Should I eat less on rest days? A Registered Dietitian’s Take

Rest days are essential for the body to repair and recover during any exercise program. A frequently asked question is “Should I eat less on rest days?”

Achieving your performance and wellness objectives is not just about what you eat during workouts or training. What you consume during rest days is equally crucial.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of rest day nutrition, how to approach eating on rest days, and what to eat on rest days. 

Hey, I’m Jenn, a Registered Dietitian who has a passion for helping individuals fuel, think, and move towards the best versions of themselves without sacrificing their relationship with food. If you want practical, evidence-based nutrition advice to improve your performance and wellness — Learn how I can help

Let’s dive in…

Why Rest Day Nutrition is Important 

Rest days are essential to the muscle recovery process. During exercise, tiny tears occur in the muscle tissue. Resting provides the opportunity for fibroblasts to repair the tears, resulting in the growth of stronger muscles. Making sure that our body has the nutrients it needs to allow the body to recover is crucial to prevent injury or muscle fatigue. 

How to Approach Eating on Rest Day

It’s a common misconception that drastically cutting back on calories is necessary if you’re not exercising that day. However, failing to allow your body to replenish and recover on rest days can impede your progress toward reaching your performance goals.

A day off from training is an ideal time to focus on your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals. Try to include nutrient-rich foods in your diet to aid muscle recovery and reduce inflammation.

If your objective is weight loss, mindfulness can still be applied to your rest-day eating habits. Rest is crucial to enable your body to replenish, recover, and increase muscle mass. This increase in muscle mass, in turn, increases your resting energy expenditure, allowing your body to burn more calories even when you’re not active. By consuming a well-balanced diet, you can fuel your body with the necessary nutrients to achieve optimal performance and reach your goals.

Should I eat less on rest days

What to eat on rest days

If you’re curious about what a rest day plate should consist of, check out my previous article on building performance plates. It’s a great starting point.

Taking a mindful approach to our bodies requires providing them with what they both want and need for recovery on rest days. To help you get the most out of your rest days, let’s examine some essential nutrient components: 


Protein is a crucial nutrient when it comes to muscle growth and repair. While the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram, if you’re looking to maintain or build muscle, I suggest an intake of anywhere between 1.6 to 2.2 grams per kilogram per day

Protein Source Recommendations: 

  • Chicken 
  • Eggs
  • Turkey
  • Pork Loin
  • Lean ground beef
  • Steak
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Tofu
  • Cheese Sticks
  • Milk
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Cottage Cheese

Color: Fruits & Vegetables

On rest days, ensure that you consume a variety of fruits and vegetables to boost your vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant levels. These essential nutrients, especially antioxidants, help fight inflammation to support your body’s recovery after strenuous workouts.

Color Source Recommendations:

  • Tomatoes 
  • Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Zucchini 
  • Broccoli 
  • Cauliflower
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Romaine Lettuce 
  • Spinach 
  • Squash
  • Green Beans
  • Apples
  • Oranges
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Kiwi
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries 
  • Red Raspberries 
  • Blackberries 
  • Bananas
  • Grapefruit
  • Peaches
  • Dates
  • Watermelon 
  • Cantaloupe 
  • Honeydew

Complex Carbohydrates

On days when you’re not exercising, try incorporating fiber-rich carbohydrates into your diet to fuel your body throughout the day. Carbs are stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver, which are depleted with exercise.

Complex Carbohydrate Source Recommendations:

  • Whole Grain Bread 
  • Whole Grain Pasta
  • Whole Grain Bagels
  • Whole Grain Crackers
  • Whole Grain Tortillas 
  • Brown Rice
  • Oats
  • Whole Grain Waffles
  • Quinoa


Contrary to popular belief, healthy fats are essential for maintaining overall well-being. Healthy fats aid in reducing inflammation, regulating hormones, and facilitating the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) in the body. Don’t be afraid to incorporate them into your diet.

Fat Source Recommendations:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Avocado and avocado oil 
  • Nuts and nut butter (Walnut, almond, peanut, etc…)
  • Seeds (chia, flax, sunflower, pumpkin, etc…) 
  • Olive oil and olives


Staying hydrated is essential for optimal performance and recovery, whether it’s a rest day or not. It is advised to consume plenty of water throughout the day, and you can also add some flavor to it by incorporating herbal teas or infused water.

You can also whip up a delicious smoothie using ingredients like milk (dairy-based or plant-based), protein powder, fruits, and a handful of greens. This refreshing drink provides hydration, essential nutrients, and protein in one go.

Final Thoughts: Should I eat less on rest day?

It’s common to eat slightly less on rest days or maintain the same eating patterns as on a typical day. Let your hunger and fullness cues guide you while nourishing your body. 

On days when you’re taking a break from working out, it’s important to nourish your body with the right foods. Focusing on replenishing your body and promoting muscle repair, as well as staying hydrated, are key components of this process. 

For optimal results, concentrate on creating balanced snacks and meals that will help you get the most out of your rest days.

If you require further guidance on what to eat to achieve your performance goals, I’d be happy to assist you. Schedule a FREE 15-minute discovery call

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Registered Dietitian Nutritionist | Website | + posts

Jenn Schmidt is a licensed and board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Minnesota. Her specialty is in performance nutrition and wellness, which focuses on helping individuals fuel, think, and move towards their best selves without compromising their relationship with food. Jenn is passionate about all things food-related and enjoys making complex science easy to understand for her clients and readers.

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