Do ‘Cheat Meals’ Exist?

I have recently been thinking about the topic of ‘cheat meals’.

Considering the majority of lifters speak of cheat meals in a manner of life and death, I cannot blame myself for pondering the veracity of this subject.

As with most extremism in the fitness industry, I take issue with the stance that people are taking in regard to these so-called ‘cheat foods’.

What usually happens is that individuals will forbid themselves from consuming anything that contains sugar or a high amount of carbs for 6 days out of the week, and will only allow themselves to indulge during the 1 remaining day (usually coined the ‘cheat day’).

I have also seen more extreme cases, where certain lifters who need to feel good about themselves will preach to the world that they do not consume any ‘cheat meals’ at all.

What is stupid about such behaviour is that it is completely unnecessary.

But before we get into the ins and outs of the situation, it is important to establish context on the topic.

For instance, if someone is ‘bulking’, then there is certainly no such thing as a cheat meal.

This is because bulking only requires a calorie surplus, sufficient protein, and perhaps enough carbs to optimize training performance.

Considering most cheat meals usually contain a lot of carbs and calories, 2 of the 3 criteria are already met to consider it a ‘bulking food’.

Therefore, as long as protein intake is sufficient, then consuming empty calorie foods will not hinder a bulk, just as long as you aren’t going too overboard with the calories (which would cause excessive fat gain).

Again, this is not to say that the majority of your bulking diet should consist of junk food (that would be stupid), but it is to say that having a little dessert every night will in no way hinder your muscle growth.

So now that that’s established, let’s address the more pertinent side of the issue, being fat loss.

This is usually the context in which (more intelligent) lifters are far stricter with their food choices.

These types of diets usually consist of chicken, veggies, oats, brown rice, and all of the other bro-style bodybuilding foods.

Now, considering a successful ‘cut’ requires far more discipline than a successful bulk, I do not blame these lifters for dieting this way, especially if they are competing.

However, even in this scenario, cheat meals still do not exist in the context of dieting.

Allow me to explain.

When the goal is to maximize fat loss while minimizing muscle loss, the only things that matter from a nutritional standpoint are a caloric deficit and a high protein intake.

Considering it is generally agreed that protein intake should be higher during a calorie deficit than during a surplus, it becomes more important to ensure that high protein foods make up the majority of your fat loss diet.

Once protein intake is accounted for, you can still consume junk food (cheat meals) just as long as you maintain a caloric deficit.

The only problem however is that it’s difficult to maintain a high protein intake during a caloric deficit, while still having enough room to include junk food into the equation.

This is especially true given that the calories in junk good tend to add up quite rapidly (which is the only reason junk food makes people fat).

But having said that, if you are able to fit a few hundred ‘empty’ calories into your diet while maintaining your protein intake during an energy deficit, then you will still lose fat.

And if you are one of the many people who believe that sugary foods will inherently make you fat regardless of calorie intake, then you need to read this article.


The Bottom Line

While I am not an extreme proponent of the ‘if it fits your macros’ style of dieting, it does hold a lot of truth when applied in the proper context.

In this case, high sugar or high calorie foods will have no impact on building muscle during a bulking diet.

If anything, these foods will only make it easier to maintain a calorie surplus.

And in regard to fat loss, food choices only become an issue when they hinder your ability to maintain a calorie deficit while keeping a high protein intake.

However, if you are disciplined enough to consume junk food in modest quantities, there will not be any problems, unless you are dieting on 1000 calories a day (which you shouldn’t be).

See you next time.