July 30 2012

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

By Mark Sisson
176 Comments

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.

Dee

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!

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176 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Should I Increase Carb Intake for Weight Loss?”

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  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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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

  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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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)!

    2. 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.

      1. That fat is for making little people.

        It’s your friend. 🙂

        1. 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. 😀

      2. 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#

  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.

    1. It’s crazy how quickly the weight loss happened. That water retention is pretty crazy. Are you still eating the deep dish?

    2. 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. 🙂

      1. Sushi as carb refeed!! What a great idea!! I never thought of it. Now I have a great reason to eat sushi more often

        1. 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!

        2. 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…

        3. 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 🙂

      2. 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!

      3. 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!!

    3. 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!!

  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.

  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.

    1. 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.

  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.

    1. 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!

  7. 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?

    1. 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!

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

      1. 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?

    5. 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! 😀

    6. 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.

  8. I’m not going to eat anything that might interfere with my Fat Burning Beastiality

      1. Yeah I think he should said “Beastitude”…a bit of a different meaning there
        lawl

    1. Hmm. And there was me thinking you’re only supposed to eat the animals!

  9. 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?

    1. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. It’s hard to eat that many carbs without some fat to make them go down. Maybe white rice with salsa?

  15. 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?????

  16. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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).

  17. 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?

    1. Congratulations! Awesome progress with your weight loss this year.

    2. 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!

    3. 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?

    4. Stay primal, Increase your activity level, drink water, eat at least 1200 calories a day.

  18. 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!

    1. 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…

  19. 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).

    1. 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.

    2. 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!)

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

    1. 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 http://goo.gl/F4Hj6

      “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.”

  22. 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.

  23. 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

  24. 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.

    1. 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!

    2. 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!

  25. 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.

    1. Sushi, California rolls, for a meal works well too. Don’t forget the beer.

      1. 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.

  26. 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 🙂

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

    1. 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

      1. 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

    1. 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.

  29. 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?

    1. 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).

  30. 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!

  31. 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)?

  32. 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!
    LOLOLOL

  33. 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!

  34. 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.

  35. 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!

  36. 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.

  37. Thank you so much for clearly stating that people who are severely overweight and insulin resistant should not load up on hundreds of grams of carbs. That’s a very important point.

    As someone who is highly insulin resistant and obese, I can get away with the occasional cheat–I’m talking every few months or so, not a regular cheat day. And probably only 50 or 60 more carbs than usual, if that.

    I will usually see a nice loss after doing so. But adding in 250 or more carbs at once would be very harmful, I think. I doubt I could bring myself to do it.

    I really appreciate your distinguishing between young, fit, healthy primal eaters and those of us with severe insulin resistance. Our metabolisms are VERY different!!! That’s great–I hope you will carry it over to other posts as well.

  38. Last time I added in some extra carb (via yams), my blood sugar went higher than acceptable.

    I had some initial success with alternate day partial fasting, but I’ve stalled a bit (and I think it might be from too much carb on “up” days). I think I will experiment with fat & protein percentages to see what effects that has.

  39. This is a timely subject for me personally, as I just discovered a LOT of info (from paleo women website) about women with thyroid issues eating too low carb/too strict paleo – which is exactly what I have been struggling with! I know this article is a bit different, but in some ways relevant, and I would love to learn more/read more about women specific issues with eating more carbs, especially with low thyroid concerns………

    1. Same here. I’m diabetic (no meds) as well, so it’s sort of a tightrope walk. I’ll have to go by the glucometer.

    2. Same here, I had a lot of the symptoms she described such as feeling like I had been hit over the kidneys and sore feet in the AM. Upping safe carbs every few days (+ a little dark choc) has gotten rid of these symptoms and I’ve strted losing weight again. I get them back if I don’t eat enough carb. I’m only talking about upping from say 30g per day to 80g though.

      1. Thank you so much for posting this info. I am 48, finally losing via Ideal Protein diet, but have to keep my calories VERY low and so strict to lose. So far I’m down 25 lbs. in 3 months.

        Are you referring to the site paleoforwomen.com?

    3. The thyroid “issue” is normal. Maybe what the experts consider “normal” is actually “high” and the numbers on a VLC diet are “normal”. It’s physiological, not pathological. In fact, there’s a few articles on it over at Hyperlipid. It comes not from VLC but from not enough calories (And if you are getting enough fat while VLC how can the body think it’s “starving”?)When you are VLC you must get take in calories than you would normally. I’ve got a dysfunctional insulin response that can’t be fixed thanks to the genetic issues. The damage has been done. I have increased carbs even with the “safe” ones. They don’t send my blood sugar skyrocketing but my fasting sugars start going up and the blood sugar “lows” come back. It sucks.

  40. I guess I blew my carb refeed today since I ate my potato with a third a stick of butter. 🙁

  41. Great article, I for one am for cycling, it works for me. Depending on the level of my activity I will usually have a re-feed as often as 1 in 5 days. The reverse is true too if you are trying to gain weight by bringing your calories/cabs back to normal will also assist maintaining a stready gain.

  42. Some good tips still not convinced about low carb diet tho.
    But I will look further into your site for more insights before I make up my mind.

    1. Best way to be convinced is to try it. 30 days, nothing to lose but fat.

    2. Low-carb is a bit of a misnomer — more like this is a high-fat diet that is grain & refined sugar free. Everyone settles to their own comfortable starch/sugar intake.

  43. Great post Mark! I have been eating Paleo almost one year now and I’m leaner than ever and no matter how much I eat it stays very steady.

    when I started, however, I initially lost some weight but stalled and actually gained weight. I then gave up eating my big daily dose of nuts (nut butters and raw, shelled nuts)and way too many fruits, and the weight melted off. I eat 85% dark chocolate every day, but at least I’m not dipping it into jars of almond butter anymore!

    Typically I start my day with protein and fat (eggs, bacon, avocado) and keep the carbs (sweet potatoes) for lunch or dinner, usually post workout. I don’t seem to need any “cheat days” and I don’t like the concept of working that in to a weekly schedule. I just use my cheats for days when I’m in a bad spot.

  44. Any specific frequency? It seems most people do a “once a week” thing. However, our modern “week” seems to have little meaning to our evolutionary physiology, does it? I’m in Nutritional Ketosis (<25g/day) and have wanted to try this, but Dr. Phinney said in an interview once it may take 3-4 days to get back into Ketosis after a "cheat" day. That seems like doing a carb-refeed would leave about 2 days per week in Ketosis which seems pointless.

    Would once a month work? Once every 3 weeks? Is the once a week idea based on any science?

    Thanks.

    1. you could run sprints the two mornings after the refeed – hiit I think mimics the effects of ketosis, while also helping deplete glycogen, helping you get back into ketosis faster. Typically, I refeed and go out of ketosis on Saturday, and am back in ketosis by Tuesday. I look lean the morning after the carbs. For what it’s worth

    2. Iv been doing some research and from what I understand 3 days low carb and 1 day refeed works well.. But what ever works for u really, everyone is different

    3. As a Creationist, I believe there is a physiological (not to mention celestial) reason for our “modern” week. A very interesting question about which I will not be dogmatic, but I will say that when Napoleon tried to make the week metric by going to 10 days instead of 7, it didn’t work out very well. Sketchy and anecdotal for sure, but interesting nonetheless.

  45. My cheat is always ICECREAM! It takes a day or two to start to drop more weight. But It always does.

  46. what about doing a week or two of a carb refeed?
    I have been stuck at the same weight for a over a month now. I starting eating ‘clean’ two weeks ago, and take in ~60-70g carbs. I’m currently 5’9″ 158.8 and would like to be 150lbs. I have not lost anything, and when I do one day refeed I gain 1-2lbs and then lose the same amt. I usually eat ~1100-1300 calories.
    I read some places that I should increase my calories to 1600-1900 and 150-200g carbs (healthy carbs).. Any suggestions?? Im just worries I will do this and gain crazy amts of weight. please help!

    1. It sounds to me like you need to eat more calories. Carbs you can try different amounts of, but if you starve yourself too much for too long your metabolism will go down eventually. I don’t know your activity, but at your height and weight I would think you should definitely increase your calories even if you aren’t that active. But the nice thing about paleo/primal is that you shouldn’t have to track your calories. Just eat real food and listen to your bodies signals of fullness and hunger.

  47. this has been your greatest post to date! thanks a ton and keep up the great work! it is very much so appreciated.

  48. I lost 40-odd pounds on Joel Marion’s “Cheat to Lose” diet (and Xtreme something.) And now I’m doing Geoff Neupert’s Kettlebell Burn Extreme, which in addition to cheat days adds IF and cold showers. I want to say that I’m a firm believer in “be a fool and eat garbage.” Mr. Marion, to be fair, argues against this. But, I lost fat at a pretty good clip and I never had to wait more than six days between seeing food and eating it. It’s fantastic for adherence.

  49. Interesting, I know this topic has come up before and someone mentioned the Perfect Health Diet (they advocate Paleo but ‘allow” safe starches – white rice, potatoes (white and sweet) and rice noodles. When I do strict paleo I feel great at first, but then a few weeks later my mood swings and irritability are out of control. Since introducing their method I feel so much relief. Obese people seem to lose weight using it too, as long as they keep their fat intake low while eating the starches.

  50. Awesome post! Like mentioned in the post that “Physiological processes (among which weight loss and metabolism can certainly be counted) are never linear.”

    I agree this statement 100%. Speaking from experience, occasional carb refeed do help, but there have been times where the occasional became often. Discipline is very important.

  51. Perfect timing for this post Mark!! I have been doing a bit of research lately about refeeds. I am following the simply shredded- The Deadline Diet, which follows paleo guidelines and refeeds on every fourth day. I have always been slim and healthy but struggling to lose those last few stubborn pounds! I’m sure this will give me the kick start my metabolism needs for sure! Let you know how it goes!

  52. For a practical ( and in my opinion, awesome) way to implement this, check out http://www.leangains.com , which Mark has himself linked to in the past as an example of intermittent fasting. I’ve been doing this for a month now, and have been setting PRs in every lift, every week.
    I think carb refeeds/ cycling/ whatever you want to call it are essential for performance, but if you ask me, you should not be dong them unless you are following a very basic primal tenet, namely… LIFT HEAVY ( AND I MEAN HEAVY) THINGS!!!

  53. Great info. I’m wrapping up day 19 of a planned 21 day fast, and the last week my energy level has been about as low as ever – I could barely walk upstairs. So this may have been a leptin response. I feel great today with nearly normal energy level, so looks like I’ll wrap up the fast on a high note. I’ll keep the carb refeeding in mind for post fast. Thanks for the post Mark!

    1. Seriously? 21 days straight or a Ramadan type quasi-fast? You haven’t put calories in your mouth in 19 days? I would love to hear how that went for you.

      1. Joshua – sorry I missed your response earlier. This wasn’t Ramadan style – I had zero caloric intake for 21 full days – water, coffee and teas were the only things I ingested. You can follow the progression at the MDA Forum/Journals/David’s Fasting Journal.

  54. I love that carb refeeds are really a thing. When I first lost weight on Atkins (I was more Paleo than most, though, since I hate unnatural food/meal replacements) I noticed that if my weight loss stalled, I could get things going again by a calorie and carb refeed, usually with rice or potatoes. I even joked with someone I was helping with weight loss by saying “If weight loss stops and energy is low, sometimes you just need to eat a chocolate cake and drink a 12 pack of beer.” Hyperbole, yes, but based on experience.

  55. I would like to point out the Nature article on rice (and possibly potatoes/wheat, and by possibly I mean quite likely) interfering with gene expression, that of the super-important LDL receptor. Piqued your interest? Andrew at Evolvify has a beautiful presentation/discussion of the info (with witty advice as well). Basically, treat your refeeds with suspicion and use sparingly to elicit beneficial leptin changes and don’t go overboard b/c of leptin/insulin AND miRNAs. Enough to make one’s head spin, yeah? In defense of miRNAs, see the comments of “Matthew” in the discussion (maybe mammalian miRNAs like in cow milk, similar to human breast milk, turn out to be a-ok?)

    http://evolvify.com/rice-wheat-potatoes-interfere-with-gene-expression/

  56. The answer to your question is YES! I use re-feeds quite a lot in my clinical private practice (I am a Registered Dietitian). I myself am paleo and I have quite a few clients that follow a primal/paleo lifestyle and the ones that lift heavy and train often eventually get to a point of stalled fat loss and even in some cases catabolism of lean body mass.

    At that point we institute a re-feed day, usually about twice a week, depending on the training schedule of the individual (there’s definitely no one-size fits all formula).

    I myself train twice daily about 4 days a week, with strength and then conditioning work, and two other days of one or the other; and I find that about every 3-4 days, I need to boost my carbs from about 150 to around 200-225.

    Particularly if you are trying to put on lean body mass in significant amounts, you NEED those carb re-feed days, otherwise you just can’t build the quantity of muscle that a strength athlete will need to continue that training volume. This also becomes true for your ‘average joes’ that undergo some significant weight loss, only to stop losing around that last 10-15 lbs. Increasing their training volume, as well as cycling their carbohydrate intake seems to work beautifully for about 90% of the clients I work with.

    Great article Mark! Nice to seem some objective thoughts on the concept of eating more carbs every once in a while (within reason of course!).

  57. Hrm..does this apply to alcohol? I bizarrely craved alcohol the other week…I put a major dent in a bottle of pura caña rum over the course of a cleaning day. It smelled and tasted sweet and delicious like I could chug it — but have had no taste for it since and even today tried tasting it and put it down. While metabolizing it, I felt very warm, social and active.

  58. There is many sushi, korean, and chinese restaurants surrounding my area and they are taste great. I usually just skip the rice but once a week I will add a little rice in my diet. Just to get those carb spikes up.

    If I can get a nice carb meal after a hike or some exercise, it’s the perfect day to do some cheating. Your body will burn up those carbs and you can still enjoy them 😉

  59. ‘If you’re eating low-carb and low-calorie (which low-carb tends to promote on account of its inherent satiety)’

    ‘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.’

    I think there is a bit of a contradiction here, If I have a lot of carbohydrates I tend to get real hungry within an hour of consumption. I also find I don’t get a lot of energy, but drowsiness instead. How can Leptin and Insulin be satiety hormones? By that token you wouldn’t find that ketosis reduces appetite greatly. A very low carb diet tends to reduce insulin, reduce leptin production, and yet leads to weight loss and satiety in most circumstances?

    1. The first statement is referring to the inherent satiety of protein (#1) and fat (#2) due to effects on hormones like PYY, ghrelin, orexin, etc.

      As for the second statement, I think insulin is more of an immediate messenger when it’s spiking, in that it sets off leptin, which is the real appetite-suppressing hormone. You are right that a large insulin spike (and subsequent drop in insulin and blood sugar an hour later) makes you feel hungry afterwards. The fiber in veggies can help attenuate this spike and fix some of that hunger if you eat them with your carbs.

      Ketosis reduces basal/baseline insulin to healthy physiological levels, but not below (unless your pancreas is malfunctioning) and, as stated before, it may be the immediate (fed) insulin spike that matters for appetite. The leptin production is reduced, which is why carb refeeds can help up your activity levels if you’ve been VLC for awhile and doing some endurance exercise. You may not feel the immediate effects of leptin increasing your expenditure, because carbohydrates -> tryptophan -> serotonin = sleepy (think eating all the potatoes and stuffing in the world at Thanksgiving). The glycogen replenishing will help when you wake up the next day and decide to run for an hour, but except for long exercise that requires that you use all of your glycogen storage you may not notice this “increased energy expenditure”.

  60. What a timely post. I stay around 60-80+ish g a day on a routine basis. Pretty lean year round. Unintentionally did a carb refeed after spending 5 days at a family reunion in the lowcountry. Having no kitchen in my hotel other than my hot plate for breakifast I had to eat out 2 meals a day. I chose quality restaurants but had more than my share of shrimp n grits, biscuits, potatoes and a few yummy desserts. I did refrain from the “crispy oxidized soybean oil-infused whatevers”.

    I was active by sprinting on the beach and visiting a local CrossFit box. When I got home jumped on the scale I expected to see an increase but found that I had lost over 2 1/2 pounds. Since I only weighed about 115 I found that significant. Especially considering the fat content was definitely not 50 g a day.

  61. I do a refeed once a week. Been doing it successfully for about 7 months now. But what plays with my mind sometimes is the bloating that results and typically won’t go way until Wednesday.

  62. I notice that when I’m eating too low carb or low calorie (as a result of the low carb usually) my sleep gets disturbed. A few days of increased carbs and Zzzzz….I’m sawing logs again.

  63. Interesting post Mark. Never experimented around with big carb re-feeds, but I’m going to start.

    ChocoTaco369 thanks for the possible refeed receipes. I’m a sucker for a good milkshake (hey, who isnt) once in a while so that sounds perfect.

    One question though: Would it be wise to you use a big re-feed and intermittent fasting in the same week?

    Thanks

  64. I really don’t know but I have a friend who is very serious about losing (I think) but anyway she do intake a lot of carb and I have seen a little results from it.

  65. sounds like something I’d love to try. I’m low BMI, love to exercise but low energy now. I think all my glycogen is depleted and I can’t seem to keep it replenished. The trouble is, I HAVE to watch my blood sugar. It stays stable as long as I’m low carb and eat often. Is it possible to do this without throwing my BS into crazy mode?

  66. Great post! Primal for the lean people — yay recognition!

    It took me a while to figure it out, but I am lean and I now eat 150g-300 g CHO daily (I am also active and athletic). If my activity levels are higher, carbs go higher.

    I carb cycle to keep things interesting but IF + very regular (if not daily) carb “refeeds” is what I need.

    (I have “stubborn” female bodyfat on my thighs but everything else is leaned out — and with this figure, VLC has just petered me out before….)

  67. instead of engaging in a carb re-feed when you hit that dreaded energy wall, perhaps it’s sometimes a case of simply too much training/working out which needs to be adressed. there is only ever so much energy which can be released from your stored fat at any one time and if you’re already at fairly low bodyfat levels and you’re dialled in on a low-carb diet, then it may make sense to pull back on your training a bit if you’re happy with the way you eat. i get an energy sap about once a month and i instantly cut back on my training for a few days, with either less intensity or less frequency (but never both) and it works a treat.

    1. Thanks Phil
      I have cut back on working out and have been eating more food in general and it does seem to help. I think the problen was over exercising ( I fell into that chronic cardio nightmare) and under eating. I’m 5’8′ and 120#’s. I’m trying to eat more in general and still do some exercise to keep the BS under control. I eat all day long but small. I think I also under estimated my protein. Now my muscles look flat but my BS will go up if I exercise too hard. It’s a vicious cycle that I need to figure out how to break. Any thoughts are appreciated.

  68. My brain is gonna explode. So much info.
    Thanks so much Mark!

    I appreciate your stuff

  69. I was just discussing my weight loss stall with another primal friend and we decided I needed to up calories/carbs
    because my body was “holding on” to my stored energy. I was still holding on to my VLC ways until I saw this post yesterday. After my dinner I added 2 cups of rice flavored with balsamic dressing, 1/2 cup ff cottage cheese, 20g dark chocolate. I had added a banana earlier also (what a treat!).
    1. The extra food felt good. 2. I slept better than ususal. 3. I was down a pound this morning! Started the day
    with an IF and sprints. I am curious to see if I am truly breaking this 3 week stall!

  70. I just went through the ‘holding mode’ as well but it wasn’t carbs, it was over training and not enough fuel. I was lethargic and had sore muscles. I upped my food and did low to moderate intensity, shorter work outs and feel much better. However, I do believe I lost alot of muscle as well. The scale went down 2.5 in a week too and I really don’t have it to lose.

  71. I’ve been doing the primal thing for 3 months now, almost religiously. It’s a rare day that I get more than 50g of carbs; maybe once every two weeks, and it’s a lot of good fats and proteins. Everything we eat, I make fresh or get fresh. I’ve dropped about 30 lbs, and I’m starting to plateau again. I have about 40 lbs to go to what I think will be my desired weight. Would it make sense to do the re-feeding or am I likely to be too insulin resistant to see a benefit? I hate to waste even a day loading up if it won’t help.

  72. I’ve been low carbing for about 2-3 months and at first, i lost fat quite quickly. i’m a 21 year old woman with a current body fat of about 19% so i’m not obese. i plateaued about 3 weeks ago while still lifting heavy things and sprinting. Iread this article and i was like, ‘eureka’ it made so much sense why i have been very tired, sleep a lot, eat a lot more and also moody.
    i went to the gym yesterday and did quite a lot of stuff and afterward, i ate about a cup of cooked yam and half a grilled plantain with spinach sauce. Also had chicken breast to keep fat down. i hope it works cos the extra 3 inches on my waist are quite stubborn

  73. I did a refeed last night with yams, plantains, chicken breast and spinach, I still feel a bit tired today though. Maybe It’s because I only had 3 hrs of sleep.
    I’ve been on low carb for about 2.5 months and I lost fat but I’ve got a few inches left. (Currently, 19% body fat or so). Should I do it again sooner or later?

  74. With trepidation, Saturday will be my first carb re-feed. I have been VLC for about 4 months straight and my weight has stalled for about the last 6 weeks(although I do think the fat:muscle ratio is going the right direction). My plan for the day will be a Friday evening PBF workout to failure, then an early morning ride/run through the bayou with some sprints, all to get the glycogen thoroughly depleted. Then the eating! Banana/strawberry smoothie, white rice with tomatillo sauce, fried sweet potatoes, cottage cheese, carrot soup, frozen peas, and some sort of dessert with pumpkin and/or more sweet potatoes. Maybe a souffle of some sort. Anyone have any other suggestions? I’ve been around 20-30g per day for so long, I’m really going to have to eat a ton to get up to 350.

  75. Thanks Mark for the awesome info!
    I’ve been on a plateau now for 3 months. Been primal since March this year, and i trive for strict paleo, maybe a trat here an there, but not often. I usually stay at around 50g carbs a day, maybe 1500 or less cals a day. I crossfit 4 times a week most weeks. I’ve been under a lot of stress and i think my hormones may be out of balance so i’m gonna get some testing done. I’ve been experiencing a lot of insomnia. Could it be cals/carbs that i’m eating, specially if my hormones, like leptin for example, are not at optimal levels? I’m trying to mitigate stress and get enough sleep, but it’s hard to accomplish when the body is doing it’s thing.
    If anyone has any thoughts i’d appreciate them! I’m still kinda new at this 🙂

  76. I’ve been stuck at a plateu. My weight is fine but my BF is down around 9% and I’m wanting to get to the 6% range. I estimate I need to loose about 5 pounds of fat and simultaneously gain 5 pounds of muscle. I will give this a shot and do a healthy carb day twice a week on my weight training days. I lift 2-3 times a week using a classic bodybuilding routine. N=1 starts now:)

  77. Hi guys!

    I started the paleo diet on July 2nd. Prior to starting the diet, I had done calorie counting, carb cycling yadda yadda – and successfully lost 60 lbs.

    Then I got horribly stuck. No matter how much I trained, or what I ate, I couldn’t move. That was also around the time I started ignoring my boyfriend about taking one cheat day and going full on out on calorie-counting 7 days a week.

    Since starting Paleo, I also added the one cheat day a week. In a month, I’ve lost 16 lbs. Woah. Although I’m still overweight with quite a bit of fat to lose, I think the cheat day has worked wonders on me. I can almost feel my body re-adjust the day of and the day after my cheat day.

    Besides – it’s like a little prize for working hard all week on your diet and training. Good luck with yours!

  78. Very nice article mark! The science of leptin is very fascinating. Byron Richards wrote two fantastic books explaining the science behind leptin and I encourage anyone who wants to understand it better to read those books.

  79. Apparently a nightly spoonful of raw honey is supposed to promote fat loss. As a sustained practice it might be a good substitute for a carb refeed. You’ll only be getting around 16/17 grams of sugar from it.
    When I lived in a house with a treadmill I’d often jog on it at night for half an hour to 45 minutes (during the brutal winter when running outside wouldn’t end up pleasant or would seem intolerable, of course) and generally had a cup of tea sweetened with raw honey sitting nearby, and I’d usually refill it so I’d end up eating a lot of honey. I don’t think it had any detriment to my health. Other times, when I’ve forgone lots of unhealthy foods for a while (whatever crap shelters and whatnot had available) I’ve actually eaten whole jars of raw honey in one day, up to 500g of it! And due to the caloric restriction I didn’t gain weight from that, but it wasn’t something I did regularly, usually only when I felt very hungry or had a lot to do.

  80. Great article! I’ve stalled for the past month and decided to try this yesterday through a lot of quinoa, veggies, V8, and almond milk while trying to keep the fat content down. I’m pretty low-carb to begin with (~50g/day) and could only stomach 200g-250g. Do you think it matters that I didn’t hit that 300g limit? Today is the day after and I feel TERRIBLE. I have a headache, I feel sluggish and off. In fact, I called in sick. I already miss low-carb because it never made me feel this way. Is this normal?

  81. Great article.

    I’ve been stuck at 10.5% body fat for the last weeks and its been frustrating. My goal is 8% before I switch my goals to muscle gain.

    I’ve been doing 1g of carb per body weight( for me that is 175lbs)keeping fat between 30-50g per day and Weight was coming off great; seeing 1-2lbs a week, but for the last month of so, it stopped. My squats and deadlifts strength stayed the same, but my pushing strength took a hit.

    I think refeeds is exactly what I need to get past this plateau. As im writing this now, I got like 4 giant size sweet potatoes boiling and im starting my first refeed today lol.

    Thanks for the article, very good info.

  82. I love these foodie tips as its really hard to get going when you love food as much as I do. When I started losing weight I would yo yo diet and didn’t do my research and pay enough attention to how what I ate and how I exercised influenced each other. Now, but refusing to starve myself all the time and using a sweat suit I have really managed to get my weight loss moving and on track. Love coming back here regularly to read Marks tips and add them into my life style!

  83. Hi Mark, im a pretty slender girl, i like to train and be fit. However, i have been having a lot of digestive issues ( food sensitivities). i would love to give this diet. im very concer about fat intake. i would like to know how many grams if fat im allow to take with my 4 meals without gaining weight? i usually do 3 meals and 1 snack a day. any suggestion will help. thank you!

  84. I was sooo happy to stumble upon this post. I fell off the primal low carb wagon after a trip to WDW in Nov wich them spiraled into cookies at Christmas. I wasnt too concerned about the 7 lbs becasue my way of eatign is usually sooo effective in burin off the extra fat. I am only 13 pounds from my ideal health body weight but after 3 weeks of spot n perfect eating I have seen very little or any budge on the scale or in my clothes. I just was at a loss! my brother (a lifter) recommended a carn cyle and I was sooo leary until i read this post. So this Sat when I am crazy busy and running around I will make sure to add sweet potatoes and thse other non no veggies that are highr in carbs and see if that gets things running again=) Thanks so much!!!

  85. I really enjoyed reading this article and found a lot of helpful information. Not just with the article but the responses as well. I am thinking about trying to add a carb refeed day into my week. I am a little bit nervous and skeptical though after doing low carb for so long. I don’t want to regress. I am trying to cut my fat and lower it but still lean out. From what I hear though adding a re-feed day really speeds up fat loss.

    Lately I have been really tired and although I go to the gym everyday and my weights have been increasing (for the most part) my drive and enthusiasm has dwindled. I’d appreciate some feedback but should I really add a re-feed? My main concern is that I am going to set-myself back with adding all those carbs back into my diet each week. Any thoughts?

  86. I don’t know what is with all you 5’2″ girls and trying to weight less than 120 lbs! That’s crazy!!
    I don’t think I would be eating paleo if I were already that slim!
    Anyway, I’m 5’3″ and started at 165 lbs, and lost 10 in two months (but I also put on lots of leg muscle from the cycling season).

    I know my dresses fit me better around the waist, but my pant size still hasn’t gone down. I’m aiming for another 20 lbs to cut within a year.

    I’m glad this carb loading is somewhat recommended, since I only eat half a sweet potato once a week at the moment.
    But I also cheat and eat fro-yo maybe once a week, and still drink plenty of alcohol. I guess I could really push it and stop the beer or wine, but what kind of summer is that?! It’s canada, I need to enjoy the patio while it’s nice!

  87. I’m 5’2″ & about 124 pounds with more muscle definition every week (down from 134 that was mostly fat gained from few months of prednisone). Mom of 2 toddlers trying to get my body back and really just get stronger & leaner. I do interval jogging 3 days a week and some sort of strength training video the other 3 days a week. I’ve been shooting for 20-25 carbs a day and definitely have that carb flu hit every couple weeks (grouchy, sleep issues, etc). I think I’m going to try this carb re-feeding day thing. Open to suggestions 🙂

  88. This makes a lot of sense. I experimented with refeeds six month ago but felt like death. I bet it was because I was leptin resistant as I was thirty pounds overweight. I am now at a normal body weight and have recently started refeeding again. I feel quite a bit better so I must be leptin sensitive.

  89. I find refeeds important because immunity can get a bit compromised when you eat fairly strictly primal and get success with attaining lower body fat levels (those two tend to go hand in hand).

    I try to do more refeeds during cold and flu season to make sure I don’t have leptin dips that are too prolonged. But still, my frequency of refeeds averages to about once every two weeks. I probably should do more.

    For those that say they have trouble reaching the carb goal – it’s easier than you think. Adding plantains to the mix gets you there in a hurry.

  90. I can’t lose weight on real low carb, maybe because I only ever have 5 or 6 lbs to lose and the leptin alerts go off. If I don’t eat enough carbs (if I try to do <100g) I get drawn constantly to cheese, nuts, eggs anything fatty and I over-do the calories trying to satisfy that need, whereas 1/4 cup of oats would shut it down. So now every morning I have a homemade spelt muffin (I know…grain) made from my own milled whole grain spelt, eggs, coconut oil, bananas, berries and walnuts, and a little bit of maple syrup. A little cream cheese on it for fat and I'm good 'til lunchtime. And that's the last grain or starch for the day. I think Mark said once he eats 150g. If I take a guess at his weight (170?) and compare it to mine, proportionally it comes out right at 125g.

  91. Hey, Mark. This may be outside of your wheelhouse, but I have an experience you might have insight into.
    I had the gastric sleeve done in February and have lost 75 pounds since then. I stalled at 235 for about seven weeks. I eat about 1100 calories a day. 70 minimum of protein and because of that protein, my carbs are usually less than 25. Four days ago I started eating 4 ounces of black rice a day and eating corn tortilla chips (about 14 chips total/day) and not only has my stall been killed, I feel less hungry and am not eating as much protein as I did. I’m fairly certain I need to get my protein back on track, but I’m interested in the sudden weight loss that must be due to the dramatic increase in carbs (some good, some bad).
    I do two hours of water aerobics a week.