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

Dear Mark: Should I Increase Carb Intake for Weight Loss?

Sometimes, weight loss slows. Sometimes, what worked amazingly well before, stops working quite the same. Although this can be scary, frustrating, annoying, or all of the above when progress slows, stops, or requires new input to continue like it was is ultimately okay, because we are an adaptive species. We can change things up, shift stuff around. Physiological processes (among which weight loss and metabolism can certainly be counted) are never linear – that’s partly what makes all this stuff so endlessly engaging.

Today, I revisit a strategy for overcoming these lulls in weight loss induced by low carb: carb (re)feeds. They seem counterintuitive, sort of, especially if you’ve had success restricting carbs, but hold you opinions until you read on. I think you’ll find it enlightening.

Dear Mark: Your blog is a treasure trove of valuable information. Thank you for keeping this resource available to us!

This is a question that I think many of your readers would appreciate seeing addressed in a post. [Background: I’ve been studying (and trying, periodically) various low carb regimens for many years, with varying degrees of success. I’m looking to metabolize off about 30-40 pounds of excess fat, build lean muscle and optimize my health and fitness.]

My question is, what do you think of the increasingly common recommendation (from various diet and fitness gurus) to “spike” calories and carbs one day per week, in order to keep the body from down-regulating certain mechanisms too much due to continued low carbohydrate intake? The theory is that a once-per-week carb/calorie spike gives the metabolism a boost, and keeps weight loss going at a better rate than simply sticking to the low carb regimen seven days per week.

I’m wondering if this recommendation for one “free day” per week is helpful or harmful to the objective of significantly reducing excess body fat over a period of a few months, and staying lean for life. I don’t mean a “be a fool and eat garbage” day, but an honest “spike the carbs and calories with healthy foods” day. What do you think: Would this be a weight loss booster overall, or just a setback on the road to burning excess fat and getting to an optimally lean body composition?

Thanks, Mark! I (and I’m sure your other readers) will value your opinion on this.


I’m happy to help. Thanks for the kind words.

Short answer: Yes, I think there is something to the lowish-carber’s occasional carb and calorie fest. Its relevance to a given individual depends on that person’s metabolic situation, of course, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Check out my previous posts on leptin and carb refeeds and weight loss to get an idea.

Longer answer: If you’re eating low-carb and low-calorie (which low-carb tends to promote on account of its inherent satiety) and the weight has stopped dropping, you may be low in leptin. Why does leptin matter, and what do calories and carbs have to do with it?

Leptin is a hormone that fulfills two primary roles, as far as metabolism and weight loss go – it increases (or lowers) energy expenditure, depending on perceived energy availability, and it inhibits appetite. Both actions actually happen in the brain, but it’s leptin that gives the brain the message. If perceived energy availability is “low,” energy expenditure drops and appetite increases. If perceived energy availability is “high,” energy expenditure increases and appetite drops. That’s a quick and dirty (and incomplete) overview, but it serves our purposes for today’s discussion.

How does the body “perceive” energy availability?

Body fat is, quite literally, stored energy. It’s also an endocrine organ that secretes leptin, the amount of which in circulation is directly proportional to the amount of adipose tissue on your body. So, the leaner you get, the less body fat (and less stored energy) you have available to drive leptin secretion. Even if you’re not as lean as you’d prefer to be, your lower body fat levels are low enough that the brain isn’t getting the “high energy availability” message from leptin.

Insulin is another indicator of energy availability. Sure enough, insulin increases leptin secretion in fat cells. As far as the body’s concerned, if insulin is present in significant amounts, food has just been eaten, which means food is probably available in the environment. If food is readily available, the body doesn’t need to cram as much food in, nor does it have to conserve energy. It can do things that aren’t essential to immediate survival, like play a game, have sex, go explore, or work out, because there’s plenty of energy available. Leptin goes up, reducing appetite and increasing expenditure. Problems arise with leptin resistance, of course, when your insulin is constantly elevated, but I’ll get to that later.

Carbohydrate content of the diet, perhaps independently of the increase in insulin, also affects leptin levels. Protein also increases leptin, and fat seems not to, but carbohydrates have the largest effect.

Overall calorie content of the diet is an indicator of energy availability. Studies show that calorie restriction causes the body to lower serum leptin levels in order to protect against further weight loss, and that supplementary leptin kickstarts weight loss all over again.

Ultimately, then, leptin is how the body senses both incoming and stored energy. It goes up in response to food eaten, as well as food stored. And since day-to-day survival of an organism is largely about energy availability, the presence or absence of leptin can make life pretty awesome or pretty awful. This doesn’t just impact weight loss or gain; it impacts your enjoyment of life. Low leptin? You might not feel like taking that walk with your friend. You probably won’t want to work out. Your libido might suffer. You might not feel like doing much of anything except sit around.

Can you see why lagging leptin might be an issue in stalled weight loss during a diet? You’re dropping calories (an indicator of reduced energy availability), dropping body fat (an indicator of reduced energy availability), and, especially if you’re low-carb, you’re dropping insulin and carbs (an indicator of reduced energy availability). All these things tell the body to make less leptin, and less leptin means higher appetite (so you eat more) and lower energy expenditure (so you burn less fat and don’t feel like doing much of anything).

How Should You Do It?

As I mentioned in the refeed post, keep the fat content of your meals down when doing a carb feed – about 50 grams for the day. Why? For one, fat doesn’t have as much an effect on leptin as carbs or protein do, and two, since triglycerides have been shown to prevent leptin from crossing the blood-brain barrier (into the brain where leptin does its work), the increased postprandial triglycerides (which are a normal, temporary, physiological consequence of eating fat and different from elevated fasting triglycerides) may reduce the effectiveness of leptin.

The greater you normally restrict carbs, the more you eat on your refeed. If you’re hanging out in the 100-150 gram range, you probably won’t need much – if any – of a boost in carbs. If you’re below 100 grams, I’d do 250 grams or so. If very low carb (below 50 grams), shoot for 300-350.

Do your refeed on a training day. Lift/sprint/run/hike/play big and, then, eat big. Your insulin sensitivity and leptin sensitivity will be high, your glycogen will be depleted, and you will basically be set up to store/burn the carbs and muscle energy rather than store it as fat. Leptin will increase regardless if you train or not, but doing it on a training day will mitigate any metabolic fallout.

Don’t use this as an excuse for stuffing your face with garbage. I mean, I suppose you could truly turn it into a cheat day and eat a couple pizzas, a gallon of ice cream, and a platter of crispy oxidized soybean oil-infused whatevers, but you’ll have better results with potatoes and yams (or even rice) and animals.

Who Shouldn’t Do It?

A big carb feeding isn’t right for everyone. I would say that for the severely overweight-to-obese, you should not be messing around with carb feeds. It’s not that they’ll wreak irreparable amounts of damage on your metabolism or anything; they just won’t be very helpful. See, the obese tend to be insulin-resistant (PDF). They have tons of leptin in circulation, far more than lean individuals, but it cannot do its intended job. Instead of telling the muscles to burn more fat for energy and telling the brain to quell the appetite, leptin’s message in the obese is muffled, stifled, hamstrung. It can’t get through. Lack of leptin is not the problem, as the considerable amounts of adipose tissue are doing a fine enough job manufacturing the stuff. Sensitivity to leptin in the brain and periphery is the problem. Thus, adding more leptin to the bunch via dietary manipulation won’t help, and it may even compound the problem. Improving leptin sensitivity is the real issue here, and a lowish-carb Primal eating and general lifestyle plan (with adequate sleep, smart training, and plenty of stress mitigation) is the best way to do that.

Who Should Do It?

Leptin is most effective in the lean, moderately lean, and somewhat chubby (yes, those are absolutely technical terms). Men with six-packs, four-packs, two-packs, and men and women with a light layer of subcutaneous blubber covering everything up tend (a la those hunter-gatherers who aren’t exactly “ripped,” but definitely not unhealthy) to be essentially leptin-sensitive. In these individuals, leptin acutely boosts skeletal muscle fatty acid oxidation.

Those with “stubborn” body fat, those on an extended stall, or the otherwise lean who can’t quite seem to get the last dozen pounds to disappear are prime candidates for a big refeed. They’re not so overweight that leptin resistance is likely, so they’ll benefit from a general increase in leptin. They’re fairly lean, so circulating leptin is lower.

Anyone who’s “feeling off” from low-carb Primal, despite their best efforts. Say you’ve given the low-carb flu a chance to pass over, you’ve addressed your sleep and stress, you’re not trying to train like a pro athlete, and you’re still feeling run down and unable to lose weight? Throw in a big carb feed.

What about you guys? Have you experimented with carb refeeding, and if so, how did it impact your weight loss efforts?

Thanks for reading!

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. Once while eating a roasted chicken and spinach salad I asked myself, “Was an average hunter-gatherer meal really like this?” How often did they combine greens and meat in one meal?

    If your tribe killed a large animal, that usually was enough for everyone to eat meat and only for a few days. Also, I suspect it was more common to eat a lot of fruit, possibly only fruit, when in season.

    Did anyone ever get a little meat and a little greens to make some sort of a salad? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not sure when this started.

    If I’m right, we evolved cycling between high carb and low carb. Maybe there is a benefit to this?

    This crossed my mind on your recent references to a cancer-killing mechanism triggered by lot glucose levels. What other benefits may come from periodic cycling?

    Dan wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • I came to a similar conclusion about fruit while re-reading the Little House series – though they were obviously farmers and included grains in their diets – they did eat pretty seasonally as well. In Little House in Big Woods Laura talks about how they ate mostly fruits and veggies in the summer time and in the fall and winter Pa would go hunting for fresh game meat. What meat they had in the summer was mostly salt pork, and not huge portions. Laura lived well into her 90s, so probably not the worst person’s diet to take advice from.

      Amy wrote on July 30th, 2012
      • That’s so funny because, just for kicks, I went back and read her first two books with ‘adult’ eyes and the seasonal eating/availability is one of the things that really jumped out at me. I’m trying to listen to what my body craves based on the season and interestingly, it tends to go along with what’s available.

        ramsmom wrote on July 30th, 2012
      • not wanting to blow my own horn, but you might be interested in this:

        tess wrote on July 31st, 2012
    • Interesting idea. Sometimes it is fun to think about how caveman and hunter gatherers ate and lived. However, I would warn that sometimes our ideas can take us the wrong way. It is a great idea to look into more and do some research.

      Max Ungar wrote on July 30th, 2012
      • Max, I totally agree. I’d wager there were days that all “cavemen” ate were plants, and some days all they ate were meat…..maybe sometimes there were days they didn’t get a meal at all. What’s great about living in modern times is that the majority of us do not need to worry about the supply of food. As humans, we are omnivores – designed to eat and digest plants and animals. Eating both gives us optimal health (mental, physical, etc). Eating on just one side of the playing field only gets you part of the way.

        Lea wrote on July 30th, 2012
        • I disagree, based on Stefansson’s experiments, Weston Price’s observations and the fact that plants have way more pesky toxins than animals (except perhaps insects). It seems more logical to prefer hunting/snaring meat over gathering plants, to the point where eating mainly plants would be a sign of hard times… unless you live in an area where there are lots of fruit/root tubers in which case you’d eat plants every day.
          As humans evolved further and further into our current state it seems we’ve been even less and less competent at eating plants. Has anyone ever noticed how bad humans seem to be at this? Even chimps can eat things that would make us sick

          mm wrote on August 31st, 2012
  2. I take in the majority of my carbs AFTER my daily workout. Still, my carbs come from veggies and small bits of fruit. My weight has stalled (112lbs at 5’2 1/2″), but I believe that is due to the fact that my body is at it’s ideal/normal weight. I continue to see changes however as I build more muscle I appear more lean, though my weight remains the same.

    Lea wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Yeah, 112 for 5′ 2 1/2″ sounds about perfect. I’m shooting for just 135 and I’m only a half inch taller, but I know I have a big frame from my dad so much smaller and I’d look skeletal instead of fit . . but we’ll see if I still feel that way once I get there.

      Amy wrote on July 30th, 2012
      • Amy, you can do it!!! When I started the PB lifestyle I was 137lbs. Since we are only 1/2″ inch different in height, I’d be willing to bet you can get lower than your goal and you will not look skeletal AT ALL. You will be well muscled and lean. This is not a starvation look like a runway model way of eating.

        Lea wrote on July 30th, 2012
        • Lea, be careful saying “you can get lower”, as this may not be a healthy way to look at optimal fitness for each individual. Please go back and see that Amy says her frame is large. If she gets to 135 and is fit and healthy, then she’ll have achieved her goal (and probably will look fantastic)!

          nbongo wrote on August 2nd, 2012
    • I am 5’3” and am at 123. I’m a solid little thing, though, and have always been muscular. I’m dying to hit that 120 mark, just to see if I can, and because I have these hips… ugh… I could IF for weeks with the fat reserves on those puppies.

      Nicole wrote on July 31st, 2012
      • That fat is for making little people.

        It’s your friend. :)

        Uncephalized wrote on July 31st, 2012
        • This comment wins the entire discussion. Most women just don’t realize that those hips are for making breast milk. Why do men love nice booty? Cuz it means you can get preggers & feed the child so it will survive. We evolved to reproduce, and reproductive signals are what men like, no matter what fashion magazines say. 😀

          webgrrrl wrote on August 24th, 2015
      • ACK!!!! quit focusing on a number of pounds! do you feel great? Are you healthy? No digestive issues? Are you getting stronger? We need to quit setting such nearly impossible goals. 5’3″/123# is awesome! I’m about the same. I don’t care if I get lighter – I just want to be stronger! I wanna shred the slopes in winter! I’m 52 and am stronger, fitter, (even thinner & lighter) & healthier than I was at 40. I just want to have gams & guns to show off – so what if they carry 120# or 125#

        peggy wrote on August 3rd, 2012
  3. I was just following the 80/20 rule, so I would have deep dish pizza once a week or once every other week. It gave me something to look forward to during the week so I wouldn’t be tempted to cheat all the time.

    I was keeping track of my weight loss daily. So I had a very interesting graph of weight loss/gain over a period of 6 months while I lost a net 42 pounds. I say net because when I had deep dish pizza, obviously my weight went up a couple of pounds (which I assumed was mostly water retention). But I could also tell that not only did I lose those 2 pounds rapidly after going back on my diet, but the weight loss seemed to be faster at the beginning of the week than at the end of the week.

    So there might really be something to this.

    Jeanine wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • It’s crazy how quickly the weight loss happened. That water retention is pretty crazy. Are you still eating the deep dish?

      Max Ungar wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • It’s just water retention and loss.

      Marnee wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • For a while now, my “/20” has been two scoops of mint chocolate chip when my room mate and a friend make their bi-monthly ice cream pilgrimage. I ditch my guilt, enjoy the ice cream, and then hop on our exercise bike in front of the TV for the “watching crap movies” portion of the fun. This is usually a big sprinting day for me.

      Every time, my weight drops like a rock. It’s a little crazy, and it would certainly be healthier to have a sweet potato or indulge in sushi (rice!) instead. But it works – and I certainly do enjoy the treat. :)

      merryish wrote on July 30th, 2012
      • Sushi as carb refeed!! What a great idea!! I never thought of it. Now I have a great reason to eat sushi more often

        Simon wrote on July 30th, 2012
        • That is the most amazing idea, sushi for carb refeed.
          I think I’ll also add in an udon soup with tempura prawns, to make it a proper high carb/high protein/low fat splurge!

          Cledbo wrote on July 31st, 2012
        • For a while, I was going to lift every Friday after work, then we’d go to all-you-can-eat sushi and I would guzzle down $60-$100 worth of nigiri for $20.

          Then they stopped offering all-you-can-eat. I am not sure if it’s because I lost them too much money.

          Sure was awesome while it lasted though…

          Uncephalized wrote on July 31st, 2012
        • Sushi, yes, tempura, ick. Might be tasty, but eating anything deep-fried in veggie oils doesn’t sound good at all to me, cheat day or not. What I’ve been doing for my carb-up days post workout is cook up a cup of rice (uncooked) and pile on grass-fed beef, kimchi, a little soy sauce, a bit of sesame oil, and wah-lah! You’ve got the tastiest Yoshinoya-like beef bowl ever made! Good stuff :-)

          TokyoJarrett wrote on August 4th, 2012
      • SUSHI! Oh, I have missed sushi. The next time I am craving it, I am calling it a Carb Refeed Day and GOING FOR IT! I am so glad you brought that up!

        Nicole wrote on July 31st, 2012
      • i was just going back to read this article because my weight stalled this week and I didn’t lose. I guess 21 days of 95% primal/ low carb has caught up to me so I thought I’d try a carb re-feed. I was thinking about yams or fruit, but I LOVE sushi and it didn’t even cross my mind till reading your comment! Thanks! Sushi for lunch after my hike it is!!

        roy wrote on August 5th, 2012
    • That’s very interesting! I also am noticing that my weight loss stalls when I go a solid week of low carb (and sometimes low calories), but then I will drop a few pounds after a day (or a few days) of eating junk!!

      Tina wrote on April 20th, 2013
  4. thank you, Mark! i really appreciate your spreading the word that one size does NOT fit all, even when eating primally.

    sometimes, changing up my diet works and SOMETIMES IT DOESN’T…. there are obviously some complicated dynamics going on here.

    tess wrote on July 30th, 2012
  5. Low-carb is far and away the best thing out there for losing weight. That being said, it probably doesn’t hurt to eat a bit of sweet potato or baked potato once in a while. Just make sure high-glycemic carbs don’t get to be a 24/7 habit, which for some of us happens all too easily. Also, there are carbs, and then there are carbs. I would avoid the sweets and grains altogether and stick with fruits and veggies.

    Shary wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Shary,
      I agree with you completely. When talking about carbs, you can’t just go out and down the entire pizza bar at Cici’s. But loading up on baked potato or other more [somewhat] primal carb sources could definitely be beneficial for fat loss every so often.

      Josh Singer wrote on July 30th, 2012
  6. On a plateau, I’ve tired increasing carbs, intermittent fasting, and changing some foods. What knocked the weight down was eating more fish and adding more fat (macadamia nuts). Not sure why. Point is there’s plenty to try. As long as your committed to eating primal, experiment. You’ll get to know and appreciate your body.

    Linda A. Lavid wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Spot on about knowing and appreciating your body, Linda.
      When it comes to metabolism and other ways our bodies work, we really are beautiful and unique snowflakes who need to find what works for *us*.

      While there are definitely things which don’t work for anyone (hello, HFCS), when it comes to healthy food and exercise there are endless permutations which can work for different people. Why? Because we’re different!

      Cledbo wrote on July 31st, 2012
  7. I’m way too insulin resistant to so much as “jiggle the handle”.

    Groktimus Primal wrote on July 30th, 2012
  8. Wow this is perfectly timed for me. I’ve been strict primal for about 3 months now, around 50g of carbs or less a day, and have had no “cheat days.” I’ve lost a lot of fat, probably about 10 lbs worth, and gained muscle weight back.

    But I hit a fat-burn leveling point about two months in. I do crossfit 3x per week and saw a decrease in energy at this leveling point. I feel so much less energy right now, it’s getting hard to find motivation to really do anything.

    I’m by no means fat, I have a “2-pack,” a slight “4-pack” and can’t seem to burn off the last few pounds.

    I started eating abt 2 large sweet potatos after crossfit, the only straight carbs I really eat at all. I’m guessing that’s about 50-80g carbs and it feels like a pretty big feast. I feel like I’ve started to slowly burn fat again, but not at the incredible rate when starting out. Have been doing this for about 3 weeks now, energy levels are better but still lower than normal.

    Maybe the two potatos isn’t enough? I just don’t see how i’d get 300-350 carbs in after a workout without being miserably stuffed.

    Any suggestions?

    Jack wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Do you like chips? There’s two brands I buy from the Bulk Barn here in Ottawa: One’s ingredients is potato, olive oil and spices (rosemary), while the other’s is potato, avocado oil and spices (lime). Man, I could eat chips all day!! Anyway, when I have trouble getting carbs, I eat chips. It adds up super, super fast!

      Stéphane wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • I was wondering the same thing (how to eat that many carbs without fat).

      I’m thinking long grain white rice might do the trick as they are 45g per cooked cup about the same as sweet potato but easier to get down in bulk I think with a little salsa.

      JohnC wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Jack, if you eat under 50g carbs a day usually, and do 1-2 large sweet potatoes PWO that should be more than enough… It’s been working great for me, just eat as much as you want PWO and stop when you’re full (moderate protein, low fat, high carb). For me, that’s 1-2 sweet potatoes with a steak depending on the intensity/duration of my workout/play. When I tried doing 300g carbs PWO I felt like crap, but everybody’s different.

      Josh wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Eat them all at night spaced out (2-3 meals, you’ll be stuffed and a little uncomfortable, but you’ll sleep well and probably wake up looking leaner) Track what you eat and adjust the following week…I bend primal principals a little to make this work for me – no grains still, but definitely not the all whole unprocessed fare I eat the rest of the time. I include all gluten free stuff like fat free vanilla ice cream, gluten free chex or rice krispies cereal with skim milk, rice, sweet potatoes, plantains cooked in coconut oil with apple pie spices <– YUM, I sometimes bake gluten free high carb goodies. I get 350 or so carbs once a week. Any fruit should be EXTRA ripe – fructose is not an ideal carb choice, I believe that is fills up glycogen reserves in the liver first, so starches and junk are better options. working well for me so far, but I had more constant energy just staying under 50 grams of carbs a day (my normal intake) – eat carbs on Saturday and it takes till about tuesday for me to be back in ketosis. sprint the two mornings after.

      lisa wrote on July 30th, 2012
      • I am 49 yr old male 5’9″ tall and currently weigh in at 160lbs, according to a caliper test I am at 10% BF but I doubt it probably 12% if I were to guess, I have an almost 4 pack and do consider myself reasonably lean but I have been stuck at this weight/shape for a few months regardless of what I tweak or change with my workouts and food intake. I currently follow a leangains approach (4 weeks in) not eating from 8pm-Noon, I intake 1700 calories +/- 100 although I suspect this might be too low and is causing me to stall. I lift 3 times a week heavy (strength is good and increasing slowly) and I am done within 30 minutes, I also add an easy 2.5mile and 5.5 mile run once per week on my gym off days and that’s pretty much it.

        I set myself a goal to get into single digit BF when I started my journey, now 45lbs lighter it has been very difficult to get there once I hit the 160’s. I can maintain easily so it’s frustrating that I can’t get leaner. I eat pretty much the same things each week which tends to equal 200g protein, 100g carbs and 60g fats daily give or take but I am consistent and I don’t cheat or eat junk at all. I guess increasing carbs after workouts seem to be the thing I am missing but I am so use to keeping carbs in the 50-100g range I actually find it tough to eat more but I bet that’s it, that and up my caloric totals?

        Mick wrote on August 2nd, 2012
    • how tiny are those sweet potatoes you’re talking about? i just pulled two ordinary sized ones out of my fridge & put them on the scale. together they are 810 grams (~100g shy of 2lbs). i doubt they’re only 10% carbs by weight. if you’re losing weight & eating well & crossfitting, i am not saying you need to change anything. getting close to a 4-pack, too, you’re doing great! but that seemed way off to me when i read it, so i thought i’d do a sanity check. usually a baked sweet potato is between half & 3/4 its raw weight (depending how long you cook them & how much water evaporates, of course). even at 400 grams cooked, i think you’re getting more grams of carbs than you think from two sweet potatoes. that said, it’s probably fine for you, i have no idea about your size/metabolism, but you seem to be getting things right instinctually, even if your numbers might be off. it may sound like a lot of food to me, but there’s a huge difference in how much food a large muscular crossfitting dude needs and a smallish (5’6″) chick like me who’s only been crossfitting a couple of months needs. half of a baked potato is a feast for me!

      and a side note for folks my size-ish: cut the sweet potato in half along its length, wrap up & bake each half as if it were its own potato. it’s easier physically (and for your willpower) to eat half of a one-pound sweet potato this way, and you get more of the yummy caramelly chewy surface texture this way, too! 😀

      jamie wrote on October 31st, 2013
    • Crossfit 3x a week and only 50 grams of carbs? Go up to 100 carbs. No doubt your energy improved, but you don’t have as much fat to burn. Increase your carbs. I eat 50 grams of carbs a day, a salad and a liquid multi. If I did crossfit, my eyeballs would really be hurting from carb deficiency. Also, Drink lots of water. Carbs (veg/fruit) provide water. Without them and with crossfit, easy dehydration and energy loss.

      Lisa wrote on October 10th, 2014
  9. I’m not going to eat anything that might interfere with my Fat Burning Beastiality

    rob wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Dear lord, what are you doing in the name of primal?!

      Marisa wrote on July 30th, 2012
      • Yeah I think he should said “Beastitude”…a bit of a different meaning there

        Tom B-D wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Hmm. And there was me thinking you’re only supposed to eat the animals!

      greg wrote on July 31st, 2012
  10. Thanks Mark. Ever since Leptin became a hot topic, I have looked forward to one of your clear explanations.

    Harry Mossman wrote on July 30th, 2012
  11. What about the day after a carb refeed? I’ve been trying this for the last 2 weeks and like it. Does it matter what I eat the next day? Would fasting help or higher fat intake?

    Steven T. wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • I think the point of the higher carb day is to shake up your daily routine of normal, primal meals. So if I were you I would go back to your high fat, low carb, primal lifestyle after the carb refeed. Mark has also talked about self-experimentation, so it may not hurt to try out fasting the day after a refeed. I know fasting an entire day is rough for me, but if it works for you and you’re still full of energy, go for it!

      Josh Singer wrote on July 30th, 2012
  12. Love this post, I busted through a one year plateau by cycling Primal carbs, refeeding on high carbs/low fat on heavy lifting days, and low carb/moderate fat on rest days. My body has responded my losing fat and gaining muscle, plus it’s fun to mix it up, I love eating lots of sweet potatoes/squash on workout days.

    spincycle wrote on July 30th, 2012
  13. Every few weeks I have a day or two of carbs. Now I stick to healthy ones, avoid the msg, gluten and whatnot or I swell up like the michellin man. May have something to do with my cycles, but it must be done ever so cautiously. Great article Mark! Leptin is very overlooked.

    Kim wrote on July 30th, 2012
  14. I am currently trying to gain weight, I eat an apple, banana, 4 cups of rice, and a sweet potato, and 6 glasses of milk a day. I thought my abs were going to disappear but my weight has not gone up at all, I’m actually seeing a little more definition around my lower abs!

    Michael wrote on July 30th, 2012
  15. Carb cycling works like nothing else I’ve ever tried to bust through plateaus. It’s a “trick” that all pro body builders use once they get down into single digits. I go 3 days of low carbs, 1 day of high carbs .. and the results always come.

    Jeff wrote on July 30th, 2012
  16. It’s hard to eat that many carbs without some fat to make them go down. Maybe white rice with salsa?

    JohnC wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • where’s the fat in rice and salsa?

      DarcieG wrote on July 30th, 2012
  17. This post came at a great time! I have lost 10lbs in the three months I have been paleo. I am crossfitting 3-4xs a week and my body is looking good but there is still some fat zapping to do. I have also been dealing with lower-than-preferred energy levels and have been wondering if my <50g of carbs a day could be the reason. I will eat some potato every once in a while but I am going to try this with a little more of a plan. I would love to work out sat am and do the healthy carb re-feed that day and then try fasting the next day. Would that be benefical or too much?????

    Merky wrote on July 30th, 2012
  18. Interesting post mark. I think some of this stuff is touched upon in Loren Cordain’s book “The Paleo Diet For Athletes”. The occasional carb intake is very necessary and can have some really nice effects on the body post strenuous activity. Sweet potatoes are probably my favorite way to achieve the carb intake. I heard Robb Wolf talk about good carb options and he says that sweet potatoes are better for post workout carbs than fruit. Just a thought. Anyone have experience with fruit vs. Starchy tuber?

    Max Ungar wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • I use sweet potatoes more so than fruits and it is working fine. I like fresh fruits but don’t have a love affair with them. Sweet potatoes take care of the needed carb intake and fulfill my need for a potato.:) I stay way from the white taters,of course.
      I nuke a sweet potato then mash half of it for a serving. I love to fry some strips in coconut oil as well. So yeah, I go with the sweet tuber.

      scott wrote on July 30th, 2012
      • I actually read that book and great reference Max. The thing with fruit is that its usually high glycemic and therefore absorbed very quickly by the body. The sweet potato will be broken down a little bit slower and release energy over a longer period of time, at least from my experience. But Scott, I would also be careful like Mark said not to make the higher carb intake a regular habit (unless you’re a marathon runner training for the next olympics in need of major glycogen replenishing).

        Josh Singer wrote on July 30th, 2012
  19. I”m going to have to give this some real though. I hit my 1 year anniversary with primal/paleo tomorrow.
    by the first of July I had lost 105lbs, finally falling below the BMI obesity threashold. But in the last month I’ve regained 8lbs. I’m not sure what is going on I have increased the amount of nuts I’m eating and have gone from breakfast 3 days a week to 0 but no increase in carbs or junk. My first thought is to bring breakfsast back and curb the snacking-while-cooking. activity level hasn’t changed. any thoughts?

    Rob wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Congratulations! Awesome progress with your weight loss this year.

      Marisa wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Rob- Congratulations on your awesome success! Keep at it, you’re really doing a great job and it seems to be paying off. What I would say to the 8 lb regain is that you will see fluctuation from time to time, ESPECIALLY once you get your body fat down to a healthy level. It’s a lot easier to lose weight in the beginning, and once you get pretty low, it becomes harder, so you will see some fluctuation. I wouldn’t be concerned by this gain if you’re honestly not eating junk or changing your fitness routine. It could also have to do with water intake; are you drinking close to a gallon of water every day? Also, what are you snacking on during cooking? Snacking on raw veggies, nuts or even fruit is totally fine if you’re hungry as long as it’s not to an excess.

      The main thing I would say is keep on keeping on. Sounds like in the 1 year you’ve been paleo/primal, you’ve had 105lbs of major success. If you looked at last year, I’m sure you fluctuated from week to week without even noticing; it happens naturally, but as long as you’re making steady downward progress, I wouldn’t worry about the minor fluctuation.

      Last thing–Be honest with yourself! Sounds like you haven’t increased junk or carbs, but don’t feel bad if you did! Try to it down and journal this next week’s food intake and see if there’s anything unusual that is out of your routine. You may notice a SLIGHT alteration, but that may be the key to your future success!

      Grok on!

      Josh Singer wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • In my experience, it’s the nuts. I started snacking on them too much (3 servings a day) and put on 3 lbs in 2 weeks. I stopped the squirreling, and they fell off in a week. Maybe it’s that simple?

      Nicole wrote on July 31st, 2012
    • Stay primal, Increase your activity level, drink water, eat at least 1200 calories a day.

      Lisa wrote on October 10th, 2014
  20. the answer to this question completely surprised me! i have to say, from my personal experience, i’ve never felt better than when my carb intake is low. seems most carbs just weigh me down. but, i know everyone is different!

    Marissa wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Have to admit, low carb suits me very well just now, 2 weeks into Primal, have to force myself to eat more than once a day, find that by the time I’ve eaten my avacado and green salad with chicken I do not feel hungry again till noon the next day, loving it…

      Carol wrote on October 13th, 2012
  21. Mark, can you explain why the refeed carbs should be inversely proportional to your daily carbs? That seems unintuitive to me, because the lower the daily carbs, the more pronounced the adaptive insulin-insensitivity, so the less carbs should be required to give the same amount of stimulation to the system, no?

    Here’s what I would do: use a glucometer to keep my day-to-day postprandial glucose below 90 mg/dL, then calibrate refeed meals to spike to just below 140 mg/dL.

    If you’re eating very low-carb and dump 300 g of carbohydrate into the system, you risk spiking glucose to way higher than 140 mg/dL, which could be damaging. By using the glucometer you can know exactly how many carbs you can safely eat on refeed days (and on low-carb days for that matter).

    Ulrik wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • I think that would only really be useful if there was some evidence that 140 mg/dL is the magic cutoff. Ron Rosedale made the case during his debate with Jaminet that the toxic curve is linear — I’m inclined to agree.

      I also noticed the (temporary) insulin resistance created by a VLC diet. I have a normal metabolism, but eating quick starches can make my BG spike due to many months in keotsis/VLC.

      b-nasty wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • It seems to go back to the link he posted on carbohydrate content of the diet independently stimulating leptin without a concomitant increase in insulin necessary. Furthermore, a caloric excess would further stimulate leptin secretion and thus a carbohydrate binge (to the tune of the ~180 calories in a sweet potato) – if this PWO caloric excess carb-refeed was paired with an accompanying reduction in caloric intake (-180 calories the next day, for example) due to higher fat intake the following day, this could result in greater leptin stimulation and thus greater weight loss. If you see Martin Berkhan’s IF protocol at LeanGains (which is kind of all over the place), this is the IF + workout + diet cycling that he recommends. Because the meal is PWO, the insulin spike will be diminished at least, but I don’t think the spike itself is very harmful if it doesn’t affect basal insulin levels (low blood sugar/energy afterwards wouldn’t matter anyways, because you’d be so full from the carb binge and water retention that movement would be the last thing on your mind!)

      Adam wrote on July 30th, 2012
  22. I do a carb refeed every Saturday and have found it to help with stalled fat loss and more importantly it is good for my mental health. I was doing primal/intermittent fasting for a while and got very lean. Fat loss however stalled. Adding carb refeeds helped to slowly get back on track. I’m already very lean, I just have small amounts of fat that never seemed to dissappear before but are slowly going away.

    I always start my carb refeed days with hill sprints at 9:00am. This, combined with intermittent fasting leaves my glycogen stores very low and therefore I don’t see any fat gains despite the fact I usually eat pretty liberally the rest of the day.

    Steve wrote on July 30th, 2012
  23. I’m 5’2″ and I hover between 109-113lbs. This is due to my eating habits. I do up my carbs and drop my carbs. Quite a bit. Sometimes healthy, sometimes not so healthy. But each time the scale drops back down my bf% is just a fraction lower. I’m still losing bodyfat – just VERY VERY SLOOOOOWWWWLLLY. I’m at a lean weight (My Omron handheld is at 18.5% and the scale is at 22.5%) and I’m happy. But even with Reactive Hypoglycemia I have to find ways to up my carbs without it hurting my prediabetes. It has helped my maintain my weight.

    Heather wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Stalled weight loss can be a symptom of hypoglycemia. Monitoring blood glucose levels with a meter after adopting a low carb diet could help solve the stalled weight loss puzzle.

      From The Forgotten Blood Sugar Disorder: Hypoglycemia by Dr. Keith Berkowitz, M.D

      “If you have significantly reduced calories or carbohydrates, are you still unable to lose weight? Are you unable to lose that last 20 pounds no matter what you try? Eating a low carbohydrate diet but still hungry and/or tired after meals? I just may have a solution for you.
      Hypoglycemia has been traditionally defined as a low blood glucose level (serum levels less than 70 mg/dl either taken fasting, randomly or after a glucose challenge). Unfortunately, most individuals I see in my practice do not present with these results but instead present with normal blood glucose levels, the ability to lose some weight but not the last 10 to 20 pounds or unexplained low energy levels.

      Individuals with hypoglycemia can often have symptoms that include: headaches, increased irritability, difficulty concentrating, palpitations, light-headedness, fatigue, anxiety, excessive sweating or urination, leg cramps, dizziness and clamminess. Other symptoms can be related to eating. Patients I see with this diagnosis often feel more tired after meals, feel “sick” when they either miss a meal or if a meal is delayed.”

      cancerclasses wrote on July 30th, 2012
  24. I have relaxed with the carbs and eat potatoes or rice when they are part of a meal. Now that is it berry season I have been eating tons of berries without thinking about carbs. I think eating in season is about as primal as it gets. My diet the past week has been mostly salmon and berries. I often eat salmon by itself as a meal.

    Joanna wrote on July 30th, 2012
  25. Oh thankyou…. I get so confused on the High protein, low carb,,,,but will it affect my energy levels…..thankx for clearing up so much information for me

    John D wrote on July 30th, 2012
  26. I’d like to try this, but cramming 300 grams of carbs down the gullet sounds challenging. Does anyone have any tips on maximizing the amount of carbs per amount of food? I see sweet potatoes about have about 40g of carb per cup, and white rice has about 45g per cup. That’s a lot of rice to get to 300g.

    Brad wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • I totally agree with you Brad, especially after be primal for over a year myself and not really increasing carb intake very often. Now it seems like a very foreign concept. But try and think about it this way: you can fry some plantains or sweet potatoes with breakfast, add some fruit and get about 75 carbs, then with lunch add some more fruit with your salad and you can cook up some rice, then with dinner you can add some more rice if you’d like. You can easily get up close to 300 carbs if you do something like that.

      Even me saying that sounds weird to me so don’t worry! Just be happy it’s only about once a week that you would have to do this! Grok on!

      Josh Singer wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • You should find on your refeed days you will need to eat several meals- unlike primal where you are normally fairly satisfied and can last on 3 or less meals a day. By spreading your meals thought the day it makes it easier to gather more carbs in. Say if you had paleo pancakes for breakfast with fruit or maple syrup, lean meat and pumpkin or sweet potato for lunch, pm snack of nuts and dried fruit, dinner with lean meat and starchy vegetables and dessert of fruit.. All the carbs will add up!

      Katie wrote on July 30th, 2012
  27. My reefed days look like this:
    Steel cut oats with raw honey for breakfast, chicken or turkey quesadilla with a low fat cheese like parmesan for lunch, white fish, sweet potato, green beans and local corn on the cob for dinner. Fruit for snacks when hungry between meals.

    I know that is a lot of grain, but it works for me.

    JoeBrewer wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • oops, refeed, not reefed.

      JoeBrewer wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Sushi, California rolls, for a meal works well too. Don’t forget the beer.

      JoeBrewer wrote on July 30th, 2012
      • I have been paleo for 4 months and my weight loss has slowed down but I don’t care – I am still losing about 3 lbs/month since mid-June and probably adding on muscle as I continue to get stronger (thus also a reason for weight loss stall). I am not sure how much more I need to lose but I feel great.

        I am comfortable eating a diet in percentage of calories as 70% fat, 15% protein, and 15% carbohydrate. Interestingly enough, even though I eat 70% of my calories as fat, by weight I eat way more vegetables – they make up at least 3 times as much by weight as my total fat and protein intake.

        Bonus! I have found eating a larger percentage of calories as fat has allowed me to add muscle mass much easier than a higher protein diet.

        Goyo wrote on July 30th, 2012
      • Apologies, I did not mean that as a reply to your post.

        Goyo wrote on July 30th, 2012
  28. I’m on vacation and despite my best efforts of staying Primal, which has worked pretty well, my body finally broke down today and I binged on 4 little bon bon chocolates and a scoop of ice cream.

    Dang you, SAD diet and your addictive qualities. 3 months Primal, 25 pounds lost, and I’m still susceptible to your Siren call.

    So I guess the moral is, this was my carb re-feed day :)

    JB Primal wrote on July 30th, 2012
  29. Thank you Mark. This describes me perfectly:

    “Anyone who’s “feeling off” from low-carb Primal, despite their best efforts. Say you’ve given the low-carb flu a chance to pass over, you’ve addressed your sleep and stress, you’re not trying to train like a pro athlete, and you’re still feeling run down and unable to lose weight? Throw in a big carb feed.”

    I’ve been primal for about 18 months, and lost about 20lbs at the beginning (putting more weight back on through muscle). But according to a recent check-up, I remain borderline overweight (according to BMI), and with 20% body fat I still have a couple of kilos of fat to get rid of. Despite this, I’ve have generally felt fairly low-energy… so I’ll give this a try.

    Scott UK wrote on July 30th, 2012
  30. For all those wondering how to eat “all those carbs,” you clearly have never had sweet potato oven fries. OMG. My favorite.

    Another favorite of mine is fat free unflavored Greek yogurt with blueberries, strawberries, cherries, sliced banana, etc.

    Let’s not forget sushi. I know that there are many sushi fans around here that suddenly think it’s off limits. It isn’t!

    Sometimes I like to buy a whole watermelon and see how far I can make it trying to eat the whole thing.

    There is no law that says you have to do this with starch. Fruit and lactose are VERY effective at glycogen replenishment. While I would not recommend using nasty grains for refeeds, some good quality sugar is okay. There are some good shelf ice creams out there that are low in fat with only a few ingredients that you could use as a treat. Assuming you’ve done your job lifting heavy weights and you’re very depleted, ice cream make with milk, cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla/cocoa is perfectly acceptable for me. I have an ice cream maker and often make my own. Pureed blueberries and Trader Joe’s 1% kefir make a great “frozen yogurt”, although you will have to supplement with lots of gelatin to keep it from freezing into a rock in the absence of fat.

    Have fun and be creative. Just keep it clean.

    ChocoTaco369 wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Just adding my version here:

      Another favorite of mine is fat free unflavored Greek yogurt with blueberries, strawberries, cherries, sliced banana …

      … topped with sliced almonds and 3 spoonfuls of coconut oil and on top of it cinnammon …

      Perfect complement to a primal lunch of chicken hearts made in the slow cooker

      WildGrok wrote on July 31st, 2012
      • Correction:

        Just adding my version here:

        Another favorite of mine is 10% fat unflavored Greek yogurt with blueberries, strawberries, cherries, sliced banana …

        … topped with sliced almonds and 3 spoonfuls of coconut oil and on top of it cinnammon …

        Perfect complement to a primal lunch of chicken hearts made in the slow cooker

        Or use home made yogurt

        WildGrok wrote on July 31st, 2012
  31. This is gold, Mark!

    NSWM wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Try stir-frying your yams/sweet potatoes with sweet onions and coconut oil/butter. Pinch of salt and pepper. It’a a 3-generation favorite for our family we serve any time of day.

      Lynn wrote on July 31st, 2012
  32. Any suggestions for refeed foods? I’ve been doing it all wrong ;( carb + fat.

    Can’t think of strictly carb, low fat foods that actually taste good.

    Any ideas?

    NSWM wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Fruit, rice, squash, yams, potatoes, more fruit :)

      josh wrote on July 30th, 2012
    • Plantains taste amazing. sweet potato, and lots of fruit (I try to go for high nutrient food that I can’t really go nuts on when low carb, eg. pomegranates).

      Slowneal wrote on June 6th, 2016
  33. So glad to see this post. I’ve lost 15 pounds in 2 months of very strict (90/10, and that 10% is always low carb, but not organic) Primal eating, never more than 70g of carbs, but most days less than 50g. I got stuck for about 2 weeks at 10 pounds down. What broke that plateau was a night out with friends that included 2 whole sushi rolls with rice (I thought, screw it! I know Mark said rice was okay somewhere on MDA. And I’m not going to dip in the soy sauce, so there!) and a couple of glasses of red wine to boot. I was so afraid to get on the scale the next morning but I was down a little! And the scale started going back down to the additional 5 I’ve currently lost. Vacation is in 39 days and I’d love to get rid of 7 more pounds before then. I would have thought this to be near impossible as I am getting very close to ideal weight, but maybe with the refeed it will work! Akina Sushi, I’m coming for some Sin City Rolls!

    katiekakes wrote on July 30th, 2012
  34. One thing that I noticed was the lack of using fruit as the re-feed source. Was this an oversight? I guess this is due to the fructose. I’ve read (probably here) that fructose goes directly to the liver and is digested differently than other carbs. Maybe this process creates a different leptin response from what is laid out in this post as compared to yams, rice, etc.(a.k.a. safe starches)?

    David Cole wrote on July 30th, 2012
  35. when I go carboverboard for any given off the tree and onto the ground reason…I pound Macadamia and Brazil nuts over the course of the day…every once in a while…never even once a week. Those are my “carbs” of choice…you would have to force a sweet potato into me..EWWWWWwwww!

    Dave PAPA GROK Parsons wrote on July 30th, 2012
  36. Interestingly, Tim Ferriss also recommends this once-per-week carb “re-feed” in his 4 Hr Body book.

    I find lots of synergy between the Primal/Paleo lifestyle – Pareto Principle i.e., 80/20 rule), basically primal eating, heavy weight-bearing exercise, and de-stressing by turning off as much of the modern world as you possibly can – and Tim F’s books (4 hr workweek/body). I know Mark has recommended his books before; I second that, especially for the workable advice on how to decouple from modern stress.

    The re-feed is also a great example of what generally works well for me too, so long as I’m still basically eating clean while doing it and not using as an excuse to eat garbage :) .

    Great post!

    josh wrote on July 30th, 2012
  37. You don’t have to tell this crowd twice to have a cheat meal Mark! :)

    I love the explanation of how leptin works. Really well said.

    This topic has been on my mind a lot lately and I just listened to John Keifer on the Upgraded Self Radio podcast. Def recommend people listen to that if they want to learn more.

    Tony Frezza wrote on July 30th, 2012
  38. And the light bulb over my head goes ON! I don’t know how many times I have dreaded the scale because I know I’ve overdone the carbs (but never grains–bad bad bad for me), only to find that I have dropped a couple of pounds and that the loss keeps up for a few weeks. Time for a refeed!

    Rhonda the Red wrote on July 30th, 2012
  39. Very informative article. It seems that an occasional “refeed” does help to speed up weight loss. Just as long as it is indeed occasional & doesn’t become the norm.

    T J wrote on July 30th, 2012

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