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



What does your metabolism do for you?


So many times when it comes to maintaining or losing weight we hear “It’s all about the metabolism” or “Eat this to rev up your metabolism”, but do we actually know what the metabolism is? When I asked around most people couldn’t really define it, in fact many responded with “You know, I don’t know actually”. So today we’re going to explore what metabolism really means, the impact that it can have on your health and what you can do to maximize its effectiveness.

For starters, the metabolism involves chemical reactions in the body that occur in order to maintain its living cells. Its two categories are catabolism, which is the breakdown of molecules to get more energy, and anabolism, which is the synthesis and building of compounds needed by cells in order to function. Nutrition has enormous impact on these processes and the efficiency of the metabolism as it aids in the building, maintenance and repairing of bodily tissues and overall bodily functions. The metabolism can vary from person to person, which is why some people are able to lose fat fairly quickly with minimal effort while others have to try much harder and still won’t lose it as fast or as much.  Apart from nutrition, the thyroid is a big component of the metabolism and its functionality. The thyroid responsible for the release of certain hormones into the blood stream which in turn impacts the how quickly cells can convert nutrients into much needed energy. As intense as this may sound, it really is amazing to think about all the processes that the body goes through without us even realizing it.

There are unfortunately some disorders associated with both the metabolism and thyroid that a person can develop overtime. Hypothyroidism involves an underactive thyroid gland, where it does not produce enough hormones leading to fatigue, loss of appetite, hair loss, mood swings, etc. Hyperthyroid is the opposite where the thyroid gland is overactive and produces too much hormones leading to symptoms of nervousness, irritability, weight loss, excess thirst, excess perspiration and heat intolerance, among others. Another disorder is Metabolic Syndrome which affects the body’s ability to store and use energy. This consists of a group of symptoms including elevated blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, excess visceral fat and high cholesterol which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Bear in mind that I’m not trying to freak you out here I’m just giving you the facts and warning signs. Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider for more information and to discuss any possible symptoms that you may be experiencing. A simple blood test is usually all that’s needed to diagnose and treatment typically involves medication and lifestyle changes (i.e. diet, exercise and rest), but for the most part as long as you are moving and eating a balanced diet, you probably won’t have to worry about this.

There are some strategies that you can incorporate into your daily life in order to improve your metabolism and ultimately turn your body into a lean machine. In terms of exercise, if you haven’t already, start incorporating interval training into your cardio regiment about 30 minutes 2-3 times per weeks as it allows your body to consume more oxygen, pushing it to burn more energy (i.e. calories). Be sure to also incorporate some weight training into your routine each week; as I have mentioned before the more muscle you have the more calories your body burns at rest. In terms of nutrition, consider increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon or in ground flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds. Omega-3s help balance the blood sugar, reduce inflammation and therefore help to regulate the metabolism. Another option is to drink green tea as the ingredient catechin has been shown to improve fat oxidation and thermogenesis; meaning that just one cup of green tea per day has the potential to help you burn 90 more calories than without. Many studies have shown that people who consume green tea daily lose more weight on average than those who do not. Eating breakfast within an hour of waking is also very important and everyone should do this each day and not just for the metabolism, but for overall health too. After fasting for at least 8 hours while asleep, the body needs sustenance to “get your engines started” and to wake up your entire body and its functions. It’s also important to eat every few hours throughout the day in order to maintain a steady blood sugar and keep your energy levels up all day; aim for a meal or snack every 2-3 hours. There has also been talk in recent years about how going organic can improve metabolism because consuming pesticides can reduce the efficiency of the metabolism. Studies are ongoing though so don’t start chucking all of your non-organic fruit just yet. Organic food can be more expensive so just do the best you when you can, and always look out for a good sale at the grocery store.

So there you have it, Metabolism 101 if you will. It’s not too complicated to understand, but it is such an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. As I mentioned visit your healthcare provider regularly as they can keep you on track health-wise and can be a great resource for any concerns that you may have. Start including some of the above mentioned strategies into your daily life if you don’t already and before you know it you’ll be feeling and looking better than ever!

Start It, Finish It