Refeeding is a strategic increase in calories, mainly from carbohydrates, that we can include to help us achieve our body composition goals.
But, one of the most common questions I get is how to know when you should take a refeed, and how frequent they should be used.
So, how often should you refeed? Refeeds while dieting should occur weekly, bi-weekly, or every 3 to 4 weeks depending on what our body fat percentage is, how aggressive our caloric deficit is, and the amount of time that we’re dieting for. In general, if you have a lower body fat percentage, the more frequent your refeeds need to be.
It’s important to know the right frequency of refeeding because too many refeeds may lead to unnecessary fat gain, and not enough refeeds may lead to a plateau in reaching your body composition goals.
After reading this article you’ll learn:
- How often refeeds should occur
- The benefits of refeeding
- How to know if you need a refeed
- If we should refeed while doing the keto diet
Refeeding: How Often Should You Do It?
How often that we refeed is dependent on multiple factors and therefore should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Another point to consider is if we need to refeed if our goals are to bulk (gain muscle).
Let’s first talk about refeeding frequency if our goal is to lose weight, and then discuss how refeeds change if our goal is to bulk.
Refeeding Frequency While Cutting
When we’re dieting we should incorporate refeeds to increase diet adherence (i.e. the ability to stick to our diet), to help prevent fat loss plateaus, and to keep our metabolism from slowing down too quickly.
- If we have a lower body fat percentage, then we should refeed more often. I would recommend refeeding weekly for those with a body fat percentage below 10% for men and below 18% for women.
- For those who have a moderate body fat percentage, 10-15% for men and 18-25% for women, I would recommend refeeding on a bi-weekly basis.
- If we have a higher body fat percentage,15%+ for men and 25%+ for women, then we could plan a refeed every 3 to 4 weeks.
Body Fat Percentages & Refeeding Frequency
The reason that body fat percentage matters for refeeding frequency is because those who are leaner have less fat cells than those with a higher body fat percentage.
Leptin (a hunger hormone known as the “satiety hormone”) is stored in fat cells and gets released from these cells to signal to our brain that we have enough food coming in to sustain ourselves. This hormone is important so that our body doesn’t get hungry when it’s not actually needing more energy.
Because leptin is stored and released from the fat cells, those who are leaner and have smaller fat cells, do not produce as much leptin. Therefore these individuals do not have the same appetite-suppressing hormone levels as those with higher body fat percentages.
For this reason, those who are leaner would benefit from refeeding more often because they will likely need the increased calories and carbs to maintain their sanity to encourage diet adherence, while also temporarily increasing their leptin levels following the refeed.
Those with higher body fat percentages will naturally have more leptin to begin with and may be leptin-resistant, which means that the brain stops acknowledging leptin and therefore constantly feels like it needs more energy, which can be the reason that we overeat to begin with.
For this reason, those who have higher body fat percentages can get away with refeeding less often to decrease the body’s resistance to leptin.
Important: Once we achieve a lower body fat percentage through dietary/lifestyle modifications, then we should re-evaluate our refeeding frequency.
Sex & Refeeding Frequency
Sex doesn’t appear to have an impact on how often we should refeed independently of body fat percentage. Men naturally have lower body fat percentages than women because women require more body fat for reproductive health.
We know that our body fat percentage will determine how much leptin we have, but body fat percentages being equal there is no difference between men and women and how often they should refeed.
Caloric Deficit Intensity & Refeed Frequency
If our caloric deficit is more aggressive, then we may need to refeed more often (weekly) to prevent our metabolism from slowing down too much, to provide us with some additional energy for training, and to promote adherence to our diet because an intense caloric deficit is mentally tough.
If we have a slow or moderate approach with our caloric deficit then we can get away with refeeding less frequently because we will likely not be as deprived of energy and we will likely feel more capable of adhering to our diet.
Length Of Dieting Phase & Refeed Frequency
The length of our diet is usually related to the intensity of our deficit because we cannot sustain a more aggressive approach for longer periods, and our slow-to-moderate approach will take us some time to see some results.
Although we’ve touched on this already, it is worth mentioning that the longer that we diet for, the less motivated we will likely be.
So although I said that with a slow-to-moderate approach we would be refeeding less frequently, when we get to week 10+ of a caloric deficit we will probably need to refeed more often not only for motivational purposes but also to prevent our metabolism from slowing down as much as possible.
For more information, check out my article Should I Refeed While Cutting, where I go over 6 steps on how to refeed while in a caloric deficit to minimize fat gain.
Refeeding Frequency While Bulking
The need for a refeed while we’re bulking is non-existent because we will not be in a calorie deficit that would deplete our energy stores or decrease our leptin levels.
Instead, we will be in a calorie surplus where we will have excess energy to hopefully convert to muscle mass.
If we feel like we need a mental break from bulking then we could take a break from bulking by eating at a maintenance level of calories rather than an excess of calories for 1 to 2 weeks, but this would not be considered a refeed.
How To Know You Need A Refeed Day (7 Signs)
The 7 signs that you need a refeed are:
- Stalls In Progress
- Not Adhering To Your Diet
- Experiencing Decreased Energy Levels
- Decreased Motivation
- Impaired Sleep
- Muscle Weakness/Fatigue
- Questioning Whether You Need One
1. Stalls In Progress
If progress comes to a halt, it can be an indication that we’re needing to include a refeed because when we diet our metabolism can slow down because it thinks food is scarce.
A stall in progress means that we haven’t seen our weight or body composition change for up to 2 weeks. After 2 weeks of having no changes, we can say more definitively that progress has stalled, any sooner and we cannot be sure that changes aren’t occurring.
To encourage our metabolism to speed back up so that we’re burning more calories throughout the day, we can implement refeed days where calories are temporarily higher to reassure our bodies that food is coming in so that it doesn’t feel like it needs to hold onto excess fat to survive.
2. Not Adhering To Your Diet
If we’re finding it difficult to adhere to our diet plan because we’re getting too hungry throughout the day, then it could be a sign that we need to have a refeed day to boost our leptin levels.
Leptin is responsible for signaling to our brain that we’re satisfied and that we don’t need to intake more food for energy; therefore, it can help keep hunger signals at bay.
If we’re feeling like we’re constantly hungry and it’s impacting our ability to stick to the plan then including a 2 day refeed could be just the thing we need to get some relief.
Related Article: Going Over Your Calories Once A Week: Is This Okay?
3. Experiencing Decreased Energy Levels
If we’re experiencing decreased energy levels that is a good sign that we may need a refeed to temporarily increase our carbohydrate intake.
When refeeding we increase our carbohydrate intake rather than fats/protein because it causes larger increases in leptin and provides us with our body’s preferred source of energy which can result in increases in our daily energy expenditure because we aren’t so drained.
4. Decreased Levels Of Motivation
Once we’ve been dieting for a longer period, it’s normal for the novelty to wear off and the effects of the deficit to set in, which is why including a refeed day can help keep things exciting and give us something to look forward to.
Including a refeed when motivation is low can be the difference between sticking to the plan or throwing all our hard work out the window. Refeeding is likely just what we need to keep our spirits high during prolonged dieting periods to keep us focused on the end goal.
5. Impaired Sleep
When our energy resources are low it can start to affect our quality of sleep and the length of time we’re able to sleep. When sleep becomes affected, it’s a sign that we need to include a refeed day.
Sleep is important for recovery and to keep our hormones regulated, so when sleep becomes affected all of our body’s processes are thrown off. For this reason, it’s important to include refeeds as soon as we feel like our sleep quality or quantity is lacking.
6. Muscle Weakness/Fatigue
If we begin to experience muscle fatigue or weakness that impacts our workouts or even just daily activities, then we likely need a refeed to replenish our energy stores by increasing our calories and carbohydrate intake.
If our workouts are suffering or we don’t have the muscular endurance to perform everyday activities then it is a sign that it’s time for a refeed.
It’s normal to experience some losses in strength but we should be able to mitigate some of this by increasing our carbohydrate intake temporarily with refeeds.
7. Questioning Whether You Need One
If we’re questioning whether or not we need a refeed, then that is a good indication that we probably need one.
There is no harm in including a refeed if we’re feeling like we need one, the only way it would impact our results is by perhaps slowing down our timeline because we are technically coming out of our deficit for 1 to 2 days.
However, I think having these 2 days of higher intake can benefit us more long-term by reducing the impact on our metabolism and increasing our adherence to the diet.
Related Article: Refeed Day Example: Sample Meal Plan With Macro Breakdown
How Often Should You Refeed on Keto?
Some of our keto readers have asked this question specifically, so I thought I’d address it in this article.
With the traditional keto diet where the goal is ketosis, there is no research that having a carbohydrate refeed is beneficial because it would take us out of ketosis and larger increases in carbs may not be well-tolerated.
If we’re feeling like we need to include carbohydrate refeeds then perhaps we need a non-traditional approach to the keto diet where we eat primarily fats over carbs most of the time with the goal being to achieve our caloric deficit rather than ketosis.
With the absence of ketosis, we would be more receptive to refeeds because our carbohydrate intake wouldn’t be as low as it would in the traditional keto diet, and therefore we would respond better to temporary increases in carbs while refeeding.
With the traditional keto diet where ketosis is the goal, we’re not used to eating more carbohydrates so our body stops producing some of its digestive enzymes for breaking down carbs.
So by increasing our carb intake for refeeding while on keto, we may experience some serious digestive issues because our body no longer has the digestive enzymes it needs to digest larger influxes of carbs.
Refeeding is a powerful tool for those who are dieting because it can make the process more enjoyable and help us achieve better long-term results. Refeeding is not the best option for those who are maintaining, bulking, or doing the traditional keto diet.
Check out our other refeeding articles:
- Refeed After 3 Day Fast: Rules To Follow
- Refeed After 5 Day Fast: Rules To Follow
- Refeed Two Days In A Row: Is This Good or Bad?
- Refeed vs Cheat Day: Differences, Pros & Cons
- Will A Refeed Make Me Fat? 5 Tips To Limit Fat Gain On Refeeds
- Should I Workout On A Refeed Day? (A Nutritionist Answers)
About The Author
Amanda Parker is an author, nutrition coach, and Certified Naturopath. She works with bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters to increase performance through nutrition and lifestyle coaching.