Maybe some of our weight loss efforts are not always successful because we are unaware of how we should go about tracking our progress. This is part of the reason why personal trainers can be valuable, because it is another person who is supposed to understand the process and know what to expect, and they are supposed to keep you accountable and on track with your goals. It is never fun when you feel like you are not progressing in something, whether it is fitness related or not. I myself have a trainer, Neil “Yoda” Hill, and learning from his perspective as to why he does things and what he would recommend for certain situations has given me more knowledge and understanding in the overall process. For this blog in particular, I am going to discuss the importance of eating higher calories 1x out of your week (commonly known as a refeed) if you have been dieting and training hard, and why it is important to add into your routine.
First and foremost, you should never stop seeing progress and you certainly should not go backwards. If you start to see progress, but then it stops and you start to look worse, this is obviously a cause for concern. At the end of the day, if you are not seeing the results you want then this boils down to diet and training. It is not one or the other, and it is likely not one specific thing that is going to make a magical difference. Rather, weight loss is trying to take all the different elements surrounding your past and current behaviours, current diet, and training style, and then trying to find how they can all fit in harmony. I would say everyone’s harmony is different from the next person’s, but doesn’t mean each and every one of us won’t ever find it. When it comes to diet and exercise, “one hand washes the other”, it is never “one or the other”.
Among all of the different elements that go into weight loss, I would say diet holds the most weight. Without a proper calorie intake and macronutrient distribution, your training efforts could be going to waste, or you may not be getting the most out of your training. It takes a lot of time, effort, and energy to get to the gym so making sure your diet will give you the results you’re working for is obviously ideal. I would say most people eat too little calories in their day when they need it most, and then eat the majority of calories later in the evening at their most inactive. I think this is especially true when someone is attempting to follow a diet with restricted food groups and calories. Eating low calories or cutting out food groups will not work well with your training when you are attempting to lose body fat, and strength train. One of my biggest recommendations and tips would be to include a refeed day into your weekly diet. If you were to take your meal plan/diet, you should aim to dedicate 16 weeks/4 months minimum to it. If the diet is correct, and your training is going well, you will find yourself at one point or the other, very depleted.
Signs You May Be Depleted:
- Strength decreases significantly and obviously.
- Your appetite decreases, but increases for foods you were not normally craving previously.
- Your sleep is disturbed.
- Washroom activity has stopped or you have become constipated without any diet changes.
- You are moody, short tempered, and have low energy.
- You have noticed a plateau, or have not seen any changes.
All of the above would indicate a refeed day is needed one time out of your week. I think people get confused thinking since they are on a diet or a meal plan, it means they will stick to that until the end of time, or until the event/holiday/vacation comes. When someone has body fat to lose, they do not think they need or deserve extra calories 1x a week, but this is not always the case. Just because you have body fat to lose, does not mean your body does not get depleted on your base line meal plan/diet. If you are eating your meal plan for 2-3 weeks straight, you will eventually find the above signs start to happen to you. Our bodies are a lot more catabolic (muscle eating) then we are lead to believe, and we are capable of burning calories at a higher rate than we think. When we are trying hard to be on a meal plan or a diet, it is likely working on a physiological level more than you ever imagined. So, even though you may have body fat to lose and visually are not happy yet, a refeed 1x a week could still be beneficial to keeping your glycogen stores topped up in your muscles, and could keep you further away from becoming catabolic. Avoiding catabolism is one of the tricks to a successful weight loss journey.
People who are white knuckle dieting often do not implement a refeed, and will experience the above depletion signs without realizing they are depleted. Rather, we are conditioned to believe depletion is how we are supposed to feel on a diet, since most diets are very limited in calories or aim to remove an entire food group. However, always eating low calorie in addition to weight training and cardio could bring us closer into a catabolic state which only means an increased chance for fat storage as our metabolism slows down, and muscle degradation occurs. Our metabolism slows down in order to save calories and save energy, and it also does this by eating away at our muscle. Muscle is a luxury on our body, it’s hard to build and tricky to keep. So don’t think your body will opt for keeping muscle over fat, when fat will give almost double the amount of energy per gram. Muscle will be the first thing to go when your body feels it needs to gear down and get into fat storage mode, usually due to eating too few calories for too long a period, or over training.
One time a week eating higher calories or having a “refeed day”, could decrease the risk of depletion, therefore keeping us away from a catabolic zone so we can continue to be in a muscle building state (anabolism…it’s science!). The more muscle we can build and keep on our body, the faster our metabolism and the faster we lose that stubborn body fat. Ideally, we want to be eating enough calories so we can build muscle, but at the same time be able to burn fat. It is a delicate balance, that takes a long time and a ton of patience in order to understand and find. Too many calories could mean you may not see the body fat loss you want, but too little calories could also mean no increase in muscle mass, so you don’t see body fat loss in the long term either.
Another positive towards a refeed day 1x a week is your mental sanity. I never recommend eating deep fried foods, or to binge on candy, chocolate, popcorn etc. Can some of that be in the day? Yes, with moderation, but I would recommend a refeed day to be “gourmet” versions of cheat meals you would dream of. Making things from scratch at home, such as whole wheat pancakes or waffles, oatmeal with fruit, grass-fed burgers with homemade baked sweet potato fries, panini, wrap, crepe, bowl of pasta, salmon sashimi and another fresh sushi roll, some gelato or sorbet at night with low or no lactose, are some examples. If you are on a diet that supports your training and hypertrophy, then it should be relatively high calories (at least higher than the average non-fit person). A refeed day needs to be extra food that mimic your normal meals, only they contain higher HEALTHY calories than your normal baseline diet does not give you. For example, if your everyday/baseline breakfast is 3 eggs with 1 piece of toast, you would add oatmeal with fruit or pancakes to the side of this breakfast. The extra calories are not enough to wreck your progress for the week ahead, but they are enough to give your system a boost, give yourself a mental break from “dieting”, and will keep your energy, mood, and metabolism high.
On top of the mental sanity, it’s good for your gut health to switch it up a little bit. Give it something new, different, and exciting to digest. If you have intolerances, a refeed day is still not a good time to experiment with those foods, as it will only wreck you for the week ahead. Sometimes when you are eating a constant diet, it gets almost automatic so it is important to switch up food groups, therefore introducing new vitamins, minerals, and different calories we may not be getting from our everyday diet.
Below are common breakfast, lunch, and dinner refeed meals I have:
-4 whole eggs
-Ezekiel English muffin, Ezekiel toast, or whole wheat bagel (Bagel Belt+bacon from T&T Bakery in Markham in particular oh my gaaawwwwwwwwwd if you have not had you NEED)
-all natural PB
-1.5C oatmeal with mixed berries and honey
Big handful cane sugar/organic candy gummy bears
1 order salmon sashimi
10 piece’s salmon sushi
stir fried vegetables
Terra Mediterranean vegetable chips (addictive)
Greek Salad and pita with tzatziki
(not necessarily all of it…or in that order)
Organic, grass-fed burger
Store bought frozen sweet potato fries-baked
Fiasco gelato/sorbet (lactose free)
1 scoop protein
all natural PB