The importance of taking a rest and re-feed day

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he majority of people whether they’re starting their fitness/ weight-loss journey or whether they have been exercising for a long period of time think “the more you exercise and the less you eat the more weight you will lose”

Well initially maybe, but how long can we keep training more and eating less before we are exercising all day with no fuel?

In this article I am going to simply highlight why we all need at least one rest day, how to identify if you are overtraining and why on this rest day we should re-feed our bodies.

Let’s start by explaining what exercise does to our bodies.

Working out, particularly resistance training breaks your body tissues down; causing microscopic tears. Rest allows these muscles along with bones, connective tissue and nerves to rebuild. This phase requires food, water, sleep and sometimes supplements to rebuild the tissues allowing them to grow back stronger.

To keep things simple, below I have listed the common factors that occur if you avoid a rest day and in essence are overtraining:


  • Weight gain – Without a rest day, we can class this as overtraining which thanks to your body’s protective mechanisms highlights this negative state and increases cortisol levels, which is a stress hormone that decreases testosterone, impedes muscular repair inhibits the breakdown of protein and reduces the ability to use fat as an energy source and in fact increases fat storage. This will lead to a plateau in weight loss or even weight gain


  • Lack of sleep – Overtraining can lead to a need for more sleep due to fatigue; but equally can lead to lack of sleep and in fact insomnia (which again can prevent those muscles from growing as REM promotes growth hormones and repair within the muscles)


  • Moods – we all know exercise releases endorphins which make us feel happy, but overtraining can lead to anxiety and depression


  • Increased Stress – As mentioned increased stress or cortisol can also lead to lower immune system, thyroid impairment and therefore reduced metabolism, water retention, insulin impairment and disturbed sleep. All leading to possible weight gain


  • Increased appetite – due to your bodies stressed state, you will require more fuel and probably crave the wrong foods, so when feeling low in energy, binge on high GI foods which may again lead to weight gain


  • Lack of menstrual cycle – generally a lack of your menstrual cycle signifies a problem in the bodily system. This can be from too much testosterone in the body which reduces oestrogen levels along with reduced leptin levels


  • Lack of free time – exercising everyday will eat up all your free time and leave you fatigued at other points of the day, leading to a reduced quality of lifestyle


  • Lack of development – ultimately without a rest day, we will not repair and rebuild and therefore will not be able to go further, lift heavier, complete more sets, reps or train for longer


The amount of rest we require will vary from person to person but general rule of thumb indicates that when starting out you should rest and exercise alternate days building up to 5 days exercise and 2 days rest a week. Athletes and highly fit individuals can get away with 1 day a week rest and 1 day lighter intensity classed as “active rest”.


If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, this could be a sign of overtraining and rest is needed:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of desire to train
  • Irritable
  • Increased illnesses
  • Increased injuries
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Cravings of carbohydrates
  • Constant muscle soreness
  • Depressive feelings
  • Burnout


Re- feed


Now we have highlighted the importance of a rest day, why should we eat more on a day we aren’t exercising?

The answer is Leptin!

Leptins’ main function in the body is to regulate hunger, food intake, energy expenditure and when the levels drop, your cravings for those bad foods increase. Low calorie diets and fasting can lead to a lowering of leptin which also reduces metabolism.

A re-feed day raises leptin levels avoiding hunger and giving your metabolism a kick up the backside along with reducing that dreaded cortisol and increasing the growth hormone production.

Do not get this confused with a “cheat day”. Leptin responds to glucose and you will benefit more from good sources of carbohydrates rather than sugary foods, protein or fats.

Like rest days, everyone’s need for a re-feed day is different and those who train excessively will need it more than those training at a low intensity. General rule of thumb suggests 20-25% more calories to begin with 1 day every week or fortnight. Frequency of a re-feed, will depend on how you respond to a re-feed and how lena you are.


Samantha Pretty

Impact Personal Trainer

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