Rest days and active days can look very different from person to person, just like someone’s diet. Figuring out what foods are the best for you at the right times doesn’t have to be so calculated, but how you workout is a factor to consider.
Eating on active days:
On the days you’re working out, you generally need a little more calories and protein to prepare you that workout. If you’re doing vigorous cardio exercises such as running, cycling, or HITT, your carbohydrate to protein ratio should be about 3 to1 to promote recovery and energy synthesis according to the ISSN (International Society for Sports Nutrition). This type of activity should include a pre-work out snack with a focus on carbohydrates to fuel you before the workout such as a banana and 1 tbsp nut butter. If you’re doing more aerobic exercises like strength training or yoga, your carb to protein ratio is more of a 2 to 1. This type of training doesn’t require as many carbohydrates since the energy needs are a bit lower. For this type of workout, a post-workout snack focusing on protein for recovery and muscle synthesis is ideal. Try something like 1 cup of Greek yogurt with a handful of fruit.
Eating on rest days:
On your rest days your body is still in recovery mode which can last as long as 48 hours after exercise. While your calorie intake should generally be less than on active days, you should ultimately let hunger be your guide for mindful eating. Typically your diet should be the same as active days minus a pre or post workout snack. It’s also important to eat enough complex carbohydrates such as whole grains; starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes to replenish your energy; enough fats like seeds and avocados to keep your joints healthy; and enough antioxidants like dark berries and leafy greens to reduce inflammation from a hard workout. And of course a lean proteins like fish, chicken, or yogurt with at least 2 meals a day to promote muscle recovery and growth. It’s best to eat a balanced diet and spread your protein intake throughout the day in small portions so you keep recovery constant. And most of all, don’t forget to stay hydrated. Even when you might not sweat as much on rest days it’s important to keep hydration in check to keep recovery ongoing and get you ready for your next workout.
Eating when you feel hungrier on rest days:
When you exercise and burn a ton of calories, you may not feel as hungry right after a workout because your hormones and blood flow have changed. But once they get back to normal (maybe the next day) you might feel ravenous as your body’s hormones are readjusting, so it’s now telling you to make up for those burned calories and help start the recovery process. So what do you do if this happens? Focus on lots of fiber (veggies and fruits) and lean proteins (fish, chicken, and legumes) to keep you feeling fuller without adding extra calories. Try something like a loaded veggie salad for lunch topped with 3-4 oz grilled fish or half a cup of garbanzo beans. Keep the dressing light and healthy with equal parts olive oil and fresh lemon juice.
The most important thing to do on rest days is to keep a balanced diet and eat regular meals so you keep the recovery process constant. You don’t need as many calories on workout days so this might mean skipping pre or post workout snacks all together or focusing on smaller/lower-calorie snacks if you’re feeling extra hungry. An ideal snack would be 100-150 calories if weight loss is your goal. This can be something such as a handful of air popped popcorn, a cup of veggies like carrots with a small handful of nuts, or 1 oz single serve cheese with 10 grapes. Keep your diet balanced, full of fruits and veggies, and never forget to hydrate!