Nutrition Quest 3 by Mike Roussell of T-nation.com covers refeeds, a topic that I find very interesting.
Refeeds are best used when interspersed throughout long periods is calorie and/or carbohydrate restriction. As the name implies, you’re acutely refeeding nutrients (calories and/or carbohydrates) into your system after it’s been deprived of those nutrients for a predetermined period of time (5 days, 7 days, 2 months, etc.).
It’s important to distinguish between a “refeed” and just trying to rationalize going off your nutritional plan (e.g. cheating). Refeeds are strategically placed and when used right are integral parts of your nutritional plan. Cheating on your diet is more often than not an unplanned event brought on by poor planning or exposure to a situation in which your will power is compromised and you succumb to the primal urge to stuff your face!
I find this topic very interesting because I’ve noticed things happening to my body composition and weight that seem to confirm Mike’s claims. I don’t spend a lot of time doing the same thing so my diet / nutritional plan seems more random than a steady state of sustained caloric restriction. My food intake is restricted Monday to Thursday evening, then I will tend to eat a lot. It’s lower again Friday and Saturday until dinner time when I will eat a lot. Sunday is the same as Saturday with a large dinner and usually a couple of helpings of dessert. There are consistent meals thoughout, post workout shake, breakfast every morning, casine protein before bed, eating at least every 2.5 to 3 hours, etc…, but what I eat as whole food is varied both in terms of what it is and when I eat it. It is a conscious decision to vary the food and the timing because it prevents the body from adapting and become more efficient at processing the food. Some people call this calorie cycling.
I feel my best on Monday and Tuesday so I plan my hardest workout for these days. It’s most likely that I am more completely recovered from the over eating on the weekend. But I tend to carry a little more water and look slightly bloated, both indications of an increase in muscle glycogen. I tend to look my leanest on Thursday afternoon but have the least strength so I try to focus on doing only cardiovascular exercise because it doesn’t suffer the same drop in performance.
Sometimes though, I will eat clean for longer periods of time – my Thursday, Saturday and Sunday evenings will seem more like Monday or Tuesday evenings with normal sized clean meals; usually happening when I’m in a bulking phase and performing a lot less cardio. The goal is muscle gain without too much fat gain so the diet has to be clean. Lasting 6 to 10 weeks, these phases are tough because of the restriction in what I eat, but I have noticed that there is a period of a couple of weeks afterwards when I seem to keep growing bigger. This period sees me eating a lot more food that is higher in calories that I won’t eat the bulk – foods that contain more moderate to high GI carbs. It seems that I experience a two to three week period of dramatic overcompensation from the workouts in which my muscles seem to fully recover and grow to adapt to the increased workload they’ve been subjected to.
The problem I run into in determining what is going on is that I don’t train for the same reasons or sports year round. I consider myself an endurance athlete more than a power athlete. I build mass and work on strength in the winter because I can’t be riding outside. While I like building muscle, I will focus on building it for less than 4 months a year, the rest of the time I’m working to maintain it and build my endurance. As a consequence, I have no idea what the long term muscles building impact would be of following my eating approach year round.
There is something to the approach of refeeding. While I’m not sure what specifically is happening, it does seem to give the body a boost in recovery department. Lifters and endurance athletes will benefit from this extra kick.