Everyone needs to follow a nutrition plan.  It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to gain muscle or lose fat, if you don’t have a plan, you’re not going to get optimal results (This is why we build a nutrition framework plan for every client in our gym).

So let’s assume you have a plan.  You know how many grams of fat, carbohydrate, and protein to eat each day, and you’re using an app like calorie counter by fat secret or myfitnesspal to track each day.

And you’re making great progress.  You’re not overly concerned with ‘eating healthy’ as long as you hit your daily goals, because you know that hitting those goals will mean mostly healthy food anyway.   Great, right?

And now, you’re gearing up for an awesome Memorial Day Weekend party. So, what do you do?

Here’s what I recommend in three easy steps.

Step One:  The Cheat Meal

This protocol is what you’ll use if you’re just having one meal that doesn’t or shouldn’t fit into your day easily.   Think of this as a date night dinner, or a family brunch, or a birthday party. Cheat meal

Here’s what you do:

Bring your calories up to your workout day calories.  For most of you, this is your bodyweight x 11 for women, and your bodyweight x 13 for men.

Eat mostly protein the other portion of the day that isn’t your cheat meal.  Most cheat meals consist of alcohol, carbs, and fat, so getting the protein in early will solve the imbalances that your cheat meal would otherwise cause.

If you know where you’re going and what you’re eating, track it in advance.

For example, if i’m going to get a bacon burger and fries with two whiskey and diet cokes, I’d put that into my calorie tracker early.  That way I know what i’m working with and i’m not guessing and scrambling at the end of the day.

Alcohol counts as carbs whenever you track, but especially remember this when you’re having a cheat meal.  In order to track this, take the total amount of calories from the drink and divide it by 4 (that’s the number of calories per gram of carb).

For example one beer, glass of wine, or shot of liquor are all around 120 calories.  Simply take 120 / 4  = 30 grams of carbs added to your daily total. 

Step Two:  The Cheat Day

This is the protocol you’ll use when you know the entire day is going to be a bust in your diet.  The goal here it damage control, not fat loss.  Simply recognize that on this day, you will not be losing fat.  That’s OK, because there are plenty of other days to lose fat.

Here’s what you do:Cheat Day

Bring your calories up to your workout day calories.  For most of you, this is your bodyweight x 11 for women, and your bodyweight x 13 for men.

Don’t sweat anything else!  Track it, eat slowly, and don’t go over that number.

Get back to losing fat the next day. 

Step Three:  The Cheat Weekend

This is the protocol you’ll use when you really aren’t doing too hot for a long period of time (2-3 days, anything longer and you need to really reel in the issue.  Even vacations shouldn’t be 100% contradictory to your success).

Here’s what you do:

Bring your calories up to your workout day calories.  For most of you, this is your bodyweight x 11 for women, and your bodyweight x 13 for men.

Loosely keep track of things.  If you can get some protein in during times where it’s not important to you to eat socially/junk (say, grabbing more meat and less sides at a BBQ during a lake weekend getaway) slam that. It’ll keep you fuller longer and less likely to max on heavier calorie foods.

Cheat weekendGet physical activity in.  Whether a small run, some sprints, or a bodyweight workout, anything is better then nothing when it comes to fat loss.

Don’t be so hungover/food-hungover that you can’t train hard.  This will especially happen the older you get, so be careful not to let your fun completely ruin a few workout sessions.

When you’re back to normal, fast 24 hours from when your last  meal of the cheat weekend was.  This means if your last meal was at 6pm on Sunday, don’t eat until 6pm on Monday. This is really tough to do, but has helped me and several clients in the past.  It creates a huge calorie deficit to balance the weekend and, due to some fun science-y things, (mostly related to leptin levels, if you care) can actually help burn fat faster and off-set most, if not all of the damage done on this weekend. (WARNING:  This is not to be done all the time/every other weekend. It’s damage control for a few times a year at the most.  Eating this way all the time will likely lead to some bad relationships with food, which we don’t want).

Closing thoughts:

Remember, the goal of any of these protocols is to offset the damage of what “could have been”, not to continue burning fat in the face of poor eating.  These still take work, but the investment is a minimal tradeoff to be able to stick to your plan without letting the plan get in the way of your normal life.