“Should I eat less on rest days?” This question has probably crossed your mind at some point in your nutrition journey, whether you’re new to macro tracking or you’ve been at it for years.
Here’s how this normally goes…
I send new WAG members their initial nutrition plan, and they start working toward their daily goals. They start building some pretty solid consistency then, they ask me, “Wait, if I’m not burning as many calories on my rest days, should I eat less when I’m not exercising?”.
Here's what you need to consider when deciding if you should eat less on rest days.
Do I Need Fewer Macros on Rest Days?
When considering if you need to eat less on rest days, there is not a hard-and-fast answer. Just like nutrition itself, the decision depends on you, your goals, your body, your dieting history, and so much more.
Here are some considerations to make when deciding if you need to lower your macros on rest days:
What Is Your Consistency Like?
We have to start here because Consistency Wins the Race every single time. If you aren’t consistent with your targets, there are a few reasons setting different macros on rest and training days could be problematic.
- If you’re already struggling to hit one set of targets regularly, changing up those targets from day to day can make it feel even tougher. Successful consistency comes from building a routine and knowing which meals and foods fit together to help you reach your macro goals. Different macros on different days can make it tough to build this routine.
- You can’t tell how a set of targets is working for your body without consistency. Because of the metabolic adaptations that occur during dieting, the more you eat while working towards your (realistic and healthy) goals, the better! So, dropping macros on rest days without consistency first could result in eating less than necessary to reach your goals. This is no fun for your hunger or your metabolism.
If you’re not consistent with your targets, start there—focus your energy on building the habits and routines necessary to get there before making it more challenging for yourself by aiming for two sets of targets.
What Are Your Leanness and Performance Goals?
Is your top priority weight loss? Do you want to gain muscle? Do you have a competition coming up?
I emphasize “top priority” because it is important to know what your main goal is when deciding if you need lower calories on rest days. From here, it is important to fully understand how having lower macros on rest days could influence getting there.
Here are some examples.
Weight Loss Priority
If your main goal is weight loss, lower macros on rest days could help you 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, you could notice negative impacts on training. You may find that you’re sorer after (or a few days after) a tough session, and you may also find that your motivation to hit the gym dips as energy levels decrease.
Keep these trade-offs in mind. If you’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 you start to feel really lousy, work on nutrition timing, bump up training day macros slightly, or head back to consistent macros on rest and training days.
Performance & Muscle Priority
If your main goal is muscle gain and/or you 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 you so far… At the end of the day, you need enough fuel to keep your muscles recovering so you can perform at your best.
No matter what your goal is, the most important thing is understanding the nuances and pros and cons of each option.
Are You Already Effectively Working Toward Your Goals?
Remember when we mentioned the negative adaptations that can occur during dieting? This comes into play again now.
If you are already seeing progress 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, diminished athletic performance, and metabolic impacts that slow fat loss over time.
If you consistently hit your targets and your weight doesn't change, dropping macros on rest days could help to move things along while giving you a bit more wiggle room to fuel your workouts on training days.
How Much Should I Decrease My Macros on Rest Days?
If you decide that lowering macros on rest days is something you want to try, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Keep protein as-is. It plays an imperative role in muscle recovery and maintenance, so taking calories away by decreasing protein will hurt your recovery efforts even more.
- Start by keeping fats the same. Dietary fat helps slow down digestion and keep you fuller, longer. On days when you’re not training and don’t need quick increases in energy (and may have more time to hang around thinking about food if you aren’t hitting the gym), steadier energy and fullness will help you stay more compliant.
- Play with carbs first. That being said, you don’t need to make any HUGE changes here. Start between 10-20g per day and assess how you feel. Make sure to take into account factors like overall calorie intake, gender, how many rest days you take per week, performance/recovery changes, etc.
When it comes to answering the common question, “Should I eat less on rest days?” remember to consider your consistency and your top priority goal.