When I start gathering thoughts for my monthly Iron Girl column, I keep my eyes and ears open as to what athletes are discussing. With no plans as to what I will write about each month, I try to provide practical, effective and useful information for all fitness levels and ages.
When it comes to nutrition on rest days, I feel this is an overly-emphasized topic and perhaps too much attention is on the topic of "rest" days. Logically, we all know in order to get stronger, the body needs to be stressed but must recover. For you don't get lean, lose weight or change body composition immediately after a workout but rather when the body starts to refuel and recover in order to get heal itself in order to do it all over again.
It could be that athletes don't trust their diet/appetite on off days and excuse eating because they trained/worked out/burned calories so they struggle w/ taking a day off. This struggle often turns into an overly tired body that struggles to keep up with the training plan. Sadly, no amount of nutrition can undo a broken down body, in a short amount of time.
Perhaps athletes focus on nutrition on rest days because they really do want to get stronger and they want to make sure they are fueling for upcoming workouts. But from what I hear, I feel the main reason why athletes struggle with the day off nutrition is because they don't have confidence in the daily diet (ex mindful eating) or in their training.
I feel I could have taken many different directions with this article but my goal is to provide advice that you can use today to set yourself up for a better tomorrow. I believe everyone is different and everyone recovers and trains differently. This is an area that I love when it comes to working with athletes and fitness enthusiasts. There's nothing more rewarding than helping an athlete w/ "sport nutrition" or the daily diet and having him/her train harder and smarter for quicker and consistent performance gains.
Of course, I'm an athlete too. I get it. I have goals and I love to train. It's important to me, however, that I use my education wisely and not just use it on myself. Knowing how great it feels to train injury free, feel fueled and healthy throughout the day (and never get sick) and feel my body getting stronger, I want us all to enjoy this journey together.
If you have any questions,or concerns, feel free to email or comment.
Nutrition on "Rest" DaysBy Marni Sumbal
Athletes consistently place stress on the body in order to reap optimal performance gains. Here lies the difference between training and exercise. The moment you set your eyes on an event finish line, you are titled as an "athlete" and no longer exercising "to burn calories". Ultimately, to reach fitness goals, the body needs to rest and recover in order to train harder.
To train consistently and reduce risk for injury and illness, focus on ~5-6 days of weekly structured training, with one or two voluntary rest (or active recovery) days. By rewarding your body with at least 4-8 days a month to repair the body and mind, the most important question should be, "how are you eating on the 27 days a month that you are placing stress on the body?"
As a general guideline: consume ~ 120-200 calories pre-workout (30-50grams(g) carbs before a workout + a few grams protein and/or fat - ex. whole grain bread + peanut butter, milk and oats/cereal) and ~200-400 calories (around 15-25g protein + 30-60g of carbs - ex. 8-12 ounces low fat chocolate milk or homemade protein smoothie) post workout, (and a sport drink during the workout as needed, generally if training is >1hr). Gearing up for a rest day? Simply remove the pre, during and post training nutrition and resume your "normal" balanced diet.
You don't have to be a mathematician when it comes to fueling for sport. Consider estimating your daily caloric needs (adjust pending your current BMI - body mass index) by using either the Mifflin-St Jeor, Ireton-Jones or the most commonly used, Harris Benedict equation, to understand your needs as an athlete, depending on your training routine. Here's a simple link to get you started: BMI calculator
It's very easy to overthink the diet when you are active. For if you consume a recommended 55-60% of daily calories from carbohydrates (or 3-7g/kg/body weight) in a 2000 calorie diet and try to decrease to less than 45% on an "off" day, you are merely reducing your daily 275g total carb intake by 50g. In other words, there's no need to eliminate 50g of carbs (200 calories) from nutritious carb-rich meal and snack options like fruit, veggies, whole grains and low fat dairy from your "normal" diet. Just remove the "sport nutrition" and consider re-arranging the composition of meals/snacks to help with fuel storage, hunger and cravings.
Restricting heart-healthy foods is never warranted during rest days or taper weeks. Keep in mind that even if you choose to decrease caloric intake to accommodate the occasional day of rest, you are still fueling to prep for another week of quality training.
If you struggle with inconsistent training, injuries, unhealthy food/body relationships, body composition or nutrient deficiencies, it's recommended to consult with a qualified sport registered dietitian to help you fuel and perform like an athlete.
Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N
Marni works as a Clinical Dietitian at Baptist Medical Center Beaches, is the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC and provides one-on-one consulting in the Jacksonville, FL area. Marni is a Registered Dietitian, holding a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology and is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN). As an elite endurance athlete, she is also a Level-1 USAT Coach and a 5x Ironman finisher. Marni is a 110% play harder, Hammer Nutrition and Oakley Women brand ambassador. Marni enjoys public speaking and writing, and she has several published articles in Fitness Magazine, Bicycling Magazine, The Florida Times-Union Shorelines, Lava Magazine, Hammer Endurance News, CosmoGirl magazine and Triathlete Magazine, and contributes to IronGirl.com, USAT multisport zone and Lava online.