The Complete Guide to An Optimal Refeed
Refeed Rules and How To Raise Leptin Levels:
An arbitrary cheat meal / cheat day will not cut it, so forget about hitting up your local Pizza Hut or McDonalds. It needs to be controlled.
Leptin has been shown to be highly responsive to glucose metabolism way above fat / protein metabolism, so the majority of your extra refeed calories should come from carbohydrates. Some will tell you that fast acting high glycemic carbs are the best to really spike leptin levels back up, but I feel this is a bit uncontrolled and I like to see the use of foods along the range of the glycemic index. So for example, porridge mixed with egg whites with a sliced banana is perfect as part of a refeed day as you get fast, medium, and slow digesting carbs and proteins.
Fruit, other than a couple of apples or a handful of berries, should be off the list. Fructose has very limited impact on spiking leptin levels.
An example of drastic fat loss results through careful, correctly implemented refeeds
When should you refeed?
There is no specific set point in a diet when a refeed becomes necessary, it is all down to the individual’s conditioning, training state, and muscle mass. This is where a really experienced coach/personal trainer is worth their weight in gold.
You need to be lean, depleted, and starting to feel totally worn down. It will NOT happen in the first month of your diet unless you are already very lean to start with.
As a basic rule of thumb, if you are in any way unsure that you are ready for a refeed then you have answered your own question. When I helped Glenn Parker with his amazing 3 month transformation I recall looking at his ripped up physique, seeing the far away glaze across his eyes, and even a hibernating bear could have sensed his fatigue and “flatness”. So I asked him what he was craving most, and when he responded with a desperate gasp of “Pizza, Boss!” I sent him home with the orders that he had to eat three large pizzas of his choice that day! Needless to say the next day he came back and tore up his workouts, and that week he dropped from 8.3% to 6.9% – a phenomenal difference in a man already so lean.
How much should you refeed?
This is a tricky question to answer in any sort of generic manner and it is where the science and the art of coaching come into play. When I had my recent refeed I ate about 1500gms of carbs in one single day! Now that is a hell of a lot of food, carbs and calories. But then again, I have been training twice a day, limiting my calories and carbs, and I weigh between 18-19 stone at sub 10% body fat. A smaller person than me would need far less. And a professional bodybuilder would need way, way more! It is a very individual thing and the best way to really learn is to experiment on yourself and track how your body responds. In my opinion this is the only way to truly learn all the tricks of the body composition game, and one of the key fundamentals as to why anyone seeking a personal trainer to assist in fat loss / muscle building needs to find someone who has done it to themselves multiple times.
In terms of determining refeed levels, keep reminding yourself that the lower the leptin levels the more calories above daily maintenance will be required to spike them back up and shift the body into an optimal fat burning mode.
I was very flat, so a refeed day was in order for me. It may be that you need a refeed window that is much shorter. Either way, ensure you damn well deserve that refeed before you stuff your fat face – it is not an excuse for gross piggery!
Have your refeed on a rest day
We are trying to raise all sort of good hormones so don’t try and over stress the already tired body by refeeding on a training day. My own preferred option is to do a lot of early morning cardio on a Sunday and then refeed. That way I finally get to chill a bit, as dieting tends to wire me out a lot, especially as my body fat drops into single digits, plus the carbs can make you very sleepy, especially when you have gone without them for a while. So a Sunday afternoon nap is often the order of the day, thus enhancing the restorative and recuperative qualities of a properly planned refeed.
The Hormonal Consequences of a Refeed
Anyone who has ever been on a real diet and dropped their body fat down to the level that a refeed is necessary will tell you just how exhausting and draining a process it can be. I currently have the patience of a schizophrenic on PCP and the sex drive of a neutered flea. All because I am on low carbs, low calories, and my body fat % is dropping to a place that it doesn’t really want to get below.
What a refeed and the consequent spiking of my depleted leptin levels does for me is make me feel more like a fully functioning human being again. At least for 48 hours anyway! Increasing leptin raises my liver glycogen levels, boosts testosterone, Growth Hormone and thyroid levels, whilst simultaneously reducing cortisol output. All in all this turns one into a fat burning, muscle building machine! I truly believe that the correct use of the refeed principle has been a key component to me leaning up so aggressively whilst not really dropping any actual bodyweight. Basically I have achieved the Holy Grail of simultaneously adding muscle and losing fat.
And for the females amongst you, hard dieting and lower body fat levels play havoc with menstruation and fertility levels. On top of this there is the additional issue of osteoporosis for very lean women, so regular refeeds can be of massive benefit here.
Where do I begin with the pitfalls of incorporating a refeed into your fat loss programme! As I see it there are two major issues with refeeding that everyone needs to address:
1) Only refeed when you really need it.
Yes, I know that I have told you the right time and occasion to refeed, but trust me when I say that a lot of you won’t listen to me or will just fool yourselves. As I write this, my mind harks back to a former client of one of Howard Pearson, one of my senior personal trainers, who proved the adage that a little learning is a dangerous thing, especially in the hands of a weak minded man! This was a character who would constantly harp on about all the tricks to get lean, and the need to “reefed”was always on his mind. I can categorically guarantee you that he will never ever get close to even 10% body fat because he is so adept at fooling himself and taking the path of least resistance, believing that he needs to, and I quote, “spike his leptin levels after a hard five days of dieting”. He will be fortunate to ever even hit 15% body fat.
Just to repeat myself, if you are in any doubt whatsoever that you are not ready to reefed, then do not do it. You pretty much need to be at the end of your dieting tether, and the reefed comes in when fat loss has either ground to a halt or your (well trained) muscles are so depleted of glycogen that walking for five minutes has become a chore. I myself know that I need a serious reefed, and that I am starting to get in shape, when even typing this blog becomes a physical challenge. And no, I am in no way exaggerating, there are times at the moment when lifting my fingers up a few mm is an onerous burden!
2) A Refeed Day / Refeed Meal can too easily open the door to cheating.
I have been plodding along, maintaining my dietary rigour and discipline with nary a backwards / sideways thought, and my previous cravings for breads, sweets and ice cream had all disappeared by the wayside. But then I have a reefed day, my pleasure seeking neurotransmitters are kicked up, my body remembers how nice it is to have a full stomach and how uncomfortable it is to have an empty stomach, and all of sudden going cold turkey after a day of self indulgence and rampant blood sugar levels becomes a renewed challenge of the highest proportion until equilibrium is established again. The only time that I have ever been seriously tempted to break my diet is the day or two after a heavy reefed day. Being aware of a potential problem should help you to mentally prepare for it before it happens, but if you find yourself succumbing to cravings after refeeding then the solution is staring you in the face. Limit your refeed to just one or two meals and see how you progress. If you are one of those who only needs to have one “free meal’ / “cheat meal”and all of a sudden your dietary discipline disintegrates then in all honesty you are better off avoiding wild refeeds altogether. In these circumstances your best bet is to refeed on nothing more outlandish than brown rice and porridge. And if this sounds a tad unappetising, let me tell you that as I write this from the depths of my own diet, a big bowl of porridge sounds like manna from the heavens right about now!
Getting your refeed strategy spot on can be a bit of minefield. It is one of those advanced fat loss strategies that I am very hesitant to discuss with many people simply because it leaves the door open to cheating and the kind of mental headgames that can totally scupper an otherwise sound fat loss regime. However, appreciating how the hormone leptin works, and assuming that you have heeded my warnings that refeeds are only to be used when fat loss is stalled and you have otherwise been doing everything else right, it is an extremely powerful tool for allowing you to become super lean whilst maintaining all your hard earned muscle mass and (for the ladies who read this blog) “tone”- both of which are vital to keep looking both cosmetically at your best and functioning at the right level metabolically and hormonally.
As ever, I want to hear your feedback, and know what you think about sticking to your diet and if you dare plan in reefed meals or days, how you deal with them, and what you’d like to know to improve your abil;ity to keep getting lean and avoiding fat loss sticking points. And if you think others might benefit from this bit of a monster of post please do help to spread the word and like / share via the buttons to the left.