Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Did you know: being lean never felt as good as the feeling of never being full? 🤔🤔🤔
Not many individuals will care to admit or often tell you that dieting is a grueling and taxing process on your hunger levels. Especially at the tail end of a long grueling dieting phase.
However, it doesn't always have to be so. In today's article, we're going to touch on a popular dieting tool many of my clients and I personally use when embarking on a traditional Fat Loss phase.
A rewarding and fulfilling little thing called 'Refeeds'.
Note: Refeeds are NOT magic! They are just like many dieting tools ad will only work correctly if:
a) you are in a Caloric Deficit
b) have a healthy relationship with food
c) can consume carbohydrates / sugar
Typically when individuals diet they will generally follow some form of high-protein, low-fat hypo-caloric dietary protocol. Some individuals will also follow a high-protein, high-carbohydrate & low-fat diet where total calories decrease over time.
This linear approach whilst previously advocated in the Fitness & Bodybuilding world is also fast becoming outdated due to the rise of non-linear fat loss strategies. Today, physique athletes will often implement a non-linear dieting approach where energy caloric intake is increased during a fat loss phase[15,16].
Although total energy (calorie) balance & macronutrient restriction is necessary for fat loss to occur. The rate of which both decline can also be relative to certain dietary protocols put in place i.e. continuous energy restriction vs intermittent energy restriction.
Typically this is coupled alongside IER (intermittent energy restriction) protocols i.e. 'Dietary breaks'. Refeeds as a dieting tool are a controlled increase in Calories in accordance with attenuating metabolic adaptation, Fat Loss & maintenance of lean muscle mass.
Refeeds are a great form and alternative to traditional ‘cheat’ meals where Calories & portion control generally go out the window. They are ideally a controlled and effective food source to fuel and replenish:
- Muscle Glycogen stores
- Overall Energy
- Current well‐being
- Improve fat storage potential
Note: refeeed sources generally do NOT include a fast food / takeout meal or meal high in Fats.
Refeeds when coupled alongside a mixed and varied diet can help assist with speeding up your metabolism (BMR) resulting in further Fat loss over an extended period of time. How much by exactly is still unknown however, we do have some good clues it being roughly in the ~10% range.
Refeeds generally come in the form of sugar or carbohydrate(s). These sources can generally range from complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) i.e. rice or sweet potato to simple sugars (dissaccharides) i.e. low fat ice cream. Ideally, these same refeed sources should also have a minimal impact & effect on total calories from Protein and Fat intake as part of the standard diet.
Example refeed sources:
On Carbohydrates & Sugar.
When we consume a meal rich in quick releasing carbohydrates i.e. sugar your blood glucose rockets upwards. This causes a rapid release of insulin, resulting in a strain on the pancreas to produce the hormone insulin.
On the other hand, slow releasing carbohydrates i.e. oats produces a gentle rise in blood sugar levels and a correspondingly small insulin hormone response. Thus making it easier for the body to maintain optimum blood glucose levels for daily activities and demand.
The timing of energy intake alongside the ratio of macronutrients can also affect recovery, tissue repair and MPS (muscle protein synthesis).
Carbohydrates in particular can also improve the state of mood following a serious bout of intense exercise. However, your body also has limited stores available for strenuous exercise activity when demand is required.
How much exactly?
As Carbohydrates are a primary source of energy used by the muscles and the brain, it's main role is to supply the body with energy quickly. During the first few minutes of anaerobic activity, it is carbohydrate that almost exclusively meets the body’s energy demands.
The average individual can store from 300g-400g of 'glycogen' in lean muscle tissue whilst a further 70g-100g being stored in the liver.
A benefit of slow releasing carbohydrates is for a given calorie intake, blood glucose levels are sustained in the desired range for longer than when quick release carbohydrates are consumed.
A simple yet effective strategy would be to include a 'Refeed' on a day of strenuous exercise activity i.e. Leg day prior to the activity taking place.
Note: if no strenuous or metabolic activity takes place, ^excess glucose or glycogen stores can also store as bodyfat via the process denovo-lipogenesis'.
It is believed Dietary Glucose (carbohydrates / sugar) plays a far more critical role in inhibiting leptin levels as opposed to Fructose (fruit) affecting leptin resistance.
According to studies, the primary difference between glucose and fructose is fructose tends to be prioritized for the 'aldose reductase-fructokinase' pathway in the liver and hypothalamus over glycogen.
Furthermore, whilst glucose and starchy food sources tend to be prioritized for muscle glycogen synthesis. The former usually also experience water retention from a high fructose intake.
To give further context, unless you are doing a photo-shoot or a contest show and need to maximize muscle glycogen then some fructose would likely not hinder too much.
Note: it's generally recommended to opt for low GI carbohydrate refeed sources i.e. Oats, Rice, Pasta, Lentils as part of a refeeding strategy.
According to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) the physiological impairments & function manifested in athletes is a direct result of energy deficiency.
Some impairments include BMR (Basal Metabolic Reate), menstrual function, bone health, immunity, protein synthesis & cardiovascular health. This impairment leaves the body without adequate energy to support vital functionality & maintain optimal health and performance.
One of the many potential benefits of incorporating refeeds aren't necessarily only physiological but also psychologically associated. Although much of the research is still in its infancy, there is some data offering good clues and beneficial outcomes incorporating refeeding periods.
One of the prime body fat regulation processes uses a recently discovered hormone called leptin. It is believed Leptin along with other regulatory hormones can help aid Fat loss by helping the brain determine how much fat is stored.
It's also believed elevated levels of leptin following carbohydrate feeding causes stimulatory effects on energy expenditure appetite suppression leading to greater fat loss efficiency and dietary adherence.
Most athletes incorporate refeed days whilst dieting in an attempt to keep their metabolic rate elevated. The reductions in fat cell size or energy intake (both of which happen while dieting) decrease leptin secretion significantly.
When we traditionally eat in a Calorie deficit with a goal to drop Body fat, your body's metabolism starts to adapt to your lowered intake. Part of the slowing of metabolism when we diet is due to a loss of metabolically active tissue.
An advantage of incorporating 'refeeding' is you can choose a High Carbohydrate day(s) as you actively lower your Calorie intake.
As leptin levels in Bodybuilders | Athletes during contest prep are also most noticeably lower than those observed in obese patients. An increase in calories i.e. 1‐2 days p.w. putting you back or close to maintenance calories whilst keeping leptin elevated can also be beneficial.
A past study compared 2 groups of athletic individuals. 1 group did not incorporate refeeds whilst the other incorporated carbohydrate refeeding over a 7 week fat loss phase.
Interestingly, the group who did not refeed lost a significant amount of weight (6lbs bodyfat) in particular muscle mass (3lbs). The second refeeding group also lost weight the same amount of weight (6lbs bodyfat) however retained a significant amount of muscle mass (-1lb loss).
A further recent study looking at multiple back to back day refeeding (x2) vs continuous dieting.
What researchers found was the group with multiple refeed days retained more fat free mass and experienced less metabolic impact as opposed to the linear dieting group.
Whilst studies on overfeeding periods | refeeding is still very much in its infancy, this may be one of the first studies to directly look at multiple refeeding days & it's benefits.
This may also provide further clues to the importance of multiple day refeeding periods alongside dietary 'breaks' as an alternative to continuous energy restriction.
Refeeds are fast becoming a growing interest for the general population & elite athletes in the bodybuilding world much to its muscle sparing efficacy.
Should you often experience a plateau, Refeed(s) will almost always aid in:
✔️ Keeping Metabolic Rate elevated ✔️ Continued Fat Loss ✔️ Improve Performance ✔️ Retain LBM (Lean Body Mass) > Muscle ✔️ Mental 'break' from dieting
Check out this amazing past transformation:
"This journey is a special one and one I've been wanting to share for some time. I met Mel during one of our past Nutrition seminars (How to Eat Ice Cream and Get Lean!) Having initially gained some physical success in the past from Powerlifting, she also followed a holistic Clean Eating approach at the time. Unfortunately like most diets she had fallen victim to an unhealthy association of a 'clean' or nothing approach. Her relationship with food sources were either 'Good' or 'Bad'. As Calories were also considerably quite low this ultimately resulted in Binge Eating Episodes and Yo-Yo Dieting. She was NOT shedding any weight in her current state! After introducing basic Nutritional concepts, she began her transition from food being 'Good' or 'Bad' to a more 'balanced' approach whilst gaining control back in her life.
One of her goals was getting in shape for her upcoming 48th birthday. She initially lost 5kg going from 64kg -> 59kg along with adding Lean Muscle to her physique in only 8 weeks! She also increased her Squat, Deadlift & Bench press alongside following a structured refeed program.
Oone of the highlights was seeing her conditioning improve as calories increased. Needless to say she became better educated in the process along with enjoying the foods she loves in moderation. She is a great testament and inspiration to anyone that they can do!".
REFEEDS VS CHEAT MEALS?
Ok so by now we have covered how carbs / sugar work and the respective benefits from including them in one's diet.
We've identified how one can possibly get great results from also utilizing a 'Refeed' meal.
But what about Cheat meals aka un-tracked meals?
Generally once an individual's energy (calorie) intake is adequate enough, un-tracked meals can be incoporated to counter over eating aka 'cheat' meals.
However aside from the negative connotative of the word 'cheating' & the associated psychological 'all in' response, there is no definitive answer.
Refeed meals are generally always something to look forward to on a daily or weekly basis for most dieting individuals. Incorporating a 'cheat' meal can still likely produce results simply from the metabolic boost if calories are equated.
It is almost always important to identify which one best suits YOU the most! 👇
Pro's and Con's:
✔️ Refeeds are fun and exciting
✔️ Refeeds are socially acceptable
✔️ Refeeds (glycogen) can remedy Training plateaus
✔️ Refeeds can help aid Training performance and Mental focus
✔️ Refeeds will do less acute damage to your fat loss progress
✔️ Refeeds (controlled) can be done in a single meal or over entire day(s)
🚫 Cheat meals can be excessive
🚫 Cheat meals can also be expensive
🚫 Cheat meals can trigger binge episodes
🚫 Cheat meals/days can undo your hard work
*Always consult a Nutrition Coach or Dietitian before commencing any of the above general recommendations*
'Cheat' days can be known to throw individuals off track and undo all their hard work and arduous efforts! Refeed(s) where you can have a bit more carbs in order to 'replenish' and have a mental 'break' may also be ideal.
- if you know you have an upcoming arduous workout(s), aim for a refeed to coincide on these day(s).
- If you know you are more likely to eat excess junk food in a single sitting and call it a 'cheat meal', a refeeding strategy may better suit.
- If you are able to control your intake (within reason), a cheat meal may still very well work in your favor.
- If you are able to incorporate a balanced variety of carbohydrate sources, this may very well help create a ‘treat‐like' meals to consume over an entire day instead of restricted to one meal.
Remember, a refeed meal is NOT a Cheat day :)
Eager to give Refeeds a go? Drop me a line to get Fat Loss going! 😊
1. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand ‐ Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults (2013) ‐ National Health and Medical Research Council. Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia (2013) ‐ National Health and Medical Research Council. Dietary Energy, p15 & 23.
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11. Intermittent Energy Restriction Attenuates the Loss of Fat Free Mass in Resistance Trained Individuals. A Randomized Controlled Trial.
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13. Nutritional strategies of high level natural bodybuilders during competition preparation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5769537/
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