BY ANDY TRIANA
Your body needs over 24 hours to recover from stressful events.—a tough workout, a night of heavy drinking, or too many hours at work with too little sleep. Have too many of these days, and your body begins to accumulate residual fatigue. And if food is medicine, then a refeed meal is a supercharged IV that can help you to recover and bounce back into training better than ever.
But before you start stuffing your face with Ho-Hos and Doritos, here’s a primer on refeed meals and how to implement them.
Andrew Triana is a competitive strongman and the founder of The Performance. Vice, a coaching community for strength athletes.
1. What Is a Refeed Meal?
During a refeed, you’re going to eat more of what you typically eat to feel better. That said, a refeed isn’t a cheat meal. Cheat meals are often unplanned indulgences, such as a night out with the girlfriend or a few unplanned beers at an office happy hour. This brings us perfectly to our next point…
2. Cheat Meals vs. Refeed Meals
The main difference between a cheat meal and a refeed meal is intention. With cheat meals, most of the time there is none. You could be at a family barbeque and veer off plan by downing a handful of beers and overstaying your welcome at the chips and dip table for no other reason than you wanted to. Nutritionally speaking, these meals are unbalanced, with way more fat and carbs than you may need and little to no protein. But some people, like The Rock, do plan their cheat meals.
These are bound to happen, and that’s totally cool. When you have a cheat meal, just enjoy it and then get right back on your meal plan. No sweat.
On the other hand, a refeed meal is pre-planned or added to your plan for good reason. A key component of a good refeed is knowing why you’re having it and understanding what foods you need. Protein is key for helping you to rebuild muscle tissues, so if you had a particularly tough training session, an increase in protein will help mitigate the extra damage you did in the gym.
Carbs and fats are purely energy, so these should be eaten in excess when you’re fatigued and need a pick-me-up. Based on what you have or will encounter, you’ll know which food sources to consume more of.
3. Do You Need a Refeed Meal?
Identifying if you need a refeed meal requires some self-awareness. For example, if you’ve been working late and missing a few meals and have, say, a big deadlift day on Saturday, then a Friday-night refeed is a good idea. That extra energy will be put to use during your lifting session
There’s no absolute formula for figuring this out, but if you’re fatigued, stressed, and need to perform, then you can probably benefit from taking in a large amount of healthy food.
Follow the guidelines below for your next refeed meal.
4. A Refeed Meal for When You’re Fatigued
If you’re overwhelmed with work and life responsibilities and feel tired, you’ll want to increase the amount of carbohydrates and fats you take in to keep your energy up.
Stick with foods you typically eat so your body can absorb them more efficiently and pick quality, calorie-dense options—rice, potatoes, nut butters, and olive oils. Also, your ability to digest is compromised in this state, so I also suggest some probiotics, like kefir, sauerkraut, or kombucha to help your body process the food.
5. A Refeed Meal for the Workaholic
I like this refeed for a person who works especially hard in the gym and/or has a labor-intensive job, and is feeling beat up physically: 80 to 150 grams of protein in a single meal, with slightly more carbs and fats than you normally would have with a typical meal. This will help repair your muscles and combat soreness, and improve your nutrient absorption.
6. A Refeeed Meal for When You’re Just Over It
Maybe life is stressing you out. or you’re on an intense cut and are seconds away from hitting the eject button on your diet. Sometimes, you need to just say screw it and indulge. Instead of completely blowing your progress, I recommend taking an hour or two to eat foods that you enjoy—within reason—to keep you on track. Think of this as a mini-vacation from your plan, but a responsible vacation.
Do you want to come back refreshed and inspired or hungover and ashamed? Since there’s a goal behind this meal (don’t stray from your plan) and you’re eating only as much as you need to satisfy your cravings, I still consider this a refeed.