Know which one to use and when!
Being an ‘industry leading’ coach requires many skills. With regards to performance nutrition coaching, counting calories and macros is not enough, it is imperative to understand how, when and why, we implement cheat meals, refeeds and diet breaks into our Clean Heath Fitness Institute client’s nutritional plans. Altering food selection and calories, whether it be for one meal to a few weeks is a way to restore the psychological effects of dieting, as well as the physiological. These nutritional strategies, when implemented successfully can lead to incredible results and plateau busting. But which strategy is right for or your client and why?
How– One meal for the day, generally last meal of the day. ‘Cheat meals’ tend to work well for intermediate to advanced clients as they can have them once a week. Usually clients will plan and look forward to a nice dinner with their partner or friends, this way they don’t feel like they’re entirely losing their social life. However, when working with the ‘gen pop’ clientele, cheat meals are not recommended as we are focusing on repairing their relationship with food. It is best not to use food as a reward system as we retrain the brain and thus get our clients as healthy as possible, and fast!
When– For those in ‘hard’ dieting phases for a ‘12-week transformation’, one cheat meal a week is a good way to break the week up and allow the client something to look forward to. Clients in mass gaining phases, 2 meals a week will allow for a little more freedom. Note: This is not a ‘free for all’, clients will still be restricted by calories.
Why– cheat meals do not fix any physiological markers from being in a calorie deficit. It is 100% purely breaking up the diet, from a psychological point of view. One meal a week, leaves the client mentally in a good place, as the idea of a cheat meal, can encourage motivation and compliance throughout the week, knowing there is a reward for their efforts. Also the next day, following the meal, they feel mentally fresh and ready to get back to work.
How– A refeed, is a period of increased calories, usually up to baseline or a small surplus. The idea is to give the body a break from being in a calorie deficit for a day. The increased calories to baseline should primarily come in the form of carbohydrates to load glycogen storage levels.
When– Refeeds are best implemented one day a week, usually on either a rest day, or a day training a large muscle group e.g. legs. Refeeds can also be used fortnightly for a person with less body fat.
Why– it was originally thought that one day of increased calories, would lead to negating the negative effects of calorie restriction such as:
- Poor energy levels
- Metabolic rate dropping
- Mood swings
- Low Libido
- Focus and compliance weakening
There is however, evidence to suggest that a period of one day is not enough to restore hormonal markers. So, what is a refeed day useful for? Once again, it is more about improving psychology, a period of increased calories can work wonders on one’s mood and thought processes in periods of hard dieting. It’s important to remember though, a refeed day is not a cheat day or a free for all. This needs to be tracked properly, and calories are to be hit – this is even more crucial on this day to that of a normal calorie deficit. Again, this is a system to be used with more intermediate or advanced clients.
How– A diet break is a period of consecutive days of increased calories to baseline or just above. Ranging from 3 days to 2 weeks, the key to an effective diet break is knowing how long to break the client for. It comes down to generally 3 key factors:
1– How aggressive is the client’s calorie deficit
2– How long have they been in a calorie deficit.
3– Body fat levels
The longer the client diets, the more aggressive the deficit, and the leaner the client, the longer the requirement is needed to diet break.
When– For ‘general pop’ fat loss clients, using a diet break after 12 weeks of dieting for someone with higher body fat – 20% and above can be most effective. For leaner general pop clients, I will generally implement every 6-8 weeks. Now for my more advanced clients, I use more frequent diet breaks around the 3-6 week mark.
Why– Unlike cheat meals and refeed days, the diet break is not just great for the psychology of our clients, it’s actually amazing for restoring negative physiological adaptations in periods of calorie restriction. Our “bio feedback” is what Clean Health coaches look for with each of our clients. Bio feed-back includes assessing:
- Energy levels
- Quality of sleep
- Stress levels
- Rate of fat loss
When these feed-back markers begin to become negative, over positive, it’s time to give the body a break from a deficit. The increased calories will help restore metabolic rate, thyroid production levels, lower cortisol, increase testosterone production, decrease ghrelin levels (our hunger hormone), increase leptin levels and (our key fat loss hormone). Simply put, a diet break can work wonders for clients who have plateaued both physically and mentally. My suggestions for diet break lengths:
- 3-6 weeks of dieting – 3-5 day diet break
- 6-8 weeks dieting – 7 day diet break
- 10-12 weeks dieting – 10-14 day diet break.
Being a great coach is not just about understanding these systems, but most importantly knowing when and who to implement them for. A cheat meal, refeed day and diet break, can all work wonders on a client’s body and mind, but you must know how to implement these to maximise the results with your clients.
All these methods are covered in far greater detail in our Clean Health Performance Nutrition courses if you would like to learn more about our course dates and information click here.
By Mark Carroll