One of the things about me that often surprises people is that I eat no differently on rest days compared with training days. Unless I’m doing an epic three hour events session (which hasn’t happened for months!), my meals are the exact same day-to-day and usually as follows.
Breakfast: 3 eggs, 2 slices bacon or 2 TB nut butter
Lunch: 1 chicken breast or 3 chicken thighs with sweet potato and greens
Snack: May be similar to lunch or something smaller, like a protein bar or banana with nuts
Dinner: Chicken or steak (or very occasionally fish) with potato or rice, and vegetables
Dessert: 2-4 squares dark chocolate
I always back-load my carbs, regardless of whether I’m training or not. Dinner is the one meal I take time to lovingly prepare, so I want to make sure it’s heartier than tilapia and asparagus. I love my carbs at the end of the day, and I love going to bed with a full belly. In total, I’m currently consuming around 200-300g of carbs a day.
A lot of people are afraid to eat as many calories, particularly from carbs, on rest days as they think they are not burning enough energy to justify it. Except in special circumstances (i.e. you are training for an Ironman competition or something!), there is no reason why you can’t eat the exact same on rest days as you do on training days.
When you lift weights, you are teaching your body to become a calorie-burning machine. It will burn calories all the time. Your body grows when it is at rest, hence why it is so important to consume enough calories on rest days. There is no point in eating a lot on training days if you then restrict on rest days, as your body will not be able to build muscle or lose fat (as you will be slowing your metabolism if you eat too little).
Ideally, we should all be eating a minimum of 2000 calories every single day. Unfortunately, the media has drilled this idea into our heads that we should be eating no more than 1200-1500 calories daily and, consequently, most women freak out at the idea of consuming 2000 calories on a rest day. Provided you are training properly and eating the right types of foods, you will easily be able to reach this figure if not more.
Some people just aren’t as hungry on rest days, and that is completely understandable. However, it is still important to meet a proper caloric intake. In this case, you could try carb cycling. Many people see great physical and performance-based results doing this.
With this approach, you reduce your carbohydrate intake to under 100g (depending on your goals/experience the exact number can vary from 30-80g) but keep the total number of calories consumed to around the same level. To do this, you will mostly increase your fat intake but also your protein count. This will keep your body well-fuelled for recovery purposes but will also allow it to use fat as its primary source of energy rather than carbohydrates.
I have tried eating 50g of carbs and only 1400 calories on rest days, and it made me completely miserable! I have a big appetite, so I have no problem with eating the same amount on rest days – in fact, I am often hungrier as I have more time to sit around thinking about food! My rest days often fall on weekends, when I tend to eat more anyway. Finally, I often fuel up the night before a big training day – which is almost always a rest day.
When I am creating a nutrition plan for someone, often the only change I will make is removing the post-workout protein shake (if they are having one at all). Everything else remains the same. The moral of the story is: don’t be scared of eating big every damn day!
Do you eat more on training or rest days?