Refeed vs Diet Break: Differences, Pros, & Cons

Refeeds and diet breaks are two of the best strategies to implement for fat loss and body recomposition. But, while refeeds and diet breaks are often used interchangeably by fitness influencers to mean the same thing ‒ they are not the same thing.  

So, what are the differences between a refeed and diet break? A “refeed day” is a controlled boost in calories that lasts 1-2 days and focuses primarily on increasing carbs.  A “diet break” lasts 1-2 weeks and does not prioritise an increase in carbs, but rather, a general increase in calories overall coming from each macronutrients (protein, carb, and fat).

To get the results, we need to be able to choose the best method (either refeeds or diet breaks) that suits our needs so that we aren’t prolonging our success.  Then, once we decide which method is best, we need to be able to implement it correctly.

After reading this article you’ll learn:

  • What a refeed day is
  • What a diet break is
  • The similarities and Differences between refeeds and diet breaks
  • Which one produces the best results based on your goal

Refeed Day

What Is A Refeed Day? 

Refeed Day Pros and Cons

A refeed is a temporary increase in calories that generally lasts one to two days and has the goal of bringing the individual out of a calorie deficit to a maintenance level of calories.  

People use refeeds because they help to diminish the negative effects of dieting that occur over time that make it difficult to see continued weight loss, such as increased hunger, decreased energy, decreased motivation, and a decrease in energy expenditure (fewer calories burned per day).

To avoid these, anyone who is in a prolonged or aggressive dieting phase should implement refeeds so that they can achieve their desired weight loss or body composition results. 

The reason for this is, the increase in calories that a refeed offers will help to boost the number of calories we burn per day, increase our energy levels, increase our ability to stick to our diet, and increase our mood.

To refeed properly, we should ensure that we increase our calories enough to bring us out of a caloric deficit and back to a maintenance level of intake (the amount we need to maintain our weight rather than losing weight). 

If you want to know the exact calories you should eat on a refeed, then check out our Refeed Calculator

If we don’t come out of our deficit then we will not receive the benefits of a refeed and our progress in the future may be impacted. 

If we’ve been dieting for 12 or more weeks or we’ve been dieting aggressively (losing more than 2% of our body weight per week, then we should consider doing weekly two-day refeeds (click to learn more in our other article).

If we have just started dieting or we’re dieting very conservatively (less than 0.5% of body weight loss per week), then we can likely get away with refeeding every 2 to 3 weeks for just one day.

In addition to determining the frequency, length of refeeds, as well as the increase in calories, the main priority while refeeding should be ensuring that the increased calories come primarily from carbohydrates because carbs have the biggest impact on increasing our energy levels and our satiety (how full we feel).

Key Takeaway: In order for a refeed to be successful, we must stick to our maintenance level of calories, prioritise carbs, and most importantly return to our deficit calories immediately after the refeed is over. 

If we’re not adhering to these principles then it is possible for us to lose sight of our goals and to gain fat mass rather than lose it.

Pros of A Refeed

  • Increases Leptin Levels
  • Increases Energy Levels
  • Improves Diet Adherence

Increases Leptin Levels

A refeed increases leptin levels which is important because leptin is a hormone that is responsible for helping us feel satiated. When we diet, our leptin levels decrease which leaves us feeling hungry more often throughout the day. 

By refeeding we can bring leptin levels back up and relieve some of the unpleasant hunger pangs that we can experience when leptin is low.

Increases Energy Levels

A refeed helps to boost energy levels because we are increasing our overall calorie intake up to maintenance and most of these calories are coming from carbohydrates. This is beneficial because carbs are the body’s preferred energy source, so by increasing our intake we will have more energy for daily activities, recovery, and exercise.

Can Improve Diet Adherence

Refeeding is beneficial for diet adherence because it gives us something to look forward to, to break up the dieting phase. With a refeed we would have short temporary increases in calories more often than if we were refeeding so it gives us relief from our calorie deficit on a regular basis.

Including refeeds to have something to look forward to could be the difference between losing motivation/giving up, and achieving our goals.

Cons of A Refeed

  • Is Often Misused
  • Is More Rigid

A Refeed Is Often Misused

Refeeds are often misused by those who are not in a place where they can adhere to maintenance calories and then return to a deficit, and in this situation a refeed could set us back from achieving our goals.

If a refeed causes us to “fall off the waggon” and lose sight of our goals, then it is not worth incorporating it.

A Refeed Is More Rigid

Refeeds are more rigid and structured than a diet break because they last for a shorter amount of time and therefore need to be more focused on increasing carbohydrates than any other nutrient so that we get the most benefit in a small time frame. 

For some, the rigidity of a refeed may actually prevent them from getting the mental break that they’re needing.

Diet Break

What Is A Diet Break? 

A diet break is a temporary increase in calories that generally lasts for one to two weeks, and has the goal of giving the individuals a physical and mental break from dieting to encourage diet adherence and improve hormone and energy production.

People incorporate diet breaks because research has shown that the slow and steady approach to dieting yields better long-term results than continuous dieting without breaks. 

This is because the approach is usually less aggressive and therefore adherence is typically better because it is less exhausting. Adherence just simply means ‘sticking to your diet’ rather than hopping on and off the diet bandwagon continuously.  

Additionally, the more time we spend at a maintenance level of calories, (as we would during the diet break), the better our satiety, energy, and mood will be.

Diet breaks work best for those who are not looking for fast results and are willing to be more patient because using the diet break approach does prolong the process. Ultimately we spend less time in a deficit, which is good for the reasons discussed above but also delays results.

A diet break can be incorporated every month or every 3 months depending on our timeline, the aggressiveness of the cut, and our motivation.

Based on these same factors we can determine whether the diet break will last for one week or two weeks. If we’re going longer periods between diet breaks (3+ months) then it makes sense to have a two-week diet break rather than one.

Once we’ve decided a diet break is necessary, we can increase our calories to a maintenance level and maintain this intake for the next week or two.

Key Takeaway: After the diet break is over, we should return to our deficit calories to continue to see fat loss and body composition progress. That being said, if a diet break triggers the urge to binge eat then, perhaps a diet break is not the best option for us.

Pros

  • Increases Energy Levels
  • Increases Leptin Levels
  • Improves Diet Adherence

Increases Energy Levels

A diet break can dramatically improve energy levels because if we’re increasing our calories back up to maintenance for 1 to 2 weeks then we will have much more calories at our disposal to use for energy over this time period.

When energy is higher, there is much more potential to maximise our training, non-exercise activities, and recovery. If we’re training for a competition or trying to increase our strength while dieting, the increase in energy that we get from a diet break could be just what we need to keep our performance elevated.

Increases Leptin Levels

A diet break can also increase leptin levels because of the additional calories that we will be consuming. However, with a diet break we are not necessarily putting focus on only increasing carbohydrates, which have the highest effect on increasing leptin levels. 

Therefore if for some reason our carbohydrate intake stayed low and the increase in calories up to maintenance only came from protein and fats, then we could be unsuccessful in increasing leptin levels.

The odds of this happening unintentionally are probably low because most people tend to prefer eating carbs rather than protein and fats, but it is something to be aware of.

Improves Diet Adherence

A diet break can be the best option for increasing diet adherence because it provides a longer break from a calorie deficit which likely gives the most mental relief compared to a refeed which is only 1 to 2 days max. 

Diet adherence is very important for long-term results so if incorporating diet breaks into our plan helps us create a plan that we can adhere to for longer periods, then we are much more likely to achieve our fat loss and body composition goals. 

Cons

  • Prolongs Weight Loss Process
  • Is Often Misused

Refeed vs Diet Break: 3 Similarities

Refeed vs Diet Break 3 Similarities

The similarities between a refeed and a diet break are:

1. They Are Temporary Increases In Calories

Both refeeds and diet breaks are designed to temporarily increase calories therefore both require that after the designated amount of time with increased calories is over that we return to a calorie deficit. With either method the importance of returning to a deficit is vital to success.

2. They Increase Calories To Maintenance

Refeeds and diet breaks both have the goal of increasing our calories up to a maintenance level and out of a deficit. Therefore the increase in calories for both methods is the exact same on a daily basis, but the total calories over time would look different between the two methods.

3. They Boost Energy, Leptin, and Adherence

Refeeds and diet breaks both increase energy levels, leptin, and adherence but perhaps to different degrees. A diet break would increase energy levels more than a refeed because of the increased amount of time out of a deficit. 

A refeed has more potential to increase leptin levels because it is more strict about the increase in calories coming from carbohydrates, whereas a diet break is generally not specific about where the increase in calories comes from.

A diet break has more potential to increase diet adherence because there are longer periods spent out of a deficit, but this could also mean longer amounts of time dieting to achieving our goals so perhaps for some a refeed is better for adherence.

Refeed vs Diet Break: 3 Differences

The differences between a refeed and a diet break are:

1. A Diet Break Is Longer Than A Refeed

A diet break can last for 1 to 2 weeks whereas a refeed is generally 1 to 2 days, which is the main difference between these two approaches. 

The amount of time spent out of a deficit with a diet break can be great for preventing our metabolism from slowing down and halting progress but it also requires us to diet for even longer because we will spend less time in a deficit.

Oppositely, with refeeds we spend more time in a deficit and limited amounts of time at maintenance which could potentially result in more decreases in metabolism but perhaps less overall time spent dieting.

2. A Refeed Happens More Often Than A Diet Break

A refeed generally happens weekly, bi-weekly, or every 3 weeks at most whereas a diet break happens on a monthly basis at most. The frequency of refeeds may be preferable for those who need a more regular break from ad deficit for their sanity. 

Although a diet break is a longer break from a deficit, because they are so few and far between it may feel disheartening waiting for the next break.

3. Refeed Days Are Focused On Carbs And Diet Breaks Are More Relaxed

Refeed days are all about making the most of the time spent out of a deficit and are therefore more focused on increasing carbohydrates and putting upper limits on the amount of protein and fat that we should intake. 

A diet break is much more relaxed about which nutrients are contributing to the increase in calories up to a maintenance level. 

Some may prefer the relaxed nature of a diet break compared to the more focused approach of a refeed.

Refeed or Diet Break: Which One Produces Results?

Refeed or Diet break: Which one produces results?

Both refeed days and diet breaks produce results, but one may be better than the other depending on the circumstances.

A refeed day is best for those who are dieting more short-term, while diet breaks are best for those who are dieting for longer periods. 

Refeed days also tend to be more rigid because they are only 1 to 2 days long, they need to be more focused. Whereas diet breaks involve longer amounts of time away from a deficit which allows us to keep hormones at appropriate levels and our metabolism functioning optimally without as much rigidity. 

Final Thoughts

Refeeds and diet breaks are both effective strategies to improve weight loss or body composition results accomplished by dieting. The one that is the best depends on our timeline, our motivation levels, and our ability to stick to the plan.

Other Refeeding Resources


About The Author

Amanda Parker
Amanda Parker

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.