If your goals in the gym include building muscle, there’s a good chance you’re already diligent about planning your protein intake around your training schedule.
But what about the days you’re not working out? Do your protein needs change on the days you’re not working out?
Here’s everything you need to know about protein, recovery, and whether or not you need a protein shake on off days.
Should You Drink a Protein Shake On Off Days?
On days that you workout, you probably drink a protein shake immediately after your workout. After all, this is when science says it’s the most effective time to do it.
There are some positives to drinking a protein shake on off days too. It all depends on how you plan your diet to meet your calorie and macro goals.
Do I Need to Eat Protein on Rest Days?
In short, yes.
Your muscles need protein even on the days you’re not spending time in the gym. Your muscles and other tissues are actively recovering on rest days, and recovery can take up to 24-48 hours. Therefore, it’s not likely that your protein needs will decrease on rest days.
What Are Your Macro Targets?
One of the most important things to consider when deciding whether or not to add a protein shake is your macros.
Consistency is key for nutrition, and nutrition is also highly personal. Your fitness goals determine your macro goals and this can be the deciding factor for whether or not you need to include your usual shake on a rest day.
If your goals include building lean muscle mass, you probably need a lot of protein. You should be meeting that target every day as long as building mass is still the goal. That applies even on rest days.
If you’re trying to lose weight or maintain it, you won’t need as much protein as someone working to add mass. However, getting enough protein is still key to meeting your goals. Some people find it easier to lose weight on a higher protein diet, which should stay consistent even on off days.
Reasons to Drink Protein Shake on off Days
There are several reasons why drinking a protein shake on off days may be better for your goals.
First, it may be difficult to meet your protein needs through food alone. Since your activity level is down quite a bit, you might notice you’re just not as hungry on rest days.
On the other hand, a protein shake can help you curb cravings if you tend to feel more hungry on rest days. Adding a protein shake as a snack will keep you full and help curb unwanted cravings.
Finally, it could all come down to convenience. Even if you could easily meet your protein needs with meals, sometimes a protein shake just makes life easier. If you’re on the road, working a crazy schedule, or you slacked off on meal prep for your rest day, drinking a protein shake can keep your macros in check.
Do Protein Shakes Make You Gain Weight?
Yes and no. It all depends on how many calories you’re consuming vs. how many calories you’re burning. So basically, a protein shake will make you gain weight only if they cause you to take in excess calories.
If you’re building muscle, then this is what you want. Building muscle is weight gain, which requires extra fuel. If you’re trying to lose weight, like in a cutting phase, you’ll want to be in a calorie deficit.
Either way, weight change doesn’t happen overnight. You need to be in either a calorie surplus or deficit over time to see results.
What to Eat on Rest Days to Support Muscle Growth
Do you need to eat differently when you’re in “recovery mode?” Not really. Your diet on rest days can look pretty similar to active days because your body needs the same nutrients even on the days you’re not working out in order to recover properly.
First, you need enough carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen stores, which quickly become depleted with both resistance and endurance training. Keeping your carbohydrate intake consistent ensures you’ll have the energy you need during your next workout. Whole grains, fruit, sweet potato, rice, and quinoa are some examples of carb-rich foods for rest days.
Next up, protein. You may need up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram bodyweight to support muscle recovery. Since recovery takes at least a day, you’ll want to keep your protein intake up. Go for high-quality protein sources like lean meat, poultry, eggs, fish, beans, tofu, or a protein shake.
Lastly, don’t cut out fat. Including fat on rest days keeps you full between meals. Fat also helps decrease inflammation and keeps the joints healthy.
Do You Need Rest Days to Build Muscle?
It might seem counterintuitive, but rest days are just as important as the actual work you put in to build muscle. Working out is just step one in muscle building. After breaking down the muscle in the gym, rest is necessary to repair and rebuild.
Some recovery happens between gym sessions, but an occasional, longer rest period is necessary to avoid overtraining. A rest day allows your body to replenish glycogen stores, repair muscle, and regulate stress hormones that naturally increase from the stress of exercise.
If these hormones are elevated over a long period of time, it’s more difficult to build muscle. You could notice your gym performance is suffering too.
Bonus Tips to Dial in Your Rest Day
Rest days are all about recovery. So think about what your body needs to fully recoup and be ready to get back to work.
Use your time to stretch. Stretching and other rehabilitory work like foam rolling can make a noticeable difference if you struggle with tightness and lack of mobility in the gym. The reward? Better workout performance and less risk of injury.
Plan a cheat meal. You could benefit from designating your off day as the day you’re a little more relaxed with your diet. Many people find that planning a “cheat meal” gives them something to look forward to after a week of hard work.
Also, half the battle with nutrition is finding a plan that’s sustainable. The occasional cheat day could help you stick to your diet in the long run.
Lastly, hydrate. Use rest days to replenish the fluids you lose in the gym. This will help prevent dehydration and muscle cramping.