If you are planning a cheat day, you might be wondering if it is optimal to schedule a workout on the same day.
So, should you work out on cheat day? Most people will work out on a cheat day because incorporating a heavy workout will allow your body to utilize the extra fuel to build more muscle and replenish glycogen stores that may have been depleted during your dieting phase. However, not working out on a cheat day isn’t harmful.
It is important to note that while working out on a cheat day can be beneficial, it is not a necessity, and if you would prefer to schedule a rest day instead, it will not inhibit your progress.
However, it is recommended that you aim to keep active in other ways such as walking, even if you are not planning on working out on your cheat day.
In this article, we will discuss:
- Reasons for working out on a cheat day
- Reasons against working out on a cheat day
- How to workout on a cheat day properly if you decide to do it
Reasons For Working Out on Cheat Day
There are a few different reasons why working out on a cheat day can provide benefits. Some of these reasons are:
- Training on a cheat day can help to use up excess glycogen in the body
- Working out speeds up the metabolism, which will further help your body to digest the extra fuel
- The increased energy from your cheat day calories will help fuel your workout
1. Training on a cheat day can help to use up excess glycogen in the body
During a cheat day, it is very likely that you are going to consume more carbohydrates than you normally would. As a result, these carbs are turned into glycogen in the body. Some of this glucose remains in the bloodstream for energy, while the rest is stored in the liver and in the muscles.
The body has a threshold for how much glycogen it can store, and after it has reached its limit, it begins to convert excess glycogen into fat.
However, when you exercise after eating a meal high in carbs, your body uses protein and glycogen to repair the muscle and make it stronger. In fact, if your glycogen stores are too low during training, it could potentially result in the body breaking down muscle for fuel, which you definitely do not want.
2. Working out speeds up the metabolism, which will further help your body to digest the extra fuel
When you work out, you speed up your metabolism and burn more calories. In particular with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), not only do you increase your metabolic rate during exercise, but for the hours after exercise as well.
Related Article: Gaining Weight After A Cheat Day – Is This Normal?
3. The increased energy from your cheat day calories will help fuel your workout
Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel, and as mentioned above, during a cheat day it is likely that your carb consumption will increase. These extra carbs are perfect for giving you the extra energy that you might need to crush your hard work out.
This can be very helpful in particular if you have previously been in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time, which has resulted in depleted glycogen stores. If this is you, then you have experienced how difficult it is to crush your workout when you don’t have the proper fuel.
Reasons AGAINST Workout Out on Cheat Day
While scheduling a workout on your cheat day is totally fine, there is no rule anywhere saying that you must work out on your cheat day. In fact, there are certain situations where working out on your cheat day may not be optimal.
The reasons why you may not want to work out on your cheat day are:
- You are only working out because you feel guilty for the extra calories that you ate
- Your workout might be compromised due to digestive upset from excess calories
- You simply do not want to work out
1. You are only working out because you feel guilty for the extra calories that you ate
If the only reason you are planning to work out on your cheat day is that you feel guilty for all the food that you consumed, or you want to burn all of the extra calories off, then this is not the right reason to work out.
A cheat day during a dieting phase is meant to serve as a mental break from your diet and is not meant to become something that you punish yourself for.
If you end up binging on your cheat day and feel a desire to exercise off the excess calories that you ate, you are better off to actually evaluate why you might be binging in the first place.
Related Article: I Ate 2000 Calories Over My Limit – Now What?
2. Your workout might be compromised due to digestive upset from excess calories
During a cheat day, it is common to eat foods that we may not normally eat on a daily basis, or even indulge in foods that we know we don’t digest well. If this is the case during your cheat day, then digestive issues might end up getting in the way of an optimal training session.
While there are ways around this (which we will discuss below) it is important to consider how your cheat day foods might affect your digestion.
3. You simply do not want to work out
One final reason that you should not work out on your cheat day is that you simply do not want to.
If you would rather, you can treat your cheat day as a day of rest, or a day where you focus on Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) activities such as walking or cleaning your house.
Related Article: Refeed vs Cheat Day: Differences, Pros, Cons
Working Out on Cheat Day: My Practical Recommendations
If you are planning to work out on a cheat day, there are some simple and practical steps that you can follow in order to optimize your experience.
Below I am going to list some of my own recommendations for working out on a cheat day.
Some simple guidelines to follow for working out on a cheat day are:
- Schedule your workout earlier in the day to avoid working out on a full stomach
- Continue to drink plenty of water to help with digestion and water retention
- Plan your heavy workout session on your cheat day
- Aim to increase your overall NEAT throughout your day
1. Schedule your workout earlier in the day to avoid working out on a full stomach
If you are planning a full cheat day, then it is likely that as the day progresses, you are going to have more and more food in your stomach. The more food that you eat during your cheat day, the more likely you are to experience digestive issues.
This is why I recommend training earlier in the day before you have consumed the majority of your cheat day meals. While you do not have to train in a fasted state, I would advise that you do not leave your training session until the very end of the day.
2. Continue to drink plenty of water to help with digestion and water retention
If you are going to work out on your cheat day, then it is advised that you keep your water intake high throughout your workout as well as throughout the rest of your cheat day.
Drinking enough water throughout your cheat day will not only replenish electrolytes lost during your workout through sweat but also help aid digestion and get rid of extra water retention caused by increased carb and sodium intake.
While the recommended daily water intake will vary depending on the individual, it is advised that men consume around 3 liters per day, while women consume roughly 2.2 liters per day.
3. Plan your heavy workout session on your cheat day
As mentioned in the above section, planning your heaviest, most intense training session on your cheat day will provide you with the most benefit.
Not only will you have plenty of fuel from the extra calories to crush your workout, but you will also be able to utilize all of the extra glycogen in your body to rebuild and repair your muscle. This is the most effective way to put all of those extra calories to good use.
4. Aim to increase your overall NEAT throughout your day
If you really want to optimize your cheat day, then you will make sure that you focus on getting movement outside of your training session as well.
Working out is very beneficial for your body, but focusing on getting exercise outside of the gym can also help to optimize your cheat day.
For example, low to moderate-intensity exercise such as walking consistently throughout the day has been shown to promote movement in the intestines, helping digestion to move along more quickly. This can be helpful on a cheat day when you consume a larger quantity of food.
Even if you have already completed your workout on your cheat day, don’t shy away from other forms of moving your body, such as going for a walk with your dog. This small action can have a very positive effect on how your body digests the extra food that you might have indulged in.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it OK To Have a Cheat Day and Not Work Out?
It is completely acceptable if you decide not to work out on your cheat day. While training on your cheat day does provide some benefits, it’s not required that you do so. It is not whether or not you train, but whether you go overboard on calories regularly that will determine how successful your cutting phase is.
What To Read Next
- Is It Better To Hit Your Macros or Calories?
- Cheat Meal vs Cheat Day: Which Is Better?
- How Often Should You Refeed? 7 Signs You Need A Refeed Day
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About The Author
Colby Roy is a holistic health and nutrition coach. She is certified through Precision 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.
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