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Refeed Day: What You Must Know As a Coach

What Is a Refeed Day?

A refeed day is an increase in carb and calorie intake to maintenance during fat loss. It typically lasts for one day but could be extended if necessary. The goal is to take a quick break from dieting, enjoy food more freely (but not ad libitum), and improve leptin levels––a hormone that plays a major role in metabolic rate and appetite. 

For example, someone might be in a calorie deficit from Monday to Saturday and increase the calories on Sunday. It could look like this:

  • Monday – 2,300 calories, 200 grams of carbs
  • Tuesday – 2,300 calories, 200 grams of carbs
  • Wednesday – 2,300 calories, 200 grams of carbs
  • Thursday – 2,300 calories, 200 grams of carbs
  • Friday – 2,300 calories, 200 grams of carbs
  • Saturday – 2,300 calories, 200 grams of carbs
  • Sunday – 2,800 calories, 325 grams of carbs

Are Refeed Days Beneficial?

Several potential benefits come to mind when discussing refeed days. Most notably, a temporary increase in carb intake can boost leptin levels, which can have a favorable impact on metabolic rate (helping to slow metabolic adaptations that are common during weight loss) and hunger control.

According to a 2020 paper by Campbell and colleagues:

“ Our findings suggest that, in lean individuals, the inclusion of resistance training, high protein intakes, a slow rate of weight loss, and periodic carbohydrate refeeding may prevent some of the adverse responses to prolonged energy restriction.”

However, a single-day refeed might not be as impactful for a couple of reasons. 

First, carb refeeding was shown to be beneficial in the 2020 Campbell study, but the subjects did a two-day refeed each week. Also, as noted by the authors:

“Future work in this area should determine the effects of single intermittent refeed days (i.e., every third day) as opposed to two consecutive days.”

Other research also finds longer refeeds to be more beneficial. For example, in a study by Dirlewanger and colleagues, a three-day refeed increased plasma leptin concentrations by 28% and energy expenditure by 7%.

Second, a longer refeed would be more beneficial for glycogen replenishment, which boosts training performance, muscle protein synthesis, and recovery.

According to research (Bussau et al.), athletes need two to three days of high-carb dieting to replenish their glycogen fully. The recommended carb intake is 10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight (4.5 grams per pound). If someone weighs 70 kilos (154 lbs), that would be 700 grams of carbs, which is unreasonable to get in a single day.

Should You Implement Refeed Days With Clients?

First, it’s important to remember that the total calorie intake for the week determines fat loss outcomes. 

For example, suppose someone needs to eat 2,300 calories daily to be in a moderate deficit and lose 0.5-0.7% of body weight each week. In that case, that person’s total weekly calorie intake shouldn’t surpass 16,100 calories (2,300 * 7). Eating more calories would cause the deficit to shrink, making it impossible to lose weight.

That said, if you account for that, a refeed period could be beneficial, so long as it’s sustainable for your client. Instead of eating 2,300 calories continuously, the client might aim for 2,200 calories from Monday to Saturday and get 2,900 calories on Sunday. 

It might be more beneficial to do a two- or three-day refeed (as per the research from Dirlewanger et al. and Bussau et al.) for a more noticeable impact on metabolic rate, leptin, and glycogen replenishment.

In this example, that could mean eating 2,100 calories from Monday to Friday and getting 2,800 calories on Saturday and Sunday.

Another option is a three-day refeed:

Monday – 1,900 calories, 175 grams of carbs

Tuesday – 1,900 calories, 175 grams of carbs

Wednesday – 1,900 calories, 175 grams of carbs

Thursday – 1,900 calories, 175 grams of carbs

Friday – 2,800 calories, 325 grams of carbs

Saturday – 2,800 calories, 325 grams of carbs

Sunday – 2,800 calories, 325 grams of carbs

What About Diet Breaks?

Diet breaks have a similar objective to refeeds in that they are periods of a controlled increase in calories and carbs. A diet break serves as a break from weight loss and helps reverse some physiological changes resulting from a calorie deficit.

Unlike refeeds, which typically last one to three days, diet breaks are longer––around a week or two. 

They largely became popular thanks to the 2017 MATADOR study, which showed that alternating between two-week blocks of dieting and diet breaks (raising calories to maintenance) can lead to more fat loss, better muscle retention, and less significant metabolic adaptation.

Given the current scientific findings, diet breaks and refeed days are viable strategies for better weight loss. As a coach, you can experiment with both and see which works better individually.

FAQ

1. How often to implement refeed days?

The ideal frequency depends on the person’s body fat percentage, how long they’ve been dieting, and how long individual refeeds are. Typically, a refeed period every week or two is a good starting point for most people.

2. Can refeed days help with fat loss?

In a way, yes. By potentially slowing metabolic adaptation, temporarily boosting leptin levels, and helping replenish glycogen stores, trainees might be able to diet on slightly more calories, experience fewer hunger pangs, train harder, and feel better.

3. How are refeed days different from cheat days?

A refeed day is when the person increases their calories to maintenance, primarily by eating more carbs. In contrast, cheat days are when people are free to eat whatever they want, which often means consuming 5000-6000+ calories from junk food, which is not a good idea and can hinder fat loss by erasing the calorie deficit.

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