Refeed Strategies


Refeed days involve a temporary increase of calories back to maintenance levels during a dieting phase.

The main benefit of a refeed day is psychological as it can aid compliance and better suit your lifestyle and preferences. Physiologically, more calories will always help but greater benefits here will be seen by spending more time out of a deficit, such as when you have a multi-day diet break. 

With the examples shown here, I’ve presented multiple options to structure your week when dieting. All four options produce the same average weekly calorie deficit, though the 11:3 option is a fortnightly rotation. Here’s a few further points:

*When weekly calories are equated for, some dieters may prefer factoring in high days for psychological relief. Even if this means your low days have to be lower to account for the high day/s. 

* While one day not on low calories is always a positive, single day refeeds usually are not enough to achieve full glycogen (carbs) replenishment and truly aid performance. More time out of a calorie deficit is required to more optimally add back in carb levels depleted due to dieting.  

*Likewise, hormonal and metabolic adaptations from caloric restriction don’t appear to be reversed via a single day refeed. This is also why the notion of a single, giant cheat meal is highly flawed as the benefits are very short and all calories consumed count. Thus, multi day refeeds may work better than single high days to slow and/or reverse the negative adaptations of dieting. This likely comes down to the cumulative effects of spending multiple consecutive days not dieting which allows for greater restoration. 

* A recent study consisting of five days of dieting paired with two consecutive refeed days showed promise. It resulted in greater preservation of lean mass and resting energy expenditure versus seven days of consistent low calories. For the general population, this method may work nicely as you could integrate higher calories on the weekend. This sounds great in theory but if this strategy was used, it’s crucial the regular two high days are executed correctly. By this I mean that the high days aren’t viewed as a break from the diet, but rather they are viewed as a calorie deficit break, with precision still required. The foundational behaviours and attitudes must remain over the entire week, you just have a bigger calorie budget on the high days. When the high days (typically the weekend) become too wild and loose, excess calorie consumption can occur which can halt progress. 

* The 11:3 method involves a fortnightly rotation, with three consecutive high days strung together to basically form a mini diet break. Here an additional day is spent out of a deficit which again aids the reversing of metabolic adaptations. One study found greater success with this method vs consistent low calories. 

* Longer duration diet breaks (1-2 weeks) can also be integrated over the dieting phase, in conjunction with the above approaches. These will typically be more effective at combating adaptation when dieting, especially in the later stages of a dieting phase. More time out of a deficit will be required to reverse greater adaptation.