Rest days are crucial if you want to achieve optimal fitness. If you’ve kick started your new year’s goals and are working hard at the gym you may wonder how you should be fuelling recovery days. Here’s my advice on what to do on those days off to make you as good as the best and better than the rest.
You may have surprised yourself when you returned to exercise after a break. Taking rest days is essential so your body can promote muscle tissue and growth and refuel and rehydrate the body. It’s also an opportunity to prepare for intense work outs and support your immune function. A holiday can mean you come back more refreshed and pumped to train.
When the endorphins wear off you can find yourself feeling smashed the next day at work. Eating the wrong foods on your rest day will increase your fatigue and add to muscle soreness. It will also mean that you gain less benefit from your last session. Insulin is our friend on these days as it increases the amount of glycogen or stored glucose. This increases muscle size and prevents the breakdown of muscle tissue.
The body needs carbohydrate and protein from healthy foods within thirty to sixty minutes of exercise when the body absorbs them best. Eating during this time will also promote the most effective muscle repair and growth. This repair and recovery continue for the next twenty-four hours. You don’t need to eat any more calories during this time, but you do need to eat quality food.
What you eat also depends on the type of exercise you’re doing. Different exercise requires different macronutrient ratios. If you’re doing more intense cardio like spin classes or running you should aim for a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 3:1 to stimulate glycogen synthesis. If you do lower intensity workouts such as yoga or strength training, then this ratio should be 2:1. Always remember to hydrate well. Water is the drink of choice on rest days.
Healthy fats are important too as they reduce inflammation and assist the heart and joints. Just remember not to binge though. Often our hunger levels are suppressed directly after a work out by an increase in the hormone leptin. The next day these hormone levels stabilise, and ghrelin is released which makes us feel hungry.
Let your stomach be your guide rather than a Fitbit or Garmin. Sometimes it’s difficult to know how much we’ve burnt but listening to your hunger signals and reaching for healthy food options when you feel that twang is wise. Spread your intake of protein, carbohydrate and healthy fats over the day to keep recovery constant.
The immune system may be suppressed for up to twenty-four hours after a workout so make sure you include foods high in antioxidants such as colourful fruits and veggies. I like to have a breakfast with eggs, avocado and fruit followed by a chicken salad for lunch with loads of leafy greens and legumes. My ultimate dinner is seafood with potatoes and more salad or a bowl of pasta.
After all that exertion don’t put away the wrong food and your exercise goals by resting your healthy eating plan. What you eat on your day off is just as important as what you eat on a day of training. I rest my case.