The Benefits Of A Re-Feed
The Benefits of a Re-feed
When it comes to re-feeds, there are a lot of terms/names that are also used for the same concept. If you’re not familiar with the re-feed term, you may be more familiar with something like a cheat meal, cheat day, high carb day etc.
Before getting into how a re-feed can benefit you, lets talk about what a re-feed actually is.
Re-feeds come in many forms; One day re-feed, two days re-feed, even a three day re-feed or a weekly re-feed. A longer period of re-feeding would be commonly called a Diet Break (1-4 weeks). A re-feed/Diet Break is a period of time where calories are increased, typically through carbohydrates. The idea of the re-feed/diet break is to reduce the severity of the Calorie Deficit for a period of time to allow for some more positive adaptations during dieting. Re-feeds/Diet Breaks can increase Leptin levels, increase metabolic rate, increase training performance for a short period of time and of course improve dietary adherence and consistency.
Now when we talk about re-feeding, to understand the benefits of this, we need to understand a few things about Leptin. Leptin is syntheized primarly by adipose tissue(fat), with a minor contribution coming from skeletal muscles and brain. The rate/speed of synthesis of leptin is controlled largely by the number of body cells as well as size of those fat cells, meaning the more body fat we have, the higher Leptin levels are, and the lower body fat we have, the lower Leptin levels are. The main function of Leptin is to play a significant role in the regulation of hunger, energy expenditure and food intake. When Leptin levels drop (which happens as you get leaner/lighter), hunger goes up, meaning more cravings for food that you typically can’t have during a fat loss phase/contest prep. So, if you’re experiencing cravings and they are becoming more intense as time goes on, don’t freak out and think you’re going crazy. Believe it or not, this is normal as it is a physiological signal. Now, when Leptin levels decrease, they not only present more hunger and cravings, they also signify a slowing of the metabolism/reduction of metabolic rate. Now again, don’t freak out – this is all normal. During a fat loss phase/diet, your body will slowly decrease its metabolic rate so it can basically deal with what it’s being given. This often means that fat loss slows down, meaning calories need to drop further to provide more fat loss, which makes your diet harder to stick to, energy levels decrease and the cravings and hunger become more intense.
Now, what if I told you that some of these crappy adaptations could be pro-longed or even reduced to a degree? That would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it?
By kicking your Leptin levels up for short periods of time, the intensity of hunger and cravings can be lowered. But how do we do this? RE-FEEDING!
Leptin is very responsive Glucose, so when re-feeding, as I stated further above in this article, you want the majority of those extra calories coming from Carbohydrates. When setting up a re-feed for my clients, I do also like to throw a little bit of extra dietary fat in there, just for some more enjoyable food as well, however this may only be an additional 5-10g(depending on the context of course). So for this very reason, I do not recommend ‘Cheat Meals’ or ‘Cheat Days.’ By having an un-measured Cheat Meal/Day, you would not only be potentially putting yourself into a calorie surplus for the day or even the week, you wouldn’t be obtaining the benefits that a re-feed offers, such as an increase in leptin. This is because those excess calories may be coming from things like Protein or Fats, which don’t necessarily stimulate Leptin and don’t break down into Glucose.
So now that you know what a re-feed is, what Leptin is, how if affects you when you diet and how to increase it, I bet you’re asking – So how do I actually conduct a re-feed? How many calories do I add? How many should come from Carbohydrates?
I am not going to give a specific amount because as always, every one is different. For the sake of context, we are going to talk about a Re-feed Day/24 hour Re-Feed. The amount of calories/carbs you add in for this period is going to depend on a few factors; The severity of your calorie deficit, length of the deficit and how lean you are. A basic way of putting it – The lower your leptin levels are, the harder you may need to re-feed to have a significant enough increase in Leptin. A good place to start in terms of the intensity of the re-feed is to bump calories up to around maintenance calories (amount of calories that your body usually maintains its weight on). Some people may re-feed slightly below maintenance, some may even re-feed above maintenance. Like I’ve said previously here, it’s going to come down to a lot of factors.
What we also need to understand with re-feeding is that it can be a ‘1 step back, 2 steps forward’ process. You may have to accept a slower rate of fat loss, however, you will see less stalls in fat loss along the way, thus not having to push calories so low to the point where you’re feeling like a zombie. Now this will also mean that you stay healthier in terms of hormonal balance, metabolism won’t be completely destroyed by the end of the diet, and during your diet, you actually still got to enjoy social events and enjoyed foods you like along the way. Re-feeding frequency, again, is going to depend on the above factors I have listed. The leaner you are, the lower your leptin levels are going to be, meaning re-feeding more frequently will be necessary.
Here is a basic protocol for re-feeding :–
Severity – Consider increasing calories anywhere from 400-800kcal depending on the severity of the deficit (lower end for those not dieting too hard/long, higher end for those in bigger deficits/longer diets). I have found that re-feeding to estimated maintenance works just fine.
Frequency – 1-2 x per week; consider re-feeding less aggressively but more frequently as you get leaner/as your diet stretches out further.
Macronutrient Distribution – Try to make the majority of the additional calories come from carbohydrates during your re-feed. Consider adding a small amount of dietary fat(5-10g) as well for some further variety in terms of food selection/choice.
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