I think I need a refeed

I’m working on getting shredded, aiming to reach single-digit levels of body fat. And I am making progress; down 12lbs and at least 2-3% of body fat from my ~15% starting point. And for perspective, at a starting weight of 168lbs, that’s a 7%+ drop in overall body weight.

My current program is roughly as follows:

  • Intermittent Fasting (IF) on 16/8 schedule; noon to 8pm.
  • Carb-cycling; higher levels on training days; minimal carbs on rest days.
  • Foods are basic, clean, wholesome; lots of lean protein, generally avoiding processed foods.
  • Protein 200g+/day; fat <50g/day; balance from carbs.
  • Calorie deficit daily
  • Workout 4 days a week; M/T/T/F with W/S/S as rest days.
  • Splits are mixed, but roughly two-days heavy/strength, one day conditioning, one day metabolic booster.
  • Lighter cardio on the Saturday or Sunday as desired; usually a heavy-bag workout for me.

However, while I’ve clearly made progress (weight, cloth sizes etc.), progress in the last two weeks or so has stalled somewhat. I’ve been noticing some other troublesome changes of late too, including:

  • Constant hunger; never satisfied from a meal.
  • Excessive tiredness.
  • Workout soreness slow to pass.
  • Agitated, short-tempered, irritable.
  • Complete loss of sex-drive; and I mean complete.
  • General malaise; lack of motivation and zest for life.
  • Cold, always so damn cold.
  • Increased heart flutters/palpitations. [1]
  • Muscle cramps, particularly in the calves. [1]

As you can see, my progress on the outside has been far from free or easy. There’s a cost, and it’s cost that is getting increasingly hard to justify.

However, I also know that it doesn’t have to be like this.

I am not only told this explicitly by Adam Bornstein — a leading authority in the health and fitness industry — my body is literally screaming at me… and yet, I seem paralyzed to act.

I’ve also been reading widely this morning on the impact of sustained calorie and carbohydrate deficit on the body, which can account for just about every symptom on my list above.

In particular, I read two great articles that further convince me I am in desperate need of a refeed.

  1. Calorie and Carb Cycling: Breaking Through Your Diet Plateau — Nate Miyaki
  2. Why Cheating On Your Diet Can Be A Good Thing For Fat Loss! — Nick Mitchell

You really need to read both articles for yourself, but here’s a few key points that I personally took from each of them.

Calorie and Carb Cycling: Breaking Through Your Diet Plateau

Linear diets — the process of consistently reducing calories to achieve your fat-loss goals — rarely, if ever, work. As you sink further into caloric deficit, your body starts to counter your efforts.

Reduced leptin levels increase hunger and cravings while slowing the metabolic rate and reducing energy expenditure. In addition, leptin is a master control hormone, meaning its levels have an effect on other hormones. During prolonged calorie deficits the following can occur: testosterone, growth hormone, IGF-1, and thyroid levels can all drop.

A day or two of refeeding can offset the metabolic downshift that occurs with dieting. It can boost leptin, and subsequently testosterone, growth hormone, and thyroid to normal, pre-diet levels.

Why Cheating On Your Diet Can Be A Good Thing For Fat Loss!

Nick asserts that the refeed is not only important to achieving single-digit body fat, it is essential. Yes, a calorie is a calorie, and all calories are important. However, the macronutrient ratios are also significant because of the hormonal response they can generate.

Extended hypocaloric periods can cause a cataclysmic shutdown of one key hormone that regulates a healthy metabolism; leptin — the hormone that essentially tells the body whether it’s starving or not.

“When leptin levels fall it plays a causal role in the majority of negative adaptations which occur during dieting, including but not limited to decreasing metabolic rate, decreasing fat oxidation, and a massively increased appetite. Leptin is synthesied in adipose tissue (fat cells) meaning that the smaller the fat cells the lower the leptin production, and the greater the hunger and the lower the energy expenditure as the body desperately clings to it’s remaining fat cells because your dieting has mimicked a famine situation.  And just to make matters (much) worse, the type of dieting that seems to affect leptin levels the most detrimentally is low carbohydrate nutrition.”

And while my bodyfat may not yet be single-digits, this sounds quite like me!

“Anyone who has ever been on a real diet and dropped their body fat down to the level that a refeed is necessary will tell you just how exhausting and draining a process it can be.  I currently have the patience of a schizophrenic on PCP and the sex drive of a neutered flea.  All because I am on low carbs, low calories, and my body fat % is dropping to a place that it doesn’t really want to get below.”

I am certainly no expert in these matters, that’s why I hope to soon be working directly with one of the best coaches out there. In the mean time, I am simply trying to educate myself to the fullest possible extent.

Of course, knowledge is power — but only if you actually act on it.

I’m off to refeed!

[1] While heart palpitations can occur for many reasons, including stress, hypoglycemia etc., they are also often associated with low magnesium levels. Given the cramps (unusual for me), I wonder if this is also a factor; I will supplement and find out. Also, while I doubt I am hypoglycemic, you can apparently dip into hypoglycemia when fasting or during sustained periods of carb depletion.
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