[Refeeds, Cheat Meals, Reverse Dieting & How To Utilize Them For Results]
So many fitness enthusiasts ask the same questions time and time again, one of the most popular I’ve heard is “When will dieting get easy?” The answer really depends on how you are treating your diet currently and how long you have been treating it this way. You see, when you get stuck in a low-calorie diet for too long your metabolism can take a serious blow which can only make dieting more and more miserable as time goes on. The typical person gets on a low-calorie diet, starts losing weight and everything is great! But then, they plateau… so what then? Then they drop calories more, probably increase cardio more and continue to hope for results. If they’re lucky they will indeed lose a bit more weight but over time it will plateau again and if cardio ends up going to high the weight their losing could be lean muscle. If they’re strength training properly and consistently then they should be able to lose more fat and hopefully add lean muscle, but this will also be very difficult as they do not have enough calories to support recovery and muscle growth! So they are stuck in a rut of miserable dieting and have absolutely no answers as to how to fix it. Well today, I will explain why this happens and what to do in this situation. What happens after a long period of low-calorie dieting is called “Metabolic Damage” and it is quite simply exactly what it is titled, your metabolism becomes damaged. Your metabolism is like a fire and you need to continue putting wood in the fire to keep it burning. So if you were to look at calories as wood, you would need to continue putting “wood” (calories) in the “fire” (metabolism) to keep it going consistently enough to burn. But you’ve been cutting calories (wood) out of your diet, so your metabolism (fire) has slowed down and stopped burning! It may take a long time for this to happen and it will only happen when someone reaches very low-calorie levels. So now the question, is “How do I start seeing results again, without continuing this low-calorie diet?” Well this is where Reverse Dieting or Refeed Meals come into play. These are techniques that many physique, bikini, and bodybuilding competitors will use the weeks following a competition. These competitors are a prime example of somebody who has fallen into metabolic damage because they have been slowly dropping calories for weeks upon weeks leading up to their show. So whether you’re a competitor or just the average fitness enthusiast looking to continue getting lean you can find a solution to repairing your metabolism so you can once again see the results you are looking for, right here! To keep it simple, lets start with a refeed meal or day. This is the first step I will give a client or someone who has fallen into metabolic damage because it is less stressful, easier to implement and actually can be quite fun. Most of us have heard of a cheat meal, well this is very similar but with a little more rules to it. A cheat meal is pretty much a meal where you get to go binge and stuff your face with just about whatever your heart desires and although that can be mentally relieving, it does not work very well. This approach doesn’t work as well for two main reasons, the calories are coming from unproductive sources and the overall calorie content can easily be over done. With the rules involved in refeed days you get much more benefit and can still relieve yourself mentally. Refeeds are targeted around carbohydrates, specifically starchy ones that you wont usually be allowed to much of on your current diet. The reason for this is because carbohydrates will not only fill your glycogen stores to give you more fuel for high performance training but also because they have the greatest effect on our metabolism and the hormones leptin and ghrelin. You see leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that directly inflict fat burning and over a period of low-calorie dieting their effects slow down drastically, which is why a carbohydrate spike is needed to kick them back into gear. But because carbohydrates are the best solution to accomplishing this it is important to lower protein and fats for the day to ensure that you can get the carbohydrate intake needed without going overboard on calories. My best recommendation for clients on a refeed day is to drop protein by 20-25% and simply just keep fat as low as possible. Shoot to drop fat enough so that your overall calories are only about 20% higher than normal, at most. This should be pretty simple as you would only need to strip a little of each macronutrient out per meal. Now once you strip the small amount of fat and protein out of your daily macros, you must add the extra carbs. This could be anywhere from .5-3 times your normal carb intake. For fat loss stick closer to .5 and for muscle gain start with 2 times your normal intake. After your first refeed meal, track your progress and assess whether or not you need to lower or raise your carb intake for the meal. I typically suggest this to be your final meal of the day, this will ensure you do not screw up any other meals for that day or end up binge eating at all. If you follow these rules with exact detail you should only be up 2-4lbs the next day and that will quickly fall back down within that week because most of the time it is almost all water weight being held because of the carbs you ingested. Before having your refeed meal it is good to get your baseline weight, this is what your typical weight is on a daily basis. If your goal is to lose fat and maintain weight, you should be looking to be back at your baseline weight by midweek after the meal. If your goal is to gain weight or size, you should be looking to be slightly above that weight by the next refeed day. If you fall back down to your baseline within a couple of days then you know you need to either increase the size of the meal, have 2 refeed meals back to back that day or split it into two meals throughout the week. If your goal is to lose weight, you should shoot to be .5+ lbs. under your baseline weight by the next refeed day. Half a pound might seem very small, but realize that if you’re applying these techniques I’m going to assume your either already very lean or you have hit a plateau in your fat loss plan. Therefore we will take any weight/fat lost! Now on to “Reverse Dieting”, this is typically designed for competitors looking to continue staying extremely lean after a show. But anyone looking to maintain a low body fat, increase metabolism and gain lean muscle can easily put this into play. The way this works is simple, you reverse your diet! You would start where you left off before your competition or simply start at the low-calorie limit your diet currently is. The following week you slightly increase calories by increasing your carbohydrates and fat by a very small amount. This will ensure that you do not spill over by consuming too many calories but it will be enough of an increase to spike the fat burning hormones along with your improve your metabolism’s health. This could be as simple 10-20% of your carbohydrates and fats.
[Quick Thought: Ever remembering asking your training, “That seems like a lot of food?!” or “Isn’t that too much calories to lose weight?” Well here is the explanation to why you NEED more calories sometimes to BURN more calories… METABOLISM!]
I typically recommend adding 10-20g of carbs and 1-5g of fat per week to start with, depending on the client. This will raise your calories slowly over the course about 6-10 weeks until you reach your maintenance or growth caloric intake level. That may seem like a long time to finally start your off-season, maintenance or plateau breaking caloric intake, but realize this is the only way you can truly stay lean while putting on lean muscle mass or improving your metabolism without gaining fat. This is a much more satisfying, healthy and more appealing way to approach you’re off-season diet or your attempt to gain some muscle mass. The typical off-season bulking dieter gains too much fat in the process. So although they may gain 10-20lbs in the off-season, by the time they need to cut for a competition they’re likely to cut 10-15lbs before peak week. So by the end of their off-season “bulk” they really didn’t gain much muscle mass anyway. Staying lean and slowly gaining with reverse dieting will take the stressful process and yo-yo dieting effect out of the equation completely, which can have a HUGE effect on many internal processes in your body. In those cases where you are not looking to gain muscle or size, it simply repairs your metabolism and improves your hormonal balances. The healthiest and most appropriate way to lose body fat is to diet on as many calories as possible, but this is only possible when your metabolism is on point. So you will need to slowly add minimal amounts of calories week after week to ensure you metabolism can catch up, speed up and handle the fuel you’re giving it properly. So now where do you go from here? If you’re about to be in a competition, plan your reverse diet and how you can implement it immediately after the show. If you’re just an average gym rat looking to break through these plateaus, implement the refeeds or cheat meals. They key is to learn from each cheat meal or refeed, start small and see what works best with your body type. Just remember, there is always a way to improve! You can and you will break through this speed bump in your diet and training, results are right around the corner!
For specific and personalized dieting info/plans, please contact me at [email protected]