Should You Eat More On Leg Day? (What To Eat On Leg Day)

Leg day is known for being a higher-effort training day and tends to be more taxing on the body than any other training day, so you may wonder if you should eat more to properly fuel your leg day workouts.

Should you eat more on leg day? You should eat more on leg day if you’re trying to improve your body composition while eating at maintenance calories or if you’re cutting and you want to continue to train optimally. Increasing your calories on leg day isn’t necessary if you’re bulking because you’re already eating enough to support your workouts.

It’s also important to understand how to eat more for leg day in the most productive way and what you should eat to enhance your performance.

After reading this article, you’ll learn:

  • If you burn more calories on leg day
  • If you should change your calories or macros on leg day
  • How to adjust for leg day nutrition
  • What to eat on leg day

Are You Burning More Calories On Leg Day?

You are burning more calories on leg day because your lower body musculature requires more energy than your upper body musculature. This is because the lower body has the ability to exert more force and therefore requires more energy to continue contracting and producing force.

The larger the musculature, the more energy it requires to produce force, and your lower body has the largest musculature. Therefore, on leg day, you’ll be expending more energy than on upper body day.

The highest caloric expenditure would be a lower-body hypertrophy day (10+ reps per set) because you’re using large musculature and doing many reps, which costs a significant amount of energy. 

Next would be a lower-body strength day because you’re still using your lower body musculature but doing fewer reps (3-6 reps per set).

Do Your Calories and Macros Change On Leg Day?

You could choose to change your calories and macros on leg day if you’re trying to improve your body composition while eating at maintenance calories (the number of calories you need to maintain weight) or if you’re in a calorie deficit (fewer calories than you need to maintain weight) and need extra calories to keep performance high.

When you adjust your calories and macros on leg day, you’re optimizing your nutrition to improve your performance and body composition, which is most important if you’re trying to alter your body composition or you’re in a deficit.

This will help with your body composition because the calorie increase on leg day should come from carbs, and carbs are your body’s preferred energy source when you’re training.

By increasing your calories from carbs, you’re optimizing your body’s use of energy, which will improve your body composition and performance.

If you’re eating at maintenance and you’re happy with your current body composition or you’re eating in a calorie surplus, you don’t have to change your calories and macros on leg day because you’ll have enough energy coming in to support your training.

Leg Day Nutrition

If you’re eating at maintenance and trying to recomp, or you’re eating in a calorie deficit, you will want to adjust your calories and macros on leg day.

4 Steps To Adjust Your Calories & Macros On Leg Day

Four steps to adjusting your calories and macros on leg day are:

  • Determine your baseline calorie intake for your goal
  • Find your average weekly calories
  • Plan your increase in calories for leg day(s)
  • Calculate your carb increase for leg day(s)

1. Determine Your Baseline Calorie Intake For Your Goal

The first step is to determine your current intake based on your goals. If you want to improve your body composition, you need to find your maintenance calories. If you want to cut but keep performance high, you need to calculate your deficit calories.

I suggest you do this by tracking your intake for one week to see how many calories you’re currently eating and how that is affecting your body weight. This is the most accurate way to find your desired calorie intake.

If you track for a week and your body weight remains the same, you’re at your maintenance calories. If this is your goal, great — you don’t need to make any changes. If your goal is to cut, then decrease your calories by 200 to 500 calories.

If your goal is to lose weight and you track for a week and lose an appropriate amount of weight (0.5lbs to 1% of your body weight), you’re right on track. If you lose more than this or your goal is to maintain, then you should increase your calories by 200 to 500.

You could use a calorie calculator to find your baseline calorie intake, but it’s less accurate than actually tracking. The calculator is just assuming your body composition and the rate at which you burn calories, but they’re rarely on point.

Instead, I recommend tracking with the MacroFactor app because it has a large dietitian-verified food database and is easily customizable. Get a free two-week trial with the code FEASTGOOD.

Apps Store
Google play

2. Find Your Average Weekly Calories

Now that you’ve determined your calorie intake based on your goals, you should calculate your weekly average calories so that you can see how much you need to eat in one week to stay on track with your overall goal.

If I tracked my calories and determined that I need to eat 2200 calories to maintain my weight for body recomposition, then my weekly average calories would be 15,400 calories (2200 X 7 = 15,400).

This is important because as long as my intake adds up to 15,400 calories at the end of the week, then I can alter my daily calorie intake and still be on track to reach my goal.

Related Article: Is It Better To Hit Your Macros or Calories? (What’s Best)

3. Plan Your Increase in Calories For Leg Day(s)

Next, you need to determine how many leg days per week you intend on having so you can plan how often you’re increasing your calories per week.

If you have two leg days per week, you’ll want to increase your calories on both of those days. If you only have one leg day per week, you only need to increase your calories for that day.

On leg days, I suggest increasing your calories by 100 to 300 calories. If it’s a higher volume leg day, I would increase by 300 calories. If it’s a low-volume leg day, you may only need to increase by 100 calories.

For example, let’s say I plan to have 2 leg days per week, my baseline calories are 2200, and I want to increase by 200 calories on my leg days.

On both leg days, I will be eating 2400 calories. This will increase my weekly average calories by 400 calories (200 calorie increase X 2 leg days = 400 calories).

To keep my weekly average calories the same and stay on track with my goal, I’ll need to decrease my calories by 400 calories elsewhere. [Check out my other article where I talk about whether 400 calories is a lot or not.]

I recommend splitting this decrease between the other days of the week (non-leg days). In my example above, I’m training legs twice a week, so there will be five non-leg days.

This equals a decrease of 80 calories on non-leg days because 400 extra calories / 5 days = 80 calorie decrease.

On non-leg days, I should eat 2120 calories (2200 baseline calories – 80 calorie decrease = 2120 calories).

To ensure your numbers are accurate you can add them up to make sure that your average weekly calories are still correct:

  • [(5 X 2120) + (2 X 2400)] = 15,400 calories

4. Calculate Your Carb Increase For Leg Day(s)

Now that you know your calorie targets for leg days and non-leg days, you need to calculate how many carbs to add to leg days to accommodate the planned increase in calories.

In my example above, I have 200 additional calories per leg day, so I have 200 calories to allocate to carbs.

● 200 carb calories / 4 calories per gram = 50 grams of carbs

Therefore, on each leg day, I should be eating an extra 50 grams of carbs, which will give me the additional 200 calories I need.

Protein and fats can stay the same across leg days and non-leg days, so there’s no need to stress too much about these macronutrients. However, you should ensure your protein intake is high enough (1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight) to support muscle retention and growth. 

Related Article: What Happens If You Go Over Your Carb Macros (Is This Bad?)

What To Eat Before Leg Day?  

You can just eat as normal the day before a leg day There is no need to change anything drastically.

As long as you’re eating enough before working out so that there is fuel available for training and you’re getting enough sleep to promote recovery, you should be good to go for your leg day.

Although carb loading (eating a high amount of carbs before a workout to optimize your body’s glycogen stores for exercise) has become popular, it isn’t very effective. Most people who do try and carb load usually eat so much that they’re too uncomfortable to train optimally.

It’s better to just focus on eating normally and getting good quality sleep so you’ll be ready for a great leg day.

What To Eat On Leg Day?  

What to eat on leg day?

Pre-Workout

Before your workout, you’ll want to ensure that you’re getting enough carbs and potentially some protein to help fuel your training session.

Carbs are your body’s preferred energy source when working out. Having carbs pre-workout is essential so that you have energy to put to use. Protein can keep you from getting hungry during your workout.

If you’re eating an hour before your training session, you should just stick to carbs, which digest more quickly. 

You can skip the protein because protein is slower to digest, and you want to avoid fats before a workout because those are the slowest to digest and can cause digestive issues if consumed right before training.

If you’re eating 3 hours before a workout, you should be able to tolerate some carbs, protein, and a bit of fat without upsetting your stomach while training.

Intra-Workout

If you’re training for more than an hour and a half, you may want some fast-digesting carbs during your workout. If you’re not training longer than that, then you don’t need intra-workout nutrition.

If you do require intra-workout nutrition, stick to fast-digesting carbs like candy, gummies, Gatorade, dextrose, or honey. Sugars are your best option because they digest the fastest and won’t cause digestive upset.

Post-Workout

After your workout, you should prioritize protein and carbs.

Protein will help repair any muscle damage that occurred from training and encourage muscle protein synthesis, which is a precursor for muscle growth.

If you’re not getting enough protein, you will decrease your chances of building additional muscle. In fact, you could lose muscle.

If you’re looking for some high-protein meal ideas, check out these meals with 30g of protein and these meals with 40g of protein.

In addition, carbohydrates are very important for replenishing your energy stores which would have been depleted during your workout. It’s also important to eat carbs after your workout to encourage recovery.

However, you should avoid eating fats after a workout because they can slow down the absorption of carbs and protein.

Types of Food

For the most part, I suggest that you stick to higher-quality foods, also known as whole foods, which are minimally processed. These have more of the nutrients your body needs to function optimally.

That said, it’s better not to be all-or-nothing. I suggest that you aim for 80% nutrient-dense whole foods and 20% foods that you just really enjoy that may not be the most nutrient-dense.

examples of nutrient-dense foods

Some examples of nutrient-dense foods are:

Some examples of less nutrient-dense foods are:

Supplements

supplements for leg day: creatine monohydrate, caffeine, protein powder

On leg day, your supplement routine shouldn’t be that different from your other training days.

The supplements that are worth taking are:

These supplements have the most research supporting their use and therefore are the only ones that I recommend. However, supplements certainly aren’t necessary to make progress, and you could choose not to supplement at all.

If you are choosing to use supplements, the three listed above are things that you could take every day. I especially recommend taking creatine every day, but caffeine and protein powder could just be used as needed.

Get some ideas on how to increase your protein intake without protein powder if you’re not interested in taking any supplements.

What To Eat After Leg Day? 

You should be fine to return to your normal eating patterns the day after a leg day as long as your normal eating patterns consist of getting enough protein to encourage muscle damage repair.

Let’s get you in the best shape of your life. Sounds good?

Final Thoughts

If you’re trying to change your body composition or maximize your performance while cutting, I suggest eating more on leg day so that you’re getting the most out of your workout.

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


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.