Refeeding while cutting is somewhat nuanced because if you implement a refeed incorrectly it may lead to less than ideal results when dieting.
Should You Refeed While Cutting? Yes, refeeding when cutting is recommended because when we diet our metabolism slows down over time in response to a lesser intake of food but refeeding can help reduce the severity of this. In addition, refeeds while cutting can help to increase diet adherence, energy levels, and mood.
If we’re not taking advantage of refeeds while cutting or we’re not executing them properly, we can limit our weight loss potential and miss out on many benefits that refeeds have to offer.
The key is to implement refeed correctly while cutting, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
After reading this article you’ll learn:
- If you need to refeed while cutting to be successful
- How often to refeed for the best results
- Reasons why a refeed in beneficial
- Potential drawbacks to refeeds while cutting
- How to refeed properly
Is A Refeed Necessary While Cutting?
A refeed isn’t absolutely necessary to cut, but it should be considered because it can prevent our metabolism from slowing down and limiting the number of calories we’re able to burn per day.
In addition, including refeeds while we’re cutting can help increase our likelihood of sticking to the diet, improve our mood, and provide us with boosts of energy for training.
Trying to diet without refeeding is an option if we have a strict timeline and we aren’t dieting for very long. However, if we don’t have to be as strict and we’re dieting for longer than 6 weeks, we should include refeeds for the best results.
Will Refeeding On A Cut Help You Lose Weight?
Refeeding can help us to lose weight by minimizing the negative impacts that dieting has on our metabolism. Refeeding can also help us to lose weight by helping us to adhere to our diet long-term.
While dieting is positive in that it helps to lose weight and can potentially make us healthier overall, prolonged or aggressive dieting can negatively impact our metabolism by causing it to slow down and decrease our energy expenditure.
If our metabolism slows down then we will burn fewer calories throughout the day making it incredibly difficult to lose weight.
In addition, refeeds can help us lose weight because one of the reasons that diets fail is that we aren’t able to stick to them for longer periods and so we often don’t see the weight loss results that we’re looking for.
By incorporating refeed days into our cutting phase, it can help keep motivation, metabolism, and energy levels higher than they would be without them.
If your metabolism slows down too much, you may need to consider a “reverse dieting phase” instead of a “refeed day”. You can learn more in my article When To Start A Reverse Diet (5 Signs To Know).
How Often Should You Refeed On A Cut?
The frequency that we refeed could be weekly, bi-weekly, or every 3 to 4 weeks depending on our body fat percentage, length of the cut, energy levels, and motivation.
Those who have a lower body fat percentage (men: below 10%, women: below 18%) should refeed weekly because it will be harder for them to lose weight. After all, their bodies will want to hold on to every ounce of fat they have left.
By including weekly refeeds we can signal to the body that food is coming in so it doesn’t need to slow down our metabolism further.
In addition, refeeds will help replenish leptin levels (hormones responsible for signalling to the body that it has enough energy so it doesn’t need to give off hunger cues), which is even more necessary for those who are leaner because they have less leptin to begin with because leptin is stored and released from fat cells.
Those who have more moderate body fat (men: 10-15%, women: 18-25%) will benefit from refeeding bi-weekly because their bodies will be more willing to shed weight initially than those who are leaner and, therefore, they will not have to diet on as low of calories, so adherence (sticking to their diet plan) shouldn’t be as difficult.
Those with higher levels of body fat (men: 15+%, women: 25+%) can refeed less frequently because they have higher leptin levels to begin with (meaning they won’t be getting intense hunger cues from the brain demanding more food).
For more in-depth information on how often you should refeed, check out my other article How Often Should You Refeed (7 Signs You Need A Refeed Day).
Is There A Chance You’ll Get Fat If You Refeed On A Cut?
No, it’s not possible to gain weight from 1 to 2 days of increased calories unless we’re eating 3500 calories more than our current maintenance level of calories, which we shouldn’t be doing with a refeed because it is a structured increase (not a free for all).
If we were to have an unstructured refeed that went off the rails in terms of how many calories we were consuming then it is more likely that we could gain weight from this.
However, if we return to our deficit as usual and this type of refeeding is not typical for us, then the odds of refeeding making us fat are slim to none.
We will see an increase on the scale initially after refeeding but this is not fat gain, it is water retention from the increase in sodium and from the increase in carbs because we store 3 to 4 grams of water with every gram of carb we ingest.
This water retention will dissipate as we return to our deficit and the scale will drop to reflect this within a week of returning to the lower intake.
That being said, if we’re not mindful about the way that we include our refeeds and they turn into episodes of binge eating that we cannot seem to shake, then the likelihood of “refeeds” making us fat increases exponentially.
How To Refeed On A Cut Properly (Step By Step)
Here are the 6 steps to refeeding on a cut:
- Determine The Frequency Of The Refeeds
- Increase Calories To Maintenance Levels
- Set Protein Targets
- Determine Fat Targets
- Calculate Your Carbohydrate Intake
- Return To Deficit Calories After A Refeed
1. Determine The Frequency Of The Refeeds
The first step is to determine how frequently and how long we should refeed for.
The frequency of our refeeds will be based on our body fat percentage, how aggressive our cut is, and how long our diet is going to last. The duration of our refeed is based on the current research on leptin responses and energy stores.
How Many Days Should A Refeed Last?
I recommend that we refeed for 2 days back-to-back because research has shown that leptin levels do not respond immediately after consuming carbs, it seems to take between 4-48 hours before we see an increase in leptin after consuming excess carbs.
Therefore, to get the most out of our refeed it makes sense to allow 2 days for leptin to increase before returning to the deficit. If we don’t let leptin return to normal and successfully replenish some of our depleted energy stores, then the refeed is likely a waste of time.
How Frequently Should You Refeed?
If we’re relatively lean, then we should refeed weekly; if we have moderate fat mass, then we should refeed bi-weekly; if we have higher amounts of fat mass, then we should refeed every 3 to 4 weeks.
Knowing how often we should refeed is important because if we’re refeeding more frequently than we need to then we are likely just prolonging the cut to the point where we’re not being efficient and will most likely lose motivation over time.
If we’re not refeeding frequently enough, then we may slow our down metabolism more than we need to, which would make losing weight that much harder because it will feel like we’re fighting against our body to lose any additional weight.
2. Increase Calories To Maintenance Levels
The next step to properly refeeding is to take our calories back up to maintenance level to bring us temporarily out of a deficit.
To bring ourselves out of a deficit we are going to use our current body weight and multiply it by 14 to 16. This will give us an estimation of our current maintenance calories (the calorie amount that allows us to maintain our weight).
If we’re lightly active (<3 hours of activity/week), then we should multiply our body weight (lbs) by 14. If we’re moderately active (3-7hours of activity/week), then we should multiply by 15. If we’re highly active (7> hours of activity/week), then we should multiply by 16.
After multiplying by your activity factor (14-16) we will have a rough estimation of our current maintenance calories; however, these calories do not account for the slowing of our metabolism that occurs with dieting.
To account for this change to our metabolism, we can subtract 10% from the maintenance calories we’ve just calculated. This will give us a more accurate estimation of how many calories we need to refeed properly.
- If I currently weigh 160lbs and I am moderately active, I will multiply my body weight by 15.
- 160lbs X 15 = 2400 maintenance calories.
- Now I have to take 10% of 2400 to account for my metabolism slowing down from dieting.
- 2400 X 10% = 240 calories. This tells me that I’m likely burning 240 calories less per day because my metabolism is slower.
- 2400 – 240 = 2160 calories per day for my refeed.
3. Set Protein Targets
Once we’ve determined our calorie goal for our refeed days, then we can set our protein targets to ensure that we’re consuming enough protein, but not so much that we’re limiting the number of carbs we can consume.
For the best results, our protein intake should be set around 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This would mean that if I weighed 160 lbs that I should be consuming 160 grams of protein per day.
This protein target shouldn’t be too different from what we’re consuming on the days that we’re cutting, because when we’re cutting we still want our protein intake to be high to retain as much muscle as possible.
Once we’ve figured out our protein target in grams, we should convert it to see how many calories this is coming out to for future steps. To calculate the calories coming from the protein we can multiply our protein goal by 4 because protein has 4 calories per gram.
- 160 grams of protein x 4 calories/gram = 640 calories allocated to protein.
4. Determine Fat Targets
Once our protein is set, determining our fat intake for our refeed days is the next priority because fat has a lower limit that we should not go below for us to maintain our health, but we also want to limit fat intake so that carbs can be the star of the show on our refeed days.
Fat intake should be set at around 30 grams for men and 45 grams for women on our refeed days. Women require more fat than men because of the impact that fat intake has on their reproductive health.
Keeping fat intake low on our refeed days allows allocating more of our daily intake to carbs, which are the most important macronutrient when refeeding.
Next, we should calculate the number of calories that are being allocated to fats. To do this we multiple the grams of fat by 9 because fats have 9 calories per gram.
- Men: 30 x 9 = 270 calories to fat
- Women: 45 x 9 = 405 calories to fat
5. Calculate Your Carbohydrate Intake
One of the most important steps is setting our carbohydrate intake for our refeed days because carbs are our body’s preferred fuel source and they have the greatest impact on increasing leptin levels.
To determine our carbohydrate intake we need to use our calculated maintenance calories (with the 10% decrease) and subtract the calories we’ve already allocated to protein and fat, which will give us the number of calories remaining to put towards carbohydrates.
- 2160 (maintenance cals) – 640 (protein cals) – 405 (women’s fat cals) = 1115 calories for carbs
To calculate how many grams of carbs these calories are equal to we can divide the carb calories by 4 because carbs have 4 calories per gram.
- 1115 calories / 4 (calories/gram) = 279 grams of carbs per day.
Learn more here: Refeed Day Example: Sample Meal Plan With Macro Breakdown
6. Return To Deficit Calories After A Refeed
The final step to a successful refeed after adhering to these calculated calorie and macro targets for 2 days is to return to our deficit. Returning to our deficit is important to encourage continued weight loss.
Many individuals struggle to return to the deficit if they were not as disciplined as they would have liked during their refeed, or if they are dreading going back to a deficit once again.
At this point, it’s important to evaluate how we’re feeling about our current body composition. If we’re wanting further weight loss results, then we should continue our cut by returning to our deficit calories and macro targets that we were at before refeeding.
To summarize, here are the benefits and the drawbacks to including refeeds while cutting.
3 Reasons To Refeed While Cutting
- To Minimize Negative Impacts On Metabolism
- To Increase Motivation
- To Prolong Diet Adherence
2 Drawbacks To Reeds While Cutting
- Prolongs Cut Timeline
- Can Be Easily Abused
Other Refeeding Resources:
- Refeed After 3 Day Fast: Rules To Follow
- Refeed After 5 Day Fast: Rules To Follow
- 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.