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Are you supposed to eat more on rest days?

Rest days are an important part of any exercise routine. They give your muscles time to recover and repair themselves after intense training sessions. But what should you be eating on rest days? Is it okay to eat more, or should you try to eat the same amount as on workout days? There are a few different schools of thought on this.

The purpose of rest days

First, let’s look at why rest days are important in the first place. When you strength train with weights or do high intensity interval training, you create small tears in your muscle fibers. This muscle damage triggers your body to repair and reinforce the muscles so they come back stronger than before. This is how you get bigger, stronger muscles over time.

But this muscle protein synthesis takes energy and nutrients. If you don’t give your body what it needs to fully repair itself between workouts, you’ll end up overtraining. Your performance in the gym will suffer and you won’t get the full benefits of all your hard work.

This is where rest days come in. They give your body the break it needs to replenish energy stores and repair and build muscle tissue. Shooting for 1-2 rest days between intense workout days is a good general guideline.

Should you eat more on rest days?

Now back to the nutrition side of things. Since rest days are all about recovery, it makes sense in theory to eat more on these days to provide your body with the raw materials for muscle repair and energy replenishment. But is eating more on rest days recommended or required?

The short answer is no, you do not need to intentionally eat more calories on rest days. Here’s a more detailed look at why:

Your body burns fewer calories on rest days

On workout days, your body burns extra calories to fuel your exercise and to help with the muscle repair process afterwards. But on rest days, your body is burning significantly fewer calories since you are not working out.

So if you keep eating the same amount on rest days as workout days, you will end up with a calorie surplus, which can lead to fat gain over time.

Protein is the priority

While you don’t need more total calories on rest days, your protein needs remain elevated. Consuming enough protein is crucial to maximize muscle repair and recovery on rest days.

The latest research recommends getting 0.4-0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day when strength training consistently. This protein intake should remain high on both workout and rest days to support muscle growth over time.

So if you do choose to eat a little more on rest days, be sure those extra calories are coming from protein sources like lean meats, eggs, protein powders, etc.

You still need carbs to recover

While protein is the priority, adequate carb intake on rest days helps replenish your muscle glycogen. Glycogen is the stored form of carbs in your muscles that gets depleted during intense exercise.

Low muscle glycogen can negatively impact strength and endurance in your next workout. Consuming some unprocessed carb sources can help restore glycogen levels on rest days.

Good rest day carb sources include sweet potatoes, oats, quinoa, fruits, and starchy veggies. Just don’t overdo it on carbs or you might gain fat. About 0.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight per day is a good target.

Sample rest day meal plan

To summarize, here are some guidelines for your nutritional approach on rest days:

– Eat slightly below your total calorie needs for workout days – this creates a slight deficit to account for your lower calorie burn on rest days.

– Keep protein intake high, around 0.4-0.5 grams per pound of body weight. This supports ongoing muscle repair and growth.

– Include moderate amounts of unprocessed carbs to help replenish glycogen stores. Around 0.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight.

– Increase healthy fats if desired to help meet your calorie needs. Good fats include avocados, nuts, olive oil, fatty fish, etc.

Here is an example higher protein rest day meal plan for a 175 pound person:

Meal Foods Macros
Breakfast Greek yogurt with berries, hard boiled eggs Protein: 40g
Carbs: 15g
Fat: 10g
Lunch Chicken salad with veggies and avocado, apple Protein: 35g
Carbs: 25g
Fat: 15g
Dinner Steak with sweet potato and greens Protein: 50g
Carbs: 25g
Fat: 15g
Snacks Protein shake, cottage cheese Protein: 30g
Carbs: 10g
Fat: 5g
Total Protein: 155g
Carbs: 75g
Fat: 45g

This provides adequate protein, carbs, and calories to promote recovery without overeating.

Should you do any exercise on rest days?

Completely avoiding exercise on rest days is not necessarily required or optimal. Including some light activity can promote blood flow to enhance recovery while avoiding overtaxing your body.

Here are some options to consider on rest days:

Active recovery workouts

Going for an easy bike ride, swim, rowing session, walk or hike allows you to get the blood pumping without placing strain on the muscles you just worked. Increased circulation delivers nutrients and oxygen to fatigued muscles.

Just keep the intensity very low – you should be able to carry on a conversation throughout the workout. About 30-60 minutes is sufficient.

Light yoga or stretching

Gentle yoga and stretching sessions help open up your muscles and joints after intense training days. This allows built up waste products to clear out of your tissues and fresh, nutrient-rich blood to flow in.

Focus on poses and stretches that don’t involve heavy loading or compression of your main muscle groups. Hold stretches for 30-60 seconds. Again, 30-60 minutes is plenty.

Low intensity cardio

If you want to get your heart rate up a bit more, some steady state low intensity cardio is fine. This could include a casual walk, easy bike, elliptical session or swimming.

Keep your exertion level under 70% of your max heart rate. The “talk test” applies here as well – you should be able to carry on a conversation without issue. 20-30 minutes max is all you need.

Avoid strength training

What you want to avoid is intense strength training that will cause further muscle tissue damage before your body has recovered. Lifting heavy weights again before your muscles have had time to fully repair can lead to overtraining over time.

It’s best to take 1-2 full days off from intense strength workouts and high intensity cardio. Let your body direct its resources toward recovery before hitting it hard again.

Listen to your body

You know your body best. Pay attention to your energy levels and any lingering muscle soreness. If you feel up for some light activity, go for an easy active recovery workout. But if you’re feeling run down, take it as a sign to put your feet up and focus on rest and refueling.

Nutrition tips to maximize rest day recovery

Here are some key diet strategies to optimize recovery on rest days:

Emphasize protein at each meal

Shoot for around 30-40g of high quality protein at each meal – meat, fish, eggs, dairy and plant proteins like beans, lentils and tofu. Spreading protein evenly supports muscle repair around the clock.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables

Fruits and veggies are loaded with antioxidants, nutrients and fiber to speed recovery. They are also high volume foods, so they fill you up without providing excessive calories.

Choose unprocessed carbs

Go for whole grains, legumes, starchy veggies and fruits for carb intake on rest days. Processed carbs like white bread, sweets and chips digest too quickly and can lead to fat gain.

Include anti-inflammatory foods

Foods high in omega-3s like salmon, avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds fight inflammation to accelerate healing. Tart cherry juice is another good anti-inflammatory option.

Stay hydrated

Hydration is key for delivering nutrients, removing waste products and preventing muscle cramps. Aim for about half your body weight in fluid ounces of water and unsweetened drinks daily.

Time nutrients appropriately

Consuming a balanced meal 1-2 hours pre-workout followed by protein within 45 minutes after training is ideal on workout days. On rest days, focus on spreading nutrients evenly throughout the day.

Don’t skimp on calories

Cutting calories too aggressively on rest days can impair recovery. Eat slightly below your target calories for training days to account for your lower energy expenditure on rest days.

Manage alcohol intake

Limit alcohol, as it can interfere with protein synthesis and dehydrate you. If you do drink, aim for just 1-2 servings to avoid hindering your gains.

Rest day recovery tips and activities

Here are some additional tips for making the most of your rest days:


Prioritize getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Growth hormone is secreted during deep sleep to facilitate muscle repair. Sleep is crucial.


Drink electrolyte-rich fluids like coconut water and sports drinks in addition to plain water to rehydrate and replace depleted minerals.


Lightly stretch any tight muscles to promote circulation and mobility. Hold static stretches for 30-60 seconds.

Foam roll

Use a foam roller to massage sore muscles and release tightness and trigger points. Spend 5-10 minutes per large muscle group.

Ice bath

Taking a cold water immersion bath reduces inflammation in fatigued muscles. 10-15 minutes in 50-60°F water is ideal.


A sports massage helps flush built up waste products from your tissues. Schedule them 1-2 times per month.

Elevate your legs

Lie on your back and raise your legs up against a wall to promote blood and lymph fluid drainage from your lower body.

Take a nap

Catching up on sleep allows your body to direct more energy toward muscle repair. Take a 20-30 minute power nap if needed.

Go for a leisurely walk

Low intensity walking helps loosen up your muscles without taxing them. Aim for 30-60 minutes at an easy pace.

How to determine if you need a full rest day

It’s not always clear whether to take a complete rest day or include light activity. Here are some signs that indicate you need a full day off:

– You are still very sore from your last workout

– You have lack of energy and feel run down

– You experience continued muscle weakness when training the same muscle groups

– You have pain, swelling, or irritation in a joint or muscle

– Your performance is declining in the gym

– You struggle falling asleep or have poor sleep quality

– You have a fever, cold or flu symptoms

– You are stressed, anxious and not recovering well mentally

If you are experiencing several of these symptoms, it’s best to skip exercise completely and focus on restorative activities instead. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to take a full day off when needed.

Sample light workout for rest days

If you feel up for some light activity but want to avoid intense training, here’s an example rest day circuit workout you can do:

Foam Roll Thoracic Spine – 1 minute

Foam Roll IT Band – 1 minute each side

Foam Roll Quads – 1 minute each side

Bodyweight Squat – 10 reps

Push Ups – 10 reps

Band Pull Aparts – 10 reps

Child’s Pose – 30 seconds

Downward Dog – 30 seconds

Forward Fold – 30 seconds

Foam Roll Upper Back – 1 minute

Foam Roll Lats – 1 minute each side

Foam Roll Pecs – 1 minute each side

Band Face Pulls – 10 reps

Band Rows – 10 reps

Band Pull Downs – 10 reps

Plank – 30 seconds

Side Plank Each Side – 20 seconds

Glute Bridge – 15 reps

This hits all the major muscle groups lightly to promote blood flow and range of motion. Perform 2-3 rounds for 15-20 minutes total.


To summarize, while you do not need to intentionally eat more calories on rest days, focusing on protein, carb replenishment and overall nutrient-dense foods is important to optimize recovery. Light active recovery workouts can also enhance blood flow without overtaxing your body.

Aim to take 1-2 full rest days per week where you avoid intense training. But know that some light activity is perfectly fine if it feels good. Simply listen to your body’s signals day-to-day.

Proper rest and nutrition helps ensure you get the most out of all your hard work in the gym. Don’t neglect your off days – they are just as crucial as your training days in promoting fitness gains over time.