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Nutrition Q&A

Nutrition Q&A: Should You Eat Less on Rest Days?

I recommend that most people keep their intake relatively consistent on both training and rest days, pay attention to hunger cues, and learn their own bodies by journaling and logging intake. It is not uncommon to be ravenously hungry on a rest day; that is your body telling you something.

5/14/21 – Nutrition Q&A

Questions from Scott

Should you be reducing your calories on your rest days?

Answer

It has become common practice for many athletes to reduce calories and/or lower carb intake on rest days because less energy is utilized for physical work.

There really is no right answer to this question, as it depends largely on your goals and your priorities. If your goal is to lose body fat, there may be some value in slightly decreasing intake on non-training days. If your goal is to maximize your strength and performance or to put on muscle mass, having adequate rest day nutrition is essential. Rest days are for growth and tissue repair, which requires calories. Rather than thinking of rest days as the absence of a stimulus that requires energy, think of rest days as requiring energy to regenerate, grow, and maximize the outcome of your training.

Performance is not just based on what you eat pre- and post-workout on the days that you lift. What did you eat the day before? What do you eat the rest of the day after the workout? Imagine if you severely underate and cut your carbs the day before a big workout. Do you think that will affect your training the next day? More than likely, it will, especially if your glycogen stores are depleted.

Based on the above, I recommend that most people keep their intake relatively consistent on both training and rest days, pay attention to hunger cues, and learn their own bodies by journaling and logging intake. It is not uncommon to be ravenously hungry on a rest day; that is your body telling you something. Ideally, you should learn what your body needs to function optimally rather than follow a generic formula that was not designed with your specific needs and goals in mind.

Regardless of rest day versus training day calories, the simple facts remain: if you want to lose body fat, you must spend time operating at a caloric deficit. That caloric deficit can be the same amount each day or have variability, but it must be a net deficit. The inverse is true: if you are trying to put on muscle mass, a net surplus must exist.

In terms of compliance, simple wins for most of us. Complicating our nutrition plan with complex calorie/carb cycling is generally unnecessary, overcomplicated, and challenging. The best way to reach your goal is to find the nutritional approach you can sustain over time.


Coach Gillian Ward is Barbell Logic’s Director of Nutrition. She has spent a lifetime as a high-performing athlete, coach, and fitness and nutrition educator. If you have a question for Coach Gillian that you’d like to see answered in future issues of the Friday Five Newsletter, please fill out the form below.

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