I really appreciate the emphasis in my referenced article being on how “cheat” meals help you psychologically. It is exhausting to eat the same food every day, and in my experiences as a trainer and nutritionist, it typically leads to burnout. I implement “cheat” meals in my own diet, and those of my clients. A “healthy” lifestyle should be one that is enjoyable and maintainable forever, not one that is extremely restrictive and miserable. Of course, if you are getting ready for a bodybuilding show, powerlifting meet, dance competition, big game etc, then the nutrition needs to be targeted toward those goals.
The Bodybuilding.com article recommends following the 90/10 rule for weight loss, and this is what I also recommend for my clients looking to shed fat. Your diet will be 90% clean and 10% dirty. Keep in mind, this is saying cheat MEALS, not days. I find if I actually program in the cheat meals, my clients are less likely to feel guilty when they do indulge.
The best time to have that indulgent meal is right after your workout when you’re most likely in your biggest energy deficit of the day. Your muscles need protein to recover, and carbs to replenish was was used in the workout.
So what is the difference? Cheat meals are full of foods that are completely off the diet plan, so ice cream, pie, pizza, pulled pork sandwiches… ALL the yumminess! Re-feed days include a surplus of the food on your meal plan, so most meal plans include both cheat meals and re-feed days.
I do 1 re-feed day and 3 cheat meals per week. An example of a re-feed day: normally I eat 2,500 calories a day, but on Monday’s leg day, I have 3,500 since I typically do more muscle damage on those days. I stick to my meal plan, but increase the carbs and the fats to get my calories up. Due to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), I continue to burn calories for nearly a day and a half after the workout, so having a surplus of calories to facilitate that recovery is extremely beneficial in preserving and building muscle.