CHEAT DAY STRATEGIES
Everything I learned about Nutrition and Fasting as a teenager, I learned from Martin Berkhan. Today I’ll share with you the same strategies I’ve been using form myself for over a decade and with my clients with absolute success all those years.
I’ve had the following question asked a lot lately since most of you are taking vacation since it’s summer time.
Is there a way to avoid fat gain during cheat days and holiday feasts like Thanksgiving, Christmas or my upcoming vacation? Yes. However, if you’re a big eater that loves food, it’s more a question about how you can minimize fat storage than attempting to avoid it.
And trust me, there are a few strategies that can be used for damage control, while still enjoying holiday hedonism and spontaneous feasts of all sorts.
The key to damage control during ad libitum (“at one’s pleasure”) eating sprees lies not only in how much you eat but also with the choice of macronutrients. I’m talking about pure facts based on nutrient metabolism and science.
We’re going to talk about how you can quickly get back on track after eating thousands of calories, and how they avoid fat gain and that dreaded post-holiday bloat.
You have to realize that if you want to maintain a low body fat percentage while still being able to enjoy wild feast from time to time is to make a quick turnaround in the days after.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REFEEDS AND CHEAT MEALS
A “refeed” is often used in the context of a structured diet approach. It tends to be more strict and planned in terms of macronutrient composition (high-carb, low-fat).
A cheat meal is when you take zero consideration about macronutrient composition and you eat whatever it is that you’ve been craving or presented in front of you during a specific occasion like Thanksgiving, Christmas etc.
Instead of telling you to simply not eat, or count calories for this specific occasion like a retard, we’ll be doing something completely different.
Studies on overfeeding show that metabolic rate typically increases about 6-8% for up to 24 hours after overfeeding. There are large differences in between individuals, with the magnitude of the increase ranging from 3-10%.
Those prone to obesity tend to be in the lower range (3%), while those that are naturally lean tend to be in the upper range (10%).
From a pure fat loss perspective, it’s not justified to eat thousands of surplus calories to burn a few hundred calories extra.
The argument about tricking your body into fat-loss mode, usually alludes to the effect of overfeeding carbs on leptin. For the lean individual or for someone on a prolonged dieting stint, low leptin is an issue. This hormone aka the king of hunger regulation, controls metabolic rate, appetite, motivation and libido, among other things. Leptin drops whenever your body senses a caloric deficit and when you lose bodyfat.
The exact opposite happens when your body senses a caloric surplus. A surplus temporarily boosts leptin, which leads to downstream effects on fat oxidation, thyroid, dopamine and testosterone. In the context of dieting, refeeds are therefore beneficial.
However, similar to the effects of overfeeding on metabolic rate, a leptin boost is also rather transient and drops again once you resume your diet and your body senses the deficit. That’s the reason why I prefer to use frequent but moderate refeeds, in conjunction with weight training to take advantage of the anabolic effects, following an approach similar to Martin Berkhan’s Leangains.
The hierarchy of macronutrients that cause the greatest boost in leptin looks like this:
1. Carbohydrate. (Glucose – not sucrose or fructose.)
Due to the superior effects of carbs on leptin, and leptin’s downstream effects on metabolism and anabolic hormones, a high carb, moderate protein, low fat refeed is traditionally recommended for dieting purposes.
However, this is obviously not so doable during Christmas or any other such occasion. A few different factors should be taken into account on cheat days and feasts.
The Macronutrient Hierarchy of Fat Storage:
1. Dietary Fat
3. Protein and Alcohol
The conversion of carbs to fat, via de novo lipogenesis (DNL), is hardly significant in humans and usually only occurs when glycogen stores are saturated (think prolonged high carb overfeeding).
This does not matter much in practical terms, as there will be plenty of dietary fat during a mixed diet overfeeding. Carbs promote fat gain by reducing fat oxidation.
Sure, there’s some variance between individuals based on genetics, metabolic state and habitual diet patterns. Enzymes that modulate DNL are up-regulated in habitual high carb diets and in the obese. Insulin sensitivity is also another factor that plays a role. There are similar individual aspects to the storage of dietary fat as well, mediated by LPL and ASP.
In metabolically healthy humans, the energy cost for DNL is approximately 25%. In practical terms, this means that 3 out of 4 calories can be used for fat synthesis once a “carbohydrate surplus” is achieved after glycogen stores are fully saturated.
Given that glycogen stores are never full in conditions of energy balance, people can eat a large amount of carbs before carbs contribute to fat gain directly.
Protein and Alcohol have the highest Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) in comparison to carbs and fat, ranging from 10-30% for alcohol and 20-30% for protein. Carbs have a ~5% TEF and fat has a 0-3% TEF. Total TEF is said to be about 10% of the total calories ingested, but that’s based on the typical low protein American Diet.
The key point here is that protein cannot contribute to fat gain directly to any meaningful degree. In fact higher protein diets will help with fat loss and provide the least fat gain, due to the higher TEF.
Similar to carbohydrate, protein and alcohol act in a similar way as carbs do in regards to metabolism. They blunt fat oxidation. However, while carbs can contribute to fat gain directly once glycogen stores are full, protein and ethanol are unlikely to do so.
The actual cheat day strategies:
1. Don’t stress it
2. Create a caloric buffer leading to the feast via fasting. If you can’t fast for whatever reason have a high protein meal (about 50g of protein, with trace amount of carbs and fat) a couple hours before the event. That way, the average person will have at least 2000calories to play with during their feast. Simple strategy but it works.
3. Prioritize Protein during the feast. Protein First and Carbs and Fat for Taste. If you think of your meals like this, you’ll automatically raise the percentage of protein during the meal, and in turn increase TEF and satiety. Eat Protein and Fat first, along with veggies for added volume and Carbs like cakes, alcohol, sweets etc last.
4. Limit your choices, not the amount. If I gave you 15 plates of different food choices you’d eat a lot more than if I were to give you unlimited amounts of lean meat and rice pudding/whatever cake or sweet you like. By limiting your choices, you’ll likely only eat so much of it before you feel “full” and satisfied.
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