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Using Refeeds to Break Through Stalled Weight Loss

shirtless lean maleRefeeds are a powerful way to promote consistent weight loss without many of the negative side effects that go along with dieting. Prolonged calorie restriction can lead to many problems that affect your metabolism and make it harder for you to lose weight.

Benefits of Refeeds

  • Increased Thyroid Function – refeeds produce prompt recovery of thyroid hormone (T3) after prolonged calorie restriction [1].
  • Controlled Hunger – refeeds can boost levels of leptin, which in return will control feelings of hunger [2].
  • Maximized Glycogen Stores – improved insulin sensitivity from calorie restriction leads to a greater capacity for muscles to store glycogen during refeeds. The extra carbs are more likely to be stored as glycogen instead of fat.
  • Improved Testosterone Levels – testosterone levels are drastically reduced with prolonged energy deficits of 1,000 calories/day. Refeeds cause a quick recovery of testosterone [3].

A Refeed is Not a Cheat Meal

It’s important to note that cheat meals and refeeds are not one in the same. Refeeds are days of extra carbohydrates and calories up and above your typical calorie intake. However, the difference is that refeeds are controlled. They aren’t free-for-alls. You eat the same foods you normally eat, but you eat them in greater quantities.

Refeeds can work in conjunction with cheat meals, or they can be used alone to promote greater fat loss. For people that have difficulties with cheat meals, whether it’s because processed food causes them to fall off track, or it’s because uncontrolled cheat meals are slowing their progress, refeeds are an excellent alternative.

Find out if you’re the kind of person where cheat meals are holding you back.

How to Implement Strategic a Refeed

There are many ways to use refeeds in your current nutrition plan. They can be planned, or they can just be used when necessary. Some of the more common refeed plans are:

  • 5/2 – 5 days of calorie restriction followed by 2 days of above average calories. This plan usually coincides with the weekday/weekend schedule, and so is a great way to make your healthy eating and social schedule work together.
  • 3/1 – 3 days of calorie restriction followed by 1 day of above average calories. I’m a fan of this one for people who have less fat to lose. The mid-week refeed seems to keep the fat loss flowing better on individuals with lower body fat levels. Here are more tips for losing the last 10 pounds.
  • 1/1 – I labeled this as 1/1, but really it’s supposed to coincide with your workout schedule. Workout days get higher calories, and low-intensity or rest days get lower calories. If you use this method, do not go as high in calories as you normally would with more infrequent refeeds. This method is a great way to promote muscle retention and growth under calorie restricted environments.
  • 2/1/3/cheat – this is a way to implement refeeds alongside cheat meals. Two days low, 1 mid-week refeed, followed by a few low calorie days, and then a cheat on the weekend. It’s a way to get the best of both worlds, but you’ll have to pay close attention that your cheat meals don’t get away from you and keep you from making progress.

A Few Thoughts

Most of the benefits of refeeds come from the increased calories and carbohydrate intake. When you increase your carbohydrate intake, you might want to drop your fat and protein intake down some.

Carbohydrates are protein-sparing, so a slightly lower level of protein will be just fine. You’ll also want to eat about 50% more calories than normal on the refeed days, with most of the extra calories coming from carbohydrates.

Finally, refeeds are best used when conventional healthy eating methods have stopped working for you. Improve the quality of your diet first. When the natural calorie restriction effect of simply changing the quality of your diet is no longer getting you results, start paying closer attention to your calorie intake. Once you hit that dreaded weight loss plateau, refeeds can be implemented to keep your progress moving forward.

  • Alejandra

    Love the info! I think refeeds are important and so are chest meals. It helps keep us sane :) I wonder a bit more about cheat meal parameters.. Carbs/fats in one sitting or % of total Cals.

  • eatwise

    For refeeds, what do you suggest the balance be between protein and carbs?

  • http://www.facebook.com/crystal.h.foster Crystal Foster

    Hi coach cal! I am so inspired by your atticles! Thank you!!
    My first question is- are there specific foods you recommend for carbohydrates on refeed days? Also- I’m currently 5’7″, 31 years old & 135 pounds. I am 21% body fat. I’ve been trying to lose those dreaded last 10 pounds for 6 months now. After starting crossfit (3x per week) and eating 90% paleo at 1300 cal/day, I’ve gained 5 pounds. I understand this could be muscle but my pants have been getting more snug. After reading your articles, I think I need to increase my calories to 1600 per day. Does this sound right? And should I start having “refeed days”?? Thanks for all you do.

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Deanna Schober

    Hi Crystal I know you’ve left questions for Tony but he is away, I just didn’t want you to think we were ignoring you…
    For carbs on re-feed days we eat things like sweet potatoes or potatoes, fruit, whole grains like oatmeal or quinoa, legumes, corn, etc.
    If you’re doing Crossfit your body is going to be re-composing itself, meaning it’s not going to be the same shape as before because your muscle is increasing. This is a good thing! 1300 calories does seem pretty low for you, I’d increase a little and see what happens. Try to let the idea of “the last 10 pounds” go at this point, I’d watch your bodyfat % instead (they will keep tabs on this for you at Crossfit). Good luck!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/crystal.h.foster Crystal Foster

      Thank you Deanna!

  • Corey

    Thank you for providing great a website which is one of the best
    at integrating the major elements of fitness. I have found it to be one of my most trusted resources for providing comprehensive and concise fitness information.

    I agree with your philosophy and suggested approach for incorporating refeed days. Would you elaborate on how you determine the calorie level (or recommended percentage of your normal calories) to use on the refeed day? In the article, I was wondering how you arrived at eating 50% more calories than normal?

    I am a bit confused because it seem as though there is a risk that a 50% increase on the refeed day may negate the accumulative calorie deficit from the calorie restriction days? For example, let’s say one is following a 3/1 refeed plan (with 3 restriction days and 1 refeed day). On the restriction days, one consumes 500 calories less than his/her maintenance calories (let’s say, consuming a total of 3,000 calories per day). Over 3 restriction days, the accumulative calorie restriction would equal 1,500 calories. If one eats 50% more calories on the reefed day, one is eating 1,500 more calories than they normally would (or 3,000 x 1.5 = 4,500). Therefore, it seems as though the accumulative 1,500 calories from the restriction days has been cancelled by the 1,500 additional calories consumed on the refeed day?

  • kristina gallardo

    Hello,I just lost 75 pounds in a year .Now I hit my plateau,I even signed with a Nutritionist .I work out 2 hours a day can you please help me .Thank You

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Congrats on the weight loss Kristina! If you just partnered up with a nutritionist I’d give them a chance to help you out. Plateaus are common and can take weeks sometimes to break through. If you still have issues though, I’d recommend you take a look at this article – http://www.coachcalorie.com/how-to-break-a-weight-loss-plateau/

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Hi Corey, think of it like this:

    If your maintenance calories are 3000/day, you might be eating 2000/day to create a calorie deficit. A 3/1 schedule would make that

    2000
    2000
    2000
    4500
    2000
    2000
    2000
    4500

    That’s a total of 21,000 calories over 8 days. Maintenance calories would be 3,000 * 8 = 24,000. So that’s a deficit of about 3000 calories over a week (or around a pound). For someone would is around 200lbs, that is .5% body fat loss per week – right in like with realistic expectations.

    You can experiment with refeeds to find what works best for you. I recommend 50% extra healthy calories as a starting point. Good luck!

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    It’s not going to be an exact science. Try not to get too caught up in ratios, and just try to eat more of the healthy food you’re already eating. Eat a little less protein and fat, and more healthy carbs.

  • Jennifer

    Hi Tony, first of all I just wanted to thank you for all the amazing articles you write and share and that you make all the information so easy to understand and put to use!! You have helped me tremendously with my personal fitness and nutritional goals, so THANK YOU!! Ok refeeds sound great and I’m ready to implement them into my weekly eating and my question is, what category do you consider yams to be apart of…..veggies or complex carbs like oatmeal/quinoa?? Thanks so much for all your help.
    Jennifer

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    Complex carbs.