How Many Calories Should You Eat on A Cheat Day? (Explained)

When you are planning a cheat day, you might be wondering how many calories you should eat in order to ensure you do not lose any of your progress.

The number of calories you should eat on a cheat day will depend on a few different factors such as your activity level and your current calorie intake. While it is not necessary to count your calories on a cheat day, a good rule of thumb is to eat around 1500-3000 calories over your regular maintenance calories.

It is important to note that while it would be extremely difficult to negate all of your hard-earned progress in one day, you want to ensure that your cheat day doesn’t turn into an all-out binge.

If you are someone who has a tough time moderating your calorie intake on your cheat day, you would likely benefit from sticking to a rough calorie range on the days that you decide to take a break from your regular diet.

In this article, we will discuss:

  • Should you count calories on a cheat day?
  • How many calories should you eat on a cheat day?
  • How to calculate calories on a cheat day
  • How many calories on a cheat day would it take to ruin your diet

Should You Count Calories on A Cheat Day?

The purpose of a cheat day is to give yourself a mental and physical break from a dieting phase. This can be helpful to satisfy any cravings that you might have on your calorie deficit along with increasing adherence to your diet.

With this in mind, the question becomes whether it is recommended to count calories on your cheat day.

If you have been dieting and counting calories for a long period of time and are using a cheat day as an opportunity to have a day off from your diet, then counting your cheat day calories might not be a valuable tool for you.

Counting calories on a day that is meant to be a pause from your diet might add additional stress and not provide you with the psychological break you desired. 

In addition to this, it is most likely unnecessary to count your cheat day calories, since one day of being in a caloric surplus will not reverse the progress you have made. The success of your deficit depends on your adherence to your diet over a consistent period of time.

On the other hand, there are certain instances where counting calories on your cheat day might be necessary.

If you are someone who has a hard time controlling your calorie intake without following some sort of structure, then counting your cheat day calories, or at the very least sticking to a calorie range, might be in your best interest.

It is important to note that if you have the tendency to restrict calories for a consistent period of time, and then drastically overconsume calories on your cheat day and lose control, you are at risk of developing what is known as Binge Eating Disorder.

If you struggle with Binge Eating Disorder you should seek treatment through a medical professional.

You might be someone who genuinely enjoys counting their calories for data collection purposes, even on a cheat day. If this is the case, then there is no reason why you can’t track your cheat day. 

You might even choose to eat whatever you want on your cheat day and log the calories afterward to see exactly how much you ate and how your body reacted.

Takeaway: There are no rules as to whether you should or should not count your calories on a cheat day, and ultimately it comes down to preference.

How Many Calories Should You Eat on a Cheat Day?

The number of calories that you should eat on a cheat day will be dependent on your regular calorie intake along with your current activity level.

The number of calories that you should eat on a cheat day will be dependent on your regular calorie intake along with your current activity level.

If you have a high level of activity, your cheat day intake is going to surpass someone who is less active and burns fewer calories in a day.

Wondering if it’s better to rest or stay active on your cheat day? Check out my article Should You Work Out on Cheat Day? (Pros & Cons).

In addition to this, you will be able to consume more calories on your cheat day if you are currently in a calorie deficit compared to someone who has the same maintenance calories as you but is not in a deficit. This will be illustrated in the table in the next section.

Takeaway: There is no set rule as to how many calories you should eat on your cheat day, but you should aim to consume no more than 1500-3000 calories over your maintenance calories in order to minimize any negative side effects of overeating, such as excess water retention, sluggish digestion, and in the most extreme cases, fat gain.

Where Should These Extra Calories Come From on a Cheat Day?

In the traditional format of a cheat day, whether your extra calories come from protein, carbohydrates, or fat is generally not important. The goal of a cheat day is to have a break from dieting and concerning yourself over how much you are eating along with what you are eating.

It is fairly typical that on a cheat day, extra calories will come from foods that are higher in a combination of carbs and fats (e.g., burgers and fries, pizza, creamy pasta, etc).

During a cheat day, the intent should be less about where your calories are coming from and more about enjoying any foods that you have not been able to enjoy on your diet.

However, this is different in the case of a refeed, where it is best to attain your extra calories from carbohydrates while keeping fat and protein intake moderate.

If you would like to learn more about the differences between a refeed and a cheat day and which one is right for you, check out Refeed vs Cheat Day: Differences, Pros, Cons.

How To Calculate Calories on A Cheat Day (With Example)

If you decide that counting calories on a cheat day is right for you, then it is time to determine your cheat day calorie range. As mentioned above, this range will differ for everyone, and there is no exact number of calories that everyone should be eating on their cheat day.

Below is a table that outlines what your hypothetical cheat day calorie range would be based on your current maintenance calories and/or if you are in a calorie deficit.

DEFICIT CALORIES
(-500 cals)
MAINTENANCE CALORIESCHEAT DAY CALORIES
120017003200-4700
130018003300-4800
140019003400-4900
150020003500-5000
160021003600-5100
170022003700-5200
180023003800-5300
190024003900-5400
200025004000-5500
210026004100-5600
220027004200-5700
230028004300-5800
240029004400-5900
250030004500-6000
260031004600-6100
270032004700-6200
280033004800-6300
290034004900-6400
300035005000-6500

A few examples of cheat meals that would amount to an additional 1500-3000 calories are:

  • Mcdonald’s Big Mac (563 cals), Mcdonald’s large fries (498 cals), Oreo McFlurry (570 cals) = 1631 calories
  • 4 slices of Pizza Hut Medium pepperoni pizza (920 cals), 12 Pizza Hut chicken wings (1386), Pizza Hut chocolate brownie (350 cals) = 2656 calories
  • Boston Pizza Thai bites (590 cals), Boston Pizza Chicken and Mushroom Fettuccine (1250 cals), 2 glasses of wine 4oz (200 calories), Boston Pizza New York cheesecake (600 cals) = 2640 cals

Keep in mind, the examples above would only account for the calories over your regular maintenance calories, not your entire cheat day.

Here is a breakdown of what an entire cheat day might look like if you are in a deficit of 1700 calories, and you maintain your weight on 2300 calories:

  • Breakfast: 4 slices of bacon (170 cals), 2 eggs (140 cals), 4 large pancakes (700 cals), 1/3 cup of Maple syrup (277 cals), 2 cups of orange juice (222 cals) = 1509 calories
  • Lunch: Protein smoothie made with 1 scoop of protein powder (130 cals), 1 banana (120cals), 1 cup mixed berries (70 cals), 2 tbsp peanut butter (188 cals), 2 cups of 2% milk (244 cals) = 752 calories
  • Dinner: Boston Pizza Thai bites (590 cals), Boston Pizza Chicken and Mushroom Fettuccine (1250 cals), 2 glasses of wine 4oz (200 calories), Boston Pizza New York cheesecake (600 cals) = 2640 calories
  • Snack: 1 small movie theater popcorn (400 cals),1 small Diet Coke (0 cals) = 400 calories

Total cheat day calorie intake: 5301 Calories (or 3001 calories over maintenance)

As you can see from the example above, your entire cheat day does not have to consist entirely of processed, high-fat, high-sodium, high-carb foods or fast food. In fact, it is recommended that you still include some nutrient-dense foods in your cheat day, especially if you enjoy them.

If you find that you have a difficult time going way over the cheat day calories recommended above, you might need to evaluate your current relationship with food. 

If you are in a deficit that is drastically lower than your maintenance calories and find it difficult to control yourself on a cheat day, your deficit may be too low to be sustainable.

In addition to this, if you are severely restricting not only the quantity of your food but the types of food you eat, this could be a reason why you find it hard to moderate yourself on a cheat day.

If this is the case, you must ensure that you are not using a cheat day as an excuse to binge and that you are allowing yourself variety in your regular diet.

How Many Calories on A Cheat Day Will Ruin Your Diet

how many calories on a cheat day will ruin your diet

While it is common to see the weight on the scale go up after a cheat day, it is highly unlikely that this is due to fat gain. More frequently, people will experience weight gain after a cheat day due to water retention from an increased intake of carbohydrates and sodium.

Since 1 pound of fat is equal to about 3500 calories, you would have to eat this number of calories over your normal maintenance calories in order to gain 1 pound of fat. 

Therefore, if an active 30-year-old, 200-pound male needed roughly 2700 calories to maintain his weight, he would need to consume a whopping 6200 calories to gain 1 pound of fat.

With that said, it typically takes multiple days of excessive calorie intake to result in fat gain. Therefore, even one day of a much higher caloric intake will likely not result in fat gain. However, if your aim is to avoid losing any progress you have made, it is best to avoid going 3500 calories over your normal maintenance calories.

Let’s get you in the best shape of your life. Sounds good?

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About The Author

COLBY ROY

Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision Nutrition and the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and has a passion for all things nutrition and healing the body. More specifically, Colby likes to work with clients who want to optimize their gut health and energy levels.