Bodybuilder's Guide to Cheat Meals

Guess what? Many top bodybuilders love junk food — and they consume it regularly. That’s right: in the offseason, many pros eat foods considered to be forbidden on a bodybuilding diet, items such as bacon, cheese and sweets. For some, it’s sheer necessity — with high metabolic rates, maintaining bodyweight requires extra calories. 

Many pros weigh well over 250 pounds in the offseason. The more quality (muscular) weight they carry, the higher the metabolic rate. For most offseason bodybuilders, as long as the greatest proportion of calories comes from nutritious lower-fat foods, there’s always room for additional fat and sugar. In this article, I explain how you can add some of your favorite but forbidden foods back into your diet. 

 CAKE 

Angel food cake and other types of cake with small amounts of frosting (especially fat-free icing, such as meringue) are good sources of simple carbohydrates. Often, much of the fat is in the frosting (think butte r-cream versions). The trick to eating cake is knowing how to do it without getting fat.

After you train larger muscle groups, such as back, chest or quads, your body is particularly depleted of fuel. Rebuilding fuel stores by including a lot of carbohydrates in the post-training meal is essential in starting the muscle- repair process. Fast-acting carbs, such as those in cake, are as good as any. Just watch how much frosting you consume. A little is fine, but thick globs of frosting take you from cheating on your diet to undermining it.

 BACON 

For building mass, a high-carb diet is superior to a low-carbohydrate plan for most bodybuilders. Carbs work in conjunction with protein to create an anabolic state. However, many bodybuilders experience periods of little growth despite a high-carb intake. In fact, a chronic high-carb intake could lead to an increase in bodyfat for some trainers.

One solution is to cut your daily carb intake in half for a week to 10 days. When your carb consumption goes down, your muscles undergo enzymatic changes that help support growth when you return to a high-carb intake. For seven to 10 days, follow a moderate-carb plan of about 11⁄2 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight each day. During this time, you can increase your intake of protein and dietary fat to help keep your total calories up.

In fact, one study showed that dietary fat, when combined with low- carb intake, could ultimately increase the ability of muscles to utilize carbohydrates. When you eat fewer carbs and a little more fat, your body actually increases its ability to use carbohydrates for growth when you return to a regular diet (higher in carbs and lower in dietary fat).

During the seven to 10 days when carbs are reduced, feel free to eat fattier meats, such as bacon. Three or four slices of bacon (lean or regular) can help jump-start muscle gains.

 PIZZA 

Dr. Eric Serrano, a noted sports consultant in Columbus, Ohio, wanted to find out which of the “really fattening foods” were most detrimental for obese individuals. He found, calorie for calorie, pepperoni pizza to be far more effective in stimulating the fat-storing enzymes in the body than any other food item.

Still, pizza doesn’t have to be a no-no. You can choose any cheese pizza. Two slices (about eight ounces of a frozen regular-crust pie) yield approximately 500 calories, 21 grams of protein, 58 grams of carbs and 24 grams of fat. That’s a little high in the fat department, but it’s acceptable if you follow a low-fat diet for your other four or five meals of the day. If you gain bodyfat easily, don’t eat pizza after 3 PM or so, and modify your carb intake after that since eating a lot of carbs later in the day increases the likelihood of adding to your bodyfat stores.

 

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 SOFT DRINKS 

I’m not a fan of soda as a calorie source. Generally, soda is nothing more than sugar mixed with flavoring. That said, some bodybuilders down a can after training, because sugar helps to rebuild muscle glycogen stores at that time. If you have a faster metabolic rate and tend to stay pretty lean, then you might consider drinking a can of soda 30 minutes before going to the gym (or during or immediately after your workout).

The sugar rush causes a rise in insulin, which tends to negate muscle breakdown associated with hard training. It also helps to drive glucose and amino acids (as well as creatine, if you’re supplementing with it) into muscles during recovery and to blunt the increase in cortisol that follows hard training. To see how your body responds, try this strategy for about two weeks on days when you train. 

 CHEESE 

No, not the fat-free tasteless stuff reserved for dieting — I’m talking about the real deal: Swiss, mozzarella, American and cheddar. Cheese is a good source of protein and should be part of any mass- building plan. It has plenty of calcium — which disrupts the fat-storing machinery in the body — and it also contains moderate amounts of short-chain fatty acids, a special type of fat that is less likely to be stored as bodyfat and may exert anabolic effects. Even saturated fat in cheese can be beneficial, assisting with testosterone production.

Eat cheese as a complement to other meals or use it as a standalone snack. It’s great before bedtime since a small serving (two to three ounces) is relatively low in calories, but it will stay with your body a long time, helping you stave off muscle catabolism while you sleep. 

 ALCOHOL 

Many bodybuilders train hard and regularly read FLEX, yet they never plan to compete. Most professional bodybuilders rigorously avoid alcohol, but many non-competitors occasionally imbibe. I know this because I am constantly asked about alcohol’s effects on bodybuilding progress. Alcohol is a dense source of calories (seven calories per gram), and it tends to be low in nutritional value, but that depends on what else you’re adding to your beverages. 

The fact is that up to eight ounces of wine daily can stimulate your metabolism, but taking in more than 16 ounces can downgrade it. Plus, moderate alcohol consumption is associated with lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Use common sense when you consume alcohol, and it shouldn’t dramatically impede your offseason progress.

There is no such thing as a food that you should absolutely avoid while you’re on an offseason bodybuilding diet. If you have a favorite food that’s less than ideal — or has a bad reputation — you can probably still include it by being disciplined with the rest of your diet.

Bodybuilders need a lot of calories to keep growing. They also need protein, carbs and healthy fats. Once the quota for macronutrients is met by consuming healthful quality foods, most bodybuilders still haven’t fulfilled all their caloric needs. Careful planning will allow you to successfully include cheat foods. 

 FLEX