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


Contest Prep, Nutrition

Carb Loading & Dehydration


After 16 weeks of training and consistent nutrition, I am now only 3 days away from competing. All that work and effort comes down to the final few days. The last stage of prep involves carb loading, water manipulation and final beauty prep (the fun-ish part).

Let’s start with carb loading. To non-competitors, eating a high amount of carbohydrates pre-contest may seem counterintuitive, but when done correctly, this method of eating can greatly impact one’s physique in the best way. When I say carbs, I don’t mean things like bread or deserts as these tend to be hard on the digestive track and will cause bloating especially at this point in prep. What I really mean is the fast and easy to digest stuff such as white rice and sweet potatoes combined with easy to digest protein sources such as rice protein powder and tempeh, without any added fats. The reason why we carb load pre-contest is to replenish glycogen stores which ultimately allow your muscles to have a full appearance while staying shredded and lean without any bloat. Here’s the science behind it… Carbs and water bind together and the muscles act like a sponge that soak up all the carbs and water together which end up giving that nice and full look with lots of definition.

The second part of this process involves water manipulation and is just as important as carb loading. In the weeks leading up to the show you gradually increase water intake until you reach at least 6 litres per day and then come peak week you drink as much water as humanly possible. This allows your body to flush out everything and become super efficient at shedding any potential excess water. then in the days leading up to the show, you slowly taper off the water. In my case, I cut my water intake in half 2 days prior, then 1 day out I go for 2 litres before 1pm and then drink smaller increments of water every couple of hours until we cut it completely save for 1 oz at each meal. Show day is 1 oz at each meal and that’s it. Why? Dehydration makes everything tighten up and shows off all the definition in the muscles. the dryer you are, the better you look.

As for the beauty part, well that’s something nice but also a bit time consuming. In the weeks leading up to the show you have to start the skin prep process to help the spray tan come out as nice as possible. This means daily exfoliation, moisturizing twice a day (unscented of course) and stop deodorant usage 3 days as it makes the spray tan come out green. Then there’s the mani-pedi; I do it myself to save a few bucks and stick with a neutral color with a little bit of sparkles so that it doesn’t clash with my suit. I also make sure to cleanse my face daily and do 2 full at-home facials during peak week so that my skin is ready to go and the makeup will better “take” and last on my face.

Going back to the spray tan, it’s super important to go dark because under the bright stage lights, without the tan you look completely washed out and you won’t see any definition. And yes, it is the industry standard and every athlete does it. Up close you look brown, but on stage you’re fabulous.

Some people say that the dehydration process is the worst of the entire contest prep, but I have to disagree; getting my legs waxed last week was pure torture. That being said, being really thirsty sucks, but on show you’re so busy that you don’t even notice.

So that’s all that is left of my prep. A few more days of solid posing practice and I’ll be ready to go. I feel as though my physique has changed in such a positive way and that I really will be presenting my best. Three days out and then go time!

Start Strong, Finish Strong