Weight loss is rarely linear. In fact, unless you’re seriously out of shape or so big that you have trouble wiping your own butt, you will find that you plateau every three to four weeks.

Dieting can be boring, energy-sapping, and miserable at the best of times, but when the scale’s not shifting and you’re not losing fat, it’s pure hell.

These plateaus tend to be part and parcel of a cutting diet, but there is a way that you can prolong your progress, prevent plateaus, and give yourself a physical and mental break from dieting too...


What is a Re-Feed?

A re-feed is a short break (usually lasting a day) from dieting. During this time, you increase your caloric intake, mainly in the form of carbs, to elicit a metabolism boost and to kick-start fat burning.

Tell Me About the Benefits…

First up, from a psychological standpoint, re-feeds can be a godsend. The lure of a bowl of cereal or a burrito can keep you going through those dark days of low carbing. Those days that are filled with little but lean proteins, veggies, and the odd serving of healthy fats. Even the most family-loving bodybuilder would sell his own grandma for a bowl of pasta when dieting. Thus, a re-feed is the perfect chance to get your carb fix.

It also gives you the opportunity to be a bit less of a social outcast. While dieting shouldn’t impact your life to such a degree that you turn down dinner invites or shun social occasions, going out for meals at burger bars, Italian restaurants, or grabbing drinks with colleagues can turn into a real ball ache when you’re trying to keep your carbs and calories down. The solution? Schedule your re-feeds to coincide with a meal out.

refeed junk carbs 052814

As great as the psychological benefits may be, the real beauty of re-feeds is their effect on you physically.

When dieting, your metabolism-controlling hormones (mainly leptin and T3) are down-regulated, which leads to what the layperson would describe as a “metabolism slowdown.”

However, it only takes a small increase in calories and carbs to turn this shift around and bring leptin and T3 back to their normal levels, which puts a halt on metabolic adaptation and gives fat loss a kick-start.

That Means I Can Go to Town on Bagels, Pizza and Cookies, right?

Well, not so much.

Some coaches and diets do recommend big re-feeds. Popular examples of such are Joel Marion’s “Cheat to Lose Diet” which encourages a full cheat day once a week where you don’t track calories, don’t worry about macronutrients, and just eat until you’re full. The other approach, with which many of you are all probably familiar, is by elitefts’ very own Ken “Skip” Hill—the Skiploading approach. Skip doesn’t recommend tracking calories, but he does advise keeping your protein and fat intake down on re-feed days so that you can incorporate more carbs (since carbs are the most beneficial macronutrient in boosting leptin). Additionally, Skip advises eating until you’re full and keeping your load between three and 12 hours, depending on how you respond.

So, the Key is Moderation?


Re-feeds are all about learning what you respond to best. Some guys do great by loading up on carbs until they have glycogen coming out of their eyeballs. Others, however, are better served by adding a few sweet potatoes to their dinner, swapping the green veggies for rice a few times a week, or having some frozen yogurt for dessert.

refeed chad aichs molly edwards 052814

Where Do I Start?

Doubling your daily carb intake on two non-consecutive days each week is a pretty solid base from which to begin experimenting. Say, for instance, you’re dieting on 150 grams of carbs per day. In this case, you’d up this to 300 grams on, say, a Tuesday and a Saturday.

As for protein and fat on these days, you have a choice. The easiest thing to do (and keeping it simple is often the best approach) is to keep them the same. Provided you’re not shooting for a kilogram of carbs, your calorie intake won’t be so much higher that you need to worry about reducing protein and fat for fear of reaching a massive caloric intake on your re-feed days. However, if you do find that you get better results from a bigger carb load, then you might want to reduce your other macros a bit.

Carbs are muscle-sparring, so you can get away with a little less protein on re-feeds. Your protein intake when dieting should be somewhere between one and one and a half grams per pound, depending on your body type. Therefore, you only need to reduce this to between 0.8 and one gram per pound. As for fat, I advise changing your fat intake so that your total caloric intake for the day is around 20% higher than it would be on a normal dieting day. Here’s an example for a 180-pound lifter:

These Re-Feeds Sound Great. Any Reason Why I Shouldn’t Have Them?

There are a few scenarios when re-feeds just aren’t necessary.

For instance, if you’re doing a mini-cut in order to get rid of some fluff during a long bulking cycle, then you don’t need to re-feed. This short stint of dieting should only last three to six weeks, which isn’t long enough to notice any appreciable metabolic slowdown or adaptation.

The other prime example of when re-feeds just aren't warranted is during a bulk. When your calories and carbs are high, your metabolism should be about as fast as a racing snake on speed. Including a re-feed day here is about as necessary and enjoyable as making an appointment with Mrs. Palm and her five daughters when you’re dating Mila Kunis.

refeed clean options 052814

The Wrap Up

The key to making re-feeds work for you is to experiment and see how your body reacts. When in doubt, start moderate, with just a 50 to 100 percent increase in carbs twice a week. If this goes well, try going a bit higher. You will know it’s working if your fat loss progress starts again, or you wake up the day after a re-feed looking fuller, tighter, and leaner. If, however, you feel like crap after your re-feed, or if you look watery and soft, then you overdid it. Either scale back on the amount of carbs you eat or cut down to carbing up just once every five to 10 days. As for the type of carbs you go for, again, this is up to you. The “clean eaters” out there may like to stick to brown rice, plain potatoes, and oat bran, but I see re-feeds as a chance to have some fun. The goal of carb loading is to top off glycogen stores and boost leptin. So, your aim is to hit your carb target, not necessarily worry about the sources of these carbs.

The poster food for IIFYM—the Pop Tart—is a good bet on re-feed days, as are any starchy, carb-dense foods. Think bagels, kids’ cereals, waffles, pancakes, and spaghetti. If you want some sugary junk, go ahead! Live a little and enjoy yourself—safe in the knowledge these delicious goodies are being put to excellent use.