Here’s How Bodybuilder James Hollingshead Approaches Cheat Meals During Prep

Hollingshead explains how cheat meals benefit his diet and training progress.

IFBB pro bodybuilder James Hollingshead loves cheat meals. At the end of a long week of training, he wants to cave in to his cravings. He still follows a strict diet in terms of food choices during his off-seasons or preps, which works for him, but Hollingshead is well aware of the challenges of competitive bodybuilding, particularly the mental aspect of following such a strict diet regimen for so long.

In a video posted to Hollingshead’s YouTube channel on Aug. 20, 2022, Hollingshead explained how cheat meals fit into his diet. In the video, he explains his approach to food and how off meals, refeeds, and cheat meals fit into his programming. Check it out below:

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Trial & Error

In bodybuilding, everything is individualized, and after years of trial and error and feedback from coaches, Hollingshead found it’s necessary for him to consume some pretty extreme refeeds. Hollingshead questioned whether this could be managed through volume management in the gym. It’s possible it could, but that could compromise the training intensity required for the hypertrophy required to be competitively viable on bodybuilding’s elite stages.

Nutrition first, training after.

Hollingshead believes including refeeds in his diet may lead to being able to cut back less on food a during contest prep. If done properly, refeeds can keep the metabolism firing. Although he does believe to some degree, that he will inevitably need to adjust daily calories as things progress towards the competition. However, that caloric drop depends on training.

Current Plan & Adjustments 

Some time ago, Hollingshead ran himself down and his weigh reached a new low. So what did he do? He added a high-carb day with additional fats each day until he was back to his baseline. Hollingshead discovered through feedback that this did not have a substanitive effect, so he continued for twice as many days, but it put too much stress on his stomach.

Through this trial and error, Hollingshead decided that a one-day refeed with calorically dense foods was the optimal approach. He is currently sitting in the 270-pound range and is diligent about his book-keeping. He tracks everything from his weight and his daily training routines to his meals and supplementation. He also tracks low-carb, high-carb, and refeed days as they are all unique. 

To express how effective this refeed plan has been working for himself, Hollingshead thumbed through his journal to share that over the previous month, he went from 282 to 270 pounds. He believes at 270 pounds, he has reached a low enough weight where he won’t lose much more before he competes — he’ll float around his current weight and adjust the details accordingly.

Current Training

Hollingshead pulled back a bit on his training volume as he gets closer to stage weight. He has been resting more for better recovery — a necessity when consuming fewer calories to cut weight.

Mentally, it’s not really a good thing to do. If you…underperform…a set…then [you won’t] feel good about the workout.

Hollingshead believes in quality sets. Subpar sets solely for energy expenditure may burn calories, but it’s not going to contribute to the aesthetic goals.

At the beginning of prep, Hollingshead performed eight sets per muscle group. For abdominals, he stuck to six sets. As a pro show approaches, he cut shaved off two sets per muscle group. He doesn’t set weights, so when he says six sets, it could be two sets spread out over three exercises, four for two, or even six exercises for one set. As the volume remains the same, Hollingshead isn’t as concerned about the movements.


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James Hollingshead’s Typical Refeed Breakdown

The first three meals of the day are clean meals with some additional fat and carbohydrates compared to what a meal looks like when doing a refeed:

Refeed Meal One

  • Two bagels with jam
  • 60 grams of whey protein
  • 100 grams of fresh blueberries
  • 20 grams almond butter

Typical Meal One

  • 100 grams of Core
  • 60 grams of whey protein
  • 100 grams of fresh blueberries

Refeed Meal Two

  • 225 grams of rice (dry weight)
  • 200 grams of chicken 
  • 30 grams of almond butter

Typical Meal Two

  • 100 grams of rice (dry weight)
  • 200 grams of chicken 

Refeed Meal Three (Post-Workout Meal)

  • 150 grams of rice (dry weight)
  • 180 grams of salmon
  • 150 grams cream of rice (dry weight)

Typical Meal Three (Post-Workout Meal)

  • 100 grams of rice (dry weight)
  • 180 grams of Salmon

On refeed days, Hollingshead has free reign to eat as much of anything he wants. For example, the day before the video, Hollingshead went to Honest Burger in London and crushed a burger, fries, and onion rings with some gravy and coleslaw. Then, he treated himself to a large peanut butter cookie from Vintage Food Trucks then went to Coates for chocolate banana crepes.

Once getting home and polishing off a rock cake, Hollingshead ate his second meal of chicken tikka masala from Sakura with lamb samosas, a Peshwari naan, and a vegetable biryani. 

I awoke in the night and had a tub and Ben & Jerry’s awaiting me.

Hollingshead fell asleep on his sofa, sweating from being so stuffed. He woke up late in the evening with a sweet tooth and dug into a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Karamel Sutra Core ice cream with a bowl of crunchy nut granola.

I was blown to the brim.

Hollingshead slept like a baby, which rarely happens deep in prep. He usually falls asleep at 10 p.m. and wakes up half an hour later feeling like he got a full night’s sleep. When this happens, he is often hungry but is confined to chewing ice or drinking the occasional diet drink to combat hunger pangs.

I approach bodybuilding in a manner that I enjoy. There’s many ways to skin a cat.

Poor sleep is a common side effect of contest prep. It’s how Hollingshead knows his calories are low enough and his prep is working. When Hollingshead refeeds, the difference in his leg training is significant — it’s as though his lifts come back to life thanks to the additional calories.


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Wrap Up

Hollingshead is approximately five weeks out at the time he posted this video from his next pro show.

The heavier you are, the more tissue you carry. You are probably more likely to get away with more calorie-dense foods. Again, I wouldn’t advise it for everybody.

Hollingshead is happy with his current progress and believes all he has left to do is thin his skin a bit more, bring his back in, and detail his shoulder tie-ins to bring a fresh look to the stage.

Featured image: @jamestheshedhollingshead on Instagram