Different training sessions require different fuelling methods and, therefore, so do your rest days. This is simply mainly due to lowered energy output.
But is it so simple? Do you just need to eat less or is it more skillful than some think? Let´s dive into the whys, hows and whats of optimizing your nutrition during a rest day!
Why should I eat differently on a rest day?
Adjusting your energy intake, specifically your carbohydrate intake, to suit and meet your daily demands is an efficient way of fuelling as an athlete. It ensures your body has what it needs to perform, adapt and recover yet not over or under indulge that may throw off your weight. This method is known as carbohydrate periodisation (1) and due to the ability to fuel for the work required, it may be a potential fuelling method for managing weight while still ensuring adequate energy to meet the demands of the training session or event without risking low energy availability. It is a meal by meal and day by day adjustment of carbohydrates to suit your energy demands.
In order to take your performance to the next level and optimise your body composition, fuelling for the work required may be a way to achieve these goals but may also help minimise your risk of not eating enough.
Do I need to eat less on a rest day?
Not exactly. It´s not about eating less but more about adjusting your macronutrients to suit your energy demands. This is mostly due to the different amounts of energy spent on a training day compared to a rest day. However, your body still needs calories to recover and repair itself so cutting calories down is not a good idea. The general idea of carbohydrate periodisation allows the body to focus on fat and carbohydrate metabolism but still ensure an energy balance for good health and not fall into one extreme of high carb low fat or low carb high fat.
It is important to remember that carboydrate periodisation is about providing the body with what it needs to suit the demands. Therefore, if you have an event or specific high demand training session following a rest day, on this rest day you will need to increase carbohydrate intake so you are well fuelled going into that session.
How and what should I eat on a rest day?
It is important to not only think of a change in overall calories but more of adjusting carbohydrate, protein and fat ratios.
For a typical rest day inbetween training sessions, lowering (NOT avoiding) overall carbohydrate intake can be considered due to the lower energy requirement. This can be done by reducing grains and starchy vegetables but still consuming plenty of less carbohydrate-rich foods such as non-starchy vegetables.
However, as previously mentioned, this is not recommended if the next day is a hard session or race. In these cases always aim to have a lunch and dinner with a sufficient amount of carbohydrates (e.g. rice, pasta, bread, wraps, starchy vegetables).
One should also aim to focus on protein and antioxidant intakes to aid recovery before the next training session. Aim for 20-30g protein every 2-4 hours throughout the day and include lots of colourful fruit and vegetables, sprouts and herbs and spices into your meals.
Rest day tips:
Use the extra time to create nutritious meals
Use the extra time to meal prep for the next 2 days
Don´t forget to stay well hydrated even if you are not sweating as much as in training
Carbohydrate periodisation may help avoid binge eating on a rest day
Impey, S. G., Hearris, M. A., Hammond, K. M., Bartlett, J. D., Louis, J., Close, G. L., & Morton, J. P. (2018). Fuel for the Work Required: A Theoretical Framework for Carbohydrate Periodization and the Glycogen Threshold Hypothesis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 48(5), 1031–1048.