Refeed Day for Enhanced Fat Loss
One of the best things about advances in nutritional science is the fact that new methods and systems are being developed to improve fat loss and make it easier to get the body you want as effectively as possible.
On the upside, new methods of dieting such as flexible dieting and refeeding allow anyone to burn fat easier and more effectively than before. The downside is that there is so much new information out there that it can be difficult to keep track of all the new terms. One of these terms is refeed. Refeeding is effective and it gets mentioned a lot, but what is it?
To go on the definition alone, a refeed day is a period during your diet that you overfeed yourself by increasing caloric intake with carbohydrates.
But that doesn’t explain much, does it?
Here’s what you need to know:
What Exactly is a Refeed Day?
To truly understand what exactly a refeed day is, you need to look at what happens when you are cutting weight and burning fat.
To lose fat, you are operating at a caloric deficit. That means you are burning more calories than you consume whether it is because you are eating less or you are exercising more. What happens when you start losing weight is your body notices the difference in the amount of energy being consumed and begins to adapt.
First, your body naturally sends signals to your brain that you need to start eating more. This makes you feel constantly hungry and increases your cravings. Second, your metabolism begins to slow down. Your body panics because you start losing weight so it slows your metabolism down to try and conserve your fat deposits, which are basically stores of energy.
But what if you could turn this process upside down and trick your body into not slowing your metabolic rate down as much and not increasing your appetite? That’s exactly what happens with a refeed.
A refeed is the strategic consumption of extra calories to help keep your metabolic rate from plummeting and your cravings low to increase your body’s ability to burn fat efficiently.
Physiological and Psychological Benefits of a Refeed Day
With refeed, there are multiple benefits that you will start to receive. In general, the main benefit is that you will be able to curb your appetite so you do not feel like constantly eating everything in sight and it keeps your metabolic rate running as high as possible so you can burn fat as quickly as possible. But the benefits run a lot deeper than that.
One of the major benefits of a refeed is that it helps increase glycogen levels during a weight cut. Muscle glycogen levels are a very important aspect of adding lean mass. When you start to burn up fat deposits, the stores of glycogen in your muscles also starts to lower. Once they get too low, your body starts to break down muscle which means you aren’t burning just fat and you definitely aren’t adding any mass.
With a refeed, you can temporarily turn your body from a state of breaking down (known as catabolism) to a state of rebuilding (known as anabolism). When you are operating at a strict caloric deficit, your body is breaking down more than it is building up, so when you refeed, your body will have a temporary window for anabolism so you are able to maintain your muscle mass even as you burn fat.
So refeeds can defiantly help out with replenishing muscle glycogen levels, but there are other hormones that are affected by dieting down such as leptin, ghrelin, and insulin. We will focus primarily on Leptin in this article.
Leptin is a hormone that is tied closely to regulating energy intake and expenditure. It can have effects on appetite, hunger and metabolism. Feeling hungry and craving food is the most annoying aspects of this hormone. When leptin reaches low levels in your body, you start to feel hungry. The opposite is true when it is present in higher levels, you begin to feel full and stop eating. It stops this hunger by binding to the receptors of the hypothalamus (part of the brain that regulates hormones) stimulating the release of appetite-suppressing chemicals.
When you cut calories and start exercising to burn fat, leptin levels in your body will plummet causing you to feel hungry and slow down your metabolic rate.1,2 A decreased metabolism makes it hard to lose that last bit of fat. Refeeding with carbohydrates can reverse this as Leptin levels increase when insulin levels increase. Introducing specific amounts of carbohydrates—a key element to a refeeds—can alter hormone levels, help boost metabolism, and stop cravings so you can continue to have progress losing weight.3,4
Unlike cheat meals that are simply random, a refeed is highly calculated just like your macros for IIFYM and Flexible Dieting. This allows you to feel great and remain in control of your diet. Knowing these physiological and psychological benefits let’s see how we can implement a refeed into your diet.
How Implement a Refeed Day
The basic concept of a refeed day is simple and setting one up is not that hard either. The first thing you want to determine is how long you want the refeed to be. It can all be done within just a few hours if you absolutely need that feeling of binging on carbohydrates or it can be spread out over a time period, such as a 24-hour refeed. I prefer the latter.
Remember, the most benefit you are going to receive is through carbohydrates. You do not have to reduce your fat and protein levels drastically, but the amount of calories that you are consuming need to be emphasized with more carbohydrates.
Also very important, there is a study suggesting that eating carbohydrates earlier in the day may lead to an earlier initiation and longer onset of leptin release. 5
Here’s how it works:
- Determine Calories and Increase Carbs: Go back to your original calorie intake before you started your diet. If you do not know your calories beforehand then use our IIFYM calculator and calculate your TDEE. Once you have the calories determined, increase your calories back up to the amount you were consuming right before you started your diet. Use the added calories as carbohydrates only. Remember 4 calories is equal to 1g carbs.If you previously did a reversed diet, I would recommend going back to your highest carbohydrate intake you stopped at.
- Make Small Changes for Protein: If you want more benefits from a refeed, you can reduce your protein. For protein, you can take off around 15 to 25 grams from your protein macros and add that to your carbohydrate macros.
- For Fats: You want to keep your fat intake as low as possible during re-feed days as high insulin levels will increase dietary fat transport into adipose tissue. Your fat levels to be a maximum of 20% of what you are consuming. If it is already below 20% you can leave it. If you are on a high fat diet, reduce your fat macros to only 20%.
During your refeed, use the above calculations for the day. This is a much more calculated way of adding calories during a weight cut compared to binge eating on tens of thousands of calories on a cheat day. One thing to remember, though, is that you shouldn’t pay too much attention to the scales when you refeed. After consuming additional carbs you are going to add on water weight but these levels will even out a few days after your refeed.
When to Have a Refeed Day
Determining when you should refeed depends on a few different factors. You do not need to add a refeed to your diet straight away during the first couple of weeks you start restricting your calories. A refeed day is most beneficial after the negative effects of a diet kick in (such as the changes in metabolic rate, decreased muscle glycogen levels, and decreased Leptin levels).
If you have been dieting for a long time and are trying to get to very low body-fat levels, you should refeed more often than if you are just starting your diet or have higher fat levels. Here is a general guide for men:
- If your above 15% bodyfat range, then refeeding every couple of weeks is adequate.
- For those in the 10-15% bodyfat range, refeeding every 6-14 days is adequate.
- For those below 10% bodyfat I suggest a refeed once or twice a week. The lower your body fat the more refeeds you will need.
- If your above 23% bodyfat range, then refeeding every couple of weeks is adequate.
- For those in the 18-23% bodyfat range, refeeding every 7-14 days is adequate.
- For those below 18% bodyfat I suggest a refeed once or twice a week. The lower your body fat the more refeeds you will need.
Refeed days are a powerful way to boost your leptin levels and metabolism. If done correctly, including refeed days into your diet plan will allow your body to continue to burn fat at an optimal rate, putting you one step closer to your goals!
1 Leibel, R. L., Rosenbaum, M., & Hirsch, J. (1995). Changes in energy expenditure resulting from altered body weight. New England Journal of Medicine, 332(10), 621-628.
2 Klok, M. D., Jakobsdottir, S., & Drent, M. L. (2007). The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. Obesity Reviews, 8(1), 21-34
3 Dirlewanger, M., Di Vetta, V., Guenat, E., Battilana, P., Seematter, G., Schneiter, P., … & Tappy, L. (2000). Effects of short-term carbohydrate or fat overfeeding on energy expenditure and plasma leptin concentrations in healthy female subjects. International Journal of Obesity, 24(11), 1413-1418.
4 Hagobian, T. A., Sharoff, C. G., & Braun, B. (2008). Effects of short-term exercise and energy surplus on hormones related to regulation of energy balance. Metabolism, 57(3), 393-398.
5 Herrmann, T. S., Bean, M. L., Black, T. M., Wang, P., & Coleman, R. A. (2001). High glycemic index carbohydrate diet alters the diurnal rhythm of leptin but not insulin concentrations. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 226(11), 1037-1044.