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Should I Eat Less On Rest Days? A Coach's Answer

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“Should I eat less on rest days?” Whether you’ve been nutrition coaching for years or you’re just getting started, you’ve probably gotten this question before.

Let’s set the scene:

You send your new client their initial set of macros and they start working towards hitting them on the reg. They’ve even been building some pretty solid consistency. Then, they ask you, “Wait, if I’m not burning as many calories on my rest days, should I eat less when I’m not exercising?”.

Today, we’re diving into the different things you need to consider when answering this common client question.

Does My Client Need Fewer Macros on Rest Days?

When a client asks you if they need to eat less on their rest days, there is not a hard-and-fast answer you can use with everyone. Just like nutrition itself, the decision to prescribe lower macros on rest days depends on the client.

Here are a few things that may impact prescribing lower macros on rest days:

What Has Their Consistency Been Like? 

We always have to start here because Consistency Wins the Race every single time. If a client isn’t being consistent with their targets there are a few reasons setting different macros on rest and training days could be problematic. 

  1. When a client is already struggling to hit one set of targets consistently, changing up those targets from day-to-day can make it feel even tougher. Successful consistency comes from your client building a routine and knowing which meals and foods fit together to help them reach their macro goals. Different macros on different days can make it tough to build this routine.

  2. As a coach, you won’t know how a set of targets is working for a client without consistency. Because of the metabolic adaptations that occur during dieting, the more you can keep your client eating while working towards their (realistic and healthy) goals, the better! So, dropping macros on rest days without consistency first could result in your client eating less than necessary to reach their goals. This is no fun for their hunger or their metabolism.

If a client isn’t being consistent with their targets, start there. Explain why consistency is so important and focus your energy on helping them build the habits and routines necessary to get there.

What Are Their Goals?

Is your client’s top priority weight loss? Do they want to gain muscle? Do they have a competition coming up?

We emphasize “top priority” because it is important to know what their main goal is when deciding if you need to prescribe lower calories on rest days. From here, it is your job to effectively communicate how having lower macros on rest days could influence getting there. 

Want some examples?

If your clients' main goal is to lose weight, lower macros on rest days COULD help them get there but it may happen at a cost.

Rest and recovery are important to athletic performance and adequate calories support that recovery. So, with fewer macros on rest days, your client could notice negative impacts on training. They may find that they’re sorer after (or a few days after) a tough session and they may also find that their motivation to hit the gym dips as energy levels decrease.

Educate your client about these trade-offs. If they’re cool with it, you can experiment with lower macros on rest days. This could be a helpful way to keep them feeling good enough in the gym while working towards fat loss goals a bit more quickly. If they start to feel really lousy, you could work on nutrition timing, bump up training day macros slightly or head back to consistent macros on rest and training days.

If your client’s main goal is muscle gain and/or they have an athletic event coming up, lower macros on rest days probably isn’t the best idea. 

Pre and Post-Workout Nutrition can only take someone so far… At the end of the day they need enough fuel to keep their muscles recovering so they can perform at their best.

No matter what their goal, the most important thing is communication.

Your client needs to know that this is a decision you’re making together and understand the trade-offs either way. Our Coach Certification teaches you how to help clients reach their unique goals while effectively communicating how to get there.

Are They Already Effectively Working Toward Their Goals?

Remember when we mentioned the negative adaptations that can occur during dieting? This comes into play again now.

If a client is already working towards their goals while eating the same macros on rest and training days, there is no need to rock the boat. Dropping macros unnecessarily can cause more frustration in the long run because of increased hunger, decreased mood/energy, and metabolic impacts that slow fat loss over time.

If a client is consistently hitting their targets and their weight isn’t moving, dropping macros on rest days could help to move things along while giving them a bit more wiggle room to fuel for their workouts on training days.

How Much Should I Decrease My Client’s Macros on Rest Days?

If you (and your client!) decide that lowering macros on rest days is something you want to try, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Keep protein as-is. It plays an imperative role in muscle recovery and maintenance so taking calories away by decreasing protein will hurt recovery efforts even more.

  2. Start by keeping fats the same as well. Dietary fat helps slow down digestion and keep your client fuller, longer. On days when they’re not training and don’t need quick increases in energy (and may have more time to hang around thinking about food if they aren’t hitting the gym), steadier energy and fullness will help them stay more compliant.

  3. Carbs are typically the thing you want to play with first. You don’t need to make any HUGE changes here. Start between 10-20g per day and assess how your client feels. Make sure to take into account factors like their overall calorie intake, gender, how many rest days they take per week, performance/recovery changes, etc.

If you’re still thinking to yourself “okay great, I understand the different things I need to consider, but I still don’t know how to apply it to my exact client situation” that is what the WAG Coach Certification is all about.

We’ll teach you how to take the sometimes scary reality that “there is no one size fits all” with nutrition and approach each client scenario with confidence based on each unique scenario and client.

When it comes to answering the common client question, “should I eat less on rest days?” remember to consider the client’s consistency and their top priority goal. Then, communicate with them, share the pros and cons of each decision and make sure you’re both on the same page. Together, you can try new things with confidence or stay on your current path knowing what you’re doing is working.

Good luck!

Get a Taste of WAG

The WAG Crash Course is OPEN for enrollment. This 30-day course will teach you the ins and outs of macro tracking, building healthy lifestyle habits and sustaining results without restricting the foods you love. Get personalized macros from a WAG Coach, join the members-only Facebook Group and participate in quarterly Live Q&A sessions with WAG Coaches.

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Posted by Ali Macy
Ali is a born and bred Vermonter who fell in love with nutrition and fitness in her early 20’s and never looked back. She is a coach, blog editor and Program Lead for WAG with a BA in English Literature and a Master's in Nutrition and Human Performance.

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