You may think that the topic of eating a calorie surplus on rest days is confusing.
Having looked at a lot of the research, I can understand why this topic may carry varying degrees of interpretations.
So, should you continue to eat a calorie surplus on rest days? Yes, you should eat a caloric surplus on rest days. You still need extra calories on rest days to recover and build muscle tissue. Ultimately, the aim is to consistently meet your surplus requirements throughout your planned period of overfeeding, so that you consistently meet your weekly weight gains.
Meeting your surplus needs on rest days is just as important as on training days if you want to continue making progress towards your goals. This will be explained further in this article, providing you with some practical advice.
- An important concept is to be consistent with your surplus over the course of the week. Avoid focusing too much on rest day calories. Rather, look at whether you have met your weekly caloric surplus.
- Continuing to eat your surplus on rest days will make it easier to meet your weekly surplus goal. This will benefit muscle growth and recovery, and supports your energy levels when training the next day.
- Changing your macros on rest days is not necessary either, as long as you try to distribute the amounts in your meals.
How To Eat On Rest Days While Bulking
Eating adequately on rest days during the bulking phase is important for aiding recovery and building muscle.
This is why you should value nutrition on a rest day relatively the same as a training day.
That being said, the basic concept on rest day nutrition while bulking is to look at the bigger picture rather than the finer details.
Let’s explain this concept in a bit more detail.
Your caloric surplus has to be met consistently over a set timeframe to be able to make consistent physique gains.
So instead of looking at your caloric surplus on a daily basis, let’s shift the perspective to looking at your calorie surplus over the course of a week.
If you are planning to eat 400 calories above your maintenance for your surplus, then eating that amount each day will total 2800 calories by the end of the week.
It is more important that you hit this weekly target because consistency over the long-term is what will help you make gains.
Going back to our example, if you’ve set your daily surplus to 400 calories over maintenance, it’s expected that you hit 2800 calories per week.
If on a rest day, you only eat 100 calories over maintenance, then on subsequent days, you’ll need to make up for those lost calories.
As such, you’d need to eat 700 calories over maintenance the next day (rather than eating the 400 calorie surplus if you ate consistently over the week).
When viewed in this way, it means you can theoretically eat less on rest days and still make weight gain progress, so long as you eat more calories on training days and stay on track with hitting your weekly surplus target by the end of the week.
However, it’s my view that it’s easier and more effective to eat the same surplus each day – regardless if you’re training or not.
Reasons To Keep Eating A Consistent Calorie Surplus on Rest Days
A few reasons to continue eating your surplus on rest days are highlighted below:
1. Impacts Your Recovery
You need extra calories to rebuild your muscles after exercise and to recover on rest days.
Research suggests that resistance training combined with adequate diet intake impacts your body responses to muscle growth and repair for up to 24-48h after exercise.
2. Less Effort to Meet Your Weekly Surplus
If you continue eating relatively the same surplus on rest days, you won’t have to eat more on training days, as this may often feel like a chore, especially if your surplus is large.
3. More Energy for Exercise
If you continue with the surplus on rest days and work out the following morning, you will have extra “stored” energy to use.
This is because eating your surplus on rest days influences energy availability and thus exercise performance the next day.
4. Less Difficult to Meal Prep
It will be easier to plan and organize your meals for the week if you eat the same caloric surplus on rest days and training days.
Also, you won’t have to spend time planning other meals/snacks to make up for uneaten calories (if you don’t eat your surplus on rest days).
- Related Article: 7 Bulking Tips If You’re Still Hungry In A Calorie Surplus
Does Your Calorie Surplus On Rest Days Change Based on Whether You’re Lean Bulking or Dirty Bulking?
Whether you are lean bulking or dirty bulking, my recommendation would be to continue eating the same surplus on rest days.
However, there are some slight nuances whether you are lean or dirty bulking.
Often this surplus range can be small, as the aim of a lean bulk will be to limit unnecessary increases in body fat. This means that you might have less margin to play with over the course of the week.
For example, if your daily calorie surplus is 150 calories and you eat 100 calories on a rest day, you have to make up for 50 calories on another day (by eating 200 calories instead of 150 calories).
As 50 calories is a very small range, it should be easy to make up for this on any other day of the week.
- Related Article: Should You Eat More Protein On Rest Days?
For some people, this surplus range can be large as the aim will be to gain mass quickly regardless of the muscle/fat ratio. This means that you may have a bigger surplus range to play with within the week.
Let’s imagine your daily caloric surplus is 600 calories, and you eat 200 calories on a rest day.
You will have to make up for 400 calories on subsequent days (for example by eating 1000 calories above maintenance calories on the next day instead of 600 calories).
As 400 calories is a big range to make up for (on top of your maintenance and daily surplus calories), it may be harder to meet your target if you don’t rethink how to consistently hit your surplus.
Should Your Macros Change On Rest Days During A Caloric Surplus?
So we’ve talked about maintaining your surplus on rest days, but what about your macros?
Whether it’s a rest day or not, it is important to distribute your calories between carbohydrates, protein, and fats to ensure progression toward your goal.
“Diets focused primarily on accruing lean mass are driven by a sustained caloric surplus. The composition and magnitude of the surplus, as well as training status of the subjects can influence the nature of the gains”Alan A. Aragon, International Society of Sport Nutrition
Put simply, this means that consistency with hitting your caloric surplus and macronutrient targets is important if your aim is to build muscle.
As such, during a bulking phase, you should continue with the same macros on rest days, which should be in line with the following advice:
- You can keep macros relatively the same as training days, ensuring that you distribute carbohydrates, protein, and fats across 3-6 meals.
- Since on rest days, you won’t have a pre and post-workout meal, you may be having fewer meals.
- In this case, you might want to increase the portion sizes of your meals on a rest day, to ensure you meet your surplus.
Other Bulking Resources
If you want to learn more about the interplay between calories and macros, check out my article Are Calories or Macros More Important?
Learn more about how big your caloric surplus should be based on how quickly you want results.
Burd NA, West DW, Moore DR, Atherton PJ, Staples AW, Prior T, Tang JE, Rennie MJ, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Enhanced amino acid sensitivity of myofibrillar protein synthesis persists for up to 24 h after resistance exercise in young men. J Nutr. 2011 Apr 1;141(4):568-73. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.135038. Epub 2011 Feb 2. PMID: 21289204.
Aragon, A.A., Schoenfeld, B.J., Wildman, R. et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 16 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0174-y
About The Author
Giulia Rossetto is a qualified Dietitian and Nutritionist. She holds a Masters in Human Nutrition (University of Sheffield, UK) and more recently graduated as a Dietitian (University of Malta). Giulia aims to translate evidence-based science to the public through teaching and writing content. She has worked 4+ years in clinical settings and has also published articles in academic journals. She is into running, swimming and weight lifting, and enjoys spending time in the mountains (she has a soft spot for hiking and skiing in the Italian Dolomites).
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