Calorie Intake on Rest Days vs Training Days

Calorie Intake on Rest Days vs Training Days

Do rest days feature in your training routine? When it comes to improving fitness and performance, exercise and calorie intake are a major priority for our clients. Most of us know what we should be doing in the gym and the amount of calories we should be eating on training days, but what about rest days? One of the most common questions we get from clients is:

“Should I eat more on training days vs rest days?”

We understand it makes sense that if you expend less energy in the form of exercise then you would need to take in less energy in the form of food. But that’s not really the case. The notion of balancing “calories in vs calories out” drastically oversimplifies the complexity of human physiology and the metabolic adaptations we can have in response to energy deficits, exercise and different types of food. Not all calories are created equally. So why are rest days so important and should you be eating the same amount of food on rest days as training days?

1. Why Rest Days Are Important

Before we get into how much you should be eating, let’s talk about why rest days are so important in the first place. One of the main reasons rest days are important is because they encourage lean tissue to grow. Contrary to popular belief, muscle isn’t actually built whilst you’re working out. You see, whether you’re doing cardio or weightlifting, physical activity creates a catabolic state in the body as molecules are broken down into smaller units, producing energy in the process. Catabolism provides our bodies with the energy it needs during exercise but it also creates tiny tears in our tissues and muscles. Conversely, when we rest or take part in active recovery, we encourage the body into an anabolic state that promotes protein synthesis and repair.

When we rest, we allow our bodies to use energy to grow new cells and maintain tissue. Increased bone density, muscle growth and therefore strength, are the primary benefits of anabolic reactions that athletes can stand to benefit from during rest. In addition, recovery from central nervous system (CNS) fatigue and the mental intensity of your training can be hugely beneficial to your next workout. So how exactly does this all work? Well the hormone insulin plays a major part in helping our muscles grow. For insulin to do it’s job, you have to make sure you are doing two main things on your rest days. First, you have to make sure that you are actually resting. Obviously light activity is fine, but you definitely shouldn’t be doing any intense workouts on your rest days. The second thing you should be doing is eating.

People think that since they won’t be training and burning as much fuel, they shouldn’t consume the same amount of carbs or calories or else they risk gaining fat. It’s a common belief and sometimes even a recommendation but actually, it’s wrong! Insulin is the most anabolic hormone in the body. It shuts down catabolism and ramps up anabolism. It also activates mTor which triggers muscle growth and increases glucose storage inside the muscles. Muscles being full of glycogen is itself anabolic. As a bonus, a fuller muscle is a stronger muscle.

So how do we get the body to release insulin? We eat! When we eat food, glucose is absorbed from our gut into the bloodstream, raising blood glucose levels and prompting the release of insulin. If your goal is maximum muscle growth and strength gains, it’s important to consume plenty of quality carbs and protein during those rest days. If you don’t eat enough on your rest days, you won’t release sufficient insulin for growth and you won’t give your body the nutrition it needs for muscle growth and repair.

2. How Much Should I Eat?

As I mentioned above, rest days allow your body to repair and recover from the previous workout. But they also help prepare your body for the upcoming workout. In order for your body to recover and build muscle, it needs fuel. And it needs a lot of it.

For starters, your body can only synthesize glycogen at 5% an hour, so it takes a good 24 hours to get your muscles ready for your next workout. And that’s just to replace what you lost during your last workout. You need to make sure you are giving your body enough fuel so that you don’t feel exhausted when your next workout day comes.

After all, those muscles you’re building don’t stop eating their own fuel just because you’re resting. In fact, 100 pounds of muscle burns around 500 calories a day. So, if you perpetually skip out on that meal or snack on your rest days, then your lean tissue suffers and you could actually be getting weaker.

At Own Your Eating we like to keep things simple. Of course we analyze each of our client’s weekly activity averages and keep tabs on their overall energy, but we’ve found that the majority of people do best with a consistent amount of fuel throughout the week. Planning for a different set of macros on different days of the week typically adds stress and as we’ve already explained, under-eating on your rest days can actually do more harm than good. If you’re not already eating the same amount of macros on your rest days as your training days then give it a go and see how your body responds!

3. Foods To Eat On Your Rest Days

Now that we know how important it is to eat on our rest days, what exactly should we be eating? Well carbohydrate rich foods fire up insulin and help replace and replenish your glycogen stores. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be filling up on chips and other processed snacks.

Instead, your carbohydrates should come from high quality complex carbohydrates like fruits, beans, vegetables and whole grains. These foods are rich with nutrients and vitamins that your body needs in order to run efficiently. Of course protein is absolutely essential on your rest days as protein provides amino acids that the body needs to repair and build new lean tissue. Lean meats and poultry, wild caught fish and shellfish are a great option for refueling your body. In addition, foods with high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids like salmon and tuna, are beneficial for soothing a stressed system with their anti-inflammatory properties.

The Training Day vs Resting Day Takeaway

All in all, rest days are extremely important when it comes to building muscle and staying fit. It’s important to remember that eating on rest days is vital as it helps your body recover more efficiently. Maintaining the same balance of macronutrients on training days and rest days has proven to work best for us and our clients.


The single most important aspect of achieving results is consistency, but it isn’t always easy!  That’s why we developed a way to keep you consistent, motivated and accountable, whatever life throws your way. Together we have tailored a unique and inspiring program to accelerate you towards achieving your goals. The Own Your Eating Lifestyle Membership will transform you into the strongest, fittest and healthiest version of you, you’ve ever been.

If you are interested or just want to learn more about the flexible eating plan, contact us or visit our FAQ for any questions!

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