Professional athletes and Olympians are so focused on their nutritional needs and macronutrient balances that many believe they can't slip up and take a "cheat day" of eating whatever they like. But some health and fitness experts think that relaxing the rules temporarily can yield more benefits than sticking to a rigid plan. So, who's right?
Most likely, both groups are correct. That's because cheat days can be as personal as meal choices. One person might see tremendous sports improvements from the practice, while another feels only setbacks. Here's a quick guide to the pros and cons:
In Defense of Cheat Day
You're eating healthy, getting plenty of physical activity, and yet your performance isn't improving the way you want, or you just feel stalled. This is the dreaded plateau.
Being completely restrictive in your diet, can lead to deficits in certain nutrients and calories. Though binging on pizza and cake is not the answer, allowing yourself some freedom in your diet can help physically and mentally.
For some people, a cheat day is seen more as a goal than a reset. You might look forward to it in the same way that you do a holiday or a vacation—as a reward that lets you step away from the drudgery of work. With this perspective, however, cheat days can turn into a binge.
Convinced that you have to eat everything you want in one day, you might rack up thousands of empty calories, and that can take days to balance out. In fact, you might not be back on track before your next cheat day, which means you'll constantly be pushing yourself backward.
In general, what makes a cheat day successful or defeating is how you approach it. If you see it as a way to reset your metabolism, it may be helpful (and tasty). But if you view a cheat day as a reward for your hard work, then it's more likely to turn into a cheat week, cheat month, or cheat year.
Overall, it is important to think about food as a fuel. We need all food groups and a team of nutrients to help us feel well.
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