The day has finally arrived, that sweet 24 hours of relaxation and recovery. Your scheduled rest day, where you say adios to the gym for a little while and maybe can actually get a few things done for once. Or maybe you'll just sit in front of your TV, relishing in that sore feeling you have all over proclaiming proudly that you DID push yourself in the gym, and you have earned that two hour shower you're about to take. It's a great feeling, isn't it?
But hold on a minute, you've just realized something. You've spent all this time carefully calculating your diet to tailor to your workout schedule. What about the days off!?! How much are you supposed to eat, and what foods are suitable for such lazy circumstances? Should you eat as much food as when you're cranking on the weights or sprinting on the treadmill??? Who knows!?! And at this point, on the couch, you're probably thinking "holy crap, this rest day might just throw MY entire diet off, and all MY progress out the window!"
First of all, that's ridiculous. One day of eating, no matter the food, doesn't change a thing. And as long as you eat clean and well timed meals, you have literally nothing to worry about. However, this concept of rest day nutrition is an interesting one, and is quite important to consider. I mean, what should you eat when you're not hitting the gym, and what should the caloric numbers looks like compared to a workout day?
Let me define for you what a rest day really is. It may be nothing more to you than a day to tend to your sore muscles and tired eyes, but to your body, it's MUCH more than that. Over a week of working out, not only have you broken down loads and loads of muscle fiber, you've also depleted glycogen stores quite considerably. And that sore feeling you have? That's your muscles telling you they've been heartily damaged during your lifting escapades. People used to believe that it was something called "lactic acid buildup," but several studies have shown that it's actually just torn up muscle fiber that's making you achy all over. Fun stuff, right?
Your body uses a day of rest to take whatever nutrients it has at its disposal to replace and rebuild what you've smashed, broken, and depleted, namely muscle fiber and glycogen stores. Now you may be slightly confused as to why your body needs a rest day to actually complete this task, because after all, isn't your post workout protein shake and added carbohydrates for exactly this purpose? Sure they are, and they do a great job of repairing muscle as quickly as they can and refilling glycogen to manageable levels. But your body isn't a miracle worker, and can't repair 100% if you're hitting it day after day after day. It takes time to rebuild and refuel, and therefore after one whole week it has fallen noticeably behind. Your rest day is a day to catch up, a day to let your body finish the job (until next week, that is...).
So all this talk of rebuilding and replenishing should be giving you a pretty good idea of what you need to do to help your body repair efficiently. The bottom line is, to recovery fully, your body NEEDS NUTRIENTS. That's right, you NEED TO EAT. There's this stupid thought floating around that if you're not working out that day, then you don't need increased protein levels, or a good amount of complex carbs, or clean, balanced meals in general. That's truly ridiculous! For your body, this isn't a day of rest, it's a day of furious work to fix the damage YOU caused it. So your first rule of thumb when it comes to eating on off days: Don't skimp on the healthy, nutrient dense foods. Get a lot of lean protein in there, and complex carbs like oats, veggies, and wheat.
But what about the actual AMOUNT of food? Like the number of calories? Well, first off, like I've said before, I'm not a calorie nazi. I truly believe you can eat a LOT of extremely clean, nutrient dense food and be in much better shape than someone who's counting every single calorie they consume. But I understand the importance of keeping general trends in view, and if you're dieting strictly then it is probably a good idea to have a number in mind. So I'll offer this advice. If you're looking to lean out, lose some body fat, tone up, etc, then on rest days I would suggest consuming 200-300 fewer calories than on a training day. This is a simple thing to do, and most people already are following this rule by omitting their post-workout shake on rest days. No workout, no shake, right? Seems pretty obvious. If you're looking to cut a few more calories out, consume a few less carbs in the evening, and you should be set. Again though, you do need to get those glycogen levels back up, so the same number of carbs as usually consumed in the morning shouldn't change for rest days.
What if you're looking for size, or strength, or both? Well, as a strength athlete myself, I feel comfortable telling you guys looking to get bigger and stronger that rest days aren't an excuse to cut back on the calories. You can eat as much as you do on training days, and possibly even slightly more. After all, if you're constantly lifting heavy, you'll need those extra calories to rebuild for another hard week of lifting. Think of it as your chance to catch up! YOUR BODY GROWS WHEN YOU REST, NOT WHEN YOU LIFT! Chug some milk, have a sweet potato, and watch those PR's fall like dominoes in the coming weeks. Obviously, keep your intake under a semi-scrutinous eye, but don't skimp. Depriving your body will only hamper your gains.
|Taking a rest day? Don't forget the milk!|
A side note: Drink LOTS of water on rest days. Water helps in all sorts of ways, it will aid in nutrient absorbtion, it will rehydrate you after a long week of sweating it out in the gym, and if you ARE looking to cut the calories back a little on non-workout days, it will help keep you full.
There you have it. Hopefully now your rest day won't be such a confusing time for you, and you can actually enjoy that soak in the tub. Just as a side note, if you're really sore, I suggest first warming up your muscles with a hot shower or some dynamic stretches, then foam rolling or static stretching to loosen up your muscle fibers. This will definitely help nutrient absorption, plus you'll feel a whole lot better.
Enjoy your time off, don't stress the little things, and as always, GOOD LUCK!