CHEAT MEALS – How Many Calories Should You Eat ?
How Many Calories Should You Eat on a Cheat Day?
The number of calories that you should eat on a cheat day will be dependent on your regular calorie intake along with your current activity level.
If you have a high level of activity, your cheat day intake is going to surpass someone who is less active and burns fewer calories in a day.
Wondering if it’s better to rest or stay active on your cheat day? Check out my article Should You Work Out on Cheat Day? (Pros & Cons).
In addition to this, you will be able to consume more calories on your cheat day if you are currently in a calorie deficit compared to someone who has the same maintenance calories as you but is not in a deficit. This will be illustrated in the table in the next section.
Takeaway: There is no set rule as to how many calories you should eat on your cheat day, but you should aim to consume no more than 1500-3000 calories over your maintenance calories in order to minimize any negative side effects of overeating, such as excess water retention, sluggish digestion, and in the most extreme cases, fat gain.
Where Should These Extra Calories Come From on a Cheat Day?
In the traditional format of a cheat day, whether your extra calories come from protein, carbohydrates, or fat is generally not important. The goal of a cheat day is to have a break from dieting and concerning yourself over how much you are eating along with what you are eating.
It is fairly typical that on a cheat day, extra calories will come from foods that are higher in a combination of carbs and fats (e.g., burgers and fries, pizza, creamy pasta, etc).
During a cheat day, the intent should be less about where your calories are coming from and more about enjoying any foods that you have not been able to enjoy on your diet.
However, this is different in the case of a refeed, where it is best to attain your extra calories from carbohydrates while keeping fat and protein intake moderate.
If you would like to learn more about the differences between a refeed and a cheat day and which one is right for you, check out Refeed vs Cheat Day: Differences, Pros, Cons.
How To Calculate Calories on A Cheat Day (With Example)
If you decide that counting calories on a cheat day is right for you, then it is time to determine your cheat day calorie range. As mentioned above, this range will differ for everyone, and there is no exact number of calories that everyone should be eating on their cheat day.
Below is a table that outlines what your hypothetical cheat day calorie range would be based on your current maintenance calories and/or if you are in a calorie deficit.
A few examples of cheat meals that would amount to an additional 1500-3000 calories are:
Keep in mind, the examples above would only account for the calories over your regular maintenance calories, not your entire cheat day.
Here is a breakdown of what an entire cheat day might look like if you are in a deficit of 1700 calories, and you maintain your weight on 2300 calories:
Total cheat day calorie intake: 5301 Calories (or 3001 calories over maintenance)
As you can see from the example above, your entire cheat day does not have to consist entirely of processed, high-fat, high-sodium, high-carb foods or fast food. In fact, it is recommended that you still include some nutrient-dense foods in your cheat day, especially if you enjoy them.
If you find that you have a difficult time going way over the cheat day calories recommended above, you might need to evaluate your current relationship with food.
If you are in a deficit that is drastically lower than your maintenance calories and find it difficult to control yourself on a cheat day, your deficit may be too low to be sustainable.
In addition to this, if you are severely restricting not only the quantity of your food but the types of food you eat, this could be a reason why you find it hard to moderate yourself on a cheat day.
If this is the case, you must ensure that you are not using a cheat day as an excuse to binge and that you are allowing yourself variety in your regular diet.