A few weeks ago I talked about the importance of eating a high amount of calories on rest days, and today I would like to talk about what you should eat during a rest week.
If you are unaware of the concept of a rest week, then read on! Every 12 to 16 weeks I program a rest week into the majority of my clients’ (and my own) training. During this time, you will do absolutely no strenuous activity whatsoever. This means no lifting, no sprints and no bodyweight circuits, but yoga/stretching/mobility work and walking is okay.
Some people prefer to train every single week, so I typically recommend that those people incorporate a lighter week into their training every four to six weeks. This is known as a deload week, where you perform less volume and lift 40-50 per cent of the weight you normally would. Even if you are regularly performing deloads, you still need one or two weeks of complete rest every year.
The idea behind a deload is that it gives your body a chance to rest and recover. Weight lifting places a lot of stress on your body’s muscles and joints as well as your central nervous system. To avoid suffering an injury or overtraining, it is crucial to regularly take planned rest/deload weeks.
While more and more people are understanding the need for deload weeks and subsequently implementing them into their training cycles, many are still failing to eat properly during this time. The truth of the matter is you should be keeping your caloric intake the same, if not more, during deload weeks.
If you are trying to gain muscle, it is important to remain in a calorie surplus all of the time. Just because you are not lifting does not mean your muscles have to stop growing. If you are in a calorie deficit and trying to lose weight, I recommend returning your calories to maintenance level during a deload/rest week. If you cut back on your food and your workouts, you are basically begging your body to sacrifice its hard-earned muscle. While you may stop losing fat for one week, you will also avoid losing any muscle – which, as we know, is not easy to gain in the first place.
To use myself as an example, I am competing next Saturday. My last heavy training session will be this Sunday and then next week will be a deload week. I will perform two very light full body sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, where I will quickly cycle through each event to build confidence.
From a nutritional point of view, I will be eating more next week than I would in a typical week. I am still a few kilograms under the limit of my weight class, so I can afford to gain a little weight. I will be having carbohydrates with every single meal to keep my glycogen stores full, and I will be eating a lot in general to ensure I don’t fall flat on competition day. After the competition, I will then take another 4-5 days completely off, where I will likely eat a similar (large) amount to repair the sheer amount of damage I will do on competition day.
Granted, I am not exactly doing a typical deload week. Even if you are not preparing for a competition, it is important to eat a lot. There is no point in sitting around resting if you simultaneously starve yourself. Don’t be afraid to eat plenty of protein, carbohydrates AND fat to ensure your body is recovering.
When I am not deloading because of a competition, I tend to take my rest weeks around holidays. When I’m on holiday, I don’t want to be wasting time in the gym so I use that time to rest. When I’m holiday, I want to enjoy eating and drinking without worrying about burning enough calories to compensate.
Many people often report feeling incredibly hungry during deload/rest periods. While that can sometimes be a result of having more time on your hands and therefore eating out of boredom, it is more frequently your body realising that it is time to rest and fuel up for future workouts. Listen to your appetite and don’t be afraid to eat, even if you are not training! Just because you are not in the gym does not mean your metabolism will all of a sudden stop working – you have the exact same amount of lean muscle mass on you to fuel.
A final note to remember is that you will not lose any strength or muscle mass by taking one week off – provided you are eating properly, of course. It takes three to four weeks to see a noticeable drop in strength, and even that can be regained within a week or two at most. Consider the fact that any kind of strength athlete takes the week prior to a competition off training – if doing so negatively affected strength levels they wouldn’t do it, but it actually allows us to compete from a stronger position.
When was the last time you took a deload/rest week? Do you eat more or less during this time?