mistakes I see people make with cheating are…

  • Cheating too frequently.
  • Eating too much in a cheat meal.
  • Indulging in cheat days, not meals.
  • Eating too much dietary fat.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.

Let’s take a closer look at each and learn why they’re so detrimental.

1. Having Too Many Cheat Meals

This one is pretty self explanatory.

Cheating involves overeating so cheating too frequently erases large portions of your caloric deficit required for sustained fat loss.

2. Eating Too Much in a Cheat Meal

Many people don’t realize how many calories are in the foods they eat in their cheat meals.

And many are shocked when they look it up.

One of the big problems here is restaurants, because their job is the produce delicious food, and that means copious amounts of oil, butter, and sugar.

This helps explain research conducted by scientists at Tufts University that involved the analysis of 360 dinner entrees at 123 non-chain restaurants in San Francisco, Boston, and Little Rock between 2011 and 2014.

They found that the restaurant dishes contained 1,200 calories, on average, and that American, Italian, and Chinese restaurants were the worst offenders, with an average of nearly 1,500 calories per meal.

That agrees with another study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois that concluded that, calorically speaking, there’s not much of a difference between fast food and full-service dining.

Even more staggering is a 2014 analysis of restaurant foods from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The Cheesecake Factory, for example, makes a  “bruléed French toast” with a side of bacon that weighs in at 2,780 calories, 93 grams of saturated fat, and 8 tablespoons of sugar.

They also offer a creamy farfalle pasta with chicken and roasted garlic, which is a bit lighter at “just” 2,410 calories and 63 grams of saturated fat.

[Read: How Many Calories You Should Eat (with a Calculator)]

Let’s also not forget that those are just individual entrees, which, for many people, aren’t the entirety of their eats.

Add in calories for bread, an appetizer (or two), and a bit of dessert, and you’re looking at a cheat meal of monolithic proportions.

So, this point is this:

If you eat out frequently, you’re probably going to struggle to lose weight.

3. Indulging in Cheat Days, Not Meals

Many people like to believe that being “good” during the week allows them to go buck wild on the weekends.

Wishful thinking.

If you can go a few thousand calories into the hole in just one trip to your favorite restaurant, you can only imagine just how deep you can dig your dietary grave in a couple of days.

4. Eating Too Much Dietary Fat

cheat meal once a week

Many people think that eating large amounts of carbs is the surest way to gain fat, but they’re wrong.

If you want to gain fat as quickly and efficiently as possible when overeating, you want to eat large amounts of dietary fat.

(And you want to add alcohol into the mix too, but we’ll talk more about that in a minute.)

To understand why this is, we have to look at the physiology of how your body increases its fat stores.

Chemically speaking, carbs are very different than the types of molecules stored in body fat cells (lipids), and the process whereby carbs are converted into body fat is known as de novo lipogenesis (DNL).

And the first thing you need to know about DNL is it rarely occurs under normal dietary conditions.

When you review overfeeding studies, you find that carb intake has to be absolutely sky-high (700 to 900 grams per day for several days for DNL to contribute significantly to fat mass.

There are exceptions, such as very large infusions of pure glucose (150% of TDEE) and people with hyperinsulinemia, but the above holds in healthy individuals following a normal type of diet.

That isn’t to say that you can’t gain fat by eating too many carbs, though. You can.

The primary reason for this is eating carbs reduces fat oxidation. In other words, it tells your body to stop burning fat for energy and start burning carbs instead.

That means that when you eat carbs, more or less all of the dietary fat that you eat will be stored as body fat (as opposed to being at least partially burned for energy).

And as your body fat mass is regulated by energy balance (the balance between the amount of fat burned versus stored every day), you can probably see how carbs play into this:

Eat a lot of carbs and you’ll store most of the fat you eat and burn very little body fat throughout the day.

Now, if a lightbulb just went off in your head about “hacking” your metabolism by eating a diet very high in carbs and very, very low in fats…not so fast.

Not only would that be bad for your health, research shows that when dietary fat intake is too low, DNL ramps up to provide the body with vital triglycerides.

Our bodies are far smarter than we often think. 🙂

Remember that all this doesn’t negate or trump the laws of energy balance.

If you’re in a calorie deficit, regardless of how much or little carbs or fat you eat, you will lose fat. And if you’re in a surplus, you will get fatter.

My point here is just to enlighten you on how these macronutrients directly affect the physiology of fat burning and storage and how we can apply that knowledge to individual (cheat) meals.

5. Drinking Too Much Alcohol

cheat meal while cutting

According to some people, if you drink even lightly and sporadically, you’re going to get and stay fat—end of story.

This is an odd statement considering the fact that moderate alcohol consumption is actually associated with lower body weights, not higher.

That sounds blasphemous, I know, but as in the case of eating carbs vs. fats, it starts to make sense when we peek beneath the hood and look at the physiological processes in play.

Let’s start with a study that involved the analysis of the diets of 1,944 adults aged 18 to 74 and that found that an increase in calories from ethanol (alcohol) alone didn’t result in the weight gain that would normally occur if those calories were from protein, carbs, or fat.

In fact, thanks to regular alcohol intake, drinkers took in an average of 16% more calories each day than non-drinkers, and had the same levels of physical activity, but weren’t any fatter than their alcohol-free counterparts.

It’s almost as if the calories from the alcohol simply “didn’t count.”

A similar effect was seen in a study conducted with obese women on a weight loss diet wherein one group got 10% of their daily calories from white wine, and another from grape juice.

After 3 months, the white wine group lost about 2 pounds more than the grape juice group.

There are several likely reasons for these findings.

It’s known that alcohol can reduce your appetite, which is conducive to weight loss, of course, and improve insulin sensitivity, which has positive trickle-down effects on fat oxidation.

More importantly, though, is the simple fact that alcohol itself basically can’t be stored as body fat.

In other words, there’s basically no way for your body to convert ethanol into a lipid that can be stored.

Why, then, am I saying it’s a mistake to drink alcohol with a cheat meal?

Well, similar to carbs, alcohol blocks fat oxidation, which in turn accelerates the rate at which dietary fat you’ve eaten is stored as body fat.

In short, it’s not the calories from alcohol that can make you fat, but all the crap that you eat with it, which is hard to resist when you’re hammered.

How to Enjoy Cheat Meals Without Ruining Your Diet

cheat meal bodybuilding

Now that you know what you’re not supposed to do when you cheat, let’s look at how to do it right.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Cheat once per week and  try not to exceed 150% of your current caloric intake for the day.

This allows you to loosen up and enjoy yourself without losing most or all of the week’s weight loss progress.

(And notice I said current caloric intake and not TDEE.)

However you get your calories in terms of meal frequency is up to you, but most people like to confine their cheating to just one meal because it helps prevent passive overeating throughout the day.

In other words, they eat normally throughout for the day and have one larger-than-normal meal (dinner, usually).

Try to keep your dietary fat intake under 100 grams on the day that you cheat.

This not only helps keep your calories under control (remember that a gram of fat contains about 9 calories), it also helps minimize fat storage (a pound contains 453 grams).

[Read: How Many Grams of Fat Should You Eat Per Day?]

Instead of doubling down on your favorite fatty foods, go high-carb instead.

Research clearly shows that a high-carb meal causes less immediate fat gain than a high-fat meal, and you now know why.

Hence my recommendation of going high-carb and not high-fat when you cheat, which results in less immediate fat gain and has other benefits as well.

One of the downsides of keeping your body in a caloric deficit is it reduces the plasma (blood) levels of a hormone called leptin, which is produced by body fat.

In simple terms, leptin tells your brain that you have enough energy stored in your fat cells and that your body can expend energy at normal rates, including metabolically “expensive” functions like muscle growth or pregnancy, eat normal amounts of food, and engage in normal levels of physical activity.

If you restrict your calories to lose fat, leptin production decreases, which tells your body that it’s in an energy deficient state and that it needs to expend less energy and consume more.

It accomplishes this through several mechanisms: reduction of basal metabolic rate and non-exercise activity, and stimulation of hunger, to name a few.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raising your leptin levels reverses these effects, of course, which is why you feel better when you stop restricting your calories.

[Read: The Definitive Guide to Leptin and Weight Loss]

This is why some people recommend that you “cycle” your calories high and low throughout the week, being in a deficit on some days and at maintenance on others.

That’s one way to deal with some of the negative side effects associated with dieting, but I don’t like that it can really drag out the entire weight loss process.

If you eat maintenance calories just 3 days per week you’re looking at almost doubling the time it will take to reach your goal.

Instead, I prefer the “refeed” strategy, which entails eating a large amount of carbs once per week (when you cheat).

The reason this works well is, as you know, carbs don’t heavily impact fat stores, and they also spike leptin levels (more so than protein or fat).

“Save up” calories if you want to eat a lot.

If you’re like me and like to eat a couple thousand calories in a cheat meal, I have a simple tip for you:

“Save up” calories for it by eating more or less nothing but protein leading up to (or after) it.

For example, my cheat meals are almost always dinners, so I eat a serving of protein every few hours but skip the carbs and fats that I would have normally eaten.

This way, when I get to dinner, I have a large buffer of carbs and fat (and thus calories) before I even hit maintenance calories for the day.

When I cheat at breakfast, the strategy is the same: I eat my entire day’s worth of carbs and fats in that one meal and just have protein from there on out.

When eating out, assume the worst.

cheat meal eat out

That’s just the long and short of it.

For example, a palm-sized piece of meat cooked in a restaurant usually has at least another 120 to 150 calories of fat that has absorbed during cooking.

A cup of pasta or potatoes would range from 180 to 200 calories but if there’s a sauce or other source of fat, that can easily double.

Even vegetable dishes can contain large amounts of “hidden calories” in the form of high-fat additions like butter, oil, and cheese.

As for desserts, well, a good rule of thumb is most contain anywhere from 25 to 50 calories per tablespoon.

So, the point here is you have to watch what you order when you eat out. It doesn’t take much put down a few thousand calories in that one meal.

The first step, then, is familiarizing yourself with the types of foods you like to eat when you dine out. 

You can do that on a website like Calorie King, which has an entry for just about any type of dish you could want to eat.

If you’re eating at a chain restaurant, the exact meal might be listed (Olive Garden fettuccine alfredo, for example, which is listed at 1219 calories with 75 grams of fat and 47 grams of saturated fat).

When it is, I recommend that you add 20% to those posted calories (many restaurants underreport actual calories in meals).

If that restaurant’s version of the dish isn’t listed, search for it on Calorie King and look for “Average All Brands.”

cheat meal restaurant

If it’s there, add 20% to the calories.

And if there’s no average for all brands, take a look at a handful of the entries and choose a number in the middle and, again, add 20% to it.

This might sound like quite a bit of work and hassle, but it’s really not, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.

And the point isn’t to track every calorie you eat in your cheat meals, of course, but just to avoid feasting away the previous week’s progress.

If you want to be able to drink and still lose weight efficiently…

  1. Don’t drink more than one day per week.
  2. Restrict your dietary fat intake that day.
  3. Don’t eat any high-fat foods while you’re drinking.
  4. Stay away from carb-laden drinks like beer and fruity stuff (stick to dry wines and spirits).

It’s that simple.

The Bottom Line

cheat meal how often

Cheating incorrectly is one of the major reasons so many people “inexplicably” can’t lose weight “no matter what they do” with their diets.

They simply don’t realize that you can basically starve yourself all week and, in one weekend, put yourself right back at square zero.

Cheat correctly, though, and you can have the best of both worlds: the satisfaction of overeating without the penalty of major fat gain.

Enjoy!

 

What’s your take on cheat meals? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Eric R

    I understand where you’re coming from with the high-carb, low-fat cheat meal, but it’s hard to find a large meal with low fat, especially in restaurants. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      True! It really depends what you like. I like pastas, baked goods, sweet potato casserole, baked potato, dessert, etc.

      • I struggle with this too… A high carb but lower fat cheat… i don’t eat gluten so I don’t eat a ton of starches anyway. I do love dessert..maybe a big thing of froyo with some toppings 😉

        I also love wine LOL.

        • That does make it tough.

          Froyo would be great! Some wine every now and then wouldn’t be bad either. 🙂

    • Whiplash

      My go-to cheat meal is the Cinnamon Supreme Pancakes + egg whites at Bob Evans. This epic cheat meal has around 200g of carbs (!), about 30g protein and 34g of fat. This weighs in about 1250 calories. But like Mike suggest, I keep my calories low earlier in the day and I have an intense workout just before the meal.

      • Michael Matthews

        That sounds delicious!

  • D

    Great tips! I’m on a cut, and lately I have not really been cheating at all. It’s sort of annoying to measure out all my food and count calories for everything, but overall, I’m not starving for more food, and still eat foods I like, so I haven’t felt the need to cheat. I wonder if I might see even better results by raising those leptin levels as you suggest.

    In this article it sounds like you’re saying insulin spikes don’t really matter. If that’s the case, why do you recommend in BLS to eat high-GI only pre- and post-workout, and the rest of our carbs should be low-GI? Does it really matter, since even whey and beef apparently cause high-GI-like insulin spikes?

  • Jessica

    Hi Mike! Thanks for the great tips. You mention it’s ok to end up with a “slight surplus” of calories. Can you be a little more specific for someone who’s tiny like myself (using a 1950-calorie/day for bulking)? What about when cutting (1600 calories/day)? Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      You’re welcome! Yeah sorry about that–about 10-15% over TDEE is fine. I updated the article. 🙂

  • aj

    Hi Mike!
    I’m not a big eater, but I LOVE to snack! What I usually do on Saturdays, after my morning workout I will have some non-fat Greek yogurt with berries, a banana at midmorning, and a protein shake for lunch. After that, I like to relax on my couch watching TV and have a few snacks, an stead of having a big meal. Usually it’s something like bread and cheese, trail mix, nuts, or a few cookies (my weakness). Is this an OK way to do a cheat? I’m following your custom meal plan and I follow it to a T the rest of the time. Thank you, Anna.

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s totally fine! In the end all we’re really talking about is eating more than usual and usually foods we wouldn’t eat every day (high-sugar, usually).

  • Cesar Salazar

    Hey Mike,
    Is there a certain amount of calories that you shoot for your cheat meal? I remember for the re-feeds you said something about going 30% more of your daily calories for the day.
    So for example, I just finished my cut two weeks ago eating 1800 calories and got to 10.5% BF. The week after I bumped my calories up to 2000 and even so I lost half a pound. That was without even lifting, since it was the end of Phase 4 for me. I did 4 sessions of HIIT only. Now this week I started lifting again and eating 2300 calories to see if I gain at least one pound for next week with only 2 sessions of HIIT as I begin to bulk. I was planning on cheating this Friday. How many calories can I shoot for the day to minimize fat storage? I was thinking of 3000 calories for that day, which would be 30% more of my daily calories for the week.
    What do you think?
    Thanks,
    Cesar

    • Michael Matthews

      The refeed is a little different and I talk about it here:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/refeed/

      If I’m just going to have a cheat meal, I’m usually looking to end the day in no more than a 10-15% calorie surplus.

      Great job on your cut and it’s common to continue losing weight when reverse dieting. Check this out:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/how-to-speed-up-metabolism/

      You could hit 3k with your cheat but it may be a bit high. Depends where you TDEE currently is.

      • Cesar Salazar

        I’ll stay on the safer side and shoot for 10% tops on the calorie surplus for the day then.

        My TDEE right now is 2355
        BMR 1745 (from Katch McArdle formula)
        Multiplied by 1.35 since I exercise about 4-5 hours weekly and work on a desk job.

        Thank you.

        • Michael Matthews

          Okay well if you’re going to go up to 3000 I would make a lot of that carbs. Don’t eat 200 grams of fat in one day, haha.

      • Elmert Y. Pitis

        Hi mike,
        First of all i just want to say thanks for being the BEST fitness guru out there! When you say youre going to have a cheat meal, not to go over the 10%-15% surplus. Do i add that percentage to maintenance cals number or bulking cals number? So if im cutting i add 10-15 percent (to my cutting numbers) on cheat meal and in bulking numbers the same?

        • Michael Matthews

          Thanks so much! I really appreciate it.

          Yeah exactly–10-15% surplus for what I’m currently eating.

  • Pat

    Hey Mike,

    Love the articles and am currently enjoying your books! You mention above that “separating carbs and fats doesn’t affect weight loss” – I’ve read in a couple places that one of the worst things to do is to have carbs alone. Do you agree with that? In the high carb, low fat cheat meal you mention, is it critical to make sure there’s ample protein as well? Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! That’s BS. Adding protein to a meal doesn’t do anything special beyond slowing down the digestion a bit, which doesn’t really matter.

  • Kat

    I never knew the science behind it, but over the years I have learned that when I am losing weight and hit a plateau, indulging in a big “cheat” will break the plateau and get me losing again. For that reason, I have usually just followed my body’s cues and saved the “cheat” for those times I need a plateau buster. Kinda makes you look forward to plateaus, too, instead of dreading them!

  • Goga

    seriously, you are the best! ive been reading your articles and loving it! im a total believer! ) getting the book and the supplements

    thank you again for all you do!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much! I appreciate it!

  • Ciara

    I regularly have two cheat meals a week. My favorite cheat meal is a huge bowl of vanilla almond granola with almond milk and a banana. The other cheat meal is usually something sweet, a brownie or a muffin with my coffee. I never have cravings for salty foods – don’t like pasta, fried food or any kinds of salted snacks. It’s the sweet stuff that gets me!

  • Jessica

    Hi Mike

    Just so I don’t go and f this up.. is it 10-15% above current cutting calories or TDEE? Cos I’m eating 1550 and my TDEE is ~1950 so it’s either gonna be (for 10% over) 2145cal based on TDEE or 1705cal based on current intake…big difference so want to make sure I’m using the right one!

    • Michael Matthews

      Above TDEE is fine.

  • Acquilla Cranshaw

    Hey Mike I love your articles. I have lost over 70 pounds since January 2014 and you have been such an inspiration!! I have always been a yo-yo dieter. I have went from being hyperthyroid and having a fast metabolism, to now currently being hypothyroid and having a slow metabolism. At first I was really disciplined and I worked out hard 6 days a week and counted calories with no results. I would binge on the foods I deprived myself on when I was dieting and than feel horrible about myself. Now I am on a no diet diet. I eat what I want but I use portion control and listen to my body, and only eat when I’m hungry. Once I did that, the weight slowly came off. I don’t deprive myself, I don’t count calories and I exercise most days, using a combo of yoga, cardio and pilates. My only complaint is lose skin, but I’m hoping the resistance cords I use in Pilate’s will help with that. Am I correct in that? Will resistance cords help build lean muscles? My right arm has a lot of nerve damage and has some limits on movement, like it won’t go straight or bend certain ways.

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  • Debbye S. Sparks

    I had a cheat meal yesterday, I weighted myself on Friday morning, 143.5 lb, now today after an entire small pizza I ate by myself lol I weight 142.4 lb! My starting weight was 145 lb, meal planning has done wonders for me! I felt like I lost more than a pound last week though, I worked out with dropsets and I increased my cardio -no longer than 25min though- It gets boring to eat the same thing but once you learn a little about food you can replace them with something with the same nutritional value! Love your books Mike! I can’t wait for your app lol

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  • Thanks again for the awesome article Mike!

    Whenever I’m dealing with a controversial topic I find myself coming to your site for the answer. I’m always pleased with what I find. Keep it up man!

    And in case I won’t comment again the following weeks, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

    • Michael Matthews

      I’m glad you liked it! Lots more good stuff to come! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too!

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  • jonyamo

    Just to clarify… when you say “relatively low in dietary fat”, is that relatively low compared to the amount of carbs in the same meal or relatively low compared to how much you consume in a given day? For instance, an entire pint of Talenti (a gift from the gods!) can get up to ~50 grams of fat (which is more than my daily intake while cutting), but is that okay as long as you eat a lot more carbs? Or do you stick with the lower fat options, like the sorbets?

    • Michael Matthews

      Good question.

      Daily intake is more important because you can save the majority of your dietary fat for the day for that one meal and be fine.

      Eating a pint of ambrosial Talenti is fine if you make that the most of your fat for the day. The problems begin when your fat intake exceeds 150-200g with a ton of carbs and calorie surplus.

      • jonyamo

        I came for the muscles and I left with not only that but also delicious ice cream and an enhanced vocabulary! Oh how I love muscleforlife.com! Thanks again, Mike. Your prompt (and informative) responses are much appreciated.

        • Michael Matthews

          Hahahah my pleasure my man.

  • Michael Matthews

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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    Your information is safe with me too. I don’t share, sell, or rent my lists. Pinky swear!

    • Stephanie James

      Hi Mike, I’m Stephanie, thanks for the information on cheat meals. I’m a big fan f them and I typically cheat one meal per week. However, since this article I’m wondering if I should enjoy the cheat meal that I had planned for myself today. I have a thyroid issue so I’m also battling with that and have learned that while most should eat five to six small meals a day I should only eat three. It has been working and I have been seeing some super cool results. With that said, I am cheating today and was wondering if the tailgate hot dogs and fries were ok to eat. My plan is, I had oatmeal and egg whites for breakfast and the lunch will be my cheat meal then I plan to go to the gym and do cardio then come back and enjoy dinner which will be salmon and asparagus. What are your thoughts on this? I am trying to reduce overall body fay but I still would like to incorporate a cheat meal weekly until I’m ready to compete.

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  • Dakota Yo

    When cutting is it better to have a cheat meal or a refeed ? Do they have any pros or cons ? They seem really similar but im kinda confused .

    • I’d say a refeed is better once you hit 10% and below and are looking to get leaner.

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  • Rajith
  • Gemma Smith

    i am following the cutting meal plan that i bought from you and i am just wondering am i allowed to have a dominos take away once a week as my cheat meal?

    • Cool on the cut.

      I recommend cheating once a week as you see from the article, but you should keep it high carb and low fat. Pizza definitely isn’t low fat haha.

      You can try, but it could easily undo that week of progress…

  • howtotakebloodpressure.net

    Wow thank you for sharing this. I know now where i need to start 🙂

  • Bushman

    Hi Mike, in the article you said “I order more or less anything I want, and not anything I want.”, Can you give some examples of what you do cheat with when you do go to restaurants?

    Thanks a lot!
    Brian

    • It really depends on the type of restaurant but my general goal is to keep my dietary fat intake under control. If you go over 100 g in the meal you’re asking for it, haha.

  • Alex Wunder

    On a bulk would you have the cheat meal be 10 % over your bulking calories? I ask because my bulking cals are already going to be 10% over TDEE.

    • Personally I keep my daily cals more or less the same because jacking up cals while in a surplus every day is an easy way to accelerate fat gain.

  • nikki

    I crave chocolate so much and my cheat meals are always chocolate but i never eat Mcdonalds and that stuff while dieting. is it okay to eat some chocolate as a chapeat meal and how much calories should I be eating. Please answer..

  • Simon

    Hey Mike! Currently bulking, my fifth week. Have added 0.5-1 lbs a week so far – within the slow/clean-bulk ratio. But then I come to think:

    I lift mon-fri, no cardio. My diet during mon-fri have been constant 3200 cals a day, 40% prot, 40% carbs, 30% fat. But here’s the deal: every sat and sunday ive had one big cheat meal each of the days. So two cheat meals a week in total. Rest of the weekends I utilize the “saving method” – trying to eat low cal but high protein foods. This brings my cals for sat and sundays to about 4500 each day. Not too bad, but still about 1000 more than during the weekdays.

    Then I figured; am i in a deficit during mon-fri, and the slight weight gain I see is because of the “cheat meal” i dig into in the weekends? Could I benefit from eating a little more on weekdays? To me that seems logical, or is it total cals during the week that counts, and I have nothing to worry about?

    As i said; weight gain has been slow, within the “limit” for minimal fat loss, and im constantly making progressive overload in the gym; ive added weight or reps each and every session.

    Thanks in advance Mike, really helpful page!

    • Good you’ve been gaining in the proper range!

      It’s not too big a deal on the cheating. 1-2 times a week while bulking is fine.

      I would recommend that your higher calorie days be on days you train though. That way you get an extra boost in your lifts. Or, you can increase your regular weekday cals and stick to one cheat meal on the weekend.

      What do you think?

      • Simon

        Thanks man!:) I agree, ill try adding ~200 cals a day and skip one of the cheat meals, hope it turns out good!:)

  • Chaosbender

    thanks for the article. I am dieting (day 104 today)… and I found, that after starting a cheat meal a week (instead of 4 weeks and 2 weeks) my body almost instantly started to burn those calories I stuck on… I am working to get 100 lbs down, 55 at this moment ^^. so I have a question: I dont get all those calories I “need”… I would have to eat 3000 calories + and I struggle often with that -.- but I found out, even eating 150% of my dietary calories (still less than my BMR -.-) helps me burning fat o.O

  • Tuan Tran

    Hello 🙂 i’m doing intermittent fasting right now because I want to get shredded. I’m 181 cm, 81 kg, i’m currently eating 2000 kcal- high protein, carbs and low fat. I’m doing a the warrior diet right now and combining it with 3-4 24 hour fast. And i’m strenght training 4-5 times a week and doing 4-5 cardio session where I burn at least 300 kcal each session.
    My questions are,
    1) can you tell me what my bf is right now?
    2) Would you recommend that I’m taking a cheat meal/cheat day in order to losing the last pound of fat?

    3) And if so, when do you recommend me taking a cheat meal or cheat day?

    I hope that you will help me 🙂 I’m really a big fan of yours!

    • Tuan Tran

      hello sir 🙂 have you read my post yet? @michael_matthews:disqus

    • Cool on everything you’re doing!

      1. I’d say you’re around 14% BF.

      2. Yep, I recommend a cheat meal–not day. Check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/refeed/

      Hope this helps! LMK.

      • Tuan Tran

        thank you for replying sir 🙂 what do you mean with ‘ cool on everything you’re doing?’

        • Tuan Tran

          @michael_matthews:disqus

        • YW! I mean I like everything you’re doing. The diet, weightlifting, cardio, etc.

          Keep it up!

          • Tuan Tran

            @michael_matthews:disqus thanks a lot sir! i’ve wondering about cheat meal frequency, would you recommend me having a cheat meal every 4-7 days or every 2 weeks? i’m only eating 1-2 meals a day

          • NP! You can have one once a week.

          • Tuan Tran

            thank you sir! after I’ve been looking at ur website and picture, it gives me the ekstra boost I need for this cut! ur really motivating. How many calories would you recommend for this one cheat meal ?

          • Tuan Tran

            thank you sir! after I’ve been looking at ur website and picture, it gives me the ekstra boost I need for this cut! ur really motivating. How many calories would you recommend for this one cheat meal ? @michael_matthews:disqus

          • YW! Happy to help. 🙂

            For the cheat meal, check this out:

            http://www.muscleforlife.com/refeed/

  • Omar Karim

    hey mike…i used to be 115 kg but now i am 93 kg and 182 cm and i have been trying a lot of diets even the eat 6 times meal but i cant seem to loose more weight…i finally decided to try intermittent fasting 16/8 hours…i eat twice a day at 2pm and 10pm and i do hiit/cardio at 1pm and strength training at 8pm..i have started last week with 7 days carb depletion so its proteins and vegetables for both meals..for next week i am gonna have 3 low carb days with one starch,protein and vegetables and 3 baseline days with two starch servings,protein and vegetables…
    my questions are
    1. am i doing anything wrong in the diet?
    2.today is my cheat meal day and i am craving for pan pizza and hershey chocolate cookies from pizza hut(i saw in one of the comments that pizza is not carboydrates but more fat so i am confused now) so should i go for it,if not then what should i go for?
    3.can u suggest some cheat meals which are better for loosing fat?

  • Thanks. I ate a buffet breakfast cheat meal last weekend and absolutely destroyed it. I was worried that I would gain weight so I hardly ate anything for the rest of the day and did some HIIT as well. The next day I’d gained 1kg or so but the day after I was back to my normal weight. Now I just wanna do it again cause it’s so damn good lol.

  • Sena Zade

    Thank you, well explained. I am 19y,5’5 and 119 pounds, in the past i ate whatever i wanted and maintained that weight, now i want to get fit and its my second week at the gym. I am confused about my diet and that’s why I read your article. I plan on having a cheat meal in a week, can it include small size pizza? I don;t plan on eating much fast food, just that once week for motivation 😀 Also, I will be thankful if you have something else to recommend.

  • Neaz Shahrin Chowdhury

    Hello thanks for ur advise. I’m a 21 yrs old female. I’m 5’2 and 114 lbs. I’m not over weight i just have like 1.5 inch muffin top. So i was doing low carb diet and exercise to gain muscle and get rid of this muffin top. How many cheat meals can I have in a week? Thanks in advance… 🙂

  • Aikas

    Hey Mike,
    How much of the 10% Daily Surplus could come from Protein? Or a Cheat meal should be 100% Carbs? Also, do you go with 10 or 15%?

    Keep the good work going <3

    • What matters is how your total intake is broken down–not just the 10% surplus. You can see how the macros should breakdown here:

      https://legionathletics.com/diet-meal-plans/

      The cheat meal doesn’t need to be 100% carbs, but you definitely want to keep the fats low.

      Hope this helps!

      Will do! 🙂

  • aussygrl

    hi I have read all your books and really like your approach. I workout 5 times a week with high intensity usually running about 6 miles when weather permitting and weight training 2x a week. I am trying to lose 15 pounds to look shredded as I’m very muscular. I find practicing portion control really difficult so was wondering if my cheat meals could just be super large portions like 4 cups quinoa with veg and healthy whole wheat pancakes. ..clean food big amounts 🙂 would that hinder progress if I eat normally during the week no major deficit?

    • Thanks for reading my books and your support. I really do appreciate it!

      Cool on the training you’re doing.

      I hear you on the portion control. That’s fine on the cheat meals. To give you some guidance for your cheat meals, check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/refeed/

      However, you’ll need to maintain a deficit for the rest of the week to ensure weight loss. The easiest way to ensure a deficit is by calculating your intake and setting up a meal plan. Check this out:

      https://legionathletics.com/diet-meal-plans/

      Hope this helps! LMK what you think.

  • Sukhraj Riyat

    hi mike, can you confirm if the cheat meal is 10% over your CUTTING calories or is it 10% over maintainence calories?? as im cutting on 2000calories , maintainence is 2500 so i need to know haha.

    • It’s 10-15% over your TDEE.

      • Sukhraj Riyat

        thank you so much mike! another quick question on your activity leve calculator what would the activity multiplyer be for a hour of weight training 7days a week? i am currently on a calorie deficit , and weight train for 1 hour everyday ( i do one muscle a day) and then train my 2 weakest muscles again in the week. so yeh im assuming it would be arooudd 1.6? i am currently 5ft 5 60.3 kg sitting at around 12-13% bodyfat. i want to get down to 9-10%. i do absolutely no cardio as i weight train 7 days a week. could you advise me on the activity multiplyer please so i can have a more accurate tdee figure thanks so much bro

  • jorden

    so i just tore my acl and have been out of playing soccer and going to the gym for 3 months. Iv put on some weight due to inactivity about (20) pounds or maybe less. i find it hard to understand the calories and portions in a college cafeteria though, i usually have eggs and 1% milk for breakfast, salad with sliced turkey for lunch, and some kind of turkey sandwich for dinner(i drink a lot of milk with every thing). What do you recommend in terms of my meals right now and not really knowing how much calories i’m getting? I am also in that issue where i’m thin every where but my sides and stomach. At the moment ill be able to soon lift again but heavy cardio will be out of the picture till my knee injury improves.
    Thanks

  • KileyScene

    Hey mike ! I have another question about TDEE. What multiplayer should I use? Young, woman, fast metabolism, about 22-23% BF, and u know school walking and 6 days per week either cardio weights or body weight exercises…

    • Let’s start with 1.45 and see how it goes. Adjust intake based off results.

  • KileyScene

    Do you consider a refeed day better than a cheat meal. Per week?

    • I’d say refeed.

      • Nick

        Hey Mike,

        So you recommend a refeed day over a cheat meal once a week no matter if I’m cutting, maintaining, or bulking?

        And keep the refeed equation of 30% above current cals for maintaining and bulking too?

        Thanks.

  • KileyScene

    Hey mike ! What do you recommend better for leaning out an entire healthy refeed day or a cheat meal?(per week on a Karpov deficit the rest of the week)

    • KileyScene

      *caloric

  • P Mort

    So the header is a delicious looking pizza but pizza is pretty high in fat no? I’ll confess I go the frozen pepperoni pizza route when I don’t feel like making anything for a cheat and for four bucks it tastes like a million (sometimes I even follow it up with some homemade brownies, but that’s rare).

    I have a hard time finding foods that are high in carbs but low in fat; spaghetti with lean meat seems to be my go-to.

    • Typically, yeah. It’s just an image. 🙂

      I’m sure there are some low-fatish pizza recipes you can find though.

      Spaghetti and lean meat is a great choice! Rice and potatoes are great carb options as well.

      • P Mort

        I usually do brown rice & sweet potatoes (small ones, no butter) as part of my regular meal plan. I may start going back to spaghetti more often; I love wheat pasta.

        • Nice! Feel free to eat what you like. Just keep the fat low. 🙂

          Pasta is a great option too!

  • Matt

    So to clarify….

    Eating a slight calorie surplus (of carbs as u suggest) is considered a cheat meal, yet if I were to theoretically have 1000 calorie of icecream or a really sugary cereal, and somehow manage to hit my protein goal and maintain a caloric deficit for the day, I should be losing weight?

    Also let’s say I was in a fasted state until the afternoon so that, as you mentioned, my glycogen stores should be relatively empty. Would that make a difference to te situation above?

  • sean_noonan

    How many calories would you say a good cheat meal would be?

    • It totally depends. It will vary person to person, how low you keep the fat, if you saved up cals the whole day, etc.

      • sean_noonan

        If ive already had all my food for the day would you say 300 would be good for a cheat meal? I usually go high protein lo carb low fat usually because its just to satisfy my hunger.

      • sean_noonan

        i also got the legion whey its really good probably gonna get that preworkout stuff too

  • BBCOR

    so how many carbs would it take to fill up glycogen levels?

    • Depends on how much muscle you have but for most guys, 500 to 700 grams per day would keep you “full.”

  • Sy

    so i am 153lbs and 5″10 atm. i workout five days a week (every weekday) and recover on weekends. currently bulking too. i went over my maintenance by 2000 yesterday after going out with friends (on a friday and therefore my last day of working out for the week). should i cut my calories the next two days even though i am recovering or should i just carry on eating at bulk calories? thanks!

    • You can but don’t make that a habit or it can become counter-productive in the long run.

  • Matt

    Hey Mike, got your book, and I’m trying to follow as directed, I’m cutting (146 Lb, male 33 years old, 14% BF target: 1660-ish calories x day) on my first week went to 142 LB, so it’s working! I’m on my 10th day and I haven’t had a cheat meal (well, I ate a cookie with caramel at night and I feel guilty already LOL) but besides that I haven’t had my “reward” because I don’t wanna ruin my effort! (working 5 days a week and doing cardio 4-5 times a week too, resting on weekends)

    Having a home made burger or pasta with tomato sauce or a slice of pizza would do a fine cheating meal? of course in a measure intake

    I really enjoy sweets, but I guess ice cream or cake does not come with low fat LOL

    Pasta seems the best option, but I’m afraid about the tomato sauce, don’t wanna exceed myself in calories!

    Can you recommend if those are good options? coz I’m really craving some food and I don’t wanna cave in! THANKS!

    • Hey Matt! Thanks for picking up my book!

      Cool you’re cutting and awesome on the results so far.

      I hear you on the cheat meal, and I wouldn’t worry about the cookie with caramel haha.

      Yep, those are all fine options for cheat meals. You just want to keep the fat low is all. Check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/cheat-meal/

      Even ice cream would be fine. Just try finding some lower fat options. 🙂

      The tomato sauce shouldn’t be an issue. Generally, they’re pretty low-cal, and I’m sure there are even lower cal options.

      All those food options should work! Again, you just want to make sure you keep the fat low.

      My pleasure. Hope this helps! Talk soon.

  • Israel granados

    So is it best to have a cheat meal after a workout, because I don’t want to get more body fat , plus will it ruin my physique goals to get shredded

    • It won’t make a big difference, but it’s a good idea to do post-workout. You can’t put on body fat until glycogen levels are restored.

  • Gary Rowe

    Can you have a cheat meal on a rest day? Or should you do the cheat meal on a gym day? If the answer is in your article, I missed it.

    • Gary Rowe

      Moreover, can you explain the difference between a cheat meal and a re-feed day? They seem the same. Thanks

      • The refeed is a calculated cheat meal with cal/macro goals versus just eating a bunch of food in one meal. 😉 That’s all.

    • Sure. It’d be smart to do it the day before a big lifting day like leg day or back day, but you can do it when you like.

  • Fernando Garcigar

    This makes so much sense.

    If we look at it from the standpoint of the first law of thermodynamics, which in fact states that Energy in-Energy out = Change in Energy of the system, it’s quite obvious that if you put out more energy than you take in, you’re body (which in this case is the system) will in turn be in a deficit burning fat which is an energy source.

    Now if we look at it from the standpoint of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that energy has quantity as well as quality, it’s also obvious that the quality of the food you eat does necessarily affect how energized you may feel throughout the day as well as the amount of fat that is burned.

  • Jerd Guillaume-Sam

    What if if fasted the whole day drinking green tea then later on in the evening had a calorie dense meal with alcohol? Basicalling temporary intermitten fasting.

    • I suppose you could do that but why the fasting? Why not just get in the majority of your protein by the dinner so you can enjoy your carbs and fats more?

      • Jerd Guillaume-Sam

        I suppose I could do that. It’s just if I do drink and eat(which is rare) with friends it tends to be Asian foods, like sushi, Korean bbq with rice wine, That is a disastrous combination. Btw, I’ve been at this 700 calorie deficit for two weeks now and I’ve been stagnant at 210lbs. Kinda frustrating. I’m thinking it could be my cardio. I use the jump rope and I’ve just recently upped it to 20 mins rather than my usual 10 mins. My sprinting is about 15 minutes.I plan to add in biking to save my legs. Worst case scenario. I may have metabolic damage. I hope not.

  • Chad Avalon

    So I think I am ok with not cheating most of the time, my will seems to be quite good. But I am curious if it will actually help my weight loss goals to do so. It’s not exactly clear from some of the readings I have seen of yours. I saw some post, can’t remember where, where you said only below about 10% BF does it actually become important more than psychologically to actually do cheat meals. Just wanted to check in about that. Also, how long do you think it is safe and effective to cut? I am about 8 weeks into mine, and have done quite well with it, but I want to keep going till I hit closer to 10%. I’m guessing I’m closer to 14 or 15%. Thanks again Mike! You cool dude you.

    • Proper high-carb, low-fat cheat meals every week or two can actually help with your weight loss goals. Check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/refeed/

      You can continue cutting until you reach your goal BF% or until you hit BMR and aren’t losing 1-2 pounds a week.

      Hope this helps. My pleasure, man. 🙂

  • Szilvia F Kiraly

    I`ve started dieting about a month ago. I`m on a relatively low calorie (1400 kcal/day) diet. I eat carbs, fat, protein, all balanced and I feel amazing. I am allowed to have a cheat meal every two weeks. But I don`t want to have one. I always used to eat healthy, nutritious food, even when I wasn`t weighing my food, I only had refined sugar free products, lots of veggies and fish. So I was thinking…Why would I eat a cheat meal every two weeks when I don`t really want to. I would prefer to have a sensible cheat day and eat home cooked nice meals, just not measuring, weighing…How does it sound to you?

    • Thanks for all the info!

      It’s not what I’d recommend, but you can try it and see how it goes. The goal when cutting is to lose 1-2 pounds a week. So, if that’s not happening, you know you need to lower your intake.

      Keep in mind to keep the fats low during the cheat day.

      LMK how it goes!

  • Austin Gilles

    Sorry if I’m getting a little complicated here, but I calculated my daily caloric needs, which is about 2800/day to maintain.. I just started following a daily intake of 2300/day (high protein/mod carb/low fat) for 6 days, then 5000 on day 7.. But here’s the thing.. That 5000 calorie day is high fat/low carb (always healthy foods).. This puts me at an average of 2700/day throughout the week, so technically I would burn off all that fat correct? Would I benefit more from a high carb/low fat cheat more?

    • No worries!

      Technically, yes. You’d still lose some weight since in the the end, you’d be in a calorie deficit for the week. However, as I say in this article, I recommend a high-carb low-fat cheat meal. It results in less fat storage and comes with other benefits.

  • Hannah Butler

    I’m literally obsessed with chocolate and would love to eat a whole bar of reeses peanut butter chocolate for my cheat meal, however this is high in fat. I’d rather have chocolate than a high carb meal, do you have any advice or any ideas that I could eat for a cheat meal? If I can’t have tons of chocolate what else could I eat that won’t ruin my progress?

    Thank you! Great article

    • I hear you, Hannah! I’m a big fan of chocolate myself.

      There are plenty of low-fat cheat meal options that I think you’d like: pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, pancakes, waffles, sorbet, etc.

      Hope that helps! Welcome!

      Thanks. 🙂

    • Erin Maher

      Hey Hannah,

      Just a thought….what about a reduced fat chocolate gelato? Walden Farms also make a chocolate syrup…so if I am chasing chocolate without the fat….I will add that to either pancakes, low fat vanilla ice cream…or even over some strawberries. Can help the sweet/chocolate cravings. Hope that helps 😉

  • Nia

    I had a cheat meal last night and feel so bad today. I went to a brewery, had about 22 ounces of dark beer, about 1/2-2/3 cup of fried Brussels sprouts with bacon, and a bowl of their buffalo mac and cheese (I’d say it was about 12 oz). My guess is this meal alone was at least 1500 calories. Overall I eat fairly clean, lift 2 days/week and am now running 5 miles 3xs week, plus one hour of martial arts training. I am still trying to drop about 10 pounds though. I will get back on track today, but my guts feel awful and my guilt matches the awful feeling. Did I really blow it? I’m older so the few pounds of weight I have lost so far has been superly hard earned!

  • Erin Maher

    Hey Mike,
    Just stumbled across your article – I love talking about/reading more science based stuff like this. So refreshing after magazines (esp in Aus) are so basic and never really take the time to explain the ‘why’ behind the theory. I do have a quick question though. I am insulin resistant, so because I eat clean probably around 90% of the time, and a moderate-low carb diet, my fat content is probably higher than your average Joe. That said, it is predominantly fat from nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and then whatever they put in Quest bars (hehe). My cheat meals often aren’t too adventurous, as I CRAVE carbs massively seeing as most days I aim to avoid them (and only eat dark rye sourdoughs/brown basmati etc. when I generally do eat them, so often cheat with Naan bread, protein pancakes, the biggest bowl of banana oats you’ve ever seen) so would having healthier fats such as avocado be a huge issue for a cheat meal? My ultimate cheat meal would be something like a chicken avocado burger with chips…but then the fat in the chips (fries) and avocado be a no-no? I know all calories are not created equal, but I was hoping this may also be the case for fats (maybe wishful thinking?!) I’ve also made a pact with myself that I never allow myself a cheat meal unless I have smashed out a huge workout the day before, the day of, and the day after…kinda hoping that would help with depleting stores.
    Thanks!

    • Thanks Erin!

      You can definitely have fat in your cheat meals but you just want to keep in mind that when you’re in a caloric surplus, the more fat you’re eating, the more fat you’re going to gain as a result.

      You might also find this interesting/relevant to your situation:

      https://legionathletics.com/low-carb-diet/

  • Corvo420

    Hey there, first off, take you for writing this informative article, very helpful! I was wondering if my current diet plan is ideal. MY TDEE is 2500, I eat around 2000 calories a day. On Wednesdays, I usually buy a chicken sandwich or something from a fast food joint like Chick fil a. I still manage to fit it into my macros and my calories are still at 2000 after. I eat a cheat meal every Saturday and usually eat around 2500 calories. Am I supposed to be eating at a caloric surplus (like 3000 calories on saturday)? My buddies told me that I should eat at a caloric surplus of about 500 calories every cheat meal because it restores hormones lost during dieting. Do you think this is a good eating plan? On cheat days/meals, can’t I just fit in 2,500 calories without “hormonal damage”? Also, sometimes I do not have time to prepare my meals and I’m forced to eat at some fast food joint, but I am able to fit in my calories and macros. Will this hurt my diet/results even though I am hitting everything? If it doesn’t hurt, why don’t people just eat fast food that fits their diet needs and lose weight? Very confusing lol.

  • Ann

    Hi Mike,

    Great article! Is there a certain carbohydrate to fat ratio you recommend with cheat meals or a certain percentage range we should stay in? I’m currently cutting with 1,350 kcal/day (20% of my TDEE). My macros- about 40% p, 40% c, and 20% fats. I love eating all the carbs- but with high carbs sometimes comes high fats- any suggestion as to where I should keep my fat range in when it comes to selecting the best cheat meal? Thanks for your help!

    • Hey Ann! Thanks! Nah, not really. Just keep the fat as low as possible.

      Some good carb sources with little to no fat are pancakes, syrup, jam, bread, pasta, rice, sorbets, etc.

      Welcome! Talk soon.

  • Adam

    I think the most eye opening thing I took away from this is the part about chain restaurants under-reporting their calories. I always felt “safe” going to a chain like Panera since they post calories on their menu board… So much for that idea!

    • You can still do it but I would add 20% to the posted amount.

  • Jen

    Hi, Mike! Thank you so much for such great articles!
    I am currently living in Japan and, as you know, the #1 carb here is rice. However, I only stick to brown rice with my lunch (1cup measured), and steamed veggies and protein with it the days I have class at the university. The dining hall at the university I attend has all the nutritional information on all the dishes posted, and their varying serving sizes (which is pretty cool and comes in handy). Should I add to these 20% more calories too? Unlike the US, meals here are not as high in fat, and my go-to dish is very low in fat.
    So, right now I am on a 1200-1300 cal/day diet with HIIT workouts throughout the week, and one cheat meal. I have a question: Which are some of the “high-carb cheat meal foods you recommend the most? I personally love chocolate and I recently saw they sell the little ben and jerry chocolate ice cream cups here… Is that a way-too-fatty thing to have for a cheat meal? Another option to satisfy my love for chocolate for my cheat meal this week, is it ok to have pancakes with chocolate chips?

    Thank you so much for all your awesome information! You are keeping a lot of people, including me, motivated!!

    • Thanks Jen! Glad you like my work. 🙂

      Cool on what you’re doing. I like it.

      I love chocolate too but alas, it’s not a good refeed food. I usually go with stuff like pasta, pancakes, rice, and fruit.

      You can definitely have the ice cream if you want but you just need to keep an eye on your calories and macros. Don’t explode yourself. 🙂

  • I’ve been doing cheat meals but not exceeding 100% of my calories for the day. So what you’re saying is I should go as high as 150% of my current intake?

    I generally do a refeed, and exceed my current intake by 30%. On my last refeed, I had around 9 grams of fat (so 81 cals of fat per 2,535 cals). Is this better than a 150%-intake-that-day cheat meal?

    • Yep, no higher than 150% of your current intake.

      Either one is fine. No need to keep the fat THAT low either. As long as you’re under 100g for the day, you’re good. 🙂

      • Still a bit confused.

        I’m a 150 lb. guy at 10% body fat. I’m eating, daily, 2,350 cals, with 206 grams of protein, 264 grams of carbs, and 52 grams of fat. So on a cheat day, I can eat up to 3,525 cals (150%), which should be high in carbs, no change in protein, and no more than 100 grams of fat for the day?

        The family is going to Boston Pizza tomorrow. Pizza is, of course, high in fats and carbs and mid-level for protein. I checked out the site and I’m planning on a medium pizza, which is listed as 1200 cals (56 grams of fat, 96 grams of protein, and 72 grams of carbs–weird that there’s more protein than carbs). Add 20% to that, and we have 1,440 cals. I’m not planning on any desserts, side dishes, or caloric drinks, so 1,440 is it for me. I’ve got 319 cals banked from today (29 grams of fat under my macros but I hit my protein and carb levels), so I can go with a maximum of 3,844 cals for tomorrow (?). Is this pizza an acceptable cheat meal if I keep the rest of my day low enough in fats so that I don’t exceed 100 grams?

        Another thing I’m confused by is what’s the difference between a cheat meal and a refeed day. It seems that both are a controlled excess of calories for the day and are to be kept at under 100 grams of fat for the day. The only difference I see is that, on a refeed, you don’t really eat those “forbidden” foods and you keep yourself at 130% of your calories, while for a cheat meal, it’s okay to go exceed at 150% your calories for the day and you can have the “forbidden” foods for a single meal.

        Last question is…should I be exceeding my current caloric intake by 30% (refeed) or 50% (cheat meal) if I’m at my TDEE or past my TDEE (i.e. at a bulking caloric intake)? Not that I’m at my TDEE yet (still RDing up to it, which is 2,600 cals per day), but it seems if I exceed by 30 or 50% while I’m bulking, that’s just begging to put on extra body fat too quickly. Am I right in assuming that, or is there a metabolic quirk I’m not aware of?

        • Yep, that’s correct on the cal intake and fat intake for the day of your cheat meal.

          Sure, seems like the pizza is fine!

          As you said, the cheat meal just gives you more room and allows for more of those foods you wouldn’t normally be able to have otherwise.

          Generally, cheat meals are fine so if people want to eat that much, I tell them to have a cheat meal, but if you’ve been cutting for a while or are trying to get super lean (sub 10% BF) I’d recommend sticking to refeeds.

          When bulking, I don’t really recommend either of them. If possible, I recommend just saving cals for the day for a cheat and sticking to your bulking intake.

          Exactly, going into a bigger surplus for the cheat meal is just making you put on that much more fat that much faster.

          Hope this helps! Talk soon!

          • Perfectly crystal clear. Thanks man! So, now that I’ve reached my TDEE, I should stay away from calorie surpluses in cheat meals and refeeds until my next cutting cycle. For bulking, I’ll just treat my cheat meal as 100% my daily calorie intake except I can eat my junk foods. I’ll save refeeds for cutting. I’m still at 10% body fat, so I’m not at my bulking intake, just at my TDEE right now (well, I’ll hit it on Saturday).

  • Nathan

    hey mike, sorry but when you said no higher than 150% in terms of calories, would that mean for myself that my cheat meal shouldn’t be higher than 1050? (My caloric intake is about 2100 as I am cutting). Also off topic from dieting, my gym has finally gotten a olympic bar for deadlifts. However they still only have a smith machine for bench press, military press and squats. I’ve been using dumbbells but for squats and leg day should I do 6 sets of leg press? My goal is to lose fat btw (250 lbs ~30 ish % body fat and 6′). Also should I do the core exercises to build my abs when I get to a lower body fat level or wait till i’m at a lower body fat level until I do core exercises? Thanks Man!

    • Hey Nathan! Nah, it’s 150% of your current intake. So, if your intake is 2100, I don’t recommend going over 3150 for your cheat meal.

      Cool your gym got a barbell for deadlifting!

      For the squats, you can either do 6 sets of leg press or, if you’re gym has a hack squat, you can do 3 sets of leg press and 3 sets of hack squat.

      Nope, don’t wait! You should start developing your core now so that when you’re lean, you have something to show. 🙂

      Welcome! Talk soon.

      • Nathan

        Thanks Mike! I appreciate how you respond to almost all of the comments on your articles and on the ask mike page. To be honest it’s one of the things that sold me on buying BLS and The Shredded Chef. Thanks again!

  • Selin

    Hi Mike, this is a really interesting article, thanks for sharing! 🙂
    I’ve a question: whats about if you’re lean bulking? Should my cheating also be that “strikt” and what do you recommand? Greets Selin

    • Hey Selin! Thanks! My pleasure. 🙂

      Yep, you still want to stick to these points. You don’t want to be putting on a ton of fat quickly. It’ll shorten the time you get to bulk and build muscle.

  • Iam

    Hi Mike

    When reading this, I instantly think of the ‘High Fat Low Carb’ diets to lose weight – since you say dietary fat intake is super important, does that mean that the HFLC diets are just not valid to lose weight? I kinda thought (healthy) fat intake was OK!

  • John Pinedo

    I’ve been doing refeeds every two weeks. If I want to switch over to cheat meals, until I get to the 10% range, should I have a cheat meal every week or once every two weeks as well?

    • Hey John,

      Once every two weeks will create a greater energy deficit over time compared to once every week. That being said, it’s entirely up to you and your timeline.

  • Noah

    Mike, how do you personally do your cheat meals? Do you have a set day that you eat your cheat meal on? Or do you just play it by ear when your family or wife want to go out to eat? I keep getting thrown off when we have family dinners or when their is an event and people want or need to go out to eat.

    Thoughts?

    • Good question.

      It’s usually Friday nights for me, when my wife and I have our date night.

      Remember that a good way to minimize the “damage” if you have to go off-plan several days in the week is to just eat protein leading up to the meal so you have a lot of room to eat without putting yourself in a large surplus.

  • Anna Ortiz

    Mike.
    This is my diet.
    First thing in the 5.30 morning: cup of berries.
    45 min later: smoothie: apple celery date kale parsley spinach lemon.
    15 min later: 2 eggs w mushrooms cooked in olive oil w black coffee no sugar.
    1.30PM Lunch: half sweet potato, small chicken no salt and raw veggies.
    6.30PM Dinner: small fish/chicken w sauteed veggies in olive oil. No salt.
    2 in-between snacks of raw veggies.
    Weekend: One cheat meal.
    I was told to eat all I could. But only one meal to throw my system off and cause it to burn more.
    Your thoughts please.
    Thanks

    • The items look pretty good, though you might be lacking protein.

      Cheat meal is by far a smarter idea than a cheat day, so good call having only one. I don’t know about “throwing it off”, but the article explains why.

  • Hello Mike,

    Firstly, Let me say that your article cleared a BIG misunderstanding I had with my body over the last couple of months.
    Let me explain; During the week I had been exercising regularly and eating well (between the two 700-1000 calorie deficit x5 = 3500 – 5000 a week). Up until the weekend, where I came to the ridiculous notion that because I did so well, the weekends were off (that included 1 night of binge drinking (how I found your article)) and so I now realise I was easily consuming those back (including hangover meals) in the last two days of the week. and I was genuinely surprised at why I wasn’t losing weight!
    When I started doing the research for my cheat article. I realised what was happening. I was doing EVERYTHING on your list (that I shouldn’t). So I wanted to say thank you for writing an article that jived so well with me, that I am now doing well. i’ve particularly been holding to the notion that a cheat meal should not exceed 150% of my TDEE (this is a powerful measurement of how I was cheating before.
    I myself have written an article about cheating and I referenced you several time. Would love to hear what you think about it in the comments. Yours was an inspiration to mine. Link is below

    Kind Regards
    Makki

    http://www.fitnessalmanac.com/15-strategies-to-maximise-the-benefit-joy-from-cheat-meals/

    • Awesome! Glad to hear it. Excellent work putting together your cheat meal guide.

      Keep up the great work!

  • Elmert Y. Pitis

    Hi Mike, so ive always followed your advise and this article has me a bit confused. On my cheats i used to do them structured as you’ve said in a past article. Which was saving as much carbs a fats as possible and just having the cheat for dinner. However, my cheats had high fat and low carb and i felt super deflated do to low carbs i guess. So want to implement something new.

    Im at 2400 cals for the summer as i wan to remain lean 50f 180p 335c
    I weight 163 and im 5’7

    After reading this, on cheat days i could be at 3,600 cals/150% surplus
    Does that mean I can remain below 100f =900 cals
    170p= 680 cals
    400-500c = 2,000 cals!?!?!?

    If its that way im way to excited LOL!

    Thanks!

    • Haha hey there…easy now. Yes, you can hit 900 cals of fat on the top end, but let’s still be somewhat responsible now!

      Have fun! 🙂

  • Sean Steinmetz

    I’m having trouble choosing cheat meal restaurants that have foods that are high carb without also being high in fat. Chipotle was an easy one last week where I custom ordered a burrito and threw in plenty of carbs, but im not sure where else to go. Chick Fila is on the menu for tomorrow but anywhere else just seems like I’ll eat a ridiculous amount of uncontrolled fat. I want to cheat but want to make sure I’m getting mostly carbs. Any suggestions? Thanks Mike!

    • Hey Sean! I hear you man.

      Some good restaurant food options are rice, pasta, potato, bread, pancakes, sorbet, etc. You just gotta get low-fat options if possible.

      For a few examples, you can get a sandwich, just make sure you don’t get fatty sauces or dressings, a bunch of cheese or fried foods. For a pasta dish, ask for a lower fat sauce like marinara.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Rochelle

    i’m a 5’2 and 108 lbs girl maintaining 26.5% BF on 800-900 cals per day (i just recovering from bad eating disorder). Currently i’m just starting bodypump workout 2 times a week and cycling or combat 3 times a week. Planning on starting RD next week. Can you have cheat meal while reverse dieting?

    • Hey Rochelle! Glad to hear you’re working out and going to RD. Yup, you can have a reasonable cheat meal as per the above guidelines while on your RD.

  • Kashibatla

    How about including 100gms of coconut oil instead of saturated fats on cheat days as mct oils are broken down for energy instead of getting stored as fat .

  • Pintmann 777

    i like moderate cheat meals ,they make me happy and motivation not drains away too much after them,and i can enjoy great time with beloved ones.i got a question about it.i usually eat clean(and i mean only natural food) through the week and have a cheat meal Saturday OR sunday.as am trying to lose fat normally without hurry i should eat(based you calculator) 1600 calories.So should i have a cheat meal on top of that calories,or usually to safe that deficit i eat about 1300-1400 calories a day and have the rest left for cheat meal.am i doing that right?

    • Definitely! To implement your cheat meal, still try to hit your daily targets, but save the calories during the day so that you can fit it in.

      • Pintmann 777

        thank you Mike.i like your idea about eating only protein and veggies whole day and have cheat meal at dinner,but sometimes i don’t know when my cheat meal will come,and usually it’s at lunch time,plus when i cut all carbs that day i feel like am gonna binge,which is not very healthy for stomach.sometimes i hate to eat outside,because portions are so huge in Texas,but i usually try to eat until i full(or just half of plate) but not overfull that i need to unzip my pants )

        • No problem. If it’s a cheat meal at lunch, then that means you still budget for rest of the day so you stay within a reasonable range.

          • Pintmann 777

            thanks for response!you always have a reasonable advice.have a good day!

          • Any time! I’m happy to help.

            Thx and you too!

  • Hey Mike and all,

    My 8-year-old daughter just dropped a little bomb on us: she wants to go to a Chinese buffet for her birthday dinner, which is coming up mid-October. I’m awesome at controlling calories so I can swing my cheat meals at regular restaurants, but I’ve never come up against a buffet since starting the cutting/bulking/calorie control lifestyle. I don’t want to tell my daughter no–she’s been asking us to go to this restaurant for months, maybe a year now–but how can I eat there without (1) not eating, or (2) ruining myself? I have a few strategies that hopefully can help:

    1. Controlling how much I eat there
    2. Staying away from stuff that’s obviously high in dietary fats (don’t know how given the type of food here)
    3. Scheduling my week so this dinner falls on a rest day so that I haven’t used calories on pre- and postworkout meals
    4. Banking a lot of my day’s calories for the dinner
    5. Doing this on a refeed day (though that might do more harm than good given that we need to eat as little dietary fat as possible on refeed days)
    6. Undereating by 100-150 calories each day for maybe a week beforehand so I bank extra calories for the meal (I’m not sure if this is a good idea either)
    7. Going for a walk for a couple hours, something low impact enough to not hinder muscle growth but that would burn some calories (every bit helps)
    8. No drinks but water

    Is there any way out of this situation? Are these strategies going to help? I’m particular concerned about the logic of #6 and 7, given that they seem like they could backfire metabolically.

    • Haha nice.

      Controlling yourself and making smart food choices will go a long way. So will saving the bulk of your cals during the day. You can also down a protein shake before the meal so that you’re already kinda full going into it. No need to undereat a week beforehand.

      • Thanks for the input! Wish me luck! (Oh, and I meant the logic of #5-#6. Obviously #7 wouldn’t be a bad idea. 😛 Must have added an idea after I wrote the closer.)

        • Have fun! “Undereating” on the same day prior to the big meal will definitely help. So will self restraint at a buffet!

  • Emma

    Hey mike, I’m planning to have a cheat meal in the afternoon and love the idea about veggies and protein. However, I usually have oats in the morning with fruit and I’m going to be going to a party… Should I just eat the oatmeal or eat veggies and meat before in the morning?

  • Dan

    Hey Mike, do you know why I get such painful hunger the next day after night time cheat meal , I had 50% more calories than normal, approx 2800 that day, fats 90g, . I save up my calories like you do, by eating small meals, I eat like this every day. I had duck with pancakes and load of ice cream, felt awful after stuffed to much, did not enjoy it. the next day the hunger was the most intense I have had in my life, I Had to eat maintenance the next day as 220 grams of protein was required to tame it 9pm Any advise on how i can tame this hunger beast? It was a really really unpleasant experience, is it the high gi carbs or calorie spike that is doing it? I am down 2.6 lbs of the last 2 weeks which is good,

    I would so appreciate your advise

    Also you are the number one in this industry I tell you that!!!!

    Dan

  • Daniel H

    yeah okay alcohol makes you fat? BS if that were true everyone would be fat. I know tons of people that drink so much every weekend and do not put on any weight. This is why I hate these nazi like nutritional websites.

    • Did you really read the article?

      Taken verbatim from above:
      “More importantly, though, is the simple fact that alcohol itself basically can’t be stored as body fat.
      In other words, there’s basically no way for your body to convert ethanol into a lipid that can be stored.”

      Here’s more data:
      http://www.muscleforlife.com/does-alcohol-consumption-affect-weight-loss-and-muscle-growth/

      Furthermore, it’s all about calories in vs calories out. I know skinny people who drink a lot too. They just aren’t in a surplus at the end of the week so they don’t put on poundage. Nothing overrules energy balance.

      • Miz Eloise

        some people’s mouths just work faster than their brains. or at least the commenter’s fingers are faster than the brain ughh

    • Miz Eloise

      you stupid person. readddddd readdddd

  • sean_noonan

    hey for a cheatmeal would you say its ok to go a little higher in fat and carbs Im only at like 30g fat right now anyways would that technically mean im not going high fat

  • AmyL

    If I am doing the cheat meals correctly (not exceeding the 150% daily calories, not more than 100g fat and only once per week) but find I am not losing any significant weight, should I drop the cheat meal or lower my daily calories first and keep the cheat meal once per week? Or should I do as you say you do in your article and on cheat meal days eat primarily protein to save the fat and carb calories? Thanks for all of your help!

    • Amy, if you’re not losing significant weight, check this out:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/not-losing-weight/

      Cheat meals can easily wipe out your deficit. What I like to do is save my calories by eating primarily protein for most of the day, then after the cheat meal, I’m still within my maintenance cals…if not a deficit at the end of the day. Totally doable.

  • Dave Rosati

    Hi Mike, if I want to maintain, say, a 25% deficit, does it make sense to actually maintain a slightly greater deficit throughout the week so that after the calorie surplus on cheat meal day it all balances out to 25%, or is that unnecessary?

  • Chad

    The rules for a cheat meal and a refeed day are very different….is the refeed day just a better and healthier version of the cheat meal day? If I’m cutting will it make a significant difference if I do a weekly cheat meal day vs. refeed day?

    • Pretty much. Not necessarily healthier but more controlled. If you’re a guy trying to get leaner than 10% BF (20% BF for women) I recommend sticking to refeeds. Otherwise, it’s up to you.

  • Taylor K.

    I usually have a cheat meal once a week and whenever I eat by myself, I go to a restaurant like Subway or Tokyo Joe’s since they are on more of the healthy side when it to comes to nutrition. When eating at Tokyo Joe’s, I normally pick Build Your Own Bowl where you can choose which lean protein you want like steak, white and dark chicken meat, wild caught salmon or tofu if you’re a vegetarian. In terms of choice for carbs, there is brown and white rice or udon noodles or double the veggies for $2.25 more. They have a variety of sauces to choose from but I tend to select the Red Dragon sauce since I like spicy foods. Lastly you can choose what veggies you want or select no brainer veggies. I eat a regular bowl size if I eat there or order it to go. I burn off the induced calories through my part-time job which is 4 hours long of physical labor.
    Since I am focused on lowering my BF to 8-10% I don’t follow the traditional bulking and cutting route since to me it’s a waste of time and money. I know there is clean bulk or lean bulk, I just don’t follow it that method. I am focused on building muscle and burning fat at the same time otherwise known as body decomposition. This is slower but it’ll allow me to look great year-round instead of looking like sh*t for half the year while look like I’m in good shape for the other half. That’s more for bodybuilders and I don’t do that.
    Doing a cheat meal once a week or rarely twice a week, this tells my body, “Hey, relax. I’m not starving to death. You can continue burning unwanted fat.” Plus it keeps me sane and find it rare for even the most disciplined person sticking to their diet 7 days a week.

    • If that’s what’s working for you and you’re dropping body fat, great!

      • Taylor K.

        It’s definitely showing in my physique, my serratus is becoming more visible and see my abs starting to poke through the stubborn belly fat though I still have some way to go. I give it my all in my workouts and follow the 90/20 rule when it comes to my nutrition. However, it changes from the difference in shadowing and lighting and my transparent skin tone.

        • Excellent!

          • Taylor K.

            Yeah. The lower ab region is usually the last place unwanted body fat comes off because the concentration of alpha receptors there and poor blood flow after a meal. I am contemplating on giving the pre-workout fat burner Forge a try and stack it with Pulse since Forge’s fat burning properties are amplified with caffeine like the other fat burner Phoenix. I am also keeping in mind fat burners are not magic pills because if they were, there wouldn’t be an obesity epidemic our society faces today. I don’t take fat burners because there are dozens of them out there that are cheap and ineffective or have a list of shady ingredients such as proprietary blend which is a red flag. I also know there are effective fat burners, stimulant or non-stimulant out there made by trusted and well-known supplement companies such as Musletech’s famous Hydroxycut.
            The general guideline for taking fat burners is use stimulant ones for about 3 or 4 weeks then cycle it with a non-stimulant one for the next 3 weeks or so.
            I am going to talk with my doctor before taking Forge just to be safe. I know all of your supplements are properly dosed, have natural ingredients and don’t a long list of them and backed by science but it’s better to be safe than sorry as the old saying goes.
            As a side note, how come Phoenix and Forge aren’t shipped from Amazon? Did something happen?

          • Yup, there’s a reason why it’s called stubborn fat. 🙂

            Adding Forge and fasted training along with the other supps will definitely help accelerate the fat loss–especially in those areas.

            And yup, you’re exactly right on the supps. What matters most is proper training and dieting. That being said, the right supps can help accelerate results.

            Cool on talking with the doc before taking Forge and that’s a good system you have set up for taking a break from the stims. Personally, I just recommend people take a week off Pulse, Phoenix and/or Forge every 6-8 weeks.

            Sorry about the products not being available on Amazon! We’ve been having some issues with Amazon which we’re in the middle of handling, but in the meantime, the products are all available on Legionathletics.com. 🙂

          • Taylor K.

            I hope the issue will be resolved soon. I am looking to get through that last push to reach my goal of 8-10% BF, what man wouldn’t want a beach body physique year-round? As you get leaner, you get more vascular at least with the superficial veins that are below the skin, not the arteries deeper in your body. 5-7% BF is the range most men want to get but 8-10% is good as well.
            At the same time, your body will fight you to maintain homeostasis and that’s where I believe fat burners can help. The keyword is “can” help because you can’t sit on your butt and chow down on chips and expect them to work for because that’s the concept most people have when it comes to fat burners. Without exercise and proper nutrition, they are useless. I don’t like using the word diet because it’s too enslaving to me.

            The current supplement stack I have is fish oil pills, multi-vitamin, Pulse pre-workout, cookies n’ cream flavored Legion Whey+ and ON natural sweetened casein protein powder. Of course I take the fish oil and Pulse before my workout, Whey+ post-workout, multi-vitamin with dinner and sometimes ON casein protein before bed because that’s when you are both anabolic and go for about 8 hours without food. I don’t take them all at once because that would be stupid to do. I spread them throughout the day.

          • I want them resolved soon as well. Nice supplement stack you have going there!

          • Taylor K.

            There are people out there who have a bigger supplement stack than me for sure. To meet your daily recommendation of omega-3 fatty acids, you’d have to eat about 6 cans worth of tuna or whatever fish you like to eat a day I believe. To me, that would be impossible that’s why I find it easier to use fish oil pills to fill the gap.

          • For sure.

          • Taylor K.

            I received an e-mail that you guys at Legion Athletics are making a mass gainer/weight gainer supplement and has the proper amount of nutrients and naturally flavored like all of your powder supplements. I like the name suggestions such as Titan, Goliath, etc. I added the name Zeus because I think it’d suit the mass gainer. Though I hope you guys don’t make the same mistake that other supplement companies make because they use heaping scoop sizes for their mass gainers. Don’t they understand that not all of the powder gets into the blender bottle and we end up making a mess on the table and that’s why mass gainers don’t last you very long. I hope you guys you add the standard sized scoop and say on the directions add 4 scoops because this could allow the mass gainer last longer and users would be happy. Depending on whether are using tubs or various bag sizes.
            Another problem most mass gainers have is they’re loaded with sugar and creatine in it. I say most because they are some mass gainers have the proper amount like Optimum Nutrition’s Pro Complex Gainer. It has 650 calories, only 5 of it is sugar which is saying something because ON Serious Mass has 22g of sugar. Pro Complex Gainer is one of the few mass gainers out there that has creatine that’s typically found in them and half the calories of Serious Mass. Though you’d think they would learn from the mistake of using a heaping scoop and opt for the standard sized one.
            I never used mass gainers because you’d be better off making your own and save money but it’s a tool you can use if your goal is to gain weight, preferably muscle. Mass gainers are primarily used by an ectomorph aka hard gainer or just the typical skinny guy who has a hard time putting on muscle because their metabolism burns through the calories quickly. I think mesomorphs can use it if they’re on the road and don’t have time to prepare a meal. I don’t believe endomorphs should use a mass gainer because they typically store fat more easily than the ectomorph. But everyone’s body is different and it’s not uncommon to have traits of any of the three body types. For example, someone can have the body of a mesomorph but have the insanely fast metabolism of an ectomorph.
            But using a mass gainer can be of preferential choice.

          • Taylor Kuzik

            I meant to say ON Pro Complex Gainer is one of the few mass gainers out there that has no creatine in it.

          • Yup and thanks for the feedback! I really appreciate it.

          • Taylor Kuzik

            So by itself, alcohol can’t be stored as body fat correct? Though I pretty much drink water virtually all the time now save for breakfast where I drink skim milk and sometimes add to my casein protein shake or pudding prior to bed to keep the body in an anabolic state than catabolic during that 7-8 gap between your last meal. The only two alcoholic beverages I drink occasionally is Angry Orchard hard cider and Mike’s Hard lemonade which isn’t actual lemonade, lol. I know alcohol is empty calories but one drink won’t hurt any muscle gains.

          • That is correct. Alcohol itself won’t count as calories, but the sugars in the drinks will be counted.

          • Taylor Kuzik

            And both Mike’s Hard and Angry Orchard beverages have like 20g of sugar. That’s why I have them occasionally and no more than one.

          • Good move!

          • Taylor Kuzik

            The last time I had more than one bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade was watching an NFL game a couple of years ago. Had about 3 bottles yet wasn’t buzzed.

          • Occasional drinks in moderation won’t hurt.

  • Tania

    I am currently in a building phase but have had a few too many cheat meals/days recently. The last week or 2 I have gained more weight than I should. Should I just keep going on the build from where I am and get back to my proper diet, or should I try to cut off the excess fat I put on the last 2 weeks? I am still under the upper limit of body fat percentage during a build phase, I just will get to that limit a little sooner now.

  • Israel

    Hey Mike

    I recently went from my cut diet to my maintenance diet ( lost 13 pounds 176 to 163 thanks to BLS) and then went on vacation and over ate a bit. I believe you wrote somewhere that after something like this it’s good to go back on a cut diet for a couple of days to burn off that excess fat that may have been gained. My question is: When I go back on a cut diet for a couple of days do I use the new weight (163 Ibs) or the old weight I initially started cutting on (176) to calculate my cut macros?

    Thank you!!

  • Brandon Dedic

    Hey mike with thanksgiving and all the holidays coming up I was wondering how you go about your diet and enjoying yourself? Thanksgiving I literally plan on eating as much as I want (probably an absurd amount lol). What do you recommend? I guess if anything a couple days in a deficit after should offset it ?

    • Same rules apply. I’m going to save my calories and have fun with the holiday dinners. Intermittent Fasting isn’t a bad idea either.

  • Michael Steiner

    Hey Mike,

    Loving the program so far, macro-counting is a bit of learning curb but now my wife and I feel great about it. The question we have (and sorry if its like super obvious) is when is something considered a “cheat” or “refeed” meal, and when is it just being flexible with our diet? Like your plan has a pancake mix listed for cheat meals, but my wife and I have found a pretty nutritious low-carb, low-fat pancake mix that tastes decent and doesn’t put us over our macro counts or calories. This isn’t considered a cheat/refeed meal then right?

    • Glad to hear it, Michael! If the pancake mix fits into your daily targets, great! It won’t be counted as a cheat or refeed.

  • AM Rise

    Hey Mike! Thank you for the article! In another article on refeeds, you mention keeping fat at or below 20g on a refeed day. In this article, you mention at or below 100g. Is a refeed different from a cheat meal?

    Thanks again!

    • It’s a bit different, though due to the surplus, it can be considered a “cheat meal” as well:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/refeed/

      • AM Rise

        I understand. I’m above 10% body fat, so according to the refeed article, if I do choose to incorporate refeeds, I would do them every other week. Is it one or the other? If I refeed every other week, then I wouldn’t cheat meal once a week, correct? Is one better than the other?

  • Lina

    Hi there! Love this article, I don’t think I’ve read such comprehensive information on cheating before, as well as the biochemical workings behind it – excellent! My question is as follows: I understand the importance of macros when cheating, but what about cases where measuring them becomes difficult/one can’t influence them? To elaborate; a big family celebration is coming up, one weekend. Big meal in a restaurant – problem is, the menu’s already chosen and from what little I know about nutrition by now it’s not exactly fitting the bill of what you described here. Is there a way – aside from the advice given here, such as saving up calories – to maybe avoid too much fat gain by certain training patterns/meals before such an occasion? Perharps eating less the days before? I’m cutting currently, and I’d hate to loose a week’s progress in just a weekend, but I don’t exactly want to be weird in the restaurant and refuse to eat…
    Thanks a lot for reading 🙂

    • Hey Lina, glad to hear you loved the article! You have a few options (or combination of options):
      1. “Save” your cals during the day eating primarily lean protein
      2. Intermittent Fasting
      3. Be mindful about what and how much you put on your plate, and stick to healthier fare.
      4. Eat less during the week so that you still finish with a 20% average deficit at the end of the week.

      • Lina

        I’ll try a combination of these – thank you very much for the swift answer! 🙂

  • Sophie Joy O’sullivan

    Great article it really is. And eased my mind that I do cheat the right way!!! I save my fats and carbs and eat protein every 3 hours (if I’m training that day I still have post workout carbs) I don’t drink anyway which saves that side of things and I have 1 cheat meal per week that’s it. My meal plan is done by someone else and I stick to it to the gram all the way up to my meal. I have a large dinner whether at home or out and dessert at home which I jave made so I know what’s in it and macros. I do go overboard in that cheat meal but really doesn’t go alot over my macros

  • I just reread this article, which is chock-full of info that I always have my mind reeling by the end. 🙂 Good thing, though! Some questions (which I got from other articles, but relate to here):

    1. So, the way I take it, there are two types of “outside-normal” meals: refeed and cheating. Do I have my info on straight?

    2. A refeed is once every two weeks while cutting, or once every week while cutting below 10% BF. When I refeed, I eat 1.3x my current daily caloric intake. My macros are portioned out as follows: (fat) 20-30g, (protein) 1.2g times my body weight in pounds, and (carbs) the rest. Does this sound right?

    2. A cheat is once every week while RDing or bulking. When I cheat, I eat 1.5x my current daily caloric intake. I portion out my macros the same as on a refeed. Am I good so far?

    3. I read above that you should stick to under 100g of fat during the day you’re eating your cheat meal. 100g seems high. That’s 900 calories. Or is it 20-30g and I confused my info? What’s the distinction between 100g or 20-30g?

    4. On a refeed day or cheat meal day, I usually save all my calories in one meal. Maybe I’m one of those rare individuals who can go most of the day without needing to eat. It helps me enjoy that calorie-dense dinner on a refeed or cheat (pancakes or spaghetti) without exceeding my calories, even at a restaurant as long as I’m doing my calorie math. Is this advisable? Or will this screw with my metabolism too much?

    5. In terms of sauces and such, they’re measured in ml, which is cups and teaspoons, etc. (Hey, I loves me my barbecue sauce, spaghetti sauce, and salsa! :D) But cups and teaspoons are very inexact. Is there a site that can give me calories based on weight? I find most calorie sites use milliliters as well, so they’re no more help than the nutrition labels. Let’s forget this milliliter B.S.

    Let me know if I got this right. I’m RDing right now, so I’m wondering if I should refeed, bulk, at how many calories…. I planned to do a refeed on Monday, and my calories by then will be 2,100, so I planned to do 2,730 calories, with 20-30g of fat, 175g of protein (my body weight is around 146 pounds), and the rest as carbs. Hoping I’m doing this right.

    • Great!

      1. Yup
      2. Correct. Adjust the timing depending on your results.
      3. Ideally don’t have that cheat meal haha
      4. It is a lot. Don’t exceed that on a cheat meal. For a refeed, it is planned out, and your target is 20-30g.
      5. That works! It’s just like your doing IF.
      6. You can try myfitnesspal or calorieking.

      No need to refeed when on an RD. Just bump up your cals each week up to TDEE and you’re all set.

      • Okay, so I’m RDing right now. So no refeed every two weeks, but have a cheat meal once a week, but don’t raise my calories at all? And don’t let the fats exceed 20-30g?

        • Yep! Well, the cheat meal is optional…not a requirement at all since they can throw off your weekly average. Base it off the calorie intake of that week.

          • Sounds good! And while cutting, I either have a biweekly refeed with 1.3x the cals where fats don’t go over 20-30g or a biweekly cheat meal with 1.5x the cals?

          • That works!

          • A month later and having my first true cheat meal! 😛 Well, semicheat? I’m doing homemade chicken burgers with the kids. The cheat comes in where I’m exceeding my fat grams for the day, using unhealthy bread for the buns (but tasty!), ketchup, and adding bacon. Anyway, my fats intake is usually 57g daily, but today that number will probably be 70g with the fats in the ground chicken and the cheese. Yikes.

            My kids like KD on the side. Screw that. Whole wheat mac and some real cheese for them this time around.

            Got about 700 extra calories that I might put toward egg whites, whole wheat spaghetti, extra veggies in the burgers. Who knows?

          • Haha sounds great!

  • Katie Lee Glover

    Mike, I have read both TLS and BBLS. I have a question in regards to carbs and fat and carb cycling. In BBLS, I summarized your basic conclusion on carb cycling is that it wasn’t really necessary for losing weight, but can be helpful if one likes to eat more on certain days often associated with heavier lifting days. My friend is currently cutting for her first competition and her coach just put her on carb cycling so that “her body would burn fat more on those days she isn’t eating carbs.” Well, in your book I feel like you don’t mention that at all when it comes to carb cycling, until I read this article and you talked about carbs and fat oxidation. It honestly kind of confused me. Since carbs decrease fat oxidation, does carb cycling burn more fat? I realize that the law of thermodynamics comes before all else, but I was still left somewhat confused.

  • Alice

    If I’m having a hard time with one cheat meal per week, could I do 5 days a week in a deficit, and two days at TDEE? would results be the same?

    • You’d make better progress if you were to limit it to one cheat meal. What I suggest is for you to save up your calories for the cheat meal or try intermittent fasting. That way, you can minimize the damage.

  • Horacio Garza

    This was my problem for years, when I was in a different diet (Not the Mike’s one) they said I can have a cheat meal, no matter what it was… So I used to go to Little Caesars and eat a whole 14″ Pepperoni Pizza, which has (280kcal per slice or 2240 kcal the whole pizza, according to CalorieKing).

    Thanks for this post, Mike

    • Yeah, that’s a dangerous piece of advice that can wipe out a week’s work. Glad to hear you’re not doing that anymore!

  • Elijah Laughinghaus

    This is fascinating, especially about the alcohol. When I was on my last bulk cycle, at a loss for how I could add extra calories, I started having a beer with my dinners, but this really didn’t seem to help. Now I know why.

    This raises the question of “empty calories” in my mind as well. If you are on a bulk cycle, and you eat your maintenance level of calories in wholesome foods, but you ate your extra 10% as all so-called “empty calories”, how would that affect your results, theoretically?

    • Haha great!

      No, results will not be impacted.

      • Elijah Laughinghaus

        I really WANT to believe that, haha, but it seems incredibly widespread, if you read on other forums and such, the belief that if you eat unhealthy foods for your caloric excess, this will result in a higher fat/lean mass ratio than if the foods were “clean”. Are there any studies out there about this ?

        • The calories are just calories. Your body doesn’t care where they come from. Sugar from fruit is same as sugar from soda once your body breaks it down into glucose. The difference is that you get more nutrition from the fruit. Doesn’t matter how “clean” you’re eating.

          “Dirty” bulking is a bad idea because you don’t get all the nutrition you need and because the food is so calorie dense, it’s super easy to shoot past your target cals and pack on excess fat as a result.

  • Sarah Wheeler

    This is fabulous – great information, like all of Mike’s publications, full of well-supported facts that make sense. Clears up a lot of misunderstanding for me. I’m keeping this one for future reference.

  • Lala

    Wow! I think all of this sounds oh so very complicated to me to understand! I thought that having a cheat meal would be just that, a cheat meal, and not to have to calculate every thing on the dish, but I get it if I’m almost begging on this journey of dieting. Now, I will be feeling more guilty, that if I’m doing it correctly or not…. :((

    • Haha it’s not that complicated, really. Do it a couple times and you’ll get the hang of it.

  • Harry Turnbull

    Hey mike

    Annnnnother question me picking your brain to further my own knowledge,
    Im currently reverse dieting, however my Cheat meal ended up a binge…. which i feel bad about as i havent ‘let go’ like that in months, but im like 3.5lb heavier today!!, so is it wrong to eat less for couple days to try undo some of the damage or does it do more harm than good? Currently at 3500cal (still not gaining weight till now, but when take my bodywieght average in couple days i most likely have this week because of the binge) was thinking dropping to 2500cal-3000Cal for 2 Days?

    Thanks Harry

    • It’s fine to go a bit lower over the next couple days to help average it out, but it’s not a big deal either way. Most of the weight you gained from the binge is probably just water.

      • Harry Turnbull

        Thanks Mike! Clear and helpfull as always, I dropped 500cal on both Saturday and Sunday and now back to normal wieght.

  • Jessy Kay

    Hi, I currently consume 1400 calories a day as I’m cutting but have one cheat meal a week. I usually consume about 1500 calories in a cheat meal but ensure that I cut out most of my carbs throughout the day in preparation. Would you say I am consuming too many calories in my cheat meals?

    • It depends on your results. Are you losing fat at an appropriate rate? If you’re not losing weight, you may be consuming too much in your cheat meal. However, if it’s working for you, that’s great 🙂

      • Jessy Kay

        I’ve only been cutting for the past three weeks and have had two huge cheat meals in that time. My weight remains the same but I’m already seeing visible results in that my body fat percentage has decreased, I’m definitely looking leaner. The day after my cheat meals I look and feel bloated but I’m guessing this is due to fluid retention? Thanks for your prompt response! 🙂

        • I’m glad you’re seeing progress 🙂

          Yeah, a cheat meal will likely throw off your normal sodium intake, which can cause water retention and bloating. Taking in a large amount of carbs will also increase glycogen and water storage, which will make you heavier on the scale. Check this out: https://legionathletics.com/bloated-stomach/

  • Taylor Kuzik

    I recently started having Halo Top Ice Cream, really good and healthier than the majority of ice cream brands out there. Halo top is under 400 calories the entire pint. Half a cup is only 90 calories. They’re low in fat, only 2.5g of total fat, 5g of sugar, 8g of sugar alcohols and 8g of protein. The ingredients list is short and has no high fructose corn syrup. I have these occasionally, not part of a cheat meal but when I’m in the mood or when it’s hot outside. I only have one scoop and wash it down with a glass of milk.

    • I have Halo Top every now and then, too 🙂

      • Taylor Kuzik

        What’s your favorite flavor?

        • Hmm peanut butter cup is pretty good.

          • Taylor Kuzik

            I’ve tried the peanut butter cup, s’mores and cookies and cream. Planning on tasting the chocolate chip cookie dough next.

          • Nice 🙂

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