Your rest days are a chance for your muscles and tendons to recover from physical training and also provide a refreshing mental break. Many athletes report feeling more motivated and energized after rest days, so it is important to include them as part of your routine.
But how should you structure nutrition during a rest day? Intuitively it makes sense to decrease total energy intake, because you’re performing less activity and expending less energy.
However, you should actually eat just as much as you do on your training days. Your body is still actively recovering from prior workouts, so it‘s important to continue to get extra protein equally divided up over the course of each rest day (1-2).
In fact, exercise scientists have found that your body has an elevated demand for protein days after exercise. One landmark study found that muscle protein synthesis was elevated by 34 percent for up to 48 hours after intense weight training (2)!
The research suggests that keeping protein intake high on rest days—just as high as on your training days—will allow for better recovery.
Don’t limit yourself on carbs and fats either. It’s a common mistake for athletes to try to lower their carbohydrate and fat intake on an off day. But even while at rest your body will still be restocking carbs and fat in the form of glycogen and intramuscular triglycerides.
During your next bout of intense exercise, that extra glycogen and intramuscular fat received on rest days could be performance-powering fuel for your body.
Moreover, you need calories to refuel muscles that have an increased affinity for carb uptake following exercise (3). Since most people who exercise are in a constant state of recovery, keeping carbohydrates and fats level on off days will help maximize recovery.
In a systematic review of 61 published studies, 82 percent found that performance is significantly increased when carbohydrates are used to replenish muscle glycogen during rest periods (3). Consider that the average human can hold upwards of 500-600 grams of carbohydrates in muscle and the liver (4).
The bottom line is that if you limit protein, fats, and carbohydrates on rest days, you risk limiting performance. Solid nutrition fuels both your workout and recovery periods. To get the most out of your rest days, don’t reduce what you normally consume.
Rest assured, your body will put all of these nutrients to good use!
- Rasmussen BB, Tipton KD, Miller SL, Wolf SE, & Wolfe RR. An oral essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement enhances muscle protein anabolism after resistance exercise. J Appl Physiol. 2000 Feb; 88(2):386-92.
- Phillips SM, Tipton KD, Aarsland A, Wolf SE & Wolfe RR. Mixed muscle protein synthesis and breakdown after resistance exercise in humans. Am J Physiol. 1997 Jul; 273(1 Pt 1):E99-107.
- Kimber NE, Heigenhauser GJ, Spriet LL & Dyck DJ. Skeletal muscle fat and carbohydrate metabolism during recovery from glycogen-depleting exercise in humans. J Physiol. 2003 May 1; 548(Pt 3):919-27.
- Stellingwerff T & Cox GR. Systematic review: Carbohydrate supplementation on exercise performance or capacity of varying durations. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014 Sep; 39(9):998-1011.
- Ivy JL. Muscle glycogen synthesis before and after exercise. Sports Med. 1991 Jan; 11(1):6-19.