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Should You Eat Less On Rest Days? A Rest Day Meal-Plan

Greenletes / Sports Nutrition / Best Foods / Should You Eat Less On Rest Days? A Rest Day Meal-Plan

It’s common to eat less on non-workout days, but doing so can actually hurt performance and recovery. This Rest Day Meal-Plan will help you eat the right combination of foods on non-workout days.

Runners 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 running 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, well, resting the muscles from exercise, but it also means using the right combination or nutrients to repair the muscle tissue.

While I do encourage a rest day indulgence every once in a while, binging on junk food every rest day can actually hurt your training. On the other end of the spectrum, severally cutting calories can hurt as well.

Eating the right foods on rest days can optimize the hard work you put in on an active day and ensure you’ll be ready for tomorrow’s workout. But don’t worry, you don’t have to figure out rest day nutrition on your own. These tips and rest day meal plan will help you create a nutrition plan to go alongside your training plan.

Nutrients to eat

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

1. Carbohydrates

As I’ve said many many times, carbs 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 you still want to strive for that 3:1 carb-to-protein ratio. Here’s why–after a tough workout, your muscles can become depleted of glycogen. A rest day is an opportunity to replenish lost glycogen reserves so your body is ready for it’s next workout. Aim to get about 50-60% of your calories from carbohydrates.

Since you don’t need quick-acting energy on a rest day, high-fiber complex carbs are a perfect choice. It’s common to experience an increase in appetite on days you’re not active so the extra fiber can help keep you satiated.

Women should consume 25g of fiber per day, while men need 38 g per day. Fiber is a tricky thing for athletes because it’s a healthy part of the diet that contributes to heart and digestive health, but it can also cause GI issues during exercise. 

Before a workout, it’s best to limit fiber intake. But because you don’t need to worry about this on rest days, it is best to consume fiber-rich complex carbs throughout the day. The types of carbs will be stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver and help keep you full throughout the day. Fiber-rich complex carbs include fruits, veggies and whole grains.

2. Protein

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 you reap the rewards from your hard work.

The recommended 3:1 carb to protein ratio guidelines translates to aiming for 20-25% of your calories coming from protein. Include a source of protein at each meal and snack throughout the day.

3. Antioxidants

It’s common for your body to undergo some short-term inflammation after a tough workout. As a matter of fact, acute inflammation is your body’s way of healing and getting stronger.

 That said, inflammation can be painful and you don’t want it to become a chronic problem. To reduce inflammation and prevent sore and tired muscles, eat plenty of antioxidant-rich foods. Fill your plate with plenty of fruits and veggies on rest days – think berries, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes and walnuts.

4. Water

Water can often be a forgotten nutrient on rest days, but focusing on hydration is important on both active and rest days. If you fall short on fluid during a rest day, you’ll feel the negative effects at your next workout.

Focus on drinking plenty of water throughout the day, with and in between meals and snacks. Your urine should be a pale yellow color to indicate proper hydration.

Should you eat more fat on rest days? 

You may not be burning the same amount of calories on a rest day, but believe it or not, eating the right amount and type of fat is beneficial for your recovery. It is recommended that an adult consumes 20-35% of calories from fat and no more than 10% of calories from saturated fat, as part of a well-balanced diet. 

Focus on unsaturated fats that are found in avocados, seeds, nuts and extra virgin olive oil. Fat intake may even be higher on rest days than active days because fat can cause GI distress during a workout. Therefore, carbs and protein are higher on active days. 

Unsaturated fats are also linked with reduced inflammation. Eating healthy unsaturated fats on rest days may decrease inflammation in your and speed up the recovery process.

Don’t overdo it on junk food

You might find your hunger decreases right after an intense workout. This happens because your appetite-regulating hormones fluctuate after a workout, and blood flow shifts towards muscles and away from your digestive tract. As a result, on a rest day, your body tries to make up for those lost calories, leaving you with an increased appetite.

Resist the urge to pig out on the wrong foods—junky snacks, desserts and other processed foods–that will leave you feeling fatigued and dehydrated. Instead, focus on making your calories count with the right nutrients mentioned above to give your body what it really needs.

Should you eat less?

The fact of the matter is that you don’t need to drastically cut calories on rest days. Most everyday athletes only burn a few hundred calories on their workout days. If you’ve maintained your weight for a while, you’ve likely found the right balance of calories in and calories out.

On rest days, you’re not burning those calories, so you can cut back slightly, but don’t cut back too much or it will hinder your recovery. For instance, maybe have one less snack or scale back every so slightly on portion sizes.

Let hunger be your guide. If you’re feeling hungry, fill your belly with nourishing foods that have the nutrients listed above. If you’re not as hungry and you’re eating healthy foods, then don’t force yourself to eat more. The quality of the foods your put in your system is more important than the quantity.

Should I do any activity on a rest day? 

I often get asked whether it’s a good idea to incorporate low intensity activities into a rest day – in other words ‘an active rest day’. If you have the energy, it’s a good idea to do some sort of low impact exercise to keep the blood flowing in the muscles. Some examples of low-intensity workouts are: 

  • Yoga 
  • Pilates 
  • Stretching 
  • Walking
  • Bike riding 
  • Swimming 

Low impact workouts are shown to be beneficial for quicker muscle recovery. Movement will increase blood and nutrient flow to your muscles, which will help with quick recovery. Low intensity workouts can also clear lactic acid from the muscles. Ideally your heart rate should be between 40-60% of your maximum heart rate when engaging in low intensity workouts. 

The most important thing when it comes to a rest day is to allow your muscles to grow and repair. A low intensity workout on a rest day should not put your muscles under any strain or stress. Rest days are critical to prevent muscle fatigue, injury and to improve your overall performance. 

Rest day meal plan

What you eat on a rest day shouldn’t look drastically different than your active days. You still want to aim for a balanced plate. Here’s a sample meal plan to use as a guide:

Breakfast: Steelcut Oats with Clementines & Chia Seeds (protein + inflammation fighter!)

Snack (if needed): Apple and 1/3 cup of Cinnamon Roasted Almonds

cinnamon roasted almonds

Lunch: Moroccan Lentil Soup with a side of whole grain bread or crackers

Snack (most of us can use a snack here since the gap between lunch and dinner tends to be longer than 4-5 hours): Make your own trail mix or energy bites.

Dinner: Tempeh Stir-Fry with a side of brown rice or quinoa

*Plenty of water throughout the day. Add in 1-2 cups of green tea for an antioxidant boost.

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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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