cheat meals

PAUL RIMMER ON… The Joy of Cheat Meals

The cheat meal appears to be becoming a staple of the weekly diet of gym goers all over the globe. However, when to have a cheat meal and the benefits they may (or may not) have are often misunderstood.




Well this is different things to different people, but for the sake of this post, for me it is a scheduled increase in calories that are not counted within the diet. There’s a few key words in there we need to pay attention to and the first is scheduled.


Scheduled means that there is a time and place for this increase in calories, not just on a whim when you decide (that’s just cheating on your diet!). So why would you schedule an increase in calories that are not within your normal diet plan? Well, there are a few reasons.




Firstly, if you are on an offseason/weight gain diet then this might purely be for psychological or social reasons. The likelihood in this situation, is that you are eating enough calories on a day to day basis that cheat meals are not required from a muscle growth point of view, however they can be a good way to increase calories in those who struggle to put on muscle, due to the typically energy-dense foods that are included in a cheat meal. So why have them? Well, since people are social animals who have friends, families, and jobs, elements of these parts of our lives involve social eating. Bodybuilding at the highest levels is, of course, a year-round demanding sport, however with the rigors of having a strict diet for most of the year, in my opinion, there needs to be a balance for most people to take care of their mental and social well-being; social eating is a great tool to help provide this balance.


This is probably the reason why diet strategies like IIFYM/Flexible dieting and carb cycling have become so popular. Because they allow you to have foods that would be typically seen as cheat foods, but are instead included in a person’s daily or weekly intake, they are, in effect, never eating off-plan. However, this can pose issues with having to plan every meal way in advance, not that this is always a problem, but it is far from a relaxed, normal view of food that some people need to have to find balance in their lives.




On a fat loss or contest prep diet, cheat meals can be used for the same psychological and social reasons, but in my opinion, should only be used if a person reached their weekly goals. Otherwise, if your weekly deficit is not enough to create fat loss or positive physical changes then this unscheduled increase in calories is only going to hinder progress. As a person becomes leaner they often need cheat meals more frequently. Why? Well, as calories in the diet are reduced and/or exercise output is increased then the body will be depleted of energy more quickly and therefore this can impact glycogen levels (appearing more flat), thus impacting on training during the diet and the potential for initiating muscle loss. Obviously, this is not something we want!


As we get leaner, levels of hormones such as leptin get lower, which causes a reduction in our metabolic rate. Periods of higher calorie intake (especially higher carb days) may help restore leptin levels, and thus our metabolism. However, the impacts of this on metabolism are not yet fully described. Whatever the exact physiological effects, they do serve a useful purpose when dieting, but remember if you’re not losing weight at the rate you want then adding in these extra calories comes in at a cost you might not be able to afford.


Paul Rimmer
MASS Head of Fitness Education

Dr Paul Rimmer - Head of Fitness Education


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Ask The Academic: Martin MacDonald on Fresher Problems

MASS Spoke with Martin MacDonald to get those all important answers to some underlying Fresher Problems.

Martin is a Clinical Performance Nutritionist and founder of the UK’s Leading Consultancy for Nutrition Advice, Martin now works primarily as a the lead nutrition consultant to teams such as Derby County FC and Leicestershire CCC, organisations such as Universal Pictures and Total Greek Yoghurt and many governing bodies, including British Weight Lifting and England Swimming. The rest of Martin’s time is either spent delivering lectures and seminars both nationally and internationally or spent working with the a small number of motivated individual clients whom will benefit from his level expertise and support.


I get wasted 3-4 times a week while I’m out trying to pull fresher’s…. How detrimental is all this drinking and late nights to my health and fitness?


Fortunately the alcohol part of this question can be answered with data from actual research, however it is impossible to quantify just how much of an effect this will have. Very recent research by Parr et al (2014) studied protein synthesis in response to a protein feeding after training with and without alcohol. The amount of alcohol used in the study was enough to get you ‘wasted’ so you can take the results as being pretty valid!

The results showed that protein synthesis was significantly reduced by 24% in the group that consumed the alcohol as opposed to protein alone. The researchers concluded that “alcohol ingestion suppresses the anabolic response in skeletal muscle and may therefore impair recovery and adaptation to training and/or subsequent performance.” Previous in vivo research has also shown that baseline protein synthesis rates can still be impaired up to 24 hours after training therefore if you are binge drinking 4 times per week you could well never be recovering optimally.

Whether ‘late nights’ will have a detrimental effect is any bodies guess and will depend on other factors. Sleep is obviously important in the recovery process however the question is, would late nights be followed by waking up late and therefore getting adequate sleep? Or would the late night be followed by an early start, leading to inadequate sleep, and therefore recovery, and perhaps a substandard performance in the gym? In my opinion, and that is all it is, it is the knock on effects of inadequate sleep that would be more detrimental to progress than any specific physiological responses.


Freshers week left me with a bit of a gut so I’m trying to trim up, I asked my friend in the gym for some advice and he told me no carbs after 6, bro! Are carbs really the enemy?


Carbs are certainly not the enemy for someone who goes to the gym! More specifically, the idea that having carbohydrate after some predetermined hour of the day is more fattening than having them at some other time is a myth that has been firmly blown out of the water. ‘Cutting out carbs’ in many people does lead to a transient decrease in body fat however the reason for this is a reduction in calories, not some unique hormonal or metabolic response to eliminating carbs. Earlier in my career I would often get asked questions about ‘a quick diet for holiday’ by my fellow gym trainers; my response was often ‘stop drinking, cut the carbs’ as I knew, for the two weeks they had before holiday this would work and wouldn’t require a great deal more input. If you want to low your ‘gut’ then your best bet is to combine a decent training program with a consistent diet that manages your hunger to a level where you can eat few enough kcals to lose weight. Generally speaking, get your protein intake adequate at around 2g/kg of your bodyweight, eat plenty of green leafy vegetables at each meal and then manipulate your carb and fat intake depending on the foods you prefer to eat and the way they effect your hunger.


As you might have guessed…. I struggle with consistency! I’ll go hard on my diet for 2 weeks and begin to see results, then put it straight back on in a few days and feel shit about myself. What’s the key to maintaining a healthy diet and achieving long term results?


What a question! It’s not one that I can objectively answer but I can talk from my experiences with clients. The key might be finding a way to change your psyche away from a ‘going hard’ type mentality. If you’re after consistency then you need to make realistic changes that you can sustain OR you need to have a baseline diet that allows you to maintain your progress and then have periods of progression that can be a little more aggressive. Often having a specific goal in mind is a great incentive to keep on track; for instance booking a holiday, a photo shoot or the most motivating of all… entering yourself in a bodybuilding show! Either way, don’t do anything without an exit plan in mind and don’t be insane – expecting to do the same things you’ve done before and expecting different results.

By Martin MacDonald /
Twitter @MartinNutrition
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