Have you ever wondered, “Why Do I Feel Skinnier After a Cheat Day?”
We’ve all been there – you have a massive splurge one day and literally eat everything in sight.
You wake up the following morning with a slight hatred for yourself.
You then decide to look in the mirror to see just how much damage you’ve done.
Wow! Low and behold, you look skinnier, leaner, and even as though you’ve somehow added muscle mass overnight.
What the hell is going on here?
Allow me to reveal all.
Why Do I Feel Skinnier After a Cheat Day?
A cheat day will replenish depleted glycogen stores, which will make the muscles look fuller and more pumped. Furthermore, a cheat day will boost your metabolism, so you’ll be burning more calories the following day. It is also estimated that leptin production in the body can increase by up to 30% over the next 24 hours following a larger meal. All these factors can make you both look and feel leaner after a cheat day.
1. A Cheat Day Replenishes Glycogen Stores
One of the main reasons you feel skinnier after a cheat day, and perhaps why you even are a bit leaner, is due to glycogen.
Whenever the body needs a quick boost of energy, typically say when you’re working out or being particularly active, this is often provided by glucose from food.
However, let’s say you’ve been following a strict diet for a while, the body may not be getting as much glucose from the foods that you eat.
The body will then generally break down the stores of glycogen in the muscles in order to release glucose into the bloodstream.
Therefore, you could say the longer you’ve been following a strict diet, the more depleted your glycogen stores will be.
This is why it’s actually a good idea to have the occasional cheat meal, or perhaps even an entire cheat day.
The additional calories, especially from carbohydrates, you consume will replenish your glycogen stores.
And one of the greatest benefits of this is more energy to fuel your workouts.
This is actually why you’ll often find that you have a great workout the day after a cheat day, and perhaps even hit a few PRs.
Another benefit to replenishing your glycogen stores is that it actually makes your muscles look fuller and more pumped.
So, you’re likely to look more muscular following a cheat day.
And obviously the more muscular you look the less body fat you’ll appear to be carrying.
Admittedly, you can’t make wholesale changes to your physique in the space of 24 hours.
However, you can certainly look very different while your body is responding to what’s going on internally.
This is actually why most pro Bodybuilders literally gorge on food, especially junk food high in carbs, just prior to a show.
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They’re aware that they’ll get that fantastic pump in the muscles just before setting foot on stage.
So, there is a certain method to the madness.
2. The Metabolism & Leptin Spike
There has been plenty of research into cheat meals and cheat days over the years.
And one of the main outcomes of eating to excess every once in a while is that it increases your metabolism straight afterwards.
Therefore, following a cheat day your metabolic rate increases, which in turn means that you’re burning more calories.
Okay, I admit this may not be a massive amount of extra calories burned.
However, once again, research has shown that you may typically burn 3-10% more calories over the following 10 hours.
I guess when this happens in conjunction with replenishing your glycogen stores you’re going to look skinnier.
So, in effect, following a cheat day your muscles will be more full and pumped, while you’ve burned slightly more calories than normal.
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Now, the reason that you’re burning more calories in the aftermath of a cheat day is due to increased levels of leptin in the body.
Leptin is a hormone located in the fat cells of the adipose tissues.
It is estimated that following a large meal that leptin production can increase by up to 30% over a 24-hour period.
Leptin is often called the satiety hormone, as it will inhibit hunger and regulate your energy balance.
So, once more, there’s a lot of chemical changes going on in the body following a cheat day.
And these all contribute towards giving you that post-cheat day “skinny look”.
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3. Did You Workout “BIG” on Your Cheat Day?
Something else to consider is your activity levels on your cheat day.
Okay, I’ve already mentioned that you can’t make wholesale changes to your physique in a 24-hour period.
However, while your body is adjusting to these sudden changes (cheat day after eating clean) some very weird things can occur (suddenly leaner and more muscular).
With that being said, I know for a fact that I increase my activity levels on a cheat day in order to combat what’s about to come.
Admittedly, I simply increase my step count for the day, which may involve going for a few short walks during the day.
Plus, I’ll ensure that I’m not completely sedentary, so I’ll get up from my desk every 30 minutes or so.
Personally, I like to save my “big workout” for the following day, as I know my glycogen stores will be replenished, and therefore I should get a great workout.
However, I’m sure many of you look at things the other way.
You know you’re going to eat big on a certain day, so you also decide to workout big on the same day.
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So, perhaps you do some super-intense HIIT cardio in the morning, maybe even some sprints.
Then again, you may choose to hit a big leg day or simply decide to hit all the big compound movements.
In effect, what you’ve done here is to really ramp up your metabolic rate for the day.
So, you’re burning more calories throughout the day anyway.
And then you replenish your glycogen stores, while also increasing your production of leptin.
All-in-all, you’ve literally turned your body into a fat-burning machine as your body adjusts to what is going on.
4. The Cheat Day Psychological Effect
I believe the final reason you may feel skinnier after a cheat day is down to how you mentally view the day.
If you’re strict with your diet and training for the remainder of the week, the likelihood is that you really look forward to cheat day.
In fact, it’s not unheard-of to eat even fewer calories on the other 6 days just so you can really have a splurge on cheat day.
So, you enter cheat day happy and excited.
As weird as it sounds this can actually make a change to your physique as well.
It’s actually probably easier to look at it the other way around.
Imagine if on cheat day you’re constantly worried about how and what you’re going to eat.
In fact, your stress levels are through the roof.
You don’t really enjoy the day because of your constant worry, plus you have a terrible night’s sleep.
The likelihood is that you’ll probably wake up the following morning looking terrible as well.
Stress and recovery (sleep) play a huge role in how we look.
So, if you’re someone who really enjoys your cheat day and sails through it completely guilt-free you may see some changes in your physique while your body adjusts.
However, if you’ve been feeling guilty and stressed out you’ll probably wake up looking puffy, bloated, and as though you added a lot of extra pounds.
Trust me, the psychological side of a cheat day can make a huge difference to how you look.
So, as you can see, there are various reasons that you feel skinnier after a cheat day.
In fact, you may actually be slightly leaner.
A cheat day will typically replenish your glycogen sites which makes your muscles look bigger and fuller.
You’ll also increase your leptin levels which will speed up your metabolism.
So, you’ll actually be burning more calories during the day.
Plus, if you decided to have a super-intense workout in order to counteract your cheat day then you’re going to be burning even more calories.
Finally, if you can approach a cheat day happy and guilt-free this is likely to be reflected in your physique.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.