Contest Prep, Nutrition

Dirty Cheat vs Refeed

There are two common ways that one can “cheat” on their diet without throwing all their progress out the window. You can either do what’s called a Dirty Cheat or a Refeed meal. Both have their benefits and both equally have the potential for drawbacks too. Ultimately the choice is yours, but it’s I important to have a solid understanding of the reasoning behind these options.

The Dirty Cheat or cheat meal are what most people (including non-fitness enthusiasts) are fairly familiar with. The idea here is to eat a meal that’s more decadent than usual, but in the hopes of it staying balanced in terms of macros (protein, carbs and fat). In reality though, many who go for this type of cheat meal go all out and opt for fast food, deserts, junk food snacks or any combination of these into one massive meal. The good thing about a scheduled and well-timed cheat meal is that it can help you hormone-wise, especially if you’re trying to lose weight or diet-down. When calories are restricted and your bodyfat drops the hormone Leptin (which signals satiety or the feeling of fullness) can decrease while the hormone Ghrelin (which signals that you’re hungry) increases. What this means is that your brain isn’t going to let you feel full and your hunger is going to feel way more intense that it actually is. That’s why it’s so difficult for people to lose weight and keep it off; at a certain point the your body and it’s hormones are going to fight you as hard as possible to keep you hungry and reaching for food all the time. This is where the Dirty Cheat can come in handy. It has been proven time and again that a weekly cheat meal will help to raise Leptin levels and drop Ghrelin levels in the days following that big decadent meal. On the flip side, this style of eating can lead to some pretty nasty side effects. Many cheat items are unbalanced and tend to be super high fat and high carb (for example deserts or pasta with cream sauce or french fries) or super high fat and high-ish protein (for example chicken fried steak or baby-back ribs). It’s also very easy to go overboard on the portion size and overeat to the point where you are overly stuffed and may even feel sick. All of this can lead to some serious indigestion, discomfort and bloating not to mention weight gain. When you are losing weight, your metabolism becomes very sensitive and a massive meal or entire day of overeating can cause a big rebound in a short amount of time leading you to pack on body fat once again. What’s more is that if you have ever struggled with self-control around food, this may not be the best option for you as it could lead to a binge. When it comes to the Dirty Cheat, know yourself and your triggers before you indulge.

The Refeed or carb-load is an entirely different concept. Essentially you eat one meal that is super high carb, minimal fat and moderate protein. This option is great for those with a low body fat percentage, which is why this is the preferred method for bodybuilders. Those with a lower body fat  can refeed more than the average sedentary person would, i.e. they can go for a much higher carb and sizeable portion than the latter. The body can respond very well to this method of cheating, especially if you’ve been going low carb or working towards fat loss for a while.  When you carb-load your body takes in extra glycogen which promotes muscle protein synthesis (or muscle growth) and ultimately helps to bring your hormones back to an optimum level. This is why so many athletes who practice refeeds always have their best workouts the day after this meal. Their bodies and muscles are holding extra fuel so they end up pushing harder at the gym and getting a great post-workout pump. Ideally, you want to aim for the refeed to provide an extra 20-50% of extra calories than you typically take in. Bare in mind though that it depends on your body fat and how advanced you are in your training. The down side to this is that you have to be careful to what you choose to eat and ensure that fat is kept to a minimum, in fact don’t add any fat to this meal if you can help it and try to avoid eating this close to bedtime.

For many bodybuilders pre-contest carb-load is essential in the days leading up to a show. I personally take 2 days to load up on carbs before hitting the stage, but it’s always very easy to digest sources like white rice, cream of rice and sweet potatoes. The reason why we go for these types of carbohydrates is that during this time we’re also cutting and manipulating water in order to dehydrate and if you go high carb without enough water it can make you very sick. It’s best to avoid flour based refined starches as they are harder to digest and just sit heavily in your belly when you eat them without sufficient water. So forgo the pasta and breads.

I have seen bodybuilders go for the Dirty Cheat pre-contest instead of the carb-load, but it can backfire if you’re not careful. Again, you’re dehydrated so if you eat a big fatty, sugary meal without enough water it’ll cause serious bloating pre-contest which is a no-no. So a lot of athletes end having to take a harsh laxative to make sure it gets out of their system before they hit the stage. Ultimately you run the risk of going to an extreme here…proceed with caution. At each show I’ve seen people backstage eating chips, chocolate bars or pastries right before prejudging and going out for a Dirty Cheat meal before finals. I personally am sitting there with my white rice and tempeh or sweet potatoes and brown rice protein powder and I only take in sugar right before I hit the stage in the form of white rice and maple syrup (and it’s a tablespoon at that). I don’t want to risk anything at that point and bloat or feel uncomfortable while trying to pose.

This may all seem a bit intense to figure out what works best for you as there really is a science behind all of this. I was always doing a traditional weekly treat meal, but now especially with my training being more advanced and getting closer to show day I switch to weekly refeeds. My body responds very well to this and  get to enjoy some really nice food while refueling my body at the same time. Some weeks I’ll go for salty and have whole grain pasta with a homemade tomato sauce (no oil!) or I’ll go for sweet instead and have homemade donuts made from oatbran, banana and maple syrup. Last week I really treated myself to something awesome where I had cereal treats from a brown rice cocoa breakfast cereal with vegan marshmallows (made from cassava instead of gelatin). It was sooooo good. The carbs hit me fast and I felt like jogging for about an hour after I had eaten, but my workout the next day was awesome. Thanks to my replenished glycogen I hit some new PRs and crushed it at the gym!

Give both cheat options a try and see how your body feels after and how well it impacts your progress. Keep in mind that these meals are meant to help you physically, recharge your batteries and reset your metabolism. This can be invaluable to anyone regardless of their goals, so try to fit one meal like this into your week. Enjoy it, savour it and use those extra calories to your benefit.

Start Strong, Finish Strong



How Much Is Too Much? Part 2

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Last week we explored the methods of finding your ideal daily calorie intake with “How Much Is Too Much?” Today we’re going to continue looking at how much you should be eating based on macronutrient allocation.

Macronutrients consist of carbohydrates, protein and fat; there are also micronutrients which are vitamins such as vitamin A, C, and D, and minerals such as zinc, magnesium and copper, but for now we’ll focus on macros. All food has to contain at least one of the three macronutrients. They all have their uses for your nutrition need; carbs tend to give you energy, protein helps to build muscle, and fat helps your body absorb vitamins and minerals and also slow down digestion to help keep you fuller longer. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Contrary to popular belief in recent years, carbs are not the devil; the right kinds of carbs are perfectly healthy for you to include in your diet. There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbs are very fast digesting and unless you time your consumption of these right and use them up through exercise, your body will store them as fat. A few examples of simple carbs are white bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and sugar. You can include these in your diet, but the timing here is crucial. Remember in my previous post how I mentioned that you should start looking at food as fuel? Well in this case simple carbs consumed as part of a pre-workout meal can be great fuel for a session of heavy weight lifting or intense cardio lasting longer than 30 minutes. It’s also ideal for your post-workout recovery meal, when your body has depleted most of its glycogen stores and needs nutrients fast in order to start your recovery. The other type of carbohydrates is complex, for example whole grains, vegetables and fruits. These tend to be digested slower and have more fiber than their simple counterparts, and they are also great to include as part of your pre-workout meal and other meals throughout the day. Complex carbohydrates give you lots of good energy and tons of nutrients, so be sure to include these in your regiment. An interesting point to take note of is that “technically” carbohydrates are not essential for you to live, meaning if you eliminate all carbs from your diet you can still function. The reason for this is that protein and fat (which are both essential for you to live) can be converted by the body into carbs as needed. But beware eliminating all carbs or even doing a low carb diet can be very difficult as it can effect your mood and energy levels, so proceed with caution.

Now let’s have a look at protein. Protein is all the rage these days; we hear it everywhere: If you want to lose weight then increase your protein intake, If you want to build muscle then increase your protein intake. There is some truth to this, as protein will help to keep you fuller longer than most carbs and it’s great for building muscle, so including the right amount of protein for your needs is essential to being healthy. The daily recommended intake to meet your minimum nutritional needs for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight. So for example, my intake minimum would be 42.12 grams of protein per day (117lbs x 0.36g). I typically will consume more protein than this each day as I am active and am trying to build more muscle. If you are active, then it may be a good idea to increase your protein intake to 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight, and if you are looking to build muscle aim for about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight; I usually consume between 0.8 to 1 grams per pound each day. Keep in mind that the body can only absorb so much protein at a time, usually around 30 grams per meal will be absorbed, the rest will be converted to carbohydrates. Try to aim for around 25 to 30 grams for your breakfast, lunch and dinner, and be sure to include some protein in your snacks as well. Also, I have been seeing a lot of research showing that people who eat a plant-based diet as I do may need to consume more protein as the body may not absorb all the protein that we actually eat (keep in mind that this research is ongoing and findings are not quite yet concrete).

Now let’s talk fat. Remember in the 90s when low fat was the shiznit? Fat makes you fat was everyone’s mantra. Well, now we know that that’s not really the case. Saturated fat and trans fat are no good for you, and yes these will make you fat and up your cholesterol, but unsaturated is awesome. Unsaturated fat is what will give you that nice feeling of satiety, letting your body know that you ate just the right amount of nutrients and is very satisfied. Include nuts, avocado, nut butters, canola, olive, grapeseed and coconut oil into your diet each day and you are good as gold. Try to include a little bit of fat in each meal and snack throughout your day. In the past it’s been said that you shouldn’t consume more than 50 grams of fat per day, but again it really depends on the type of fat that you’re consuming and how active you are as well. As I mentioned in “Nutrition: Where do we start?” fat is more caloric than carbs and protein; fat has 9 grams per calorie, whereas protein and carbs have 4 grams per calorie. So just be mindful of this when adding olive oil to your salad or when snacking on almonds, a little goes a long way.

So what’s the right allocation for you? Well, as always this really depends on your lifestyle; your level of activity and current goals. If you are really active and have a physically demanding job, then it’s a good idea to get most of your calories from carbs; in this case consider an allocation of 55% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 15% fat. If you are active throughout the day and you exercise regularly then consider an allocation of 40% carbohydrates, 35% protein and 25% fat (this is what I go with for my allocation each day). If your goal is fat loss and you exercise regularly then consider an allocation of 35-40% carbohydrates, 40% protein, and 20-25% fat.

Before making any changes to your diet maybe consider starting a food journal for a week to get a good idea of where you’re at now and what changes you may need to make to diet. This is what I started doing about a month ago and it has had a huge impact on me. Initially I was way off with my macros, but now I’ve made the right changes and I feel much better when I eat and I definitely have more energy during the day. Another great option is to consider an App that acts as a food journal, there are plenty available that will give you all of the nutritional information for everything you eat. As always, be sure to consult your healthcare provider before starting any new dietary regiments or to discuss any restrictions you may have.

Give yourself some time to adjust to any changes that you make to your diet and remember that we are all so different that what works well for one person may not work well for you. Some people can handle the low carb thing, but others (myself included) really can’t. Eat well, fuel yourself for the day ahead and above all else nourish yourself with healthy and delicious food. Bon appétit!

Start It, Finish It

*In my next post we’ll explore how often you should eat and how many meals to consume in each day.