How to set your calories & macros for a refeed day

If you’re deep into a cut or any sort of weight loss journey, you might have heard of the idea that you should use strategic refeeds to:

  • Give your body & mind a break from your diet
  • Revitalize your metabolism
  • Improve performance in the gym or working out
  • And overcome weight loss stalls

But what is a refeed exactly? And how do you set your macros for a refeed day?

In other words, how do you know how many grams of carbs, fats, and proteins to have during a refeed?

Essentially, a refeed day is often one day per week (or it can be an extended period of time, like one to three weeks), where you temporarily increase your calories to your maintenance level. In other words, you take a break from dieting.

Your primary source of extra calories during a refeed should be carbohydrates.

But we’ll go into a little more detail and how to calculate your macros below.

What is a refeed day and why use them?

Refeeding is a time-tested and extremely popular strategy for weight loss.

There’s no denying that extended periods of time eating in a calorie deficit can be extremely taxing on:

  • your mind
  • your will power
  • your body
  • and your energy levels!

Believe me, I know. When I’m cutting for 6-8 weeks or more at a time, I really start to feel drained and beaten up after a while. You just get kind of sick of counting calories and the temptation to binge really goes way up.

So in most good fat loss programs, you’ll incorporate either:

One refeed day per week: This is (usually) one day per week, often on a day where you’re working out, that you’re supposed to eat at your maintenance calories or even slightly above.

Remember, the target for fat loss is usually a daily calorie deficit of around 500 calories. So if you’re eating 1500 calories for weight loss, a lot of programs that use a refeed will have you eating around 2000 one day per week.

The benefits to this kind of refeed are mostly mental, as the metabolic benefits of a single day refeed are likely pretty small. It’s just really refreshing and motivating to have a “controlled cheat day” where you get to actually be full and satisfied again.

This kind of regular refeed helps a lot of people stick with the diet better over the long term.

(When you’re very lean or at very low levels of bodyfat, 2 refeed a week might be the way to go.)

A “diet break” refeed every couple of weeks: The other kind of refeed is also known as a diet break, where you eat at maintenance calories or slightly above for a period of a few weeks, usually 2-3 weeks. Though 1 week refeeds are also common.

The idea here is to actually speed your metabolism back up (it usually slows down some over the course of a lengthy diet) and get your body operating at a higher level. That way, when you return to your lower calorie intake, fat loss should accelerate.

You’ll also have much better performance and recovery from workouts during this time.

A study out of the University of Tasmania actually showed that people who took regular 2-week diet breaks or refeeds had better weight loss results than those who didn’t.

So to recap, whether you’re doing a one-day-per-week refeed, or taking extended diet breaks at regular intervals, there are a couple of key, proven benefits to refeeding:

  • Replenishes willpower and motivation during a diet
  • Boosts your metabolism & accelerates fat loss when you return to lower calories
  • Gives you better performance & recovery in your workouts

Refeed day vs cheat day – what’s the difference?

Is a refeed just a fancy version of a cheat day?

What’s the difference?

Well, to me, the difference is extremely important:

A cheat day or meal is completely uncontrolled and unregulated. You just eat and eat as much as you want, of whatever you want, until you’re full. With no regard for calories or macros.

A refeed, on the other hand, is highly controlled.

When refeeding, you know exactly what your calorie target is and how many carbs, proteins, and fats you’re aiming for. (We’ll calculate those in a minute.)

Is a cheat day better than a refeed day?

Well, it might be more fun!

But outside of that, there’s no real benefit to eating anything more than slightly over your maintenance calories.

Stuffing your face with 5,000 calories of pizza and ice cream won’t do a whole lot for your body other than cause it to store a bunch of unwanted fat, completely defeating the point of your diet.

The idea of a refeed is to revitalize your body and boost performance without really gaining a significant amount of weight back.

(It’s actually pretty amazing to witness this first hand. But when your weight loss has stalled on a cut, you’ll initially be afraid that you’ll gain weight when you start eating more. But I’ve found you almost never do, and sometimes you’ll even feel leaner than ever while refeeding as your body starts to operate in a higher gear.)

Setting your macros for a refeed – how many grams of carbs, fats, and protein do you need?

Alright, so what exactly should you be eating during a refeed or diet break?

Like I wrote above, you’ll primarily want to get your extra calories from carbohydrates.

There are a few reasons for that:

  • Carbs give you energy: Low-carb diets are pretty popular, and they can work when done right, but in general, a healthy diet should consist of plenty of good carbs. Without enough of them, you’ll struggle to feel energetic and do your best in the gym.
  • Healthy carbs are filling: Getting a lot of extra fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will fill your belly up without a ton of surplus calories and help you feel way more satisfied in ways that just protein and fat can’t.
  • You should already be having plenty of protein: If you’re having around .8-1g of protein per day (or a little less if you’re not actively working out), that’s already plenty. There’s no real benefit to adding much more protein to your diet than that unless you’re a bodybuilder getting ready for the stage.

So, knowing that, let’s walk through a basic calculation:

If you’re dieting or cutting, you probably already know your maintenance calories and weight loss calorie target, but I’ll include those steps anyway:

  1. Determine your maintenance calories: The simplest way is to multiply your current bodyweight x 15 for a rough estimate.
  2. Example: If you weigh 150 pounds, your daily maintenance calories or TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) should be around 2250 calories.
  3. Your weight loss calories, by the way, should be about 500 calories lower than maintenance, or around 12 calories per pound of bodyweight.
  4. Determine your daily protein intake. The ideal target for someone lifting weights or working out is around .8-1 gram per pound of bodyweight.
  5. Example: If you weigh 150 pounds, your daily protein intake should be about 120-150 grams whether you’re cutting, bulking, refeeding, or just maintaining.
  6. For best results on a refeed, you’ll want to hit your calorie target, hit your protein target, and get any remaining calories from a mixture of healthy carbs (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and fats.
  7. Many experts and fitness gurus even suggest lowering protein and fat a little bit in order to consume more carbs during a refeed.
  8. A good rule of thumb for your refeed macros is to hit your maintenance calories, hit your protein or slightly under, and eat 1.5-2x your normal amount of carbs.
  9. The rest can come from healthy fats.

I’ve really never liked the way macro calculators break your day down into percentages. Meaning, 30% protein, 40% carbs, and 30% fat.

I mean, I get what that means but I have no idea how to implement something like that in real life.

Let’s look at an actual example of what you refeed might look like.

Refeed day example & good refeed day foods

Let’s say you’re:

  • 150 pounds
  • Have been dieting on 1750 calories (500 less than maintenance)
  • Eating 150g of protein per day
  • And are ready to take a diet break or start implementing weekly refeed days

Figuring out what you should eat during your refeed is actually pretty simple, when you get down to it.

  • Eat 120-140g of lean protein per day
  • Add 500 or so calories of fibrous, starchy carbs (whole grains, fruits, vegetables)
  • For a total of 2250 calories per refeed day

That’s really, truly, all you need to do.

What are some good foods to eat or add to your refeed days?

Again, assuming you’re already getting the right amount of protein, definitely consider adding some extra servings of:

  • Fruit: Apples are my favorite because they’re delicious, hydrating, and full of fiber
  • Whole wheat pasta: Measuring pasta on a diet can be tricky, but now’s your chance to basically double up and get some awesome good carbs in your belly.
  • Brown rice: Same deal here. Super filling and satisfying, but with lots of fantastic nutrients. You can add in a bunch of extra brown rice without completely blowing the diet.
  • Potatoes or sweet potatoes: Fiber and starch are the best carbs for energy, so definitely load up on filling, delicious foods like potatoes.

What foods should you avoid during a refeed?

The temptation to fill up your extra 500ish calories per day with fat is going to be extremely high. But don’t fall into that trap! You want to get extra good, energizing carbs instead. So watch out for:

  • Fried foods: This adds an insane number of pure-fat calories to your diet. Eat only in moderation.
  • Fattier cuts of meat: Don’t trade the chicken breast for pork just because you have the calories to spare. Stick with leaner cuts of meat for now.
  • Tons of sauce/dressing/condiments: Again, these will add a lot of fat calories to your lean meals. Which will help you hit your calorie target, but you won’t leave enough room for all those delicious carb options I just listed above.

How often should you use refeed days? (And when?)

When should you refeed on a cut?

This will really depend heavily on what weight loss or lifting program you’re running.

The program I used to drop 15+ pounds and finally get lean and toned prescribed one refeed day per week, and then one 4-week refeed after a period of about 8-10 weeks of cutting.

But your mileage and needs may vary. Here are some general guidelines:

  • For a little bit of a pick-me-up and willpower boost during a diet, use one refeed per week
  • You’ll get the most out of your refeed on a workout day! (Better recovery)
  • If you’re already very lean and trying to get shredded, try 2 refeeds per week
  • If you’ve been dieting for 8-12 weeks and fat loss has stalled, try a 2-4 week refeed or diet break

These aren’t hard and fast rules.

And remember, weekly refeed days are more of a mental boost than anything else. They probably aren’t 100% scientifically necessary from a metabolic standpoint.

Though, anecdotally, I found they really helped me feel better both mentally and physically while dieting.

The research IS strong, however, on diet breaks during a prolonged period of weight loss. If you’re not implementing diet breaks or refeeds every so often on your journey to lose weight, I highly recommend you consider it.

Wrapping Up

Remember, a refeed day is not a cheat day!

It’s a very controlled day, or period of time, where you’re eating about 500 calories more than you were for weight loss.

Basically, you’re eating at maintenance temporarily in order to refuel your mind and body.

The goal is not to gain any weight other than just maybe some fullness or bloating from increased food consumption.

When you return to your lower calories after a refeed, fat loss will likely be accelerated.

At the very least, you’ll feel better and have a little bit of fun eating.

To get the most out of a refeed, you’ll want to get the majority of the extra calories from carbs like fruits, vegetables, potatoes, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and other whole grains. They’ll give you the most energy, fullness, and overall bang for your buck.

(In other words, it’s not an excuse to eat like crap!)

During this time, it’s OK to drop your protein and fat intake a little bit, too, to make room for all the carbs.

Carbs for the win!

Hope this helps, everyone, and good luck on your weight loss journey!