What are diet 'cheat meals'?

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The ways in which individuals approach diet and exercise are vast and varied. Some people are looking for an extra edge and can benefit from quick tips like our 10 Things You Can Do to Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days. For others, though, health, fitness, and nutrition are a long, arduous, never-ending journey.

Those who’ve decided to make well-being a lifestyle aren’t looking for shortcuts. These dedicated souls aren’t tempted by ridiculous, fleeting fad diets, and they don’t put too much stock into claims about miracle foods. Men and women that have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of fitness are more than willing to show you their hard-earned calluses. They’ve eaten enough old-fashioned oats to feed a small country, and they can prove their dedication to this lifestyle by eyeballing a chicken breast and telling you how many grams of protein it has.

Much as many professionals suggest the occasional rest day, a day where your normal training is placed on hold in favor of recovery and rejuvenation, there’s an increasingly large camp of health enthusiasts who swear by taking a similar day of rest from a strict, clean diet. This day, known as a cheat day, is highly praised by many and approached warily by others.

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We’ve already hinted at the fact that cheat days are intended for those who not only have a clean, balanced diet, but also are exercising intensely most days (if not every day) of the week. Now, let’s dive in a little deeper in order to learn more about the tempting world of cheat meals.

1. 90/10

Obi Obadike, MS, ISSA-certified fitness trainer and nutrition specialist, is a writer for Bodybuilding.com, the largest fitness website in the world. In a recent piece in his popular column, “Ask the Ripped Dude,” Obadike introduces what he refers to as the 90/10 rule. Similar to Cameron Diaz’s acclaimed 80/20 rule, the 90/10 rule is a great way to leave room in your diet for some not-so-healthy treats:

“The 90/10 rule means that 90 percent of the time you should eat according to your specific goal-based nutrition plan, and 10 percent of time you can indulge in something that is not on the diet. If you consume cheat meals this way, you won't derail your fat loss or fitness goals.”

2. Cheat Meal Prime Time

Obadike says that, according to Alan Aragon, MS, who has used evidence-based information to give professional and recreational athletes, trainers, and scientists the most practical nutrition and weight-loss advice possible for over 20 years, “the post-workout period is your best time to cheat. During the post-workout window, the cheat meal stands a greater chance of being utilized by your muscles instead of being stored as fat.” Not every post-workout meal needs to be of the utmost nutritional integrity, so many people look to "naughty" foods like pizza, pasta, ice cream, and chain restaurant burgers (with fries and a shake, of course) for their high carbohydrate content.

“Even when you do a low-intensity workout,” says Obadike, “your muscles can sponge up a lot of extra carbs, preventing them from being converted to fat.”

3.  Don’t Get Carried Away

In Obadike’s article, he insists that people focus on cheat meals and not cheat days. Following his 90/10 protocol, healthy, fit adults can benefit from one or two cheat meals per week. If you’re like Beyoncé when she’s on a strict diet, you’ll limit yourself to one relatively modest cheat meal per week. These meals aren’t all-out, day-long splurges where you are free to hit up your favorite fast food joint for dessert 10 times in one day. Rather, they are meals where you can let loose a little bit and, according to Obadike, still maintain a “ripped” physique.

Click here to read more about the dirty details on cheat meals.