Been dieting for a while and not seeing any results? Feel like your starving all the time but meanwhile fat loss is a foreign word to you. If you are finding yourself in this situation, you are likely suffering the consequences of low leptin levels.
Leptin, part of the cytokine family, is synthesized primarily by your adipose tissue, with a small contribution coming from the skeletal muscles and brain. The synthesis rate of leptin is mostly controlled by both numbers of body fat cells as well as size of your current bodyfat cells.
Leptin's main function in the body is to play a significant role in regulating both hunger, food intake and energy expenditure. As leptin levels fall, the greater your cravings become for all those wonderful foods that you used to eat when you weren't dieting.
So if you are experiencing more intense cravings on a daily basis, take some relief in knowing that this is actually your body responding to a physiological signal, not just your mind playing nasty games with you and making your life miserable.
Along with hunger pangs, leptin also signifies a slowing metabolism. Whenever you are on a hypocalorie diet for an extended period of time, your body will begin to slow its metabolic functions in an effort to 'make due' with the amount of fuel that it is being given. Know what this means for you? Little or no fat loss. Not a good situation.
Raising Leptin Levels
So, your goal is to periodically kick your leptin levels back up so as to avoid the intense physical hunger and the slowed-to-a-crawl metabolism. Some people will chose to have cheat days in an effort to accomplish this goal, which is basically a meal or whole day of professed binging on everything in sight.
This may not be the best course of action however. Leptin is highly responsive to glucose metabolism so when doing a refeed, you will benefit much more if the majority of your excess calories are coming from good sources of carbohydrates that will turn into glucose. When done this way, leptin levels will show a significant rise over if you had eaten a surplus of calories coming from more protein, fat, or fructose.
How much should you refeed yourself? This will depend on how long you have been dieting, how intense your diet is, and your current level of bodyfat. Those who are at a lower level of bodyfat will need to refeed more often than those who aren't. Similarly, the more extreme the diet being followed, the more intense the refeed.
Basically this has to do with how low leptin levels are. The lower the levels, the more calories above maintenance you will be needed to bring them back up.
Usually, a refeed should consist of 20-50% more calories than required for maintenance for 12 hours to two days. The higher you decide to bring your calories, the shorter period of time you will want to refeed for. If your leptin levels have almost dropped of the earth, you will want to refeed for a full week, but keep your calories slightly more moderate.
The downside to a refeed is that sometimes you will have to accept a small amount of fat gain. But, looking on the bright side, when you go back to your diet, your metabolism will be humming again and you should jump start the fat loss process. In a few individuals, they will actually become leaner during the process; however this is not the norm.
You can include some of your more desired foods in the refeed, after all, this is partly to relieve you psychologically from the restraints you feel during the dieting process, however make sure the rest is coming from good sources.
Another advantage to increasing leptin levels is that it will promote a more positive hormonal profile. When dieting, males experience a decreased testosterone level, which I'm sure you know makes maintaining muscle mass particularly difficult.
When you increase leptin levels you will be increasing liver glycogen, which will drive up testosterone, along with growth hormone and t3 while reducing cortisol, the catabolic hormone. This will put you in a much better position to realize your fat loss goals then the stalled position you were in earlier.
Female Leptin Levels
Females should take particular caution when dealing with leptin levels as a halt in reproduction hormones can occur when leptin gets low enough. This is shown through the stoppage of menstruation, commonly experienced by those in the bodybuilding/fitness realm.
This is very dangerous, as females who go long enough in this state risk a whole host of problems such as decreased bone mass and density along with a risk of osteoporosis. Therefore, women should be refeeding on a regular basis to ensure this does not become an issue.
Another health benefit that comes out of a refeed is increased immune function. The longer and harder we diet, the more stress we place on our body and the more we risk getting an illness. Without adequate calories, the immune system cannot perform up to par and therefore cannot fight of invading organisms as well.
If you are finding that you are constantly getting sick and aren't really showing signs of getting better, this could be a good indication it's time for more calories.
Take It Easy
One final note should be made that on the days of a refeed you should not increase your workout volume at all or else you will be partly defeating the purpose of this process. It may be psychologically tempting, you may think you should try and burn off all these extra calories, however by doing this you will just set yourself back further and won't accomplish much.
Try and take it easy and let your muscles suck up all these extra nutrients, storing them for later use and getting your metabolism back running.
When you see a drastic improvement the following week - once you resume your training and diet plan - you will be convinced that refeeds aren't a scary thing and are absolutely necessary if you hope to achieve all your goals.
- Leptin: The Next Big Thing I. Par Deus.