Refeeds and Cheat Meals – how much, how often, what to use and what to avoid

By September 6, 2016Nutrition Tips

Utilising periods where you consume a caloric excess will drastically improve the efficacy of dieting. As I mentioned in my Facebook and Instagram posts, when you diet your body goes out of whack. Insulin levels decrease, leptin levels decrease, thyroid hormone levels decrease ghrelin levels increase, AGRP is increased and PYY is reduced. In short, your body begins to be in a bad way.

This is where refeeds come in.

Put simply, a refeed is a period of time eating at a caloric excess. This refeed can come in the form of a cheat meal, where you eat foods but do not track your intake, or a well structure refeed. I recommend a combination of the two.

This article is going to summarise how long you need to refeed, how much you need to eat, how often you should refeed and what foods are best to be used.

How long do you need to refeed?

This question depends on how long you diet for and at what calorie deficit. Szepesi and Berdanier conducted a study on rats, which they placed on a severely hypocaloric diet and thus induced a ‘starvation response’. After several weeks on this hypocaloric diet, the rats were fed a hypercaloric, high carb diet. The result? Within two days of refeeding, the starvation response was eliminated.

If you are dieting for an extended period of time I suggest longer periods of refeeds. For example, if you are in a severe hypocaloric state for several weeks you may require a week long refeed of eating at a slight caloric surplus. On the other hand, if you are only dieting in a hypocaloric state for 5-10 days at a time you may require just one or two days of refeeding.

How much do you need to eat?

Like the above, how much you need to eat on a refeed depends on how severe a calorie deficit you are in. If you are in a deficit of 30% of your total daily energy expenditure, you may need to refeed up to a 10% surplus above your total daily energy expenditute. If you are in an even greater deficit than that, it may be beneficial to refeed up to 100%. In clients who I have needed to get lean quickly yet retain muscle mass I have found that large refeeds are highly beneficial.

How often should you refeed?

This question depends on the individual. If you or your client is losing a lot of muscle or beginning to look ‘stringy’ or ‘skeletor-like’s while dieting, it may pay dividends to refeed up to twice per week. If, however, you or your client are doing quite well, refeeds every 1 or two weeks will suffice.

What are the best foods to use on refeeds?

Carbs. Any sort of carbs.

When you have a refeed you want to your carbs to spike as much insulin and serotonin as possible. The reason for this is that insulin stimulates the insulin receptor on the fat cell, which in turn releases leptin (which releases thyroid hormones and spikes your metabolism) and inhibits ghrelin. As for the role of serotonin, this inhibits hunger, accelerates metabolic rate and can improve mental wellbeing.
While refeeding I recommend at least 50% of your daily caloric intake to come from carbs.


Utilising refeeds and cheat meals are essential for optimal fat loss, muscle retention and happiness while dieting. I hope you guys have learnt something out of this article and can implement it to your future fat loss plans.

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