Fully aware of a cheat meal’s power to support recovery, restore depletions, and satisfy cravings and hunger while stimulating the mechanics of metabolism, I simply deem a cheat meal to be a divine, pre-planned, intentional arrangement of food that, if carefully, passionately, and precisely prepared, ultimately will, once mindfully consumed, allow an athlete to perpetuate forward in reaching the demands of his or her preferred sport.

Deep within an off-season focused on making solid muscle gains and strength increases while maintaining conservativeness in fat accumulation? Stepping on stage, perhaps five weeks out, with the intentions of coming in hard, full, and conditioned as possible? Regardless of the focus and/or current situation, there comes a time when the cheat meal is called upon, needed, requested, suggested, and perhaps mandated in order to get closer to achieving the task at hand.

This point in time is serious, should contain no nonsense, and without a doubt must be classified as a big deal. Just think that up to this point in time, approximately thirty-four meals have been consumed, none missed, all containing the prescribed macronutrient count. The cardio is complete. You trained like a champion. You did everything that was needed to be done. It’s now time for your cheat meal.

You ask yourself, “What is it that I should have for this special meal?”

Perhaps you’re stumped. Perhaps you’re unclear as to how to prepare for such an occasion. Perhaps you're placing this burden upon another. Hold up. Now relax. Let me guide you through this process with my six-step cheat meal power guide.

Step 1: Set an exact day, time, and location.

Two questions to consider for day placement:

  • Recovery method: Do I want to end my day with a cheat meal after a demanding training day?
  • Fueling method: Do I want to fuel a hard training day by having a cheat meal pre- training?

Keeping these self-proclaimed methods in consideration, sometimes it comes down to what you are trying to accomplish physique and/or strength wise. Surely, in any case, you want the cheat to promote performance/presentation rather than hinder these efforts.

Aside from how I look, I personally perform great the day after consuming a cheat meal because I prefer to feel full and slightly bloated while training. I tend to place my cheat meal the night before I train legs because leg strength and size are my weak points. By placing the cheat meal in such a manner, I know I’m in a better position to yield a greater workload, which will in turn support growth and gains in strength.

Timing recommendation: As a proud member of Team Starnes, I support the recommendation of scheduling the cheat as the last meal of the day, replacing what you’d regularly have as your last meal. This allows you to stay on course up until the cheat and has great potential to support sleep. Again, this meal is one meal. It isn't intended to be a cheat day.

Location recommendations: When considering location, ask yourself the following:

  • Do you want this cheat meal to be relaxing and thoughtless?
  • Do you want to eat in silence without distraction and without conversation?
  • Would you prefer to schedule your cheat meal with friends and family whom otherwise would never have a chance to enjoy a meal with you?

On most occasions, I tend to enjoy this meal alone while watching a movie or the Food Network Channel. I find that most of the time I use this meal as a way to relax and disconnect.

Step 2: Make a list.

Questions to consider before making a list:

  • What is going to make this cheat meal worth it?
  • What am I craving?

On most occasions, I crave and want the same thing week in and week out. Considering the questions above, I'd like to have a double bacon cheeseburger from Portillo’s; breaded chicken fingers dipped in Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce; pancakes with blueberry jam, almonds, cashews, and peanut butter; a cup of coffee ice cream mixed with whole milk; and a few turtle cookies from Kirsten’s Bakery.

After reflecting on what you’d prefer to eat, create a list of food items that you need to collect and purchase. Below, you’ll see that I separate my list by where my items will be purchased. Notice that I'll be visiting a restaurant, grocery store, and bakery.


  1. Double bacon cheeseburger

Trader Joe’s:

  1. Mozzarella cheese
  2. Provolone cheese
  3. Organic mayonnaise
  4. Breaded chicken fingers
  5. Almond butter
  6. Peanut butter
  7. Cashew butter
  8. Blueberry jam
  9. Buttermilk pancake mix
  10. Whole milk
  11. Coffee bean blast ice cream
  12. Sweet Baby Ray’s barbeque sauce

Kirsten’s Bakery:

  1. Turtle cookies

Step 3: Get shopping.

Now that the list is devised and you've pinpointed where to get the goods, it’s time to get shopping. You may find that it works to your advantage to have this planned and executed days in advance before you have your cheat. You may find that it works to your advantage to make these stops only hours beforehand. Again, all that matters is that it works for you. I tend to keep most of the items always on hand and replenish the amounts as needed, but as far as the Portillo’s burger, I always purchase this within the hour of my designated cheat time.

Questions to consider:

  • Is it advantageous to my schedule to pre-plan and purchase these goods as I'm routinely purchasing my regular food for the week?
  • If I have this cheat food in my house, pre-cheat meal time, will I be tempted to splurge and ruin my diet?

I find that I can have ice cream and cookies in my freezer and not be tempted to take a spoonful or nibble. Again, consider these questions so that you aren't defeating your overall efforts and aspirations.

Step 4: Prepare and/or cook the meal.

The day, time, and location are set. You know what you want. You've purchased all the goods. Now is the time to prepare everything so that every selection is cooked/readily available to be consumed within this one last meal. This concept may appear to be attainable, merely as a thought, but it can be complicated and for the most part takes practice. Be patient.

Consider the meal I’ve devised above. The first thing on the list is the Portillo’s burger. Although I love their burger and applaud their consistency with the size, taste, and amount of bacon added, one quality it lacks is the quantity of cheese. To combat the dilemma, I add extra mozzarella and provolone cheese. Once home, I merely add the cheeses to my burger and place the entire concoction in the oven for roughly fifteen minutes. This works out perfectly because as the cheese is melting in its foiled cocoon, I'm simultaneously baking the breaded chicken fingers. Once ten minutes has elapsed, I'm pouring the pancake batter into a skillet on the stovetop. In fifteen minutes tops, the burger, chicken fingers, and pancake are all ready to be plated. I add the blueberry jam and nut butters to the pancake. With a few minutes to spare, as the nut butters and jam are merging, the burger and fingers cooling, I have ample time to take the ice cream out of the freezer so that it, too, has the ability to defrost a bit before trying to force a spoon within its contents.

Step 5: Let’s eat!

A few things worth considering:

  • Should I have my dessert first, last, or in between bites?
  • Should I eat to oblivion?

In regards to the food line-up, I typically begin my cheat meal with the buttered and jammed pancake. One reason for this is that I find this particular food choice loses heat the most rapidly. Also, I find that if I begin my cheat with something heavy like the burger, my taste buds become somewhat muddled and insensitive to the rather fragile qualities of the pancake, jam, and butters. As I finish the pancake but before moving on to the burger, I eat a cookie.  I’ll have a few bites of the burger, making sure that each and every bite includes mayonnaise, cheese, burger, and bun. I move back and forth between the burger and the Sweet Baby Ray’s barbeque sauce covered chicken fingers, intermittently having a cookie or two. Once the burger and fingers meet my dietary requirements, I then end with the coffee ice cream and whole milk duo.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve never eaten to full oblivion, not quite sure if I was going to die or throw up before the night’s end. Perhaps another article will highlight cheat meal post-drama associated with the "I’m in a fetal position questioning when and if the pain will end all because my hunger was on an ultimate high" phenomenon. That being said, I don't recommend eating to this level of fulfillment. It’s unnecessary. I do recommend that you eat to a comfortable state and satisfy your cravings and hunger without going overboard. Keep in mind the overall purpose(s) of the cheat meal—restoring glycogen levels, balancing hormones, sparking the metabolism, supporting recovery, and fueling training.

Step 6: Enjoy the journey.


  • Savor each bite
  • Be present
  • Eat slowly and mindfully

Plugging away day in and day out, I eventually land on Sunday, feet shoulder width apart, ready to sit back and drive forward. This day will include waking up without an alarm clock, eating meal one, completing a bit of office work at home, eating meal two, napping, eating meal three, training mid-afternoon, eating meal four, reading, napping for another round, prepping for a cheat meal, and consuming a delightful cheat meal.