Cheat to Get Ripped

I had discovered early on that having higher calorie days had a positive effect on getting ripped. I first experimented with this in college, much to the dismay of my nutrition professor. The first time I experimented with cheating to get ripped was in preparing for my fifth bodybuilding show in 2008. I did zero traditional cardio and had a full on cheat day all the way up to three weeks out from the contest. That happened to be the leanest I had been to date in any of my contests.

Fast forward a few years to the present day. All the guys I've helped prepare for contests have had cheat meals or cheat days. I've actually had to smooth things over with other contest preparation bodybuilders who get angry at my pre-contest bodybuilders when they find out that they've had cheat days and don’t do hour upon hour of mind numbing cardio. For those of you who are fans, you know that much of bodybuilding preparation is based in tradition, not science. This leads to physiological problems when trying to get ripped.

My top assistant strength coach, Gabe, is a few days out from his first contest. His physique really stepped up to the upper echelon of being ripped once I took him from one cheat meal per week to one cheat day per week. But let’s get to what you guys really want to know—why cheat days work and how or when to implement them.


When you diet, a number of things happen. To keep thing simple, I'm referring to a natural athlete because drugs can offset many of these things. Within three days, leptin levels will begin to drop. Leptin is a master control hormone that is found within fat cells. When leptin levels drop too far, we're sent a signal to eat more and slow our metabolism. This is one of the reasons why starvation diets don’t work for very long. In addition to this, testosterone levels will plummet, IGF-1 levels will drop, thyroid hormone (T3) levels will drop, cortisol levels will rise, and sympathetic nervous system output will drop. In addition, starvation will kick in. In other words, your body will fight you at every turn. You would have to have extreme willpower and discipline to stay on a starvation type of diet for any length of time because the hunger would become too much (I dieted like this for my first few contests). You need to offset these things if you want to be successful in your quest to get lean. Enter the cheat day or meal. To be clear, I don't really think one cheat meal is enough to offset this, but I do believe that it's a good place to start for anyone dieting to lose fat. I also think it's great psychologically.

Cheat Day

A cheat day is a day when you can eat anything you want. You will have to play around for a few weeks to find out if certain foods have adverse reactions for you. Research shows that it takes roughly 55 calories per pound of body weight to ‘reset’ leptin.

The leaner an individual gets, the more cheating he gets. I usually judge my guys by hunger levels, mood, and urination levels as well as how long they've been dieting and how they're looking and performing in the gym. When they hit the wall as far as getting lean and are under eight percent body fat (give or take), I will then implement a full cheat day and see how they respond. During Gabe’s first cheat day this past April, he gained eleven pounds (he started at 148 and went up to 159 by day’s end). It was exactly as I expected and he dropped twelve pounds by the following Thursday (he had his cheat day on a Sunday). His physique also noticeably started getting even sharper from week to week. When a cheat meal is implemented at the correct time, some things to look for are big jumps in weight, heavy night sweats after the cheat day, and frequent trips to the bathroom the day of or day after the cheat meal. It's important to understand that your muscles are like vacuums if you're truly in a needs state. Whatever your body doesn’t absorb in this state in terms of intramuscular glycogen and triglycerides will be excreted. You can't get fat in one day if you're really lean (or not). If you aren't lean enough for a cheat day, it will eventually lead to weight gain if continued (not bad if you're trying to gain muscle).

Not a One-Time Phenomenon

To clarify, a little assessment of Gabe is in order. His mood and mental acuity have remained good despite being at sub five percent body fat (not 100 percent but very good from my past experiences with hard dieting athletes). Although I don't have a blood testing lab at home (my wife wouldn’t allow it), Gabe reports that his sex drive has come back since implementing his cheat days, which indicate to me that the cheat days are having the desired effect on his sex hormones. Make no mistake, this isn't a one-time phenomenon. I've experimented multiple times with this myself and on my own competing clients. I've also been fortunate enough to have some of the finest bodybuilding minds and nutrition minds coach and teach me (including Scott Abel, Jose Antonio, and currently John Meadows). Don’t just go with tradition. Use the signals of the body to get ripped up.