Autor: markyoung

~ 02/06/11

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In my post last week I talked a little bit about how weight gain (and specifically staying at a certain weight) can increase the amount of a hormone called leptin required to prevent hunger and slowing down of the metabolism with subsequent weight loss.

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To reiterate, leptin is a hormone that historically would have protected us from starving to death in periods of famine.  When our body fat levels fall, leptin also falls which slows our metabolism and makes us hungry so losing more weight will be harder and we’ll possibly eat more to bring our weight back up to where it was previously.  In the context of the discussion from last week, gaining weight and maintaining it for some time would make it so we need more leptin (i.e., need to gain more weight or eat more) to restore leptin levels to normal and make us stop being so hungry.

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However, one proposed mechanism to deal with falling leptin levels when calories are restricted is the use of “refeed days”.  In most cases, it is suggested that the refeed consist largely of carbohydrates and that it is actually a full day of refeeding instead of the popular cheat meal that was originally quite common with bodybuilders.

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 The premise here is that insulin increases leptin and carbohydrates increase insulin so logically a high calorie day including plenty of carbs would increase leptin and offset the metabolic slowdown associated with low leptin and low body fat levels.  And since a single meal doesn’t necessarily have this effect, a whole day is typically suggested.

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I think this practice has actually grown increasingly popular with dieters, but the point I want to drive home is that while this is the logical extension of the current research looking at the hormones involved, I’m not sure that there have been any more lengthy studies looking at whether this method actually produces changes in metabolism or, more importantly, allows people to go on to lose more weight/fat than they otherwise would have lost.

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Does this mean that refeeds don’t work?

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Not necessarily.  What it means is that there is just not any research yet (that I am aware of) examining whether this is method is actually effective for staving off metabolic slow down.  There IS research suggesting that leptin injections can help with weight maintenance in those who have already lost weight.  However, the reseach on leptin injections also shows that they NOT effective in promoting weight loss at all (except in those born with a leptin deficiency).

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So where does this leave us?

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Generally speaking, I think that as long as you’re in negative calorie balance (calories in are less than calories out) you’re going to lose weight.  This can be accomplished with an even calorie deficit throughout the whole week or a more severe calorie deficit during the week so you can have a “refeed” on the weekend amounting to the same total calorie deficit.  I also think that the leaner you get, the harder it is going to be to lose more weight/fat regardless of whether or not you do refeeds.

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I think refeeds or cheats CAN be good psychologically for some people, whereas they can lead to all out binges and unhealthy eating patterns on others.  The secret is just to acknowledge which of these types you are.  For now though, I think the research on refeeds is still incomplete and more definitely needs to be done before we can confidently tell people that they are maintaining their metabolic rate (and will thereby lose more weight) by using them.

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If they work for you by enabling you to stick to your plan then that is all that really matters.  However, I’m not sure (based on available research) that their effects on leptin are the cause.  If you have research to the contrary, I’d be happy to be wrong here…so send it my way.

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What are your thoughts on refeeds?  Do you use them?  Do you feel they are effective?  Or is it all about calories?  Drop me a comment below.

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8 Comments »

  1. I’ve been on both ends of this spectrum. I’ve followed a super strict diet with the occasional ‘day off from counting’… which meant binge day. This was certainly an unhealthy pattern and not maintainable. (I felt like a prisoner of the diet half the time and the other half the time I was trying to make up for lost ‘crap eating time’)

    And then I did 2 bodybuilding shows. Cheats were cut out for 25 weeks and I very quickly broke myself of those binge days. We did, however, incorporate a high carb, calculated refeed day once a week (higher calorie/macro days of clean food). We played with different levels of carbohydrates on my refeed days over the 6 mo. I dieted down and we found that I always responded best to aggressive (higher carb) refeeds – aka in the days following an aggressive refeed my weight would drop when it hadn’t for weeks. This was just my experience though and, obviously, I cannot attest for all bodybuilders.

    I think if you can incorporate them without falling into the trap I did at first, they’re worth giving a shot. If they don’t work for you… change your game plan.

    Comment by Juliet — June 2, 2011 @ 5:17 AM

  2. Bang on chief. i like the way the whole thing is headed. BTW, do you have any research on the cyclical nature of hunger/starvation/fasting/overfeeds? just curious. thank you

    Comment by shama — June 2, 2011 @ 8:48 PM

  3. Hey Shama – I honestly haven’t looked too much at this stuff, but I will be doing so in the near future. My next product will not only deal with my methods for body comp change, but also to do with the psychosocial methods to improve compliance and success.

    Comment by markyoung — June 2, 2011 @ 9:46 PM

  4. Great Stuff Mark.
    Being that research is not out yet to really prove this, I would agree that refeed’s work. We have been using them for awhile now and it helps not only to keep our bodies fired up but keep our workouts strong. Personally, its nice to get that glycogen refill every week to make sure out workouts are strong and not losing motivation in the gym. I think dependent on your bodytype, depends on how often you refeed. Although that is directly related to the calories you are getting in and from what sources.
    I must admit that our “Refeed” days get a little out of hand and too crazy!

    Comment by Eric — June 3, 2011 @ 5:04 AM

  5. Being one of the guys out there who has a lot of experience working with competitors, contest prep, taking people to extreme levels of body fat, etc., regardless if research ever comes out to ‘prove’ the efficacy of structured refeeds, the ‘real world’ support for them is there (when applied and timed properly); at least in my practice.

    Cheat meals? Purely psychological with no physiological benefit.

    Comment by Erik Ledin — June 4, 2011 @ 9:56 PM

  6. Great article! I have experimented with a low CHO intake during the week and re-feeding on the weekends, quite similar to Lyle McDonald’s CKD Plan. During the weekend I would increase the CHO, decrease the FAT, and PRO intake would remain the same. Also, I would perform a total body high volume session and I would go even further and use GDA’s Glucose Disposal Agents to assist in shuttling CHO into glycogen storage. For body comp. improvement, it sure worked! However, now, I’m following Dr. John Berardi’s Precision Nutrition Plan and incorporating more CHO around my training times. As I look back I believe I restricted CHO around my training which obviously was a big no no. I could have maintained more mass if I incorporated more CHO during my training.

    Comment by Peter — June 7, 2011 @ 3:34 PM

  7. [...] week I wrote a little bit about the state of the research on refeeds, but I was very careful not to say that they don’t work because the truth of the matter is [...]

    Pingback by Mark Young Training Systems » » When to Use Refeeds — June 17, 2011 @ 12:05 PM

  8. [...] my post yesterday I brought up the idea that perhaps the ”refeeds” that some are recommending to prevent [...]

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