If you are dieting for fat loss, forget cheat day.
High carb day is where it’s at.
Adding a high carb day into your routine can yield fantastic fat loss – and muscle building – results. It’s a technique which most of my male and female clients have used at some stage over the years.
However, many people get this tactic dead wrong.
Because despite being a principle used for over two decades, there remains an air of mystery around what you should actually do to get the most from a high carb day.
You’ll hear some people talking about how you need to eat specific foods, while others speak of simply tucking into anything you want, and others even advising you to simply go wild.
But which approach – if any – is the right one?
Today I’m going to show you how my clients use the high carb day technique to create a platform for superior results in the upcoming week, and I’ll also explain how easy it is to get these bad boys wrong.
Is High Carb Day Basically Cheat Day?
The most common mistake made with a high carb day is confusing it with a cheat day.
You see, a cheat day is not going to help your diet in any positive way.
That being said, we have all had them.
And anyone who says they’ve never had one is lying to you.
A cheat day is where we throw all structure and rules out of the window. We binge on whatever junk food we want and we enjoy doing so, because in our minds “we’ve earned it”.
Here’s something interesting; all of my clients enjoy treat meals – I’ll explain how below – but none of them have cheat days.
Because cheat days are both unnecessary and unproductive in terms of results – particularly if our goal is fat loss.
You see, binge eating anything is bad.
Heck, even if you binge ate boring old seeds and rice, you’d find it remarkably easy to ruin your fat loss results in a short period of time.
If you’ve worked hard all week in a calorie deficit to drop body fat, it’s easily possible to undo this with one day of binge eating, so by the end of the week you’re actually in a surplus.
And let’s be honest, on a cheat day we’re not binge eating seeds and rice, are we?
I know I’m not.
To me, cheat day means anything goes.
If it doesn’t have the letters “C-A-K-E” then there’s a pretty good chance I’m not eating it.
Throw in these cheat days every week and it’s easy to come undone.
So what the heck is the difference between a cheat day and a high carb day? And why is one much more productive than the other?
High Carb Day Done Right
A high carb day has one significant difference from a cheat day – we are looking to boost productivity of a hormone called leptin.
Leptin is the hormone which regulates satiety – how full you feel – and here’s the kicker:
Levels dramatically decrease when we lower calorie intake and lose body fat. (1)
So the longer you are dieting for fat loss – and the more fat you lose overall – the harder it becomes to avoid the temptation to binge eat due to constantly low levels of leptin.
You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Or, if you’re like me, a tank top and a donut shop.
But by temporarily boosting leptin levels through a period of planned overfeeding on carbohydrates, we can reap the rewards it offers – and we can do it without sabotaging any fat loss results.
You see, a high carb day isn’t a cheat day. We’re not binge eating here.
To make your high carb day as productive as possible, we should be mainly focusing on boosting our intake of one macronutrient – carbohydrates. (2)
So how high should you go?
Well, I usually have my male and female clients aim to aim to consume the carbohydrate intake they classed as “maintenance levels” on a high carb day.
This is more than enough to boost leptin productivity, and the higher carbs will suppress our appetite more significantly than consuming meals high in fat. (3)
If you’re concerned about any possible fat gain, I’d suggest even reducing your fat target for the day by around 20%.
That way, any extra calories consumed in the form of carbohydrates are offset by the deficit created in fat, so although your day was higher in carbs, it wasn’t high in calories.
My clients usually implement high carb days every 7-10 days.
It’s important to mention that this differs from person-to-person, so experiment with the formula and see how often you need to use this tactic to reap the best results from it for you.
Should Everyone Use High Carb Days?
Despite the obvious benefits, no.
High carb days are only really useful if you are following a low carb diet which sees you regularly lowering leptin production due to working in a calorie/carbohydrate deficit on most of your training days.
If you are currently on a diet which is high in carbohydrates – i.e. a diet which has you consuming over 1 gram of carbs per lb of body weight – then there is no need to have a high carb day as leptin levels will be optimal anyway.
This is a technique which works incredibly well with a flexible approach to dieting, too.
This is the approach around 85% of my male and female clients choose to take towards their nutrition, as it allows you to squeeze your favorite treat foods into your daily diet, greatly reducing the urge to binge eat on junk foods. (4)
Is that to say cheat days are totally useless?
You can do anything in moderation.
These things happen to all of us from time to time, and having the occasional day of unplanned madness won’t wreck your physique at all. In fact, it’s been shown to boost our ability to stick to our diet. It’s just about using them in sparingly. (5)
If you enjoyed this post on how to structure a high carb day, give it a quick share on Twitter of Facebook using my buttons. I greatly appreciate it!
For more training tips, jump on my free email newsletter at the bottom of today’s article. You can use all of my full workout programs by clicking here.
1. Romon, M., et al. “Leptin response to carbohydrate or fat meal and association with subsequent satiety and energy intake.” American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism, 277(5), 855-861 (1999).
2. Horton, T. J., et al. “Fat and carbohydrate overfeeding in humans: different effects on energy storage.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62(1), 19-29 (1995).
3. Havel, P. J., et al. “High-fat meals reduce 24-h circulating leptin concentrations in women.” Diabetes, 48(2), 334-341 (1999).
4. Stewart T.M., et al. “Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women.” Appetite. Feb;38(1):39-44 (2002).
5. Dallman, M.F.,et al. “Chronic stress and obesity: A new view of comfort food.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(20), 11696-11701 (2003).