prep coach

Posted 5 months ago

High day(s) on prep

A high day(s) is a simply a strategic increase in calories that is used during prolonged dieting phases, to aid with fat loss. It used to be more frequently referred to as a ‘refeed day’, but the terminology has changed, along with its practice and how its implemented.

Traditionally, refeed days used to occur on a given day, whereas high days are more commonly spread out over the course of two days. In both instances though, an athlete will take in a higher number of calories from carbohydrates and fats, whereas their calories from protein will remain the same.

Although they are very frequently used and often needed (but not always!) during prep, not everyone will know they why and what behind them. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to explain the ins and outs of high days, how they aid fat loss, and when/how to use them.

What and why

Everyone loves getting more food on prep, but most people can’t get their head around understanding how it is that eating more food can help them drop body fat, so let me explain it as simply as I can.

As we diet for an extended period, our levels of dietary induced fatigue rise, as do our levels of cortisol. The fatigue will often cause us to not move quite as much, be unable to put as much effort into our training/cardio, and will generally have us feeling ‘worse’ than we usually would. On prep you’re going to feel bad, but this will simply be intensified through this ongoing fatigue and high cortisol.

Cortisol the main hormone that is released in response to stress in the body. During prep, a lot of this stress comes from the aggressive calorie deficit and high levels of output. The issue is that cortisol will slow down our body’s efficiency at mobilising fat, which when combined with high dietary induced fatigue, slows down the fat loss process. In practice, this looks like scale weight stalling, the physique not changing, and progress halting. This is where high day(s) come in.

If dietary induced fatigue and high exercise levels increase our cortisol levels, it follows that one of the ways to lower cortisol in the body is by doing the opposite: increasing food intake and reducing output. Therefore, when we use a high day to put more food in, our levels of cortisol in the body will come down and our body’s efficiency at mobilising fat will increase. Not only this, but the levels of dietary induced fatigue will decrease too. As a result, you’ll naturally move more as you’ve got more energy (without having to think about it!), put more effort into your training/cardio, and within a few days, the physique will look visually leaner.

The important thing to remember that strategically increasing your food intake for a day or two will not pull you out of a calorie deficit, as this is accumulated over days and weeks; thus, high days simply allows you to ‘dig’ a little harder.

Therefore, you could say we are using this strategic increase in food to help us get leaner. No one will be able to diet hard for their entire prep with a high day, in fact, if they did, they would probably not look that great by the end of it.

When and how should you use high days?

Spoiler alert: if you’re feeling a bit hungry on prep, you do not need a high day. You may have guessed it by now, but the strategic increase in food is that: strategic. Thus, the best signs to look out for that might indicate a need for this is just an intensified feeling of being completely “beat up”. Prepping is incredibly hard, and you will undoubtedly have to experience days of low levels of energy; however, you’ll know when it does become too much, and that’s one of the first signs you’d look out for as an indicator to take the foot off the gas.

In addition to this, you might notice that your body simply isn’t responding to the changes you’re making or the things you’re doing: you might be pulling food down, pushing cardio/steps, and yet the physique is just not changing. Similarly, the number on the scales might not be budging, and/or your strength in the gym has stalled, or is beginning to decrease. Your sleep may have taken a hit, to the point in which you’re waking up every few hours and struggling o fall back asleep. Whilst many of these things are normal (i.e., getting up frequently to use the toilet during prep), struggling to fall back asleep is a sign of high levels of fatigue (as paradoxical as it sounds!).

All of these are signs that the body is somewhat fighting back and that you need to back off and take a step back. This is when high day(s) would be needed. The only other scenario in which a food increase during prep would be appropriate is if you are ready ahead of time and need to slow things down.

In practice, if we take a male bodybuilder as our first example, this might mean increasing their carbohydrate total from 300g to 600-800g alongside a slight increase in their dietary fats. Please be aware here that the more muscle you have, the more carbs you will undoubtedly need; that is, if you’re a men’s physique athlete, your high days might not be quite as high as an open bodybuilder, but you should still use them to help you get leaner.

A bikini girl might see an increase in their carbohydrates from 100-150g to 300-350g or so. The same rules apply here for the more muscular female categories, in that the more muscle you have, the more food you’ll be able to handle. Regardless of whether you’re a male or female, I would also suggest pulling back on your cardio and steps on these high days. Typically, I completely remove cardio and significantly reduce steps.

In the early stages of prep, I’ll tend to run one high day on its own with reduced output, but as we get into it, and an individual gets leaner, I’ll always run two consecutive high days, usually on training days. This will often help the distribution of the increased amount of carbohydrates and drive them into muscle mass in a more efficient way.

Analyse and tweak along the way

You may have used high days, but as you get leaner (or as your client gets leaner) you must begin to analyse what it is doing to the person and the physique, and really assess the response you are seeing. Are they looking fuller? Is there still more room to fill out? Are they looking softer? Do they look best 1 day after the high days? What is scale weight doing?

These are just some of the things you must figure out along the way and the only way to do so is to continue to analyse the physique through pictures/video footage. I’d also add the benefit of assessing the physique post workout too, as well as just fasted, as the physique can look completely different with a pump on. Early this year, I told a client from his fasted check in that he still had 2-3kg to lose, but then when he sent me a post workout posing video, he looked ready. Therefore, always look at the post workout physique, particularly as you’re running the high days.

If someone still has more room to fill out, you’ll know that you can increase the total carbs next time. This might be something as going from two days at 600g carbs, to then increase to two days at 650g carbs. This will only come about through implementing the strategy, assessing the response, and then tweaking things along the way. Bear in mind that as an individual gets leaner, their body’s ability to handle carbohydrates will steadily increase, so you should be able too put more food in or might need to put more in as prep progresses.

Your analysis should give you a rough idea of exactly what you will do going into the show. Get ready early, run high days as and when needed, and you’ll know exactly how much grams of carbs, fats, protein someone needs, to look a certain way. You’ll often notice trends: you might find you need to run high every 10-12 days and that this strategy ensures you continue to see progress, or you may find that there needs to be much longer between feeds.

In summary, there will come a point during a prep, in which you are going to need to back off the gas, increase your food, and decrease your output. This strategic top up over 1-2 days will allow the body to continue to drop body fat and reduce fatigue. You should be aware of the signs to look out for on when to implement high days and always analyse and tweak along the way.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons