Refeeds and Cheat Meals-What Does the Science Say?

Refeeds and Cheat Meals-What Does the Science Say?

Are you someone who follows a strict diet but often feels the urge to indulge in cheat meals? Or perhaps you’ve heard about “refeeds” but are unsure whether they are worth incorporating into your routine. In this post, we’ll dive into the science behind refeeds and cheat meals to help you understand how they can impact your body and fitness goals. So let’s explore whether these dietary practices are supported by evidence or simply myths.

Today I want to discuss the latest research on refeeds/cheat meals/cheat days and how they affect performance and diet adherence and results. Let’s take a look at what the science says and my takeaways from the latest data.

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Accredited Practicing Dietitian
APD. Holly Baxter
Ms. Dietetics
Bs. Food Science & Nutrition
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When it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, consistency is key. However, anyone who has ever tried to adhere to a strict meal plan for an extended period of time can attest to how difficult it can be. Sometimes, our bodies crave a break from our routine and we may indulge in a cheat meal to satisfy those cravings. On the other hand, some dietary plans incorporate refeeds to allow for a temporary increase in calories and carbohydrates. But, what does the science say about the effectiveness and potential drawbacks of refeeds and cheat meals?

What are Refeeds?

A refeed is a planned increase in carbohydrates and calories for a specific period of time. This is done to enhance the metabolism and replenish glycogen stores. During a refeed, individuals typically increase their carbohydrate intake by 50-100 grams for a few days. This temporary increase in calories can improve overall metabolic rate and aid in fat loss long-term.

Benefits of Refeeds:

  1. Improved Metabolism: Refeeds can trigger a temporary increase in metabolism, which can help with fat loss in the long-term.

  2. Enhanced Leptin Levels: Leptin is a hormone that regulates appetite and metabolism. When dieting, leptin levels can decrease leading to increased hunger and decreased metabolic rate. Refeeds can help normalize these levels and prevent a decrease in metabolism.

  3. Mental Break: Sticking to a strict diet can be mentally taxing. Refeeds can provide a break from dietary restrictions, making it easier to stick to a diet long-term.

Drawbacks of Refeeds:

  1. Water Retention: Refeeding can cause water retention due to an increase in glycogen stores. This can lead to an increase in weight, which can be discouraging.

  2. Overeating: One potential drawback of refeeds is the potential to overeat. It can be easy to fall into the trap of eating more calories than necessary.

  3. Limited Research: While some studies show the benefits of refeeds, there is limited research on its long-term effectiveness.

What are Cheat Meals?

A cheat meal is an unstructured meal where an individual consumes an excessive amount of calories, fat, and carbohydrates. Cheat meals are typically unplanned and can result from cravings or a lack of motivation to stick to a diet. While it may be satisfying in the moment, consistent cheat meals can result in weight gain and hinder overall progress.

Benefits of Cheat Meals:

  1. Improved Mood: Cheat meals can provide temporary satisfaction and improve mood.

  2. Increased Motivation: Sometimes, a cheat meal can serve as motivation to continue a healthy lifestyle.

  3. Increased Insulin Sensitivity: Eating a large amount of calories can improve insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial for overall health.

Drawbacks of Cheat Meals:

  1. Weight Gain: Consistent cheat meals can lead to weight gain and slow down progress.

  2. Blood Sugar Spikes: Cheat meals can cause blood sugar spikes, leading to an increase in cravings, hunger, and decreased energy levels.

  3. Negative Relationship with Food: Consistent cheat meals can lead to a negative relationship with food, leading to disordered eating patterns.


In conclusion, both refeeds and cheat meals have their potential benefits and drawbacks. While refeeds serve as a planned increase in calories and carbohydrates, cheat meals are an unstructured indulgence. It is important to consider the frequency and impact of both refeeds and cheat meals on overall health and progress. It is essential to find a balance that works for you and your lifestyle.


  1. How often should I incorporate a refeed in my diet?
    Answer: It is advised to use refeeds sparingly, typically once every one to two weeks.

  2. Can a cheat meal benefit my metabolism?
    Answer: While a cheat meal can result in a temporary increase in metabolism, consistent cheat meals can hinder overall progress and lead to weight gain.

  3. Are refeeds necessary for fat loss?
    Answer: Refeeds are not necessary for fat loss, but they can aid in long-term fat loss progress.

  4. Is it necessary to include cheat meals in my diet plan?
    Answer: No, it is not necessary to include cheat meals in your diet plan. It is important to find a balance that works for you and your individual goals.

  5. Can refeeds lead to overeating?
    Answer: Refeeds can lead to overeating if not properly planned or controlled. It is important to monitor daily calories and carbohydrates to prevent overeating during a refeed.