Calories On Rest Days: 7 Rules To Follow (With Sample Plan)

On rest days when you’re not working out and likely burning fewer calories, it may be beneficial to decrease your caloric intake to avoid consuming calories that you don’t need.

Here are seven rules to follow if you’ve determined that you should eat less on rest days:

  1. Keep protein intake the same
  2. Decrease carb intake
  3. Increase fat intake
  4. Include a variety of micronutrients
  5. Eat every 3 to 5 hours
  6. Avoid excessive activity
  7. Stay hydrated

To make the most of your recovery while also progressing toward your goals, you need to understand how to determine your calorie and macronutrient intake for rest days.

After reading this article you’ll learn:

  • If you should eat fewer calories on rest days
  • Who shouldn’t eat fewer calories on rest days
  • How to determine your calorie and macro targets for rest days
  • The 3 most common mistakes on rest days and how to avoid them

Should You Eat Less On Rest Days?

If you’re trying to lose weight or improve your body composition while maintaining your current body weight, it could be worth eating less on rest days.

Eating less on rest days is beneficial for those wanting to maximize their body composition. You aren’t burning as many calories on rest days as you are on training days, so your body requires fewer calories.

For this reason, it’s best to work with your body to provide it with additional calories when it needs them most and to consume fewer calories when it’s less necessary and more likely that they’ll be stored as fat instead of used for energy.

When you eat fewer calories on your rest days, it leaves you more calories per week to allocate to your training days, which is when these calories will be put to better use.

That being said, it’s still important to consume enough calories on your rest days to encourage recovery, but you don’t need as many as you would when you’re training. I’ll show you how to calculate your rest day calories and macros to optimize your recovery in the sections that follow.

Who Should Not Decrease Calories On Rest Days

Those who are actively trying to bulk or those who are struggling to be consistent with their calorie/macro targets should not decrease their calories on rest days.

If you’re actively trying to bulk to gain mass by eating higher calories and training hard in the gym, decreasing your calories on rest days isn’t the best idea. 

The reason for this is that on your rest days you should still be consuming higher calories to facilitate muscle recovery and to ensure that you’re eating enough throughout the week to support muscle gain.

Having days that are lower in calories when you’re bulking may make it difficult to eat as much as you need to on your training days without feeling overly full.

Additionally, if you’re someone who struggles to be consistent with hitting your daily targets, it may be best to keep calories the same on training days and rest days. 

This is because if you’re not consistent with one set of macronutrients, adding a secondary macronutrient goal on rest days isn’t the best move.

How To Determine Your Calories & Macros On Rest Days?

How to determine your calories & macros on rest days?

The steps to determine your calories and macros on rest days are:

Step 1: Pick A Goal

Step 2: Determine Your Daily Intake

Step 3: Calculate Your Weekly Average Intake

Step 4: Adjust Your Rest Day & Training Day Calories

Step 5: Keep Protein The Same But Adjust Carbs & Fats

Step 1: Pick A Goal

The first step is to determine your overall goal. As I mentioned earlier, I recommend decreasing your calories on rest days if your goals are weight loss, maintenance, or body recomposition (trying to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time while maintaining weight).

If your goal is weight loss, you will need to ensure that you’re in a calorie deficit (eating less than your body needs) over the week so that your body has to use its own resources (preferably fat) for fuel.

If your goal is weight maintenance and you’re hoping for body recomposition, then your goal should be to eat enough over the course of the week to maintain your weight.

Step 2: Determine Your Daily Intake

The next step is to determine your daily intake by either tracking your intake for the next week or by estimating your target intake based on the goal you’ve set using a calorie calculator. It’s best to how much you’ve been consuming to be as accurate as possible going forward.

Tracking & Adjusting Your Calories

For the best results, I suggest that you track your current intake by logging your food into a tracking app for the next week. 

I recommend the MacroFactor app because it has a large food database that’s verified by registered dietitians, and it automatically adjusts your calorie targets based on your daily weigh-ins and expenditure. Using this link gets you an extra week on your free trial (2 weeks total).  Cancel any time before your trial ends without being charged.

Once you know how much you’ve been consuming on average, you’ll have a better idea of how to adjust your intake going forward to ensure that you’re actually in a deficit or at maintenance.

If the amount of food that you’ve been eating has resulted in the desired effect based on your goal (i.e. you’ve lost weight or maintained weight), then keep your calories the same.

If the amount of food that you’ve been eating has resulted in weight gain and you want to lose or maintain, then decrease your calories by 100-200 calories.

If the amount of food that you’ve been eating has resulted in weight loss and you want to maintain your weight, then increase your calories by 100-200 calories.

Estimating Your Intake Based On Your Goals

The other option is using a calorie calculator to estimate how many calories you should consume based on whether your goal is to lose weight or maintain weight. However, the downfall to doing this is that the estimation for how much you need could be way off.

For example

Let’s say that you weigh 165 lbs and you’ve been eating 2000 calories, which has resulted in you maintaining your weight. 

If you use a calorie calculator and indicate that you want to lose weight, it could tell you that you need to eat 2200 calories to lose weight based on your height, weight, age, and activity level. 

But if you were to follow this advice, 2200 calories would actually cause you to gain weight. This is because the calorie calculator isn’t factoring in what you’ve already been doing.

Whereas if you had been tracking consistently and you know that you maintain weight at 2000 calories, you know that you have to eat fewer than 2000 calories to lose weight going forward.

That being said, you don’t have to take the time to track for a week if you want to start right away. You can use the calorie calculator as long as you know that it might not be accurate and you’ll probably have to make some adjustments later on (increasing or decreasing your calories as explained above) based on how your body weight is changing over time.

Step 3: Calculate Your Weekly Average Intake

Once you’ve determined what your daily intake should be based on your goal, you can use this to determine how many calories per week this equals.

It’s helpful to figure out how many calories per week you should be eating so you know that you’re still being consistent with the number of calories you need per week for your overall goal when you adjust your day-to-day targets.

If you’ve determined that you need 2000 calories per day for your goal, this would be 14,000 calories per week (2000 x 7 = 14,000).

Step 4: Adjust Your Rest Day & Training Day Calories

Next, you need to decide how many days per week you intend to work out, how many days will be rest days, and how much you want to decrease your calories on your rest days. 

I would suggest decreasing rest day calories by 100-300 calories. This is enough of a difference for you to be able to use more of your body’s reserves (fat stores) on rest days while still consuming enough food to recover properly.

If you decrease your calories more than this on rest days, I would be concerned that you wouldn’t be recovering well enough, which could slow your progress and increase your risk of injury.

To calculate how many calories you need on rest days and training days, you would take your average daily intake that we calculated earlier and the associated weekly average intake and make the adjustments based on these values.

For example, if your weekly target is 14,000, you decide to train 4 days a week with 3 rest days, and you want to decrease your calories by 200 on your rest days, then your rest day calories and the number of total weekly calories for your rest days only would look like this:

● 2000 calories per day (baseline based on 14,000 weekly calories) – 200 calories for rest days = 1800 calories per day on rest days

● 1800 calories per day for rest days x 3 rest days = 5400 calories per week for rest days

Once you have your rest day calories sorted, you can use these values to determine how much is leftover to allocate towards your training days.

For example, using the same scenario as above with 4 training days per week, the rest of your week would look like this:

● 14,000 weekly calories – 5,400 calories per week for rest days = 8600 calories per week for training days

● 8600 calories per week for training days / 4 training days per week  = 2150 calories per training day

Step 5: Keep Protein The Same But Adjust Carbs & Fats

Once your calories are sorted, you can plan out where these calories are coming from to ensure that you’re getting enough of each macronutrient to support your goal.

Protein Intake

Protein shouldn’t change between training days and rest days. It should always be high to support muscle retention and muscle growth. The recommended intake for protein is 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight

For example, if you weigh 165lbs, you should be consuming 165 grams of protein on your rest days and your training days.

Next, you must determine how many calories are being allocated to protein from your daily total. To do this, you can multiply the grams of protein by 4 because protein has 4 calories per gram:

  • 165 grams of protein x 4 calories per gram = 660 calories toward protein

Then you can figure out how many remaining calories you have for your carbs and fats on both rest days and training days:

  • Rest day calories: 1800 calories – 660 protein calories = 1140 calories remaining for carbs and fats
  • Training day calories: 2150 – 660 protein calories = 1490 calories remaining for carbs and fats

Carb & Fat Intake On Rest Days and Training Days

Next up is fat intake, which is generally increased on your rest days when carbs are lower and decreased on training days when carbs are higher. 

This is because your body uses carbs more efficiently when you’re more active, but it uses fat more efficiently as its energy source when you’re more sedentary.

With the remaining calories, I recommend allocating 40% to fats and 60% to carbs on training days and 60% to fats and 40% to carbs on rest days. In doing this, you’re always prioritizing the nutrient that your body prefers for fuel.

For example:

  • Fat calories for rest days: 1140 remaining calories x 60% for fats = 684
  • Carb calories for rest days: 1140 remaining calories x 40% for carbs = 456

Then we can translate these calories into grams by knowing that fats have 9 calories per gram and carbs have 4 calories per gram.

  • Grams of fat for rest days: 684 calories for fat / 9 calories per gram = 76g
  • Grams of carbs for rest days: 456 calories for carbs / 4 calories per gram = 114g

Then you can find your carbs and fat targets for training days using the remaining calories after protein calories were subtracted.

  • Fat calories for training days: 1490 calories remaining x 40% fats = 596
  • Carb calories for training days: 1490 calories remaining x 60% carbs = 894

Then translate this into grams per day:

  • Grams of fat on training days: 596 calories for fats / 9 calories per gram = 66g
  • Grams of carbs on training days: 894 calories for carbs / 4 calories per gram = 224g
All in all, this would equal out to:

Rest day totals: 1800 calories (165g Protein, 76g Fat, 114g Carb)

Training day totals: 2150 calories per training day

Rules to Follow for Rest Day Calories

rules to follow for rest day calories

1. Keep Protein Intake The Same

One of the most important rules for calories on rest days is to keep your protein intake the same regardless of if you’re training that day or if it’s a rest day.

Protein should be set around 1 gram per pound of body weight and kept constant no matter your activity level because keeping your protein consumption sufficient is important for muscle retention and growth.

If you’re not consuming enough protein, then you could lose muscle and actually decrease the number of calories you’re able to burn per day. 

Losing muscle means that you’re burning fewer calories per day because it costs your body energy to maintain your muscle mass. Once it’s gone, your body isn’t using those calories for fuel anymore.

Additionally, if your goal is to be lean and improve your body composition, you’re going to want to retain and gain as much muscle as you can, so your protein intake is going to be very important to make this possible.

Some protein sources you could include on rest days are:

  • Chicken
  • Tuna
  • Turkey
  • Greek yogurt
  • Tofu

2. Decrease Carb Intake

Another rule of thumb for rest days is to decrease your carbohydrate intake because the carb intake you require on your training days isn’t the same as what you’ll require on your rest days.

Carbs are your body’s preferred energy source when you’re more active because they’re easily converted to energy. However, when you’re consuming more carbs than your body needs, this energy is stored as fat for later use.

It’s best to reduce your intake of carbs on training days when your body doesn’t need as much of them so that your body can use the fat it already has for energy on your rest days.

To reduce your carb intake on rest days, it’s easier if you have some lower carb options available.

Some lower carb carbs that you could include on rest days are:

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Cauliflower rice

3. Increase Fat Intake

I also recommend increasing your fat intake on your rest days as carbs decrease because you still need to ensure that you’re eating enough calories to avoid starving yourself.

Your body uses fat as its preferred energy source when you’re more sedentary and carbs when you’re more active, so it makes sense to work with your body on rest days and keep carbs lower and fats higher.

Increasing your fat intake along with keeping your protein intake the same can also help keep you more satiated on your rest days when carbs and calories are lower because they take longer to digest and are generally more satisfying.

But these shouldn’t be just any fats, they should be higher quality fats so that you’re encouraging better overall health.

Some high quality fats to include on your rest days are:

  • Olive oil
  • Avocado/avocado oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Nuts/nut butters such as peanut butter
  • Seeds such as flaxseed/seed butters
  • Cheese

4. Include A Variety Of Micronutrients

Eating a variety of micronutrients is important on your rest days because they can improve your overall health and give you more volume for lower calories.

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function optimally, and the best sources of these nutrients are fruits and vegetables. 

Each fruit and vegetable will have a different composition of vitamins and minerals, which is why it’s important to include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Micronutrients provide many health benefits, but the reason why micronutrients are a key focus on rest days is that when calories are lower it’s common to feel more hungry.

Hunger can make getting to your goal that much more difficult because when we’re hungry it’s hard to make intentional decisions because we’ll always be thinking about food. 

To avoid getting to this point of hunger, you can add more fruits and vegetables to your meals because they’re high-volume foods that can fill you up with fewer calories.

5. Eat Every 3 to 5 Hours

It’s important to eat regularly throughout the day so that you’re getting enough nutrients throughout the day to encourage muscle retention/growth and to prevent nighttime overeating.

Studies show that when protein is consumed regularly throughout the day rather than all at once, it encourages muscle protein synthesis.

Additionally, if you’re eating regularly throughout the day then you’re more likely to be satisfied instead of starving.

When you don’t eat all day and then get to the evening, it’s hard not to overeat because you’re so hungry from a lack of nutrition throughout the rest of the day.

6. Avoid Excessive Activity

Lastly, it’s important to be mindful of the number of calories you’re burning with activity on your rest days so that you’re not overdoing it.

Just because it’s a rest day doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to move. However, you also shouldn’t be expending a ton of energy.

Rest days should be dedicated to recovering and feeling mentally and physically prepared for your next training day. 

So if you’re overdoing it on your rest day, then the calories that were meant for recovery won’t actually be used to recover because they’ll be used to fuel the activity that you’re doing instead.

My advice is to keep up with your everyday activities but to hold off on anything that feels like exercise so that you’re utilizing the calories on your rest day for recovery.

7. Stay Hydrated

On rest days it’s important to stay hydrated, which may not feel as natural when you’re less active, so it’s important to be intentional about keeping up with your water intake.

Focus on drinking water throughout the day and monitor your hydration levels based on the color of your urine. If your urine is clear or pale yellow, you’re well-hydrated; if your urine is bright or dark yellow, you need to hydrate.

Although other liquids can help you stay hydrated, it’s important to choose zero-calorie fluids more often because liquid calories can add up quickly and put you over your rest day calories.

Common Mistakes To Avoid 

common mistakes to avoid 

Here are three common mistakes you should avoid when 

  • Emotional eating on rest days
  • Decreasing calories on rest days when bulking
  • Engaging in vigorous activity

Emotional Eating On Rest Days

One thing to avoid on rest days is emotional eating, which is anytime you eat out of emotion rather than because you’re hungry.

Emotional eating can occur more frequently on rest days because the gym is an emotional outlet for many people. On rest days when they aren’t going to the gym, they need an outlet, and that tends to be food.

Emotional eating can definitely hold you back from achieving your goals if it gets out of hand to the point that you’re always overeating on your rest days.

I suggest keeping yourself distracted on your rest days with other hobbies or activities so that you’re not finding yourself bored and reaching into the cupboards just for something to do.

Decreasing Calories On Rest Days While Bulking

Another common mistake that people make is decreasing calories on rest days when the overall goal is to bulk and add mass.

Decreasing your calories on rest days can be counterproductive to your overall goal of adding mass because it can be difficult to eat enough calories to achieve a calorie surplus, which is required for bulking.

If you’re decreasing your calories on rest days, then you’ll have to work even harder to get enough food on other days of the week. If you’re unsuccessful with this, then you won’t add mass.

Additionally, when you’re bulking, you’ll likely be doing lots of work in the gym to provide your body with enough stimulus to feel the need to add muscle to its frame. 

This kind of training will be strenuous, so your rest day calories will be more important to help facilitate the muscle-building process.

Engaging In Vigorous Activity

The last mistake that I see people making is engaging in vigorous activity on their rest days and expending so much energy that they aren’t able to actually recover.

Rest days are meant to give your body to recuperate between training sessions so that you can continue to train optimally. 

So rather than engaging in activities like running, biking, or swimming excessive distances, it’s best to do gentle activities like yoga, stretching, or light walking. 

It’s important to be strategic about how you’re putting your rest day calories to work so that you can go into your next training day feeling strong and refreshed.

Rest Day Sample Meal Plan

This rest day sample meal plan will be based on the calorie and macronutrient example used above.

For reference: current bodyweight 165lbs, 1800 calories target, 165 grams of protein, 76 grams of fat, 114 grams of carbs.

Meal 1 – Smoothie

  • 1 cup frozen fruit
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 1.5 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 cup almond milk

Calorie and Macro Count: 389 calories, 35 protein, 24 carbs, 17 fat

Meal 2 – Taco Bowl

  • 5 oz extra lean ground beef
  • 1 cup kale slaw
  • ¼ cup corn
  • ¼ cup black beans
  • ½ avocado
  • 2 tbsp salsa

Calorie and Macro Count: 536 calories, 53 protein, 36 carbs, 20 fat

Meal 3 – Greek Yogurt Bowl

  • 1 cup greek yogurt
  • ½ cup berries
  • 1 oz mixed nuts

Calorie and Macro Count: 347 calories, 29 protein, 24 carbs, 15 fat

Meal 4 – Sheet Pan Chicken, Broccoli, Potatoes

  • 5 oz chicken
  • ½ cup roasted potatoes (with ½ tbsp avocado oil)
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • ¼ cup cheese

Calorie and Macro Count: 367 calories, 37 protein, 21 carbs, 15 fat

Meal 5 – Snack Plate

  • ½ cup grapes
  • 1 oz cheese

Calorie and Macro Count: 127 calories, 7 protein, 9 carbs, 7 fat

Final Thoughts

Lowering your calories on rest days can be helpful if you’re trying to lose fat and/or achieve body recomposition as long as you’re still eating enough to support recovery.

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About The Author

Amanda Parker
Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker is an author, nutrition coach, and Certified Naturopath.  She works with bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters to increase performance through nutrition and lifestyle coaching.

About The Author

Amanda Parker
Amanda Parker

Amanda Parker is an author, nutrition coach, and Certified Naturopath.  She works with bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters to increase performance through nutrition and lifestyle coaching.