You may be wondering whether it’s better to workout on refeed days or just simply rest.
Should you workout on a refeed day? It’s best to keep refeed days on rest days rather than workout days because if we workout while refeeding we won’t be able to use the additional calories from food as effectively to (1) replenish energy stores and (2) positively impact hormones.
With that said, if we must workout on refeed days, then it’s totally okay, so long as we implement certain training strategies so that we aren’t wasting our time and effort.
After reading this article you’ll learn:
- How workout days could impact refeed days
- The potential benefits of working out on a refeed day
- The drawbacks of working out on a refeed day
- 3 rules to follow when working out on a refeed day
Working Out On Refeed Days: An Overview
When we incorporate refeed days while dieting, the goal is to temporarily increase the number of calories we’re consuming to a maintenance level (the number of calories it takes for us to maintain our weight) from the calorie deficit that we need to lose weight.
The goal of the refeed is to (1) replenish energy stores that have been depleted, (2) boost hormone levels that have decreased in response to the lower calorie intake, and (3) enhance diet adherence by giving ourselves a mental break.
All of these are accomplished by increasing our calories, but if this increase in calories is burned off because we work out the same day that we’re refeeding, then we will not get the same benefits from these calories as we would if we reduced our energy expenditure and let our body absorb these nutrients.
However, this does not mean that we should sit on the couch all day and aren’t allowed to move while refeeding. It just means that it may be best to prioritize non-exercise activities (house cleaning, grocery shopping, playing with pets, etc.) rather than gym activity.
All of that being said, there are worse things than working out on a refeed day – like not refeeding at all when dieting.
If we have to workout on a refeed day then there are strategies that we can implement to improve our ability to absorb these nutrients to get a bit more out of the refeed.
I’ll discuss these strategies later. But first, I want to highlight two benefits of working out on a refeed day so that you understand it’s not all “gloom and doom” if you decide to train.
Need to calculate your refeed macros? Check out our Refeed Calculator.
Benefits of Working Out On A Refeed Day
The benefits of working out on a refeed day are:
It Can Prevent Us From Overeating
Refeeding on a workout day could be beneficial to prevent us from overeating because we are more likely to overeat when we’re bored, which could set us back from achieving our goals within our desired timeframe.
If we are working out while refeeding, then it will keep us distracted and more focused on our goals than if we are sitting at home and looking for something to do.
Working out is one strategy for keeping us out of trouble, but if we aren’t working out then it is important to have some activities planned to prevent us from going overboard while refeeding.
Slightly More Energy For Workouts
If we were to refeed on a rest day we wouldn’t have as much energy stored to use for our workouts as we would if we were refeeding on a rest day and working out the following day, however, there will be more energy available than there is when we’re in a calorie deficit.
One way that we can maximize our ability to use the additional calories for energy is to workout in the evening on the day that we’re refeeding so that we can give our body more time to accumulate energy from the additional calories before using it during the workout.
While this isn’t the optimal way to refeed, it is an option if we must refeed on a workout day and we want to make the most of the training day.
Drawbacks of Working Out On A Refeed Day
The drawbacks of working out on a refeed day are:
Less Energy Replenishment
If we workout on a refeed day then we won’t be able to use the additional calories from the refeed to replenish the energy that has been depleted from dieting.
This is detrimental since the whole point in refeeding is to use these calories to replenish depleted energy stores, enhance future activity, and promote recovery.
If we’re burning off these additional calories before we even get to accomplish any of these tasks then our refeed will not be as effective as we would hope in preventing burnout and downregulations in metabolism as a result of dieting.
May Result In Reduced Leptin Levels
When we workout on a refeed day we will be using carbohydrates for energy during the workout rather than storing them as glycogen, and this may impact leptin levels.
Leptin is the body’s satiety hormone, which means that it signals to our brain that enough food is coming in and it can chill out on sending constant hunger signals. This hormone is most responsive to carbohydrates, so the increase in carbs on refeed days is what we depend on to boost leptin levels.
During a workout day, your protein requirement increases to repair and grow your muscles. By having a refeed during a non-workout day, you can have a lower protein intake and a higher carbohydrate intake. This means that your leptin levels get back to normal, as well as your glycogen levels.
Less Rest & Recovery
One of the main benefits of a refeed is to provide dieters with a mental break from dieting because living on lower calories can be draining and unmotivating, so having planned increases in calories to rest and recover is valuable.
When we exercise on a refeed day we no longer get to rest and recover physically and mentally because working out requires energy and focus. By working out on refeed days, we rob ourselves of the ability to enjoy the rest and recover and perhaps make diet adherence even more difficult.
How To Set Up A Refeed Day Around A Workout: 3 Rules To Follow
To reiterate I would not recommend working out on a refeed day if we have the option, however, if we do have to workout on a refeed day then we should follow these rules.
The 3 rules to follow to set up a refeed day around a workout are:
- Workout In The Evening
- Make It A Lower Volume Upper Body Workout
- Decrease Non-Exercise Activity
1. Workout In The Evening
When working out on a refeed day we should plan for the workout to be in the evening so that we can give the carbs that we’re eating in the morning more opportunity to be converted into glycogen to be used for the workout.
Having the workout in the evening gives us more potential to use the increased carbs to maximize our performance. If we were to work out earlier in the day, we would have fewer carbs stored to use for energy and benefit our performance because it takes time for these carbs to be converted to glycogen after we ingest them.
2. Make It A Lower Volume Upper Body Workout
If we’re going to work out on a refeed day we should try to keep the energy expenditure low so that we can minimize the number of calories we’re allocating towards the workout so we can put some additional calories towards actual refeed processes.
To minimize energy expenditure I would keep the workout a lower volume workout because higher volume workouts (workouts with lots of sets and reps) require more energy. In addition, it would be best if the workout was an upper-body day rather than a lower-body day because smaller muscles don’t result in as much energy expenditure when total work is equal.
3. Decrease Non-Exercise Activity
When working out on a refeed day we are already expending more energy than is ideal to maximize refeed benefits, so we should try to keep non-exercise activity to a minimum.
Non-exercise activity refers to the energy that we expend when we’re performing daily activities that are not planned exercise such as housework, grocery shopping, work, etc.
If we must work out on a refeed day then we should make an effort to decrease any other form of energy expenditure that we can to try and preserve some of the additional refeed calories for energy replenishment, hormone regulation, and mental rejuvenation.
Working out on a refeed day is something I wouldn’t recommend doing, but if it must be done then I suggest doing everything you can to avoid burning off all of the additional calories from the refeed so some of them can be put to use to encourage some energy replenishment, hormonal regulation, and mood enhancement.
Other Refeed Resources
- Refeed Day Example: Sample Meal Plan With Macro Breakdown
- Will A Refeed Make Me Fat? 5 Tips To Limit Fat Gain On Refeeds
- Refeed vs Cheat Day: Differences, Pros & Cons
- Should I Refeed While Cutting? (Yes, Here’s Why & How)
- How Often Should You Refeed? (7 Signs You Need A Refeed Day)
- Refeed After 5 Day Fast: 7 Rules To Follow & What To Eat
- Refeed After 3 Day Fast: 7 Rules To Follow & What To Eat
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Lyons, S., Richardson, M., Bishop, P., Smith, J., Heath, H. and Giesen, J. (2007), Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption in untrained men following exercise of equal energy expenditure: comparisons of upper and lower body exercise. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 9: 889-894. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1463-1326.2006.00679.x
Levine, J. A. (2002). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 16(4), 679-702. ISSN 1521-690X. https://doi.org/10.1053/beem.2002.0227.
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.
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