By PPT Level 3 Trainer – Sean O’Shea
When an advanced trainee hits a plateau, or starts to feel super flat on a fat loss plan, we may choose to implement the occasional re-feed. There are MANY strategies for this type of dieting (small re-feeds, large refeeds, 1 per week, many per week). I’ve personally played, and used them with success.
For a long time, dieters have used re-feeds as a way of ‘tricking the body’ into thinking its not on a diet, and kicking off new fat loss. There’s a stack of hormones that regulate metabolism, and being in a deficit for a long time seems to tank them, and in turn, slow down your rate of fat loss. So throwing a re-feed into the mix (particularly from carbs) was thought to boost hormones and reverse some of this slowing effects on your metabolism. At this point research shows, that when looking at the re-feed process (although hormone boosting), it doesn’t seem to do anything meaningful to our metabolism.
BUT, for those of us that enjoy a re-feed on occasion (I know I do), there is still a couple of really good reasons to give them a go!
- Replenishing Muscle Glycogen (or stored carbohydrate)
When we diet, particularly on the lower carb end of the spectrum, we experience some degree of depleted glycogen. Although a necessary evil for most fat loss dieters, it does propose a couple of concerns.
When the body senses that our levels of glycogen are low, it will start to dump lean mass (or muscle). Anyone who’s concerned with looking lean, ‘toned’ or ‘jacked’ should be VERY CONCERNED here.
Secondly, when you lose muscle glycogen, you lose the ability to train hard. When you’re not training as hard as needed, you’ll lose less fat, AND the ability to retain muscle mass while in a deficit.
- Improved adherence
Throwing some additional calories (particularly from carbs) into a day or two each week will make it easy for some to stick to their plan. Some research has also shown that it could help to reduce hunger pangs as well. On top of this, knowing that you have a day each week to ‘carb up’ and enjoy some of the foods that you might not usually eat on the diet, can be something to look forward to, and curb some of your mid-week cravings.
But before you run away to top up your glycogen stores, I have one quick word of warning for you! Something to keep in mind is the potential for bodyweight fluctuations.
Let’s paint a picture for you. We’ll use the example of an individual (male or female) that has had their lean mass assessed and knows they have around 50kg of lean, fat free mass. For every kilogram of lean mass they have, you can assume around 15g of glycogen (carb) storage potential. In our example trainee, we have around 750g stored glycogen when ‘full’. Each gram of glycogen stored will attached itself to 3 grams of water. This gives us a minimum of around 2.5kg of weight fluctuations (at least) either way.
So if you head out and top up your stores with a smart re-feed, don’t go smashing your scales when you wake up a kilo or so heavier!
So although we’re yet to find a way to kick the body back out of ‘stavation-mode’, and ride that metabolic wave to a six pack, the re-feed could be a useful strategy for some to stick with their diet, and continue to train hard while on their fat loss journey.