The Importance of Rest Days (And Why You Need Them)
How many times have you been called a "work horse" and told you need to chill and take a day for yourself?
Nowadays, it seems like the hustle is getting most of the attention and rest and recovery is a side note.
Funny thing is that rest days are essential if you want to achieve your fitness goals, especially if you're getting ready for basic training and preparing for the Army Combat Fitness Test.
Let's dive into the importance of recovery, what qualifies as a rest day, and how often you should rest after a workout.
What is a Rest Day?
Ask two people and chances are, they'll have two different ideas of what constitutes a rest day.
In its most basic form, a recovery day generally means resting your body from demanding exercise and physical activity for the day.
This day off from exercise is for both physical and mental recovery.
Are Rest Days Important?
Rest days are vitally important in training. They give your body time to repair itself before you get back at it again. For the most part, barring any unforeseen accidents, the more regularly you let yourself have good quality rest days, the better your training, performance, and results.
Here are some critical reasons you want to rest up when you have the chance:
Overtraining (Under-recovery): If you are skimping on your rest days then this can lead to overtraining symptoms. Putting aside the debate of whether overtraining exists, providing yourself with an appropriate amount of rest days will allow time for muscle recovery. In turn, this will help to prevent muscular fatigue and symptoms associated with over training including extreme fatigue, muscle loss, and chronic soreness.
Risk of Injury: Letting yourself recover reduces your risk of injury inside and outside of training. When your muscles and connective tissue (joints) aren’t given ample time and nutrition to recover, they are at a greater risk of strains, tears, and breaks.
Overall Performance: Giving your body a chance to recover will help you improve your overall performance, regardless of what your fitness goal is. Recovery provides your body with an opportunity to repair muscle tissue, improve bone density, and strengthen your nervous system. This is the reason you get stronger, bigger, faster, etc.
How Many Rest Days Do You Need Per Week?
Having enough rest days is important to prevent over training, but also to get the most out of your exercise.
The amount differs for everyone because it depends on how you train and what you’re training for (e.g., sports vs. marathon).
In general, it’s recommended that most people should take two or three full rest days per week. For the sake of the average schedule, most will take off on Wednesday, Saturdays, and Sundays.
With that said, rest days can vary depending on your experience, current fitness level, and type of training. Beginners should give their bodies more time to rest with no less than two days per week dedicated to active rest.
More advanced and experienced lifters and fitness enthusiasts are able to dedicate more time to training because they have developed the necessary neuromuscular connections to do so. If you’ve been lifting or working out for six months or more, you can take off one or two days per week. We recommend spacing the time out such as on Wednesday and Saturday.
Signs That You Need a Rest Day
Do you know what happens to your body when you don’t get enough rest? Fatigue, muscle loss, and decreased performance, to name a few things.
To make sure you avoid the symptoms and complications that come along with not resting enough, here are the signs to watch out for:
- Legs feel extra heavy
- Lack of motivation
- Muscle pain or soreness
- General aches and pains in your joints and muscles
- Getting sick (e.g., cold and flu)
If you think one of these symptoms might apply to you then take a day off. Training when you’re rundown or sick will only make the problem worse and could lead to further complications down the road.
What To Do on Rest Days
When it’s time to rest and recover, should you jump on the couch, order UberEATS, and plan to play PS5 all day? Not at all.
While a little bit of time on the couch is okay, taking a walk, doing household chores, and keeping yourself moving in a low-intensity, low-impact way is better for your recovery.
Here are some examples of active recovery:
- Brisk walk (It’s possible to go rucking but use very little weight)
- Low intensity cycling
- Recreational (low intensity) sports
- Active stretching (e.g., yoga)
- Household chores
- Mowing the lawn
What to Eat on Rest Days?
You’ve probably heard one too many times that muscle is built in the kitchen. That’s on the right track but not quite true. The reality is that muscle is built in the gym, and it grows in the kitchen.
In other words, what you do in the kitchen can determine your results.
Here are some general recommendations of what you should do to optimize your nutrition for recovery.
Whole Foods > Supplements: Despite the hundreds of supplement options out there, you should always prioritize whole foods over supplements. Focus on complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, muscle-building protein such as grass-fed beef and chicken, and healthy fats such as avocado.
Eat More Protein: Out of the three macronutrients, protein is by far the most important for muscle recovery. Protein provides you with amino acids, the building blocks of muscle tissue. You should strive to eat no less than 0.75 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. You can also stick with the old school bodybuilding idea of eating one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight to make it easier.
Consider a Post-Workout Supplement: As mentioned above, you should always focus on healthy and delicious whole foods. But you can also use a post-workout supplement to complement a healthy diet. And there’s no better post-workout supplement than whey protein isolate. This is an ultra-filtered, fast-digesting form of protein that is broken down into amino acids and sent to where it’s most needed: the muscle and connective tissue.