Setting Carbs on a Diet and Carb Refeeding

Carb refeeding has always interested me. Almost every successful diet that comes out today, has some manner of carb refeeding or overfeeding to prevent and reverse so of the many negatives that comes from prolonged calorie and carb cutting. But there’s so much information, it becomes hard to know what to do and also how to to plan it in order to get results. I’m going to try and wade through the information and explain it the best I can and how you should implement a refeed based on where you are with your body fat level, appetite and motivation.

Chocolate Oatmeal with bananas, berries and pancake toppings
Chocolate Oatmeal with bananas, berries and pancake toppings

The first time I came upon carb refeeding was when I was very naive in my old dieting habits. I would cut calories and carbs too hard in order to get very low body fat. My strength in the gym was terrible, my motivation and determination was fading fast from where it started before the diet and I was starting to obsess about food. I was also in the middle of the “low carb era” which I really despise thinking back on. Way too many experts that were jumping on each others bandwagons and proclaiming  insulin to be this fat storing nightmare, when in reality they were just dead wrong. It wasn’t till after many people started experiencing severe problems on low carbs (thyroid issues, low body temperature, no motivation, low libido, terrible gym performance) that some people finally admitted they were wrong. Sadly many will still not admit this. Anyway the point is, to have a successful diet you always want to keep a decent amount of carbs in the diet. I set the minimum at 120 grams a day. 120 grams a day is enough to maintain thyroid, liver glycogen (which regulates blood sugar), brain glucose (concentration and thinking straight) and Central Nervous System (regulates fatigue). These are just a few benefits, but leaving this amount of carbs also helps keep cortisol levels from becoming excessive, prevents adrenal fatigue (excessive fat burning hormones and adrenaline), higher leptin levels (fat regulator), various fat burning hormones higher and libido intact (libido takes a nose dive when liver glycogen gets depleted).

After you have a minimum of 120 grams of carbs you also need to adjust for lifting and exercise. If you are sedentary besides walking, then 120 grams will do well for you. If you lift and run I recommend bumping up the carbs to around 150-170 grams depending on the intensity of your workout. This will cover your exercise needs and your basic physiological requirements for normal glucose. Of course once you have your carbs right you need to make sure your hitting your minimum protein intake (.8 multiplied by bodyweight) and fat intake (at least .2 multiplied by bodyweight) to prevent nutrition deficiencies and muscle loss.

Example

  • Total Weight – 180 lbs
  • Maintenance Calories with exercise – 2400 calories
  • Protein – 144 grams
  • Fat – 45 grams
  • Carbs – 160 grams
  • This comes out to 1621 calories, which is the bare minimum this person needs to lose weight without wrecking his health.

These are minimums for the low days and targets you should make sure to hit everyday. Now comes the part about refeeding. Carb refeeding originated from ketogenic dieting. Keto diets are extremely low carb and the reason high carb refeeds were implemented was too reverse the adaptations and many negative consequences these diets brought. I hate Keto diets and wouldn’t recommend them to anyone, unless they enjoy having health problems and feeling terrible all the time. That being said carb refeeding can still have enormous benefit to all diets. No matter how many carbs you have in your diet, if you don’t eat enough calories every so often your body will catch on and start to slow down metabolism. Refeeding prevents this. Here is how to implement one in your diet:

  • If you are on Ketogenic diet, I would do one AT LEAST every three days. Carbs are short term energy storage in the body and after 3 days the carbs are all depleted. Hit the refeed hard with at least 2-3 bodyweight in carbs.
  • If you are on a diet with at least 120 grams of carbs and our greater than 15% bodyfat, then do a refeed once every 2 weeks. Shoot for double the carbs you normally eat and the calories should hit right around your maintenance.
  • If you are on a diet with at least 120 grams of carbs and have 10-15% bodyfat, do a refeed once a week, preferably on day with no alcohol, because alcohol can inhibit leptin and that’s one of the main hormones you are trying to influence. Shoot for double the amount of carbs you normally eat and calories right around maintenance or slightly over.
  • If you are on a diet with at least 120 grams of carbs and are under 10% bodyfat, do a refeed twice a week, preferably every 3 days or maybe 5 low days in a row and then 2 high days in a row. This will prevent muscle loss that occurs more often for leaner people.
  • If you have been dieting for longer than 12 weeks with no or limited refeeds, take 2 weeks of with double the carbs you normally eat and calories at maintenance level. Then resume normal dieting and implement one of these refeeding strategies.
  • The last strategy might be the most effective. Listen to your body. If you find yourself overly hungry one day for no apparent reason, motivation is starting to fade and the gym seems more like a chore then a joy, do a refeed that day. Refeeds can “float” so to speak, meaning they can vary whenever you need them. I guarantee the day after you refeed, your motivation will be much higher for the entire week and you will be glad to return to your normal diet.

Is carb refeeding absolutely necessary? Not unless your on a Ketogenic diet. As I stated earlier if you eat enough carbs on a daily basis, many of those nasty hormonal functions may never effect you, but refeeds can help give you a boos. I like to think of them as an insurance policy and also a reward for dieting hard the other days of the week. That being said they do serve a physiological benefit and my bet is that you would get better results with them, than without them. Just dont get too carried away with them. Unless you have a very easy time cutting fat, too many refeeds drastically slow down your fat loss results and may even stop it completely if your not careful. Follow the advice above and watch your fat disappear, while your metabolism, strength and muscle remain intact. 😉

PS – High growth hormone, which is popular among low carb experts as a potent fat burner, inhibits leptin. Leptin is the chief hormone you want to spike with refeeds as it signals the body to start burning fat for energy and that your well fed. Only carbs can signal leptin. Further reading … Why You Probably Need Carbs.

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