What should young athletes eat on rest days?
Many young athletes often think of a rest day as a day where they don’t have to do anything; no training, no competitions and so there’s no need to think about what they eat.
But actually, rest days are just as important as the days spent in the gym, on the pitch or in the pool.
They’re the days where athletes’ bodies recover and repair from the tough week of exercise they’ve just done and where they prepare for the sessions ahead. And while resting is essential on these days, how athletes fuel their body is crucial to ensuring they maximise recovery, growth and training adaptations.
Carbohydrates are the bodies preferred energy source, especially for high intensity activity or endurance sports and events.
Because young athletes will be moving and exercising less on their rest days, carbohydrate requirements are lower. This means less focus needs to be given to basing meals around carbohydrate rich foods.
Choosing fibrous carbs, such as fruit and veg are a great way to tick of your 5-a-day as well as providing the body with higher levels of antioxidants, which may play a role in reducing muscle soreness. Although, evidence on this is mixed, fruit and vegetables are packed with other essential vitamins and minerals key to recovery and performance so increased intake on rest days is important .
Because rest days are the days when youth athletes’ bodies grow and repair, protein intakes still need to be high.
This helps to ensure that muscle repair and regrowth continues, reducing recovery times and setting athletes up for the week of training ahead. Focus on the leaner sources of protein such a fish, poultry and eggs.
Polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 containing oily fish, are said to reduce inflammation, maintain immunity and so improve recovery .
At 9kcal per gram, fats also provide athletes with essential calories needed for all aspects of growth and recovery, as well as being crucial to ensuring adequate supplies of fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids . However, priority should be given to unsaturated fats including nuts, oils, seeds and avocados and intake of saturated fats and processed foods should be limited .
How much water should you drink on a rest day?
Staying hydrated on a day off is crucial to aid in the recovery process, but also to prevent starting the next training session dehydrated. Even small amounts of dehydration can negatively impact performance and cognition, so keep a water bottle filled up and keep sipping on your day off.
As well as providing essential time for athletes to recover, rest days are also a great opportunity to try out new foods without the fear of stomach discomfort impacting performance. So next time you have a day off, remember, what you eat is just as important on a rest day as it is a competition day.
- Ranchordas, M., Rogerson, D., Soltani, H. and Costello, J. (2017). Antioxidants for preventing and reducing muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
- Lowery LM. Dictary fat and sports nutrition: a primer. J Sport Sci Med 2004;3:106-117.
- Desbrow, B., McCormack, J., Burke, L., Cox, G., Fallon, K., Hislop, M., Logan, R., Marino, N., Sawyer, S., Shaw, G., Star, A., Vidgen, H. and Leveritt, M. (2014). Sports Dietitians Australia Position Statement: Sports Nutrition for the Adolescent Athlete. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 24(5), pp.570-584.