During your weight loss journey or cutting phase, you may find yourself stuck at some point, even if things have been working great until new.
This is when you need to do a little bit of fine tuning and use advanced techniques such as refeeds.
I recently did an article on how to overcome weight loss plateaus, which covers quite a lot of situations.
But I felt the topic was not complete without talking a little bit about refeeding and how a refeed day can help optimize fat loss or push you through a weight loss blocking point.
What is refeeding?
Refeeding is a planned day of caloric surplus within a caloric deficit period (weight loss period/cutting phase), that follows a certain macronutrient distribution.
It is not a cheat meal. Refeeding is not binging.
When to refeed
All legit weight loss plans are based on a caloric deficit or energy deficit which does the work for the most part.
Losing weight is straightforward for the first couple of months for most people, but after you’ve done it for more than just a couple of months.
Or when you’ve reached a low body fat percentage (not your goal though), you might see really slow or no progress and you might be tempted to binge eat.
It’s also very common to start having bad workout days due to the lack of energy your body gets.
Eventually, the energy deficit will get to you. Instead of dropping your calories even more which will just make things worse for your metabolism and your life in general, consider a refeed day.
So, refeed when:
- You can’t stick to your diet anymore
- Your workouts are getting worse (in terms of volume and intensity/strength)
Generally speaking, you should not have more than 1 refeed day each 7-10 days if you are fairly lean (under 10% body fat for males and under 16% body fat for females) and if you are around 15% (males) or 20% (females), 1 refeed day each 2-3 weeks should be enough to keep you going.
Don’t use refeeding as an excuse
Don’t fall off the wagon though.
Refeeding is for those who actually made most of the progress during a cut, for those that reached a body fat percentage as low as 12-13% for males and under 20% for females.
You should look as refeeding as an auxiliary method that will help you go through the last mile of your road.
If you are just starting out your diet and you are like 20% body fat or more refeeding is probably not for you.
Don’t use it as an excuse to eat more.
Be consistent with your diet and you will make progress.
Benefits of refeeding
If done right, refeeding has plenty of benefits which are extremely important when your diet makes you feel miserable:
- Prevents binge eating
- Makes you feel good
The science behind refeeding
Leptin is the hormone that regulates hunger and the metabolism, dopamine has a very important role in making us feel motivated and rewarded.
And lastly but not least, I’m sure you know that testosterone, besides other very important roles, promotes muscle growth.
All of the three hormones above are influenced by dieting, and by energy balance, but leptin plays the most important role in today’s discussion.
Here’s how leptin works.
As I said above leptin regulates metabolic rate, hunger, and satiety.
When we are in a caloric deficit the leptin levels drop which triggers a decrease in the metabolic rate (metabolic adaptation), makes us feel cranky, moody and demotivated.
All this can only lead to bad stuff, hence the need for a refeed day.
That is why you can estimate by yourself when you need a refeed day, there is no magic formula or rule that will tell you when to refeed.
Learn your body, and when you are about to crack, throw in a refeed day.
Just be careful not to abuse refeeding. You will end up gaining more fat.
Here is a quote from the National Institutes of Health:
“Observational and interventional studies have shown that leptin contributes to the regulation of energy homeostasis, reward processing, brain development, neuroendocrine function, metabolism, immune function, and bone metabolism.”
Leptin levels increase during a caloric surplus, making us feel good, more motivated, we’re not hungry anymore and the metabolism rate can be boosted by up to 10% for a period of 1-2 day maybe.
This is not a lot and will most likely be offset by the caloric surplus but this is not the point of refeeding.
I’ve seen people saying that refeed days increase fat burn rate, but that’s more like a side effect of getting more effective and strict with the cutting diet afterward, not an effect of the slight metabolic increase itself.
The purpose of a refeed day is to give you a boost mentally and physically, to keep you going for more.
Planning a refeed day
There are 3 things you want to look at when planning refeeds: frequency, calories, and macros.
I already touched the frequency thing but I’ll resume here again.
If you are constantly losing 1-2 pounds of body weight per week you probably don’t need to have a refeed day or if you really want to do it, including one every 3 weeks or so.
When you have been restricting calories for a long time (over 2 months) and your morale is low, energy is low, weight loss rate is at about 1 pound per week or even lower, you should include a refeed day every two weeks or every 10 days.
If you are just about there, on the last mile, have been dieting for 2-3 months and you are struggling to get into single digit body fat levels you may want to include a refeed day every week to keep your sanity.
The frequency of refeeding is very important and will affect your results big time.
The timing recommended above should be regarded as a guideline, you are the only one that really knows how your body is reacting and you can decide for your own when you need in include a refeed day in your diet.
The next thing in planning a refeed day is to decide on a number of calories you will eat.
This is the difference between a cheat meal and a refeed day.
If when you are cheating you can eat as much as you want or as much as you can, on a refeed day you need to put a cap on it.
I haven’t found any relevant studies on this matter, but I’ve seen that most fitness people that I look up to recommend getting around 30% more calories on a refeed day.
So if you are cutting with 2,000 kcal a day, a refeed day should be roughly about 2,600 kcal.
If you are cutting with 20-25%, this should put you at about maintenance level.
Lastly but not least, you need to be looking at macros as well.
Remember this is not a cheat meal; it’s a planned refeed day that has the purpose of supporting your fat loss plan.
Therefore, macros should look something like this:
- 1 gram of protein per pound
- About 50 grams of fat (for the minimum healthy level)
- Take the rest from carbs
As you can see on a refeed you pretty much keep the protein and fat at the same levels as during any cutting day and you up the carbs, which will provide a boost of energy in the gym by restoring glycogen in the muscles.
Carbohydrates are also the main driver for increasing leptin levels which comes with all the benefits I just told you about.
So there are many reasons to increase your carbs during a refeed day and try to maximize carb intake on every single meal for that matter.
I like to eat some extra bread or pretzels on my refeed days but a more wise approach would be eating more rice, potatoes, and fruits.
If you haven’t already, I challenge you to include refeed days in your next cut. It should make life a lot easier.
We all know that cutting sucks and everybody wants to get rid of it as soon as possible.
If done correctly (see “Planning a refeed day” paragraph), refeeding regularly will keep your motivation and energy up and it will keep you going for more, while still losing fat