Get our FREE IIFYM Weight Loss Starter Guide
Refeed vs Cheat Meals
What Is A Refeed & How Can It Help IIFYM Fat Loss?
I get over 150 emails every day at IIFYM.com and without a doubt, one of the most common questions our clients ask me is ‘what is a refeed’?
Refeeds are one of the fat loss strategies we use time and time again with our clients to ensure they get the absolute best results possible. Whether a refeed is right for you or not depends on a few things. It is my goal in this article to inform you of everything you need to know about refeeds so that you burn the most amount of fat in the least amount of time, without the hunger and stress of a normal, boring diet. IIFYM to the rescue!!!
So what exactly is a refeed and how can it benefit you? And, how does a refeed differ from a (glorious!) cheat day?
You may be using the If It Fits Your Macros approach primarily so that you can benefit from not having to wait for a cheat day to indulge in your favorite foods. With this approach, as long as you work them into your target total calorie and macronutrient intake, they are allowed on your plan. Another reason IIFYM is the most sustainable fat loss program in existence. No food restrictions!
Sounds great, right? There are some key differences to know about cheat days and refeeds, however, so let’s set the record straight and go over the facts you need to know about the refeed concept and learn what refeed macros you should be eating to burn fat and lose weight.
What Is A Refeed?
First, let’s talk about what a refeed is all about. A refeed is essentially a period where we increase our client’s macros up to, or slightly above their maintenance levels. Whenever you go on a low-calorie diet plan for an extended period of time, your body is going to adapt to what you are feeding it. Over time, your metabolism will adapt to the stress you put on it and will slow down accordingly. As your metabolism slows, so will your fat loss progress.
In the last few years, refeeds were used as a method to increase leptin levels (Leptin is the “satiety hormone”, which is made by adipose (fat) cells that help reduce hunger and regulate energy balance in the human body.)
Coaches used to give clients refeeds to boost leptin as a method to increase metabolism while dieting to keep fat loss moving at a steady pace, as well as take a nice one day break from dieting in a caloric deficit, which is helpful when trying to stay committed to a diet that you might often grow tired of following.
Despite The Lack of Physiological Evidence
More recently, however, science has debunked the idea that a single day of increased calories will boost leptin levels by a margin great enough to make a difference to metabolism increase making diet breaks (2-3 weeks of eating maintenance calories) is a better route to go to boost leptin and metabolism.
That being said, we still give our clients refeeds as needed to help keep their head in the game. Even though we only set our clients at a 15-20% calorie deficit, and let them eat whatever foods they enjoy, dieting can get boring. Sometimes a refeed is the perfect way to break up the monotony and refocus the client’s motivation. Also, that one day of double carbs is welcomed from every single client we work with!
How Do Our IIFYM Coaches Set Refeed Macros?
First, let me start by saying something I am sure you have heard many times. Everyone is different. What works for one of our clients may or may not work for another one. This is why everything we do here at IIFYM.com is customized based on the client we are working with.
When you purchase one of our Custom Macro Blueprints, we create a program for you, and you alone. There is no such thing as a one size fits all diet!
The same goes for refeeds. We cannot set you up with refeeding macros until we first set you up with your regular fat loss macros or muscle gaining macros.
Here is how it works out:
When we create a custom program for our clients, we first establish their dieting calories. First, we figure out how many calories they burn in a given day, then we subtract 15-20% from that number to yield their caloric deficit.
These calories are then split up into macros (carbs, protein & fat) so we get their body to trigger an immediate fat loss while preserving muscle and balancing hormones while keeping mood and energy as high as possible.
To calculate refeed macros, we have to look at the calories that they are dieting on, how long they have been dieting for, and try to get an idea of how much their metabolism has slowed due to their calorie restriction. This helps us get to their adjusted TDEE (maintenance level). This is where we need to set their refeed at (or in some cases, slightly higher).
Since carbs are anabolic, muscle sparing, energy providing, and help with recovery from physical activity, we want carbs to go up, and fats to go down (slightly). We can also drop protein slightly do depending on the situation.
Want us to create a custom plan for you, complete with your own refeed schedule?
Click here to pick up a Custom Macro Blueprint
The General Strategy
This is a rather sweeping statement, but in most cases, we want to make the following change to macros for a refeed:
Protein reduced by 5-15%
Fat reduced by 10-20%
Carbs increase by 50-100%
This increase in carbs gives our clients a nice boost in calories and helps them satisfy a few cravings while eating a bit more food. How much easier do you think it would be to adhere to your diet if you knew that once per week you got a refeed that doubled your carbs?
What Is The Difference Between A Refeed and A Cheat Meal?
Cheat meals. Cheat days. Cheat weeks. And so on.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a great cheat meal as much as the next guy, but when it comes to burning fat, cheat meals are sloppy and lazy (I can make this claim purely based on the amount of market research I have done on my own. Purely scientific mind you. 😉 )
A cheat meal is nothing more than stuffing as much food into your mouth as you can physically fit while attempting to satisfy cravings. Usually, with cheat meals, there is no limit to how much you can eat, however, so that is one place there is a difference.
People that follow cheat meals usually do so because they read about it online, or some bro at the gym told them the bro science behind it. Or, they have a coach that does not know the science behind dieting and rather than figure out the precise numbers someone will respond best to. They just give their clients a meal or a period of time to eat as much as they like.
There is nothing scientific, nothing advantageous and nothing groundbreaking about cheat meals.
In most cases, they do more damage than benefit. If my coach gave me a cheat meal while dieting for a show I could easily undo a months worth of weight loss in just a few hours. Pizza, wings, cheesecake, etc.. At that point, IIFYM would stand for If It Fits Your Mouth!
Why Refeeds Are Superior
Here is the thing. IIFYM stands for If It Fits Your Macros. This means that if you can fit the foods you crave into your daily allotment of macros, you can eat it. That pizza and wing fest I just talked about? I can still eat it. I just have to make sure that they fit into my macros or my refeed macros. With IIFYM there is no reason to cheat! You get to eat the food you love and still burn fat at a fast and predictable rate.
Simply put, cheat meals are lazy and sloppy and fail in comparison to hitting specific refeed macros. Considering you can eat the same foods as a cheat meal, just with better macros that don’t undo the weeks worth of fat loss progress. Yet, actually help you get closer to your weight loss goals!
With a refeed, however, you can choose to use limit in terms of how much you eat (which is highly recommended!). Yet, more importantly, you want to, as much as possible, focus on foods that are high in carbohydrates.
A refeed is also often planned. You plan that after so long, you will bump your calories up, eating more carbs, before going back to your regular diet plan. With a cheat day, it may be planned as well, but it often has really little to do with the state that your body is in (your physiological need). Instead, has to do with whether you mentally are suffering from food cravings.
Your refeed macros are often planned in advance, so you’ll still track them just as you would any other day on your IIFYM approach.
How Will A Refeed Help with IIFYM for Fat Loss?
So after all of this said, how will a refeed benefit your fat loss program?
Eh… Debateable. It’s hard to make any claim that refeeds have a direct connection to fat loss. Anecdotally, yes. I have seen it and so have many coaches.
In theory, the leptin response might slightly increase your metabolic rate which can help fat loss to some degree. If you feel as though you’ve hit a plateau in your fat loss, a refeed may be just the process to get you going again. Do it and you should notice fat loss resume as soon as you move back down to your diet plan.
Here is my thought on why it happens.
Having a refeed can also help with dropping cortisol levels which will help increase your metabolic rate for a minute. Plus it will help push out some water you might be storing due to the stress of dieting.
Plus it might help drive out some backed up funk in your digestive track which is also going to give you a nice shift in weight loss. All of these elements added up could equal 2-4 lbs of weight loss on the scale the next morning (which is actually pretty common, but note, I said “weight loss” not “fat loss”).
Then seeing the scale go down could be the phenomenon that helps you recommit to your fat loss program. Helping you keep on track, ensuring even greater fat loss down the road.
More Benefits To This Strategy
Also, a refeed is great for boosting your energy level, especially during your workout sessions. As you continue to exercise while in a calorie deficit, eventually, you are going to deplete your muscle glycogen levels. Which can make continuing an intense exercise that much more challenging. Motivation by way of pump or performance!
Since your carbs on a refeed are elevated, this helps to restore muscle glycogen levels and can impact your exercise performance going forward. Often, we notice that after our clients perform their refeed, they come back and hit personal bests in the gym.
A refeed is also an excellent mood booster. It can be trying to continually stick to a calorie-reduced diet plan and a refeed can help you start feeling better again. All the carbs will help boost the level of serotonin in the brain, which is a feel-good neurotransmitter that will influence your mood, stress level, and motivation.
There are many different ways that a refeed can help you, which is why we give them to our clients in a truly specific and individualized way.
How Can You Implement A Refeed In Your IIFYM Approach?
Now that you know what a refeed is, how can you use it with your IIFYM approach?
Generally, the leaner you are and the longer you have been dieting for, the more often you will need to take a refeed.
Someone that is 50 lbs overweight and just started their diet won’t need to implement a refeed for 8-12 weeks or so. Someone that is training for a bodybuilding show or a photo shoot might need to add a refeed in every week once they are super lean. In some cases, very lean people do 2 refeeds per week.
In some cases, lean people do 2 refeeds per week. An important aspect is that you don’t use a refeed as an excuse to overeat and fall off of your diet.
If you are looking to lose weight and are not using a refeed, now is the time to consider it. It really is one practice that can help you see faster results long term while enjoying being on your diet more as well.
Want us to create a custom plan for you, complete with your own refeed schedule? Click here to pick up a Custom Macro Blueprint