CrossFitters are known for their near-insanity. They love to push their bodies to the breaking point, and then do it again, and then again. They are known for keeping an early bedtime, getting an exorbitant amount of sleep, and adhering to the strictest of diets. The results of these practices can be amazing, but they can also start to take their toll. It can be difficult to maintain this level of dedication in every aspect of their lives and often the first element to suffer is their diet. If you’ve been around the fitness world for any amount of time, then you are probably familiar with the term “cheat meal”. This term can often hold a negative connotation for many athletes, or it can be an athlete’s favorite time of the week. However, did you know that there is another approach to the “cheat meal” that might actually have some benefits?
A healthier alternative to the “cheat meal” is what’s called a “refeed”. There are several definitions for this term floating around in the fitness world, such as “a short-term, planned period of overfeeding—usually focusing on particular macronutrients”, or “a particular day of increased caloric intake to refuel the body after having been in a depleted state, due to either caloric restriction and/or increased physical activity”. Whichever definition you choose to embrace, they both communicate basically the same thing: a refeed is a meal or day where an athlete intentionally increases their caloric intake to sort of restart their metabolism.
So, does a refeed day actually work? Although the idea behind it makes logical sense, unfortunately it is difficult to back up the idea with actual science because there are so many variables. However, with that being said, there may be some physiological and mental benefits of refeeding. For example, eating more food will require more energy to break that food down, which may increase the number of calories used that day. This may also increase the amount of energy you have that day, which could unintentionally lead to more movement.
On the mental side of things, a refeed day can help ease the anxiety that often accompanies calorie or carb restrictive eating. Oftentimes, it can be difficult to maintain this type of eating for extended periods of time, so giving in to a “cheat day” can be a natural response. Therefore, a refeed day can be beneficial because it is a way to increase one’s calorie and carb intake without going to the opposite extreme and binge eating unhealthy foods. You can give yourself a little bit of a break while still staying on track with your health goals.