Refeeding is a strategy that refers to a period of time where you increase the amount of carbohydrates that you would normally eat during a dieting phase. As you already know, in order to lose weight, you need to maintain a caloric deficit. However, when you start dieting, your body senses the change and undergoes some adaptations to try and maintain balance. As a result, your metabolic rate will decrease to try and conserve energy while your appetite will increase, trying to signal you to consume more.
After a while, these adaptations can make fat loss quite difficult. You might even have experienced it yourself, you reach a certain point in your diet and you start craving sugary foods like crazy, you don’t feel like doing your usual physical activity and you’re still hungry even after having a meal.
Psychologically, refeeds allow you to satisfy your hunger cues. You might have been sticking to your diet really well for the past few weeks but mentally, you’re on the verge of gorging yourself on pizza and ice cream to satisfy the cravings. A refeed could mean the difference between giving up completely or continuing on your diet after a short break.
Physiologically, the goal of refeeding is to temporarily increase leptin and stimulate the metabolic rate. Leptin is a hormone that controls appetite and hunger. When running efficiently, it does a good job at telling us we’re full and making sure that our metabolism is not impaired. However, when in a caloric deficit, leptin levels drop along with metabolic rate. Refeeds focus on increasing carbohydrates because leptin is more responsive to carbohydrate intake than fat, and studies have shown short term overfeeding of this macronutrient results in sharp increases in leptin levels for a period of time. By fueling up on carbohydrates, you’re also replenishing your muscle glycogen stores meaning you’ll be able to perform your workouts better.
So now comes the question of how and when to set yourself up for a refeed. If you’ve been dieting for a while and you’re almost at your wits end trying to stay on track, a refeed could be just what you need to ensure you don’t go crazy and do something drastic like quitting. Alternatively, if you’re someone who enjoys more structure, you could set up your diary with specified refeed days so you have a set plan to follow.
When refeeding, you’ll want to bring your daily calorie intake up to around maintenance level by using carbohydrates. Think pasta, rice, pancakes with syrup, breads, potatoes and fruit. Stay away from anything with a high fat content because your body will just store it as body fat which is not what you want. This isn’t a cheat meal/day, you can’t just eat anything you want, you will still need to maintain some sort of discipline when implementing this.
As a general rule, the leaner you are, the more frequently you can take refeed days. If your body fat percentage is over 20%, try having a refeed day once every fortnight and then move it to once per week depending on how things go. If you’re closer to 10% body fat, you can go ahead and start having a refeed once per week. The specific day of the week doesn’t matter, however I would recommend doing them on weekends so you can work them in with your social life.
Final word of warning: refeeds have a tendency to spike body weight for a few days. This doesn’t always happen but it’s pretty common so don’t freak out. When carbohydrates are stored in muscles and the liver, they also store water. In fact, for every gram of carbohydrate stored, around 3 grams of water are stored with it. Most, if not all of your weight gain during refeeds will tend to be water weight but that will all balance out in a day or two so stay consistent and don’t do anything drastic!
If you have any questions regarding refeeds, please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org