Cheat days are a very difficult thing to try and implement if you don’t have a coach/nutritionist to guide you.
Getting the calories and macros right could be the difference between replenishing muscle glycogen and kickstarting your metabolism again or stalling your progress and maybe even storing some excess body fat in the process.
Calories play a big part in a cheat day and you might wonder how many extra calories can you eat on a cheat day?
There is not an exact number of calories that you can eat on a cheat day but a good guideline to follow is to not consume more than 150% of your regular calorie intake/limit. You should also adjust your macros to keep protein at a similar quantity, consume a lower amount of fat and a higher amount of carbs.
There is not a set number of calories that you can consume on a cheat day to ensure that you don’t gain weight or ruin your progress. This number doesn’t exist as it will vary for everyone.
In this article, I’ll therefore give a guideline of how many extra calories you can eat on a cheat day as well as some other useful cheat day tips or warnings that you’ll want to take into consideration.
How Many Extra Calories Can You Eat on a Cheat Day
The honest answer before you read on is that it depends on too many factors to cover in this article. There are some key factors that will give you a good indication of how many extra calories you can eat on a cheat day but there is no specific quantity.
My extra calories could be completely different from yours even though we have similar goals. It could be influenced by energy expenditure, hormonal balance, current weight, current body composition, and an exhaustive list of other factors.
Therefore, I always like to just give a cautious guideline and say try not to consume more than 150% of your regular calorie intake. This gives plenty of room to consume some treats that you might want whilst also ensuring that you don’t get too carried away.
As it’s certainly a more complicated answer though, I’ll cover it in more detail to help give you a more clear direction for how to approach a cheat day and how many extra calories you can have.
What Are Extra Calories
Just to be clear on this section, extra calories are those that are above your calorie target. If you need to consume 2,000kcals a day to be in a deficit and lose weight, a cheat day where you consume 3,000kcals would mean you’ve consumed 1,000kcal extra.
I’ve recently made a post on the question “is it ok to go over your calorie limit” because extra calories do not mean you are consuming a calorie surplus necessarily. They just mean they are over the calorie limit that you’ve set based on a personal goal.
Micheal Phelps training for his record 8 gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics consumed a mind-blowing 12,000kcals per day in order to fuel his training so extra calories for him were essentially more fuel to burn in the pool.
If you’re consuming a 200kcal deficit in order to stimulate fat loss though, then anything over 200kcals will be considered extra and will certainly have an impact on your progress.
Extra calories are not a defined number but rather any number that’s above the amount you need to consume daily based upon your individual goals.
Is It Ok To Eat a Lot on a Cheat Day
A bit later on in this article I’ll give a guideline of how you can plan your cheat day based on some solid numbers and the reason for this is that too many times you’ll see posts about “epic cheat day” and people trying to see how much they can get away with eating on a cheat day.
This is understandable and I’m not calling out people that want a break from their diet because dieting is hard. If cheat days and meals help you stick to a diet and body transformation in the long run, then I’m not only for cheat days, I program them for clients!
The issue, however, is that actual numbers are never used for a cheat day, mainly because most people want to eat food and not calories or macros on a cheat day. Therefore, vague or subjective terms are used which just leads to more confusion.
- A lot
- Can I have “…” or “…” takeaway
- Would “…” be too much
Are questions I see all the time and the answer is usually on the nutritional information for the foods you want to consume. Sure, people can eat a lot on a cheat day but I don’t recommend this mentality because a version of “a lot” will be different depending on who you ask.
When my girlfriend and I have a cheat meal, she’ll happily have a section of a cheesecake whereas I’ll have a full cheesecake. To her my portion is a lot and excessive and yet I’ll feel like it’s not even hit the spot and would gladly have another if it’s not for the fact that I’d be disgusted with myself for doing that!
Therefore, numbers are going to be your best friend when it comes to planning a cheat day and I’ll cover these shortly.
Can One Cheat Day Make You Gain Weight
It might not be a surprise to hear that a cheat day can, and most likely will make you gain weight but the reality is that this weight gain is not as bad as you might initially expect.
A cheat day for most people will involve consuming a higher portion of carbs than what would be typical, this is especially true for those that have been following a low carb approach to dieting with a daily intake of <100g carbs.
For every 1g of carbs that you store you’ll also hold an additional 2 -3g of water. This is something that most people do not take into consideration and they’ll see the scale move the morning after a cheat day and be devastated by the result.
This is to be expected though and a cheat day will make you gain weight in the short-term but this will not be in the form of body fat. You should therefore be less concerned about any immediate weight gain from a cheat day unless it puts you into a weekly calorie surplus which I’ll cover now.
How To Calculate Your Cheat Day Calories
The first thing you need to do before ever considering a cheat day is to know how many calories you need to consume each week in order to lose weight. This is better known as your calorie deficit but it’s crucial that you consider this as a weekly number instead of a daily number.
Let’s say you need to consume 1,800kcals per day to stay in a 200kcal caloric deficit and promote weight loss and fat loss. That’s a total of 12,600kcals per week with a total deficit of 1,400kcal per week (200kcals per day x 7 days).
Monday – Saturday you do a good job and hit 1,800kcal everyday giving you a weekly deficit of 1,200kcals, nice work! Sunday cheat day comes around though and you can’t wait, you’ve earned this cheat day after such a good week of staying on track and maybe even losing a few pounds in the process.
You’ve got your meals planned out and when you log them on Sunday evening (feeling full and satisfied), your cheat day comes to a whopping 3,800kcals. No need to feel too bad though, it’s only 1 day out of 7 and you hit your goals for the other 6 days.
Usually, this mentality would be true and you’d make progress doing this but in this scenario, you’ve consumed 10,800kcals in total from Monday – Saturday and 3,500kcal on Sunday giving you a weekly balance of 14,300kcals.
That’s 1,700kcals over your weekly deficit target which means for the week in total, you’ve only really consumed your maintenance calorie requirements and in some cases, this could even put you into a weekly surplus.
When planning a cheat day you, therefore, need to factor in your weekly intake and try to minimize going over it as much as possible. This could mean reducing calories on other days in order to incorporate a cheat day or by simply having a less impactful cheat day.
For some, one meal off plan is enough to satisfy cravings without having any real impact on your progress.
Secondly, you’ll want to be cautious about the macros that you consume. 1g of fat contains 9kcals so if you have a cheat day that involves a high-fat consumption, your total calories for the day will skyrocket. 112g of fat is all you’d need to consume to take in a hefty 1,000kcals.
Therefore, look to limit your fat intake and keep it between 50 – 100g. Protein can remain around a similar level to what you’d normally consume but if you are really cautious about a cheat day, consuming more protein (which is highly satiating) will reduce cravings and help stop a cheat from turning into an all you can eat!
Finally, if you’ve been following a low carb diet then carbs can be your friend on a cheat day. They will replenish glycogen stores in the muscle and research shows that it improves leptin signaling to stop the body from storing body fat (which can occur during a calorie deficit as a survival mechanism).
Try to aim for a carb “refeed” of around 3x your daily intake. If you typically consume 80g carbs, then look to consume 240g on a cheat day. Just keep in mind that this will cause water retention and therefore some weight gain but also not it’s beneficial and needed in the long run for a successful cutting phase.
Cheat days are something that is crucial for adherence and sticking to a diet for the long term. They give you both mental and physical breaks from a calorie deficit and by which are key to achieving a healthy and impressive physique transformation.
It can be detrimental though when people get too carried away and therefore you need to keep the cheat day under control. While there is no specific quantity that can be applied to everyone, if you make sure the cheat day does not bring you over your weekly calorie target, you shouldn’t have an issue.
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