Rest day food is low-carb, high in protein. You’re trying to repair your aching muscles (and thereby grow them stronger), and refill your carbohydrate stores rather than stock up more to burn off immediately.
The prime time to recover this carb deficiency is immediately after training (the optimum period is an hour), so you’ll need to sort the energy budget of your diet into two distinct categories: rest and exercise. Respectively, protein and carb focused.
Your mornings on rest day should be started with a protein-rich meal, and are generally easy to plan. Grab a shake, some eggs, a cup of yoghurt, or some whey-based proteins like milk or protein power itself to get you the nutrients that you require while simultaneously cutting down on the desire to snack (these foods are really filling even in small doses).
If you do snack, nuts, fruit, or a turkey sandwich (or other lean meat) are enough to keep the ball rolling.
When it comes to dinner, there aren’t as many easy options (well, compared to ‘take some yoghurt out of the fridge’ at least), but we’ve prepped a few good options for you to choose from.
Pick your protein
Before you start googling for healthy dinners, the most important thing you’ll need to know is what to base your meal around. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, then your dietary options are much simpler – soy and tofu are rich in protein and the perfect choice – but for carnivores you’ll have to pick a bit wiser.
The three best recovery protein sources most easily found in the supermarket to base a meal around are generally chicken (or turkey), pork, and seafood. Chicken or turkey are great lean protein, pork is saturated in BCAA (branched-chain amino acids) for muscle repair, and fish are usually pretty low in fat and jam-packed with omega-3.
This obviously isn’t a be-all and end-all of all good choices under the sun. For example, specific cuts of steak like top sirloin can be a good choice. Pro tip though, avoid t-bone, ribeye, and porterhouse steak – they’re all boasting over 1:1 fat numbers.
Here are a few examples of some good choices.
Recipes for rest day dinner
Salmon is rich in omega-3 and protein, and serves as a meal in itself — you can put a side with it, but it’s filling and rich enough in flavour to work by itself, or a small salad. Plus, besides the marinating time (10 minutes, of which you can feel free to buzz off elsewhere for a bit) it’s dead easy.
Mix up the marinade and slap in the fish for 10 minutes, cover and grill. Done. Simple, healthy, and delicious. Serve it with some greens to round it out.
Feels almost like cheating, doesn’t it, having a pie on a rest day?
Good news though. This is brilliantly healthy, packed with mushrooms, leek, and lean chicken protein, and without any of the gristle you’ll find in the average 4 and 20 or store-bought chicken and vegetable slosh.
It’s important to keep vegetables around, even if you’re technically getting your energy intake from other sources. They’re anti-oxidant heavy, which will take the load off of your repairing muscles by helping them get back to business faster.
It can be tempting to gorge on whatever the ‘correct’ form of nutrients are for your dietary plan, but always remember to supplement them with the correct dosage of essentials. Remember your food pyramid!
Soups are excellent for rest days. They sit in your stomach, preventing you from having a late night snack. They’re hearty, filling, easy to make, and you can occasionally get some use out of the more obscure areas of the spice cupboard.
This one doesn’t have a whole lot out of the ordinary ingredient list (Thai fish sauce can easily be replaced 1:1 with Soy, and if you’re Vegetarian swapping the chicken with tofu alongside it will get you an easy substitute if you like the look of this), but it’s mouthwateringly delicious nonetheless. Chicken and mushroom is a classic combination — it’s in the pie right above it! — and it’ll fill you up nice until morning.
You might even get a bit of extra hydration out of it (fluid recovery is also important on recovery days), but maybe drink something alongside it too.
Remember, light on carbs doesn’t mean carb-free. You still want to be adding slow-burn carbohydrates such as breads and pasta into your recipe list. Otherwise you’ll find yourself without a reservoir when it comes time to start working out again.
Lasagne is a good mix. It’s not 100% carbs like an entire bowl of pasta might be, but the carb-loaded sheeting mixed in between your protein and veggies will restore much needed energy, and give you more than enough carbs to be going on with.