A lot of people like to incorporate a day of higher calorie/higher carbohydrate intake each week when they’re eating in a caloric deficit. This is actually a great way to keep your metabolism from stalling and your progress from hitting a plateau! I have 2 days per week where I eat just a little extra to keep my body from adapting too much, I’m experimenting with which days work best for me based on my training schedule, but for right now it seems to work best on Monday and Thursday. I don’t call it a cheat day though and I’m going to explain why.
First we’ll tackle “cheat day”, I don’t like this phrase because of the negative connotations to the word cheat. When we think of cheating we think of dishonesty and being unfaithful. Neither of these are things I want associated with enjoying food! When you’re in a caloric deficit, you’ll hit a point where your metabolism will likely need a higher calorie day to get back into fat loss mode. This isn’t something bad, it’s just the way our bodies work. Our bodies are very adaptive, so after a certain deficit for a period of time that will vary from person to person, your metabolism slows down to match the amount of calories you’re taking in. Associating something that’s actually good for your progress with a negative term is confusing and can leave you with a feeling of guilt afterwards. I don’t like guilt to be associated with eating.
Now let’s talk about the benefits to calling your high calorie/carb day a refeed day. You are actually refeeding your body by having a higher carb day once or twice a week! Your body stores carbohydrates to use as energy, when you’re eating a lower amount of carbohydrates regularly, these stores become depleted and you could feel less energetic and possibly see a reduction in strength during weight training. A refeed allows your body to store some carbohydrates and you’ll likely see an increase in energy during your next workout. Psychologically, calling it a refeed will help you to feel positive about eating more than your usual number of daily calories and macronutrients while also helping you to maintain control over what you’re eating. On a refeed day, I’d recommend an extra 300-500 calories from carbohydrates, this doesn’t mean you should eat indiscriminately. I might enjoy a donut or other sugary treat on a refeed day, but I make sure the majority of what I eat is nutrient-dense. When calling it a “cheat day”, you’re more likely to overindulge and not really pay attention to your macro and calorie goals for the day.
If you’ve just started tracking your macros and you’re working on weight loss, I’d recommend waiting a few weeks before introducing refeed days. Get used to eating in a caloric deficit and see what progress you can reach in those first 3-4 weeks when you’re likely to see quicker progress. Once you hit the point where your progress slows down or stalls, it’s a good idea to adjust your macros slightly and introduce 1 or 2 refeed days per week.