Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
18 Jun

Carb Refeeding and Weight Loss

Part of the allure of the Primal eating plan is that it’s effortless. There’s no calorie counting, no stressing over macronutrient intakes – eating PB simply means choosing to eat real, whole foods that man has been eating for tens of thousands of years. You can go higher carb or lower carb (I initially recommend low carb, just because it makes losing weight and stabilizing your metabolism incredibly easy, especially for folks coming off the SAD), and as long as you’re eating real foods you’ll be getting healthier and losing body fat.

This isn’t enough for everyone, though. To go back to yesterday’s “hormones as software” analogy, some people are hackers who relish digging deep into the fine print of software manuals discussing human nutrition and hormonal responses. Others – the bulk of my readership – are cool with using their standard-issue, factory Mac or PC to reap the basic benefits of Primal living, while others prefer learning Unix and taking night classes in comp sci down at the local community college after work. They’re the ones who spend the time to fiddle with the programming language of our bodies in order to become real hormonal hackers. I get that. I love that stuff, too, if only to able to take the information and distill it for a large audience. Though one can see tremendous results with minimal effort following the simple principles of the Primal Blueprint (i.e. how I approach my own eating habits and how I recommend others do as well) digging deeper into the science of leptin and how carb refeeds impact leptin levels can unlock an entirely new level of fat loss (and understanding of why that fat loss is occurring).

All this leptin and carb refeeding stuff was prompted by reader questions; I get a fair amount of questions about carb refeeds, and, because the PB is a moderate to low-carb plan, people (understandably so) tend to assume that carbohydrate refeeding contradicts its basic tenets. They make an incorrect assumption.

As mentioned earlier, the Primal Blueprint is the simplest, most enjoyable, most sustainable way to normalize your weight, a description borne out by my own experiences and the experiences of my readers. If you don’t want to fret over every last macronutrient as you lose weight steadily, a low carb, high fat, moderate protein Primal eating plan will do the trick. That said, I am not overly concerned with getting folks to 6% body fat, nor am I interested in producing champion body builders. I have nothing against getting as lean as possible; it’s just not my focus. Turning the Primal Blueprint into a super-leaning out program would mean changing its inherent nature as an effortless system without weighing and measuring. You see, I’m concerned with helping people reach their natural genetic potential through sustainable lifestyle behaviors. And for most people, their natural genetic potential is pretty damn good – lean, strong, fit, healthy. Very few people can achieve that ultra-ripped, Men’s Health cover model look without significant, painstaking adherence to a strictly regimented program.

Carb loading or carb refeeds can be used, quite effectively, by those interested in dropping the last couple body fat percentage points. I wouldn’t recommend it for overweight individuals. For them, sticking with a low carb, Primal eating plan is the easiest, safest way to drop the pounds. And you can do it with Primal foods.

The purpose, as I see it, of carb refeeds is the restoration of leptin levels in the dieter. As we know, caloric restriction reduces leptin levels. With lower leptin comes increased hunger and reduced adherence to a diet. Cravings arise. Energy wanes, immunity suffers. The lack of leptin elicits the cascade of hormones that down regulate metabolism and energy expenditure. Your muscles use less energy and become more efficient – but weaker and less effective. Menstruation and fertility become issues. Dropping calories even more just makes the problem worse. You need to restore leptin, at least for a bit, to right the path. A carb refeed can help you achieve this.

Who needs to refeed? No one “needs” a carb refeed, especially if he or she is feeling good, looking good, and continuing to lose weight with plenty of energy. I never consciously stuff myself with carbs, and I’m doing okay. Remember, too, that a low-carb eating plan doesn’t equal a low calorie eating plan. If your weight loss has stalled, however, and hunger is a constant issue, no matter the depths of your caloric restriction, it may be wise to consider a periodic carbohydrate refeed. If you lack energy throughout the day and your immune system is suffering, you might need to restore your leptin levels with a carb refeed.

Here’s the quick and dirty Primal way to do it:

On your heaviest training days (heavy lifting, sprinting, anything that results in glycogen depletion), increase your carbohydrates and limit your fat intake. Yes, limit your fat intake to around 50g (eyeball it – don’t demolish that stick of butter today). Don’t cut it out altogether, mind you, but emphasize carbs over fat. Fat doesn’t have much of a short-term effect on leptin, and, since we want to increase leptin in the short-term without gorging on overall calories, limiting fat and emphasizing carbohydrate is the way to go. Don’t do much to your protein intake. Just keep it relatively normal. Limit your refeeds to once, maybe twice a week, and always after really big workouts, but really go for it. Eat a lot of yams, sweet potatoes, fruit, plantains, squash – any Primal source of starchy carb will do the trick (grains and legumes are still problematic, so keep away). Eat more total calories than you’d normally eat and way more carbohydrate calories than you’d normally eat – at least 250 g-300 g worth. Finish your refeed day with a decent chunk of lean protein (chicken breast, cottage cheese).

You’ll probably get that bloated, water-weight feeling the following day, especially if your diet is relatively low-carb, but that will go away after a day or so. Leptin will rise (independent of fat storage), glycogen will replenish, and your appetite will normalize. Since you’re already fairly lean with low circulating leptin (and, remember: you should be relatively lean before employing refeeds), your leptin senstivity will be high. The leptin bounce won’t be enough to dull your leptin receptors; that generally only happens with the obese, who have chronically elevated leptin.

There are other methods. Some experts recommend two or three day-long carb binges. Others say a week long refeed works best. I don’t know about you, but that seems like too much work. I honestly can’t see myself giving up pastured butter and ribeyes for a week straight. Starch without fat gets real old, real fast.

I may not find refeeds necessary for my goals, but I recognize that they can help people reach their goals. Everyone’s different. I can’t guarantee my way will work – you may have to get super strict and follow Martin Berkhan’s or Lyle McDonald’s methods to reach your desired level of leanness. Still, the Primal refeed is worth experimenting with, especially if you’ve reached a plateau lasting a month or more. I’m a big fan of steady, gradual weight loss, and the leaner you get the slower it gets, but it’s not for everyone. The above recommendations simply represent a way you can adhere to the Primal eating plan and still tinker with carb refeeds without overly disrupting your usual diet.

If you’re still having trouble reconciling the refeed notion with your idea of Grok’s lifestyle, just imagine you found a bushel of mangos, or happened upon a particularly fruitful trove of edible roots. You think Grok would have tossed those mangos to avoid the carbohydrates?

Let me know how it works out for you!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. So my question..
    If I’m going to do a refeed when should I do it? I typically lift 3 times a week, early morning, around 630am. (intensely).
    Would a refeed be better on the day before and intense workout? Or should I do through the day after I did a workout that same morning?

    Nathan wrote on August 29th, 2011
    • Start your refeed after your workout and end it after 300-500 grams of carbs have been ingested.

      Bill wrote on December 13th, 2011
  2. Can someone give some good daily meal plan based on this…..thank you

    Joseph moya wrote on October 22nd, 2011
  3. Regarding the ‘effectiveness’ of carb refeeds here is the scoop. If your muscle and liver glycogen levels are depleted then it will work great. Therefore, if you have VLC it for say 3 days straight, then do a anaerobic workout involving legs,back,chest at minimum your muscles will be depleted. Now, between muscle and liver, your body can store about 500 Grams of glucose, therefore if you can eat 500 Grams of dextrose type carbs, ALL the carbs will go into your muscles/liver. Even if you overdo it a bit (say you only hold 300 grams and you eat 500) nothing bad is going to happen. This is how supplement companies can make claims like ‘Gain 15lbs in a week!’ and sell you something with 75 grams of dextrose+creatine. Sure, if your 300lbs steroid muscle man in a carb depleted state and take 4 servings a day for a week, your GOING to add 15lbs to your scale weight via hypercompensation of muscle glycogen stores.

    Bill wrote on December 13th, 2011
  4. A sweet potato is 41 grams net carbs PER 200 grams. I just weighed a normal sweet potato and it weighed 450 grams, so it should be right about 100 grams of total carbs. Minus out the 18 grams of fiber if you want (i wont). That means if you eat 4-5 normal size sweet potatoes (not a big deal) you will have consumed between 400-500 grams of carbs. Drink a lot of water as each gram of carbs will carry with it 4-5 grams of H20 and you will get a headache if you get dehydrated from the tater.

    Bill wrote on December 13th, 2011
  5. Getting In shape Is So Easy to do, Anybody Can Do It

    Top Weight Control Program wrote on February 18th, 2012
  6. So…I only have ten pounds to go until im at an average weight for my height…is this what I should be trying?? or doing to acheve the desired results Mark??
    Thanks so much

    Again, your website is like my bible!!!
    truelly appriciate it!

    Tuti K wrote on February 25th, 2012
  7. Great read! Ive known about refeeds since I’ve used them during my fitness competition to get very lean for stage but I had been looking how to do if the primal way, thanks!!

    Alyssa wrote on March 2nd, 2012
  8. I would like to try this. Im 5’4′ 135 pounds, 23 years old. 25% BF (Or so my scale says) It seems to be hard for me to loose fat and I’ve been pretty low carb for a while. On the days that Im not cycling, or refeeding (I plan to do one day) should I keep my carbs around 50-100?
    should I :refeed: only after a work out?

    sarah wrote on April 26th, 2012
  9. This was the first site I found, on refeeding.

    I am currently doing a low carb and high protein cutting diet and I really feeling the effects.

    I was thinking of doing a refeed but I only started the low carb and high protein diet 2 days ago.

    Should I just keep on this and then starting next week, incorporate the refeeding. Or does it not matter when one starts refeeding?

    Lil C wrote on May 28th, 2012
  10. Chris Powell, of Extreme Makeover-Weightloss Edition, has a book out. It’s hard to argue with his results, and it’s relatively easy to tinker with it to make it less grain/legume heavy and swap in more friendly starches. But essentially, it’s the “poor man’s” carb-cycling he does for his obese clients: 1 high carb, 1 low carb for a week. On the high carb days, fat should be minimized as much as possible, and on the low carb days, ditto. If I was to arbitrarily use a number for both, 50g or less on their respective low days would seem right. The seventh day is eat what you want, within reason. Near the end of the book, he finally gave calories he’s had success with: Low-carb days were approximately 1600 and high-carb days were approximately 2000. The cheat/refeeed day was 3000. This could be a mechanical template one could use and easily make it primal friendly by keeping the protein constant on all days and adjusting the other macro’s as needed.

    Gaby A. wrote on July 1st, 2012
  11. Not sure if people are still reading this, but I have been feeling VERY VERY tired… everyday… I started primal eating 4 weeks ago, lost 10 pounds and have no complaints other than feeling EXHAUSTED. I don’t eat a lot because I just don’t feel hungry (not dieting), isn’t it what we are supposed to do? Eat when hungry only?

    I generally have a 2-egg omelette with cheese and bacon for lunch and some fish/veggies for dinner. I drink green tea in the morning and eat some cottage cheese if I feel hungry. Is that too little? Do I need to increase my carbs?

    This is so frustrating, I’m happy I’m losing weight effortless, but I can’t continue feeling this tired forever. Any suggestions?

    PS: I’m 40 years old, 5’3″ and weigh 172 lb as of today.

    Agatha wrote on August 27th, 2012
    • I also am having problems with fatigue. I hope someone will answer you with some helpful suggestions and or an explanation.

      Kate wrote on March 4th, 2013
      • Basically, you are glycogen depleted. Ignore all this ketosis crap and refeed on carbs. Eat carbs for atleast a day first thing in the morning.. 3-4hrs before workout and 30-60mins post workout. You will then be resetting your Leptin sensitivity as well as refilling your glycogen stores in your liver and muscles.

        To be honest, I started with PB but have since discovered that carb cycling (which is what Mark sisson is now advocating) is much better for weight loss,muscle gain and best of all..freedom to eat the dreaded carb!.
        Unfortunately whilst not a terribly unhealthy diet Paleo seems to be just another fad that is not optimal for maintaining the bodies natural balance. Im sure i will be flamed for speaking my mind but this is what I have found, each to their own.

        Marc wrote on November 25th, 2013
  12. It’s funny that before I ever read this or any article about carb refeeding, my body naturally forced me down this exact path “intuitively”.

    Sometimes your body just craves carbs!

    Victor Dorfman wrote on December 17th, 2012
  13. Won´t carb reefeds make me feel the carb flu all over again? This is why I try to keep my carbs low all the time. I would hate to go through the carb flu again. I do not count my carbs but I do believe they are below 100 gr, so I am kind of on a ketogenic diet, right? I like the idea of the refeeding. It´s like having a cheat day, being able to cheat on all yummy healthy carbs. I would like to follow with a fasting day, very strict low carb of 20 gr or less. Will this one time a week refeeding get me out of the ketogenic state? I would think so. But I´m more afraid of the carb flu lol. Will I get the carb flu all over again?

    Lila wrote on March 7th, 2013
    • From what I’ve read, carb refeeding isnt likely to take you out of ketosis or induce carb flu. Look up info regarding Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD).

      M wrote on June 26th, 2013
  14. What would you recommend to a woman around 30% BF who has plateaued for months?

    Sydney wrote on March 12th, 2013
  15. THANK YOU for writing this. I finally feel like playing again after a phase of exhaustion. I’ve been low-carb, high fat, forager for years. Very low body fat. Felt good for a long time, then depletion hit, a little weight gain, just no good. All I needed was a couple days of sweet potatoes with no guilt. YAY leptin. I’ll def be writing about this on my blog and link to you.
    THANK YOU, Mark.
    -Elisa aka Modern Day Wildwoman in Oxnard Shores

    Elisa wrote on April 7th, 2013
  16. Without knowing it, I’ve been doing what you suggest here. I eat high-carb one day a week, and the rest of the week my daily carbs are under 25g. It’s been months and my weight loss has not stalled, my metabolism hasn’t decreased, and my energy hasn’t dropped. I thought I was just having a weekly “cheat day” to keep my metabolism high and eat the foods I miss, but I didn’t know how or why it worked until I read this. Thanks :-)

    Titania wrote on September 20th, 2013

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!