Ever notice how you can eat what you need to on heavy training days, but when it comes to that weekly rest day, you’re simply dying to consume everything in sight?
The feeling of excessive hunger on your day off of athletic training is caused by a few factors. First, training takes a large part of your time and concentration, leaving less time to sit around thinking of what to eat (or actually eating it). Second, training makes you feel committed as an athlete and focused on high performance through hitting guidelines on power, pace, distance and diet.
Thirdly, and likely what explains this feeling the most, is that exercise has been shown to suppress appetite. Therefore, on days you are in your heaviest training, it is easy to think you don’t need much to eat. On days of rest, your appetite doesn’t get suppressed, causing you to feel hungrier than normal.
Rest days can be mentally challenging for many athletes, and adding the urge to eat large amounts can leave you feeling stressed and out of control. However, this situation is not entirely working against you. If you regularly find yourself binging or overly concerned you’re eating too much on rest days, there are a few tips you can use to troubleshoot the issue.
This feeling is a good indicator that you are under-fueling your heavier training days. Try increasing your caloric intake on days your body needs it the most, and see if that lessens your cravings on the next day without training.
Many athletes try to overly restrict on rest days as their caloric expenditure is lower. Instead, focus on the quality of your diet on rest days over the calories or amount of food. Aim to eat meals that are balanced, full of colorful produce, whole grains, quality protein and filling fats.
Give yourself permission to not stress this day! Allowing yourself to eat what you want (yes, even pizza or cookies) on a rest day can provide a much-needed mental break from the discipline it takes to be successful on training days. Don’t call it a cheat day; think of it as a self-care day.
If you take several rest days a week, it becomes more important to not go overboard with eating habits. Create a meal plan (or work with a sports dietitian to assist you in doing so) to help stay on track with your dietary intentions.