refeed days 101
If you are reading this then you have likely come from my recent refeed video, in which case, go give the video a like and subscribe to the channel hahah. If not then, as the title says, this blog post is going to cover refeeds 101, absolutely EVERYTHING you need to know as I know they are a popular topic within the fitness industry. Therefore, although I have gone into the science, the goal of this blog is still to make this as easy to understand as possible for you all so that you, yourself, know what, why and how to implement a refeed if you ever have to so get your notepad ready.
Refeed days are a great tool to implement when on a fat loss/dieting phase and hitting a weight loss plateau and by far my preferred form of increasing calories when on a fat loss/dieting phase as opposed to implementing cheat meals and/or cheat days. This is because, a refeed day, unlike a cheat meal or cheat day, is STRUCTURED and PLANNED and, if implemented correctly, will cause minimal, to no “damage” to your physique but rather potentially benefiting it through the restoring skeletal muscle glycogen and acutely elevating plasma leptin concentrations (discussed later).
I am not saying that cheat meals/days are “bad” however, during a fat loss/dieting phase, where diet fatigue is significantly elevated, cheat days and/or meals without ANY limits often result in one grossly overconsuming calories and thus potentially unravelling days if not weeks of dieting.
SO WHAT IS A REFEED
For those of you unaware of what a refeed actually is, a refeed involves a brief period of overfeeding during a fat loss/dieting phase whereby calorie intake is increased strategically to or above your theoretical maintenance, primarily through an increase in carbohydrates.
Why is this last point important?
Firstly, when it comes to glycogen (the carbs stored in muscle tissue), due to being highly dependent on carbohydrate intake (Haff et.al., 2000), high carbohydrate diets (or in this case, intakes) are thought to be the athletic performance standard thus, by consuming a diet rich in carbohydrate, you can ensure your muscle glycogen levels stay topped, reduce rates of glycogen depletion during training (Haff et.al., 2000) and enhance recovery by maximising glycogenisis (the formation of glycogen from glucose) between sessions. However, during a fat loss/dieting phase when carbohydrate intake is significantly lower, repletion of these stores is often difficult due to the large amounts of volumes of exercise performed often associated with dieting (weights, cardio, high neat etc.).
As a result, performance and overall energy is often reduced (MacDougall 1999, Leveritt 1999) thus making it difficult for someone to sustain their habitual activity level required to sustaining a calorie deficit. Thus, by implementing a period of refeeding, one can fully replenish muscle glycogen stores and in turn reverse these negative adaptations by acutely enhancing performance in the gym and increasing energy expenditure outside of the gym. The result is that you are then burning more total calories and thus “burst though” the fat loss plateau that they were experiencing.
Next, when it comes to Leptin.
For those unaware, leptin is a hormone primarily secreted by body fat tissue and plays a crucial role in metabolism, energy output and hunger (Friedman and Halaas, 1998, Elmquist et.al., 1998, Zhang and Scarpace 2006). Within the fitness industry, Leptin (alongside thyroid hormone) is often considered your “fat burning” hormone as, in layman’s terms, the more circulating leptin you have in your body (to a certain extent), the more satiated you are likely to feel and more active you will become.
However, during a fat loss/dieting phase where you are likely LOW in body fat, concentrations of leptin get significantly decreased (Rossow et.al., 2013, Maestu et.al., 2010, Hagmar et.al., 2013) thus causing you to become more lethargic and hungrier. This is where a structured refeed comes into play with their high CARBOHYDRATE intake as, out of all of the 3 macronutrients, leptin has shown to only be sensitive to CARBOHYDRATES (Dirlewanger et.al., 2000). This means that, once again, by increasing your calories primarily though carbohydrates, you can acutely restore leptin back to its physiological range and thus, reverse the aforementioned metabolic consequences (Solinas et.al., 2004, Satoh et.al., 199, Farooqi et.al., 1999) and (in layman’s terms) “restart” your fat loss.
In fact, this is confirmed in the above study by Dirlewanger et.al., (2000), 3-days of carbohydrate overfeeding did in fact increase plasma leptin concentrations by 28%, and 24 h energy expenditure by 7% as opposed to fat which did nothing.
Now, you’re probably asking, 3 days! I thought a refeed was 1 day?
Correct, although the way most people implement refeed days is over a 24 hour period, apart from acutely increasing muscle glycogen and being psychologically beneficial, (Knuiman e.al., 2015), when it comes to FULLY restoring leptin concentrations, evidence shows that, in order to truly gain metabolic enhancing benefits and increase leptin, 1 day seems not enough. This is because, just like it takes time for these hormones to decrease, it takes time for them to increase and 1 day refeeds don’t seem sufficient to affect metabolism very much. Instead, a longer 3-10 day refeed may be necessary (McDonald, 2008). However, for some, a full week diet break is often not an option so regardless of how long, a period of refeeding will still be beneficial when dieting.
WHEN SHOULD YOU REFEED?
Simply put, if you are only starting out on a fat loss phase and not already somewhat lean (>10% body fat) then there is no need to urgently implement a refeed as you ARE essentially a refeed if you are already carrying excess fat. However, if you are relatively lean and/or on an extremely low-calorie diet and/or high volume training program (as in contest prep) you may even require 2/wk. For the majority of you reading this however, 1 every 17-14 days should be MORE than suffice.
HOW TO REFEED?
When implementing a refeed day, I like to see people firstly increase their calories back up to maintenance (or even a slight surplus) for a day. Secondly, I also like to see a slight drop in protein and fat with, of course, the remainder of your calories assigned to carbohydrates, The reason we decrease protein slightly is because carbohydrates in themselves are muscle sparing meaning that your fat loss protein intake of 1.3-1.5g/lb is likely not necessary anymore and that an intake of 0.8-1g/lb is still more than suffice.
For example, I may currently be dieting on 2100 calories with maintenance of 2600. Currently I’m eating 190g of protein, 60g of fat and 200g of carbohydrate. For a refeed day I would firstly decrease protein to ~150g and fats to ~50g.
That now adds up to 1050 calories (150g x 4 + 50g x9).
However, as I am increasing my calories to maintenance (2600), that then means that I have 2600-1050 = 1450 calories available for carbohydrate. Divide this number by 4 (because carbohydrate have 4 calories/g) to get your grams and the result = ~390g. That means that my macros for a refeed day would be 150p 50f and ~390c. Easy
WHAT TO EXPECT ON THE DAY AFTER A REFEED?
As with increased glycogen comes an increase in water gain (1g of extra glycogen brings with it ~3-4g of water Olsson and Saltin 1970) you are likely to expect a slightly heavier weigh in on the day following a refeed. Note however that this is primarily, if not all, from an increase in INTRAMUSCULAR water and not fat tissue gain. As a result, I suggest for the days following a refeed you do NOT overstress about the number on the scale until you get back to your habitual routine.
Strangely enough however, sometimes instead of weighing in heavier, I have seen many clients see new low weigh ins in the day(s) following a refeed day. This is likely due to having reversed some of the metabolic adaptations above along with having a lot more overall energy for the day and following days workouts thus bring more total calories. Furthermore, due to the psychological break you get during a refeed, stress and thus circulating cortisol levels may be significantly decreased on the day(s) following. As elevated cortisol levels cause an increase in aldosterone, a major hormone involved in fluid regulation (Freel and Connell, 2005), less cortisol could also explain what is often referred to as a flush out post refeed.
Anyway, that is my 2.5 hours of writing and researching done for you so I sincerely hope that the above helps you out and, if you read this far then I really do appreciate you so much, your support means the world.
Stay tuned for the next video and potentially more blogs coming soon.