No matter how effective, every single idea, concept, or method has a lifespan. Eventually it fades or disappears completely. But if it is effective, it usually ends up coming back around at some point in the future. It just takes time. Cheat meals or “refeed” meals (or Skiploading) have recently come under fire as the lazy man’s way to diet. Apparently, there are those who believe that starving is a better way to get shredded, or at the very least some competitors prefer the feeling of torturing themselves psychologically as if this somehow helps them get into better condition.

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I have noticed the backlash over the last couple of years when I discuss or post to social media about my Skiploading meals or those of my clients. I have seen pros who use these methods get verbally destroyed as well, by people who aren’t pros and probably shouldn’t have an opinion on all methods involving getting ripped when they, themselves, have not ever achieved a level of conditioning that would warrant such an opinion. However, this is unfortunately how the interwebs work: too many people giving opinions on things they aren’t experienced with.

Refeed meals, cheat meals, and Skiploading all became popular right around the same time, roughly during the early 2000s. This method of dieting was not acceptable at first, but quickly gained traction as more and more people who actually had credentials and experience were getting clients and themselves into insane condition using these methods.

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For quite a while, these methods grew to be accepted not only as alternative options to get into great condition, but arguably to get into better condition than using the antiquated method of starvation and absurd amounts of cardio. Of course, as all things have a lifespan, these methods are now being challenged. This begs the question: which is the best method? Cheat meal? Refeed day? Refeed days? No cheat or refeed meals at all? I have done it all. A lot of prep guys who have been around for a long time have as well. Those of us who have been around a while have used just about every method out there and have come to our own conclusions. Because this is my column, I am going to speak to my opinions based on my experience as a competitor and a trainer who has prepped thousands of people for the last 20 years and thousands more who have used my methods that I have not personally consulted with one-on-one.

What is a cheat meal?

The premise behind a cheat or refeed meal is that added calories (especially carbs, but fat intake also positively impacts the metabolism) in scheduled increments during a hypocaloric phase is akin to throwing gas on an ember. A cheat meal is not implemented to give someone a break from dieting to aid them psychologically; that’s just a side effect. They are implemented to offset the metabolism and keep the “fire burning,” so to speak. These added calories impact the metabolism to the point that when you return to regular dieting, you will continue to burn more body fat than had you not offset your metabolism with the higher caloric intake.

Is one cheat meal enough?

I remember when a high profile bodybuilder who did contest prep in the 2000s would use a keto style approach to dieting. I remember this quite well, because an awful lot of his clients would contact me to see if I could set up a Skiploading protocol for them because they felt that the one cheat meal they were allowed every now and then was doing nothing to offset their metabolism. They didn’t feel that the cheat meal offered enough in the way of calories to get the desired metabolic result. The large majority of these competitors that I set up Skiploading protocols for all of the sudden started making progress on their diets again, yet couldn’t tell their prep guy what they were doing because he wouldn’t have approved.

The short answer? One cheat meal typically isn’t enough to offset the metabolism for someone who is training their ass off, doing a ton of cardio, and is severely depleted from dieting. Will they still get to the end result and be shredded? They probably will. Is it the best approach? Probably not. However, everyone is different, and while some people will respond well to only one cheat meal, my experience has shown me that more people respond better to a higher caloric intake than one meal can provide.

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Is a refeed day overkill?

Most of us have heard it said, “There is a difference between refeeding for one meal and refeeding for an entire day. One will get you ripped and the other will make you fat.” Blanket statements much? Most people cannot refeed for a full day — at least without building into that long of a timeframe without getting fat. This I can agree with. However, I have seen too many times when one, two, or even three refeed meals do almost nothing visually to a physique and to the metabolism. Take those same people and have them refeed or Skipload for an entire day and their progress takes off and they are all of the sudden getting leaner and leaner every week without any other changes to their diet or cardio plans.

The short answer? An all-day refeed absolutely can work and has worked for thousands of people, from regular dieters that don’t compete to high-level amateurs and pros. When we make blanket statements like, "That will make you fat,” we aren’t taking into consideration every individual’s response to nutrition. A lot of things need to be considered, from how depleted that person is, how much muscle he or she carries (because a depleted 120-pound competitor will likely not need more calories and carbs than a 230-pound competitor), and a myriad of other variables that would be too exhaustive to mention. Obviously, if someone needs a lot of calories and carbs to fill out and positively impact their metabolism, they can’t possibly get all of those calories in one meal. Multiple meals spread out over the day can be quite beneficial.

A two or three-day refeed?

Admittedly, a two or three-day refeed is not going to be effective for most people. Even if you are severely depleted, there comes a point where you can simply take in too many calories and start to store them as body fat. This is, of course, exactly the opposite of what you want to accomplish with the refeed or cheat meals/days. Again, the objective of a refeed, cheat, or Skipload meal/day is to kickstart the metabolism and store carbs as glycogen; it is not to store body fat and then have to go back and burn off that stored fuel to get lean again. Understand, though, that I have personally benefitted from two and even three-day refeed days (and I have had clients do the same) and even at one point I had loaded for five days. That’s right — five days of refeeding and didn’t gain body fat. In fact, within four days of finishing this five-day refeed, I was back to the weight and condition I was prior to starting the refeed. No, this is not common, but it does happen. And if I believed blanket statements, I would not have even considered such a protocol.

How do you know whether to refeed for a meal, a day, or even longer?

The main question is this: how depleted are you? This question is vital, because any carbs you ingest while depleted will be stored as glycogen until you fill glycogen stores. This means, in short, that if you have the ability to store carbs as glycogen, it is almost impossible to store those carbs as body fat.

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This one question has the potential to provide the exact length of time that you need to refeed. However, there is no black and white answer, at least prior to refeeding. You will certainly know after you refeed. How? If you do not respond or progress well after the refeed then you know that the refeed was either too short or too long. If your weight goes up too high and remains high several days or even a week after the refeed, you refed too long. If you finish a refeed and your weight barely moves, and your progress isn’t any better than prior to the refeed, it was likely too short. So, you figure out how much you need to refeed by tweaking the amount of carbs and meals from refeed to refeed. Basically, it’s trial and error.

To give an example: If you are very depleted and you refeed for three meals over six hours and your weight goes up a few pounds but three days later you are back to the same weight and then start to fall below that weight in the days following, you have benefitted from the refeed. If your weight stays high and doesn’t get back to the weight prior to the refeed, the refeed was too large. If you start small with refeeds by starting at one meal and then build to two and then to three, etc., you will find that sweet spot. If you simply continue to increase your refeed and it goes all day or even into the next day, what someone on the internet says about your dieting methods shouldn’t matter. After all, you are only after results, not anyone’s approval.

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I know what you’re thinking: I haven’t answered the question. Bitch is, I can’t. I have been doing what I do for a very long time and I fancy myself better versed on refeeds, cheat meals (and obviously Skiploading) than the large majority of prep guys out there. Everyone? No. More than most? I do, yes. And if for some reason you don’t think I have the credentials then look to other popular and successful prep guys that use similar approaches. You will be hard-pressed to find a top prep guy that doesn’t use some version of a refeed or cheat meal/day to some degree.

The answer really is this: Everyone is different and everyone has specific needs for refeeding and keeping their metabolisms off balance. For some, a cheat meal will do the trick, while for others a complete day or even more is needed. What we need to do as an industry is focus more on our own yard and not worry about how green the neighbor’s yard is. If something works for someone else, it may not work for you. Yes, it might suck that someone can get into great condition eating donuts, pie, and burgers once a week while you only get one meal every two weeks and it is something much less palatable. Get over it.

Of course, there’s always the option of going old school and just torturing yourself by over-dieting and doing a ton of cardio and never refeeding. This works for some, while the large majority of those same people could get the same results by refeeding. Still, if they need to feel they are being tortured because this is more “hardcore,” go for it. I have been around long enough to believe that working smarter is far superior to working harder. Enjoying the process is great, but what really matters, in the end, is standing on stage and enjoying the end result. How you get there matters little. Just Sayin’.