Rest days for athletes involve minimal training and physical activity volume. Consequently, nutrition requirements on these days differ to those on training or competition days.
Recovery should be the central focus of an athlete’s rest day/s as it is an opportunity to rest and prime the brain and body for ongoing optimal performance. Ultimately the aim should be to return to training after a rest day feeling fresh and ready to perform.
Below are five of our top tips regarding optimal nutrition on rest days:
1. Maintain regular meals and snacks
Often we see the opposite occur for athletes as lack of routine on these days (especially on weekends without work/school/university) can lead to irregular eating patterns.
2. Ensure each meal and snack contains a source of protein
Protein is a key nutrient involved in recovery, and evenly distributed protein across the day is associated with better recovery than larger, more sporadic doses. Key dietary protein sources include meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, yoghurt, legumes, nuts and seeds.
3. Modify your carbohydrate intake
Carbs are one of your key fuel sources for training and competition. However, if you are not exercising much or at all, you don’t require as much fuel. This is definitely not to encourage nil consumption of carbs on rest days, but more to create awareness around the portion and purpose of them. Key dietary carbohydrate sources include whole grain bread, rice, pasta, potato, sweet potato and fruit.
4. Monitor your hydration status
Just 2% dehydration has been demonstrated to have a significant impact on performance, both physically and cognitively. We lose fluid and electrolytes during exercise, so it is really important to replace them. Returning to training dehydrated after a rest day means it will be an uphill battle to be achieve optimal hydration throughout the session, ultimately impacting the session’s quality. A fast and simple way of monitoring hydration status is by looking at your urine colour – essentially, the darker it is, the more dehydrated you are. Water and milk are always nutritious options, and sports drink can be beneficial during training sessions.
5. Avoid excessive intake of processed food
While we are strong advocates for a balanced dietary approach that is inclusive of all foods, often rest days (especially on weekends) can lead to excessive portions of less nutritious options e.g. fast food. Try to be mindful of this, as replacing nutritious options with nutrient-poor foods too often does not promote optimal recovery.
Like anything in nutrition, individual context is incredibly important, as what one athlete needs to eat on a rest day could be vastly different to that of another athlete, while both supporting top recovery and ongoing performance.