Should I Eat Less On Rest Days

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Should I Eat Less On Rest Days? Rest days can be boring! But they’re an important part of any training programme. You see, as a gym-goer, you need to rest in between workouts that involve your taxing the body. Doing this allows you to recover and get back to lifting heavier weights. This helps you build more muscle mass over time. It’s very important to enjoy rest days though because if it is considered a chore, it’ll make your overall fitness journey less enjoyable.

How to approach eating on rest days

Generally, your body doesn’t need as many calories on days you are resting as it does on days of high activity, but this doesn’t mean you should cut way back on calories either. While you could estimate a range of calories to aim for on your active versus rest days, this isn’t necessary if you are still seeing progress.

Rest days are a good opportunity to practice a more intuitive style of eating while incorporating nutrient-dense food choices that support muscle recovery. Listen to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. On rest days, nourish your body well so that it’s replenished and ready to get back to the gym.

Rest days will also help prevent burnout and keep you motivated to get moving on your training days.  Especially if you’ve been in an exercise routine for a while, and your weight has remained stable, you can assume that you’re eating in a way that maintains balance. 

You can still take this intuitive and restful approach, even if you’re trying to make changes to your weight. Rest allows your body the relief it needs to repair, rebuild, and grow muscle. Having more muscle mass results in your body burning more calories at rest, by naturally increasing your resting energy expenditure. Fueling your body with a focus on well-balanced nutrition can help you maintain optimal performance and reach your goals.

What to eat on rest days

A rest day nutrition plan should include the right balance of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Adequate protein intake from high-quality sources is important to support muscle repair and growth. After all, protein is the building block of your muscles. While the RDA recommends just 0.8 g/kg of protein, I suggest highly active individuals aim for closer to 2 g/kg, even on days you are not working out.  

Some good protein sources include chicken, beef, fish, tofu, tempeh, legumes (e.g., beans, peas, and lentils), as well as nuts and seeds. Protein powders are also an easy option to add to smoothies. Check out my guides to choosing the right plant-based and whey protein powders. 

Fiber-rich complex carbohydrates are great for rest days. Carbs are stored as glycogen in your muscle and liver and are depleted with exercise. Examples of complex carbs include fruits, veggies, and whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, 100% whole wheat pasta or breads. 

Foods that are high in refined carbohydrates and excess sugar are ones to try to minimize on rest days. These foods won’t help your body metabolically recover. On the other hand, fruits and veggies are high in antioxidant compounds that fight inflammation, which can do wonders for your body after tough workouts. 

Rest days are also an ideal time to stay hydrated. Your body is made mostly of water, so keeping it continually replenished is essential on days you’re losing fluid through sweat as well as days you’re recovering. Drinking water helps prevent muscle cramps from dehydration as well as transmitting nutrients through your body. One way to improve both hydration and intake of antioxidants would be to make a smoothie.

What to eat on rest days may not differ too drastically from days you’re working out, but should focus on choosing foods that replenish your body and promote muscle repair, as well as staying hydrated. For more guidance on what to eat depending on your training regimen and goals.

Health benefits of rest days

two men taking a rest day from exercise relax on a couch while one of them reads a book
Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images

Rest days are an important part of any exercise routine. A person should plan to take regular rest days and should learn to recognize when extra rest days are necessary. The health benefits of rest days include:

  • Alleviating muscle pain and soreness: During rest days, the body has a chance to remove excess lactate from the muscles. This helps to alleviate muscle pain and soreness.
  • Repairing and building muscles: Exercise creates microscopic tears in muscle tissue. During rest days, cells called fibroblasts repair and build up the muscle tissue.
  • Replenishing the body’s energy stores: Glycogen is a form of energy stored in muscles. Exercise depletes glycogen levels, which leads to muscle fatigue. Rest days allow the muscles to replenish their glycogen stores, thereby reducing muscle fatigue and preparing the muscles for their next workout.
  • Preventing injury: Overexercising puts repetitive stress and strain on the muscles, increasing the risk of injury.
  • Allowing the mind to rest: Overexercising can tire the mind as well as the body. Tiredness can lead to poor decision making during a workout routine, which increases the risk of injury.

Signs someone needs a rest day

Certain signs may indicate that a person needs a rest day. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), some signs to look out for include:

  • persistent muscle pain or soreness
  • inability to complete a workout routine
  • continued feelings of sluggishness following a workout
  • binge eating, or craving comfort foods
  • increased incidence of injury or illness
  • changes in mood or behavior, such as
    • mood shifts
    • irritability
    • insomnia
    • prioritizing fitness over everything else
  • reduced beneficial effects of the workout, such as a decreasing rate of fat loss or muscle gain.

If a person experiences any of the above signs, they should take a day or two to rest and recover.

What happens if a person does not rest? 

Exercise puts a strain on the body and mind. Exercising daily without taking a rest day can cause both physical and mental exhaustion.

According to ACE, not allowing the body to rest can cause a depletion of glycogen in the muscles. This depletion can trigger the body to use proteins for energy, meaning there is less protein available to assist muscle repair and growth.

Without a rest day, muscles, joints, and other important structures do not have adequate time to repair themselves. People may also become mentally exhausted and more prone to making mistakes while training. Continually pushing on without a rest day will eventually lead to injury.

Ideas for how to spend a rest day

The ACE make the following suggestions for activities to do on a rest day:

  • spending time on a hobby or other activity, such as coaching a sports team
  • enjoying time with family or friends
  • catching up with work
  • volunteering
  • reading a book or watching TV to relax

If a person is not injured or physically or mentally exhausted, they may consider taking an active recovery day (ARD), which is a day of gentle exercise.

An older study from 2010 suggests that an ARD can help remove a buildup of lactate in the blood, helping to prevent cramping and fatigue. Examples of gentle exercises include walking and yoga.

6 NUTRITION RULES FOR YOUR REST DAYS

Learn how to turn rest days into growth days by following these expert-approved clean eating rules.

6 Nutrition Rules For Your Rest Days

On rest days, it’s common to dramatically cut calories, avoid all carbs or cut your water intake to avoid gaining water weight. But do these strategies actually help you in the long run? In reality, the body continues to make protein and repair worn down muscles for up to 48 hours after training. Not following proper recovery nutrition principles on rest days may actually hinder your strength and cause performance set backs. To make sure you receive the proper gains from your training, follow these strategies for rest day nutrition.

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Eat Enough Calories.

“Significantly reducing calories on rest days is a crucial mistake that athletes make,” says Angie Asche, M.S., R.D., a Dietitian working with Olympic lifters and NFL players. “They often assume that they don’t need as much fuel since they’re not exercising, but this can deter muscle protein synthesis that your body needs for increased strength and muscle mass.” In other words, make sure you consume your usual amount of calories on rest days to ensure muscle growth and recovery.

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Eat the Right Ratio of Nutrients.

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, athletes should aim for a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio during recovery to stimulate glycogen re-synthesis and prepare for tomorrow’s workout. For intense strength routines, that ratio can be closer to 2:1, but it’s important to still include carbs in your rest day nutrition plan. Eat a variety of high quality complex carbs, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. And, of course, protein is absolutely essential to a rest day routine. “Protein provides those amino acids that the body needs to repair and build new lean tissue,” says Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, a NYC-based Registered Dietitian. “I recommend real-food protein, like eggs, chicken, fish, lean meat, cottage cheese, and Greek yogurt or whey, pea, and egg white protein powders, if your needs are very high,” says Cording.

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Stay Hydrated.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, most athletes finish exercising in a dehydrated state. Drinking plenty of water and sodium after a workout is imperative for proper recovery. If no sweating occurred, salt losses may be negligible and you can stick to solely water. Although many athletes try to avoid gaining water weight on their rest days, staying adequately hydrated on your day off is essential for the next day’s workout. Entering a workout in a dehydrated state, it can negatively affect your performance. There’s no set fluid recommendation, but many experts suggest drinking at least 2 liters per day.

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Consume Antioxidant-Rich Food

Lifting heavy weights or working out to the max can definitely cause inflammation build up inside the body. Not only is inflammation bad for the joints, but it can be painful during the recovery phase. If inflammation is the poison, then antioxidant-rich foods are the antidote. Eating plenty of dark colored produce, like beets, berries and leafy greens, will pump you full of antioxidants to help decrease inflammation.

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Don’t Overdo It

“Rest days often become “cheat days” to the point that 50 percent or more of caloric intake is coming from fat. Consuming the majority of your calories from saturated fat, like greasy pizza and donut “cheat meals” definitely won’t help your muscles grow and recover,” says Asche. On rest days, give your body nutrient-rich foods that will promote recovery.

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Avoid Alcohol

Obviously, avoiding all alcohol all the time is no fun. But it’s important to time your alcohol consumption so that it doesn’t interfere with recovery. A review in the journal Nutrients suggests that drinking alcohol during the recovery phase may actually decrease muscle protein synthesis and growth.  Plus, it dehydrates you, which can negatively affect tomorrow’s workout.

Should You Eat Less On Rest Days?

What to eat on rest days to maximize strength and performance. This meal plan will help you eat the right combination of foods on non-workout days.

Athletes get hyper-focused on what they should eat before and after workouts and mapping out their race day meal plan, but they tend to neglect rest day nutrition. Obviously, fueling for your workout routine is incredibly important, but I would argue that what you eat on rest days is just as crucial to your overall performance.

Rest days are necessary to allow your muscles to recover and refuel. That doesn’t just mean resting the muscles from exercise, but it also means using the right combination of nutrients to repair the muscle tissue.

Balance is key on a rest day. Binging on junk food every rest day can hinder your performance, but severely cutting calories isn’t wise either.

Eating the right foods on rest days maximizes the hard work you put in on an active day and ensures you’ll be ready for tomorrow’s workout.

What should I eat on rest days?

Everyone’s eating plan may look a bit different on rest days, depending on what your goals and activity level, but there are a few key nutrients that everyone should include on their rest day plate.

Carbohydrates are the main fuel source for energy. Your body stores carbs in the muscle and liver in the form and glycogen, and that glycogen is depleted after a workout.

You may think that you don’t need to worry about carbs on a rest day since you’re not moving as much, but that’s untrue.

After a tough workout, your muscles are depleted of glycogen. A rest day is an opportunity to replenish lost glycogen reserves so your body is ready for its next workout. Aim to get about 50-60% of your calories from carbohydrates.

Since rest days are where our muscles really have the chance to rebuild and get stronger, you don’t want to skimp on protein. Protein is the building block for muscle recovery, so eating high-quality protein helps build muscles while the body is at rest.

As a matter of fact, the body uses any protein ingested the 2-hours after a workout to rebuild and grow. But what most people don’t know is that muscle growth lasts for up to 24 hours in the post-workout period.

That’s what it’s so important to eat protein on a rest day. Spread your protein intake throughout the day and incorporate these healthy plant-based recovery options.

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