If during the diet you are constantly feeling hungry, your weight is frozen at one point, and your athletic performance has deteriorated, you need a refeed.
What is a Refeed
A refeed is a short planning period in which you consume more calories, mainly from carbohydrates. It helps to deal with some of the negative effects of a long diet.
Typically, a refeed lasts from 12 hours to two days, and the number of calories during this time increases by 20-50%. However, some people prefer to consume the same amount of calories during the refeed as before the diet.
Why Do You Need a Refeed
The benefits of refeeding while dieting are linked to leptin levels. It is a peptide hormone involved in the regulation of energy metabolism. It suppresses the feeling of hunger, and a decrease in its concentration leads to a slowdown in metabolism.
Basically, the synthesis of leptin occurs in adipose tissue. So its amount directly depends on how many fat cells you have and how big they are.
During a strict diet, when you are losing fat stores and the number of carbohydrates in your diet is severely limited, leptin levels drop. A refeed helps to raise this level, and therefore gain some benefits.
Below we’ll investigate the correlation between the declared benefits and real-life scientifically-evidenced data of this dieting approach.
Refeed speeds up metabolism and reduces hunger
Reducing leptin levels increases hunger and cravings for high-calorie foods and also slows down your metabolism. If you can still fight hunger, then a slow metabolism, tuned to conserve energy, can lead you to a plateau – a lack of progress during the diet.
The refeed helps to deal with this. Short-term carbohydrate loading raises leptin levels, so you feel less hungry, and your metabolism quickens.
After short-term overeating, you start burning calories faster.
Increases testosterone levels
In men, testosterone levels decrease during the diet, which makes maintaining muscle mass quite challenging. Increasing leptin levels during diet increases the amount of glycogen in the liver. This raises testosterone and growth hormone levels and decreases cortisol, a catabolic hormone that, among other things, contributes to the formation of visceral fat.
Supports women’s health
Due to a large calorie deficit, some women have reproductive disorders, and menstruation disappears. If this hormonal disruption lasts for a long time, the whole body begins to suffer. Therefore, it is advisable for women to carry out regular refeeds during the diet.
Refeed improves immunity
A calorie deficit diet can negatively affect your body’s ability to fight off harmful bacteria. Refeed provides a weakened body with enough calories to maintain immunity.
Increases workout performance
If a person sits on a calorie deficit diet for a long time, muscle glycogen stores run out. The refeed helps to replenish stocks and improve performance in training. At the same time, if you refeed correctly, you will not accumulate excess fat.
Short-term diet breaks for weight loss increase fat loss and reduce muscle loss
If people who do strength training stick to a weight-loss diet, they will lose more fat and less muscle if they interrupt their diet on the weekends, consuming just enough calories on those days to maintain their weight. This conclusion follows from a human study published in the Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology by American sports scientist Bill Campbell of the University of South Florida.
Weight loss with continuous deficit vs refeed: which is more effective?
Campbell divided 27 young men and women who had experience with resistance training and consumed relatively high amounts of protein into 2 groups.
Both groups followed a weight loss diet for 7 weeks.
The diet provided a 25% weekly energy deficit, meaning the subjects consumed 25% fewer calories than they needed to maintain their body weight.
Subjects in the control group observed this deficit daily, continuously.
Subjects in the other group stopped dieting on weekends and consumed as much energy on Saturday and Sunday as their body burned. 100% of the needs of the body.
These days are called refeeds.
The extra energy they got from food to raise the calorie intake to 100% was all carbs. On weekdays, these subjects cut their calorie intake slightly more than subjects in the control group, up to 35% of what was required to maintain weight.
Thus, the weekly deficit was the same in both groups.
Deficit and refeed research results
The subjects in the control group lost an average of 2.3 kg of body fat, the subjects in the refeed group lost 2.8 kg of body fat. At the same time, the loss in lean mass – body mass without fat, mainly consisting of muscles – was lower in the refeed group than in the control group and amounted to 0.4 kg versus 0.7 kg.
Unfortunately, it is not clear what mechanism led to greater muscle retention and greater fat loss. Campbell suggests that avoiding deficits on weekends helped support metabolism and muscle protein synthesis.
However, this requires further study. The research’s practical recommendation is that if a lean, resistance-trained person seeks to reduce caloric intake for the purpose of fat loss, this should be undertaken with a relatively high protein intake, a slow rate of weight loss, and periodic carbohydrate replenishment.
Such considerations appear to support the maintenance of lean mass and resting metabolic rate during calorie restriction. It should also be clarified that the results of this study may not apply to overweight, non-exercising, or metabolic patients.
“This is the first study we know to demonstrate the maintenance of lean mass and resting metabolic rate in response to a 2-day carbohydrate supplement during an energy-restricted diet in resistance-trained normal-weight men and women,” the researchers write.
“Reducing these adverse reactions to calorie restriction may have depended on restoring true energy balance (or interrupting continuous energy restriction) in the refeed group. Our results show that in lean people, the inclusion of resistance training, high protein intake, slow rate of weight loss, and periodic carbohydrate replenishment may prevent some of the adverse reactions to prolonged energy restriction.”
“Future work in this area should determine the impact of one-day refeeds every third day as opposed to two consecutive days.“
How to Refeed Correctly
Unlike a cheat meal (a rest day where you can eat whatever you want), a refeed is more for physical benefits than psychological comfort.
In order for a refeed to speed up weight loss, you need to follow a few rules.
#1. Arrange a refeed only when you need it
You really need a refeed if:
- You are on a calorie and carbohydrate deficit without losing weight.
- Your athletic performance has worsened on a diet.
- Your menstrual cycle is irregular due to a calorie deficit.
- Calorie deficiency has a bad effect on your immunity: you started to get sick often.
If you’re eating a healthy diet without a calorie or carbohydrate deficit, you don’t need a refeed. It will simply be a reason to eat something sweet and will not provide health or body benefits.
#2. Eat more carbs and fewer fats
Scientists have found that high-fat meals reduce 24-h circulating leptin concentrations in women, that high-fat meals reduce leptin concentrations by 24 hours.
This means that ice cream, burgers, and fries are not going to work for a refeed, no matter how much you want them to be.
Leptin is linked to glucose metabolism, so the excess calories on refeed days should come from carbohydrates. A high glycemic index carbohydrate diet alters the diurnal rhythm of leptin but not insulin concentrations.
#3. Combine refeed with workout
To improve your athletic performance while dieting and not accumulate excess fat, train on refeed day. However, do not exceed the usual load: if you burn more calories than usual, the benefits of a carbohydrate load will decrease.
It’s best to split the excess carbs in half and eat the first half before your workout and the other half after.
How much to it on refeed days?
For example, if during a diet your daily allowance is 1,500 kcal, on the day of the refeed, you can increase it by 20%, that is, up to 1,800 kcal. Since there are 4 calories in 1 g of carbohydrates, 300 additional calories are 75 g of carbohydrates. Divide into two meals, and we get that you can eat 37.5 grams of carbohydrates before training and the same after. These are two bananas and a handful of raisins or 200 g of oatmeal with honey.
Similarly, you can calculate the calories and carbs for your refeeding day off. Don’t go overboard and choose healthy foods, and you’ll get all the benefits of a refeed day without the risk of gaining extra pounds again.
- Intermittent Energy Restriction Attenuates the Loss of Fat-Free Mass in Resistance Trained Individuals. A Randomized Controlled Trial. Bill I. Campbell, Danielle Aguilar, Lauren M. Colenso-Semple. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2020 Mar 8;5(1):19.
- Refeed Day: What It Is and How to Do It – Healthline
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