Cheat days definitely do have their benefits, but they're different for everyone! Read about the benefits...
Cheat Days And Their Benefits
Cheat days aren't the same for everyone. For one person they may just have a bar of chocolate on a Saturday, for another they might spend the whole of Saturday eating whatever they want. Other more strict dieters may instead choose to use their cheat day for what's called a 'refeed'. A refeed is a day where you would eat meals high in carbohydrates in order to replenish the glycogen stores in your muscles, with less emphasis on consuming junk foods.
Advocates of cheat days believe that the benefits of doing them are both mental AND physical. A cheat day reduces any cravings they have and it boosts their body's metabolism too. Though the last point is hotly debated, many fitness enthusiasts from practical experience seem to benefit from cheat days.
When you put your body through periods of intense exercise and strict dieting, you deplete your stores of serum leptin. When this leptin becomes low, your brain receives a signal that tells it your body is starving itself due to the depleting leptin. The brain then goes into action, stimulating a change known as 'starvation mode'. Your brain sends new signals to other hormones in order to slow down your metabolism.
The idea behind a cheat day is that if you eat a huge amount of sugary, carbohydrate rich foods along with other junk, your leptin levels will increase and go back to normal, telling your brain that you definitely aren't starving anymore and giving your metabolism a spike in the process too. For people who experience strong cravings for junk food, a cheat day is beneficial as they feel refreshed and remotivated to eat clean again for another week.
Lots of carbs on a Saturday will refuel your muscles with glycogen so when it comes to Sunday morning you'll have plenty of energy for your workout and by setting a day every week where you have piece of mind that you'll be able to eat what you want, you can experience more motivation to stay healthy during the week so that you don't sabotage the benefits of your weekend cheat day.
There are numerous ways you can increase the benefits of a cheat day and also make sure you don't gain excessive weight during it. Have a decent breakfast containing at least 30 grams of protein on the morning of your cheat day, this will give your body a decent start and aid recovery from the previous week. A protein shake upon waking is ideal for convenience and speed. If you're having a particularly big cheat meal later on then it's a good idea to have it post workout, just to make sure your metabolism is at its very highest.
During the workout you deplete muscle glycogen and activate glucose transporters inside the muscle. When these glucose transporters activate and encounter glucose, they move it immediately from your bloodstream and into your muscles. Drinking lots of water throughout your cheat day helps prevent excessive water retention from any salt in the food, and drinking coffee is also recommended as it speeds up a process known as gastric emptying. This is the speed at which food leaves your stomach and passes through your digestive tract.
Studies have found out that alcohol consumption can significantly lower serum leptin levels so avoid drinking more than two glasses of red wine during the cheat day. Excessive fat intake has also been shown to lower leptin so ideally you want your cheat day to consist of high amounts of carbohydrates and proteins, with a low amount of fat and little to no alcohol. Just remember if you're having a craving during the week, you can write it down on a list so you remember to have it on your cheat day!
Depending on how strict you are with your working out and dieting, the amount of cheat days and how often they can occur will change. Just make sure when you have a cheat day it never lasts more than that particular day! If you're extremely ripped you can get away with having one cheat day per week whereas if you're trying to cut body fat it's probably best to have a cheat day every two weeks. Often times people who are new to working out haven't depleted their serum leptin levels enough to warrant a cheat day, waiting two weeks ensures that this isn't the case.