If you’ve ever had to cut calories for a sustained period of time, you know that it isn’t all fun and games.
In fact, for a lot of guys, it isn’t very fun at all – and is instead a necessary evil that you want to get out of the way as quickly as possible!
This is one of the reasons that we generally advocate cutting more quickly – aiming to lose 1-2 lbs per week while maintaining muscle – instead of some of the slower cutting approaches.
Anyway, the point here is that eating at a caloric deficit for an extended period of time kind of sucks…
You can have food cravings, be more irritable, tired, and even lose some strength and muscle mass.
Even worse, as you decrease calories, your body will down-regulate your metabolism in an effort to prevent starvation, often resulting in your weight loss stalling even at these low calorie levels.
But what if I told you that there was a way to mitigate some of these unpleasant side-effects of cutting?
Better yet, what if I told you that this way involved entire days where you needed to eat a lot more calories than usual?
If this sounds too good to be true, you can breath a sigh of relief that it isn’t…
I’m talking about taking regular refeed days, where you’ll get to eat more calories, feel better, and potentially lose weight even faster.
Let me tell you how it works.
What Are Refeed Days?
When you break it down, refeed days are specific, planned days where you eat more food than usual while cutting.
If this sounds like a cheat day, it does indeed have its similarities…
And that is that you get to eat more food and feel a lot less deprived, making it a whole lot easier to stick to your diet in the long run.
But in reality, a refeed day is NOT just a cheat day.
It’s not just a free-for-all, eat-whatever-the-hell-you-want day.
Those can easily get out of hand, and cause you to put on a good amount of fat in that glutenous 24 hour period, which means that you’ll then have to cut for even longer to burn it off.
No, a refeed day differs from a cheat in that it is a lot more calculated, and not quite as hedonistic.
When you refeed properly, you’ll be eating at a specific (albeit higher) calorie level, with equally specific macronutrient targets.
But before I get into that, let’s take a look at some of the specific benefits of taking periodic refeed days.
Why You Should Take Refeed Days
Now there are a whole number of reasons that regular refeeds can be beneficial – both psychologically and physiologically.
- They provide a temporary break from your diet, which can help considerably with dietary compliance
- They help to normalize leptin levels, which can boost your metabolism and decrease appetite/cravings
- They refill your muscle glycogen stores, allowing you to have more effective workouts
Yes, you read all of that right.
By temporarily eating more food, it can make it easier to mentally stick to your diet, while also elevating your metabolism so that you can actually lose more weight in the days after.
In this way, they are also similar to diet breaks, which I’ve discussed in this article – however, with refeeds the duration is shorter, more frequent, and a lot more structured.
OK, so now that you know why you should be taking refeed days, let’s get down to the specifics of how you should approach them.
How To Structure Your Refeed Days
On your planned refeed days, you’ll be eating very differently to your typical cutting diet plan.
For most of our clients, we advocate maintaining a 20-25% caloric deficit while cutting, getting plenty of protein, a reasonable amount of carbs, and a moderate amount of fat.
When you refeed, however, you are going to be changing all of these elements…
First of all, you should increase your calories by 30%.
So if you’re cutting at 2000 calories, then you would be doing your refeed days at about 2600 calories.
This will put you at a slight caloric surplus for the day – but not so much that you’ll risk gaining additional fat (as you do with a cheat day).
Now in terms of your macros, here is what you should be eating on your refeed day:
- About 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight
- As little fat as possible – really try to keep it under 40-50 grams
- Everything else coming from carbohydrates, so as to meet the calorie targets
For example, let’s say that you weigh 200 pounds, and are currently cutting on 2000 calories – here is how you would structure your refeed day:
- Calories: 2600 (30% increase from 2000)
- Protein: 200 grams
- Fat: 35 grams (assuming you keep it minimal)
- Carbohydrates: 370 grams
As you can see, you’ll be getting the bulk of your calories from carbs on refeed days.
This is what will help normalize your leptin levels and refill your often depleted muscle glycogen stores.
Plus, since you probably aren’t eating a ton of carbs on your cutting diet, it’ll give you a chance to indulge in those delicious, carb-heavy foods, making you feel a lot less deprived.
What Foods Are Best To Eat?
That part is completely up to you, as long as they fit into your calorie and macro targets.
However, if you’re looking for some suggestions, you’ll want to focus primarily on foods that are high in carbohydrates and low in dietary fat.
Here are some good ones to focus on:
- Pasta with tomato-based sauce
- Pancakes with syrup
How Often Should You Do Refeed Days
This really varies from person to person…
Yes, just like a lot of things when it comes to diet, not everyone responds in exactly the same way.
However, as a general rule, the leaner you are the more frequently you can take refeed days.
So if you are 20% body fat or higher, then you should start with a refeed day once every 2 weeks – and then move it to once per week depending on how things go.
If you are closer to 10% body fat, then you can go ahead and start with 1 refeed day per week.
The specific day is completely up to you, but from personal experience, and that of my clients, I would strongly recommend either Saturday or Sunday.
One final caveat, however, is that refeeds are only effective if you stick to the rules!
But if you don’t get too overzelous and turn it into an all out cheat day, you should find that regular refeed days are a great addition to your cutting diet.
Try it and see for yourself!