Why Is A Rest Day Important for Exercise?

Why Is A Rest Day Important for Exercise?

Positively changing your body composition requires increasing Lean Body Mass. And in order to do that, you need to prioritize rest days during the week as much as you do working out. 

When you’re in the gym, your muscles are working hard and breaking down, preparing to rebuild and get stronger. That rebuilding phase is key, and it primarily happens in recovery. 

No, we’re not talking about just completing a shorter workout, we mean taking a rest day. Taking a full day off, or two, or three to let your muscles recover, recharge, and rebuild. Not only will your workouts improve, but your body composition will too.

A lot of people take training seriously—always giving it their all during intense workouts day after day—but fail to have the same sentiment towards recovery days. What they don’t realize is that muscle recovery is just as, if not more important than a sweat session alone. Why? Let’s dive in.

Means and Why it Matters

When you work out, you cause microscopic damage to your muscle cells. Because of the stress and fatigue your body is under during exercise, hormone and enzyme levels fluctuate, and inflammation increases. 

Those things might sound bad, but they’re not. In fact, they can lead to fat loss, an increased metabolism, increased strength, and muscle growth—but only if you properly recover. 

There are a few different types of recovery: immediate, short-term, and training recovery. Think of immediate recovery as the snippets of time between movements. For instance, when you’re on a jog, immediate recovery is the time between each stride. 

Short-term recovery can be thought of as the time between sets of exercises. For example, the rest periods between sprint intervals. 

Training recovery is the type you should care about most, and it’s the period of time between when one workout ends and the next begins. But, suggestions on how much time that should entail is widely varied.

Research has shown that rest time isn’t one size fits all—everyone’s body is different, and you should experiment with what feels right to you. For some people, 24 hours is the sweet spot. For others, it might take 48 or even 72 hours to feel fully recovered. It depends on your age, fitness level, exercise intensity, diet, sleep, and much more.

What happens during recovery?

In simplest terms, your body goes back to normal. But it’s a little more complicated than that. 

Think of homeostasis as your body’s resting rate or “normal”. Your body is always trying to return to homeostasis—keeping your core temperature regulated, blood pressure stable, and muscles nice and refreshed. During exercise, homeostasis is disturbed, meaning your body requires a period of rest to return to normal.

The process of homeostasis uses up a lot of energy, resulting in loads of calories burned. So not only is your body getting back to normal while you rest up, it’s catapulting you closer to your body composition goals. 

After exercise, there is an increase in “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” or EPOC. Essentially, our body uses up more oxygen during recovery than it does before or during exercise in an effort to replace all the oxygen used up while working out. This increase in oxygen use results in torched calories and happy muscles.

The most important part of recovery, and the one you’ll hear talked about most often, is the rebuilding of muscle. When you workout, and especially when you resistance train, tiny tears are made in your muscle fibers. In order for those tiny tears to turn into big gains, they need to repair themselves—growing even larger. This happens during—you guessed it—rest.

Beyond the basic physiological benefits, it can also help prevent injury resulting from overuse and assist in healing when injuries do happen. 

And let’s not forget what some time off can do for your mental health. Taking a few days or even a week to rest can help you find the motivation you need to reach your goals and give you back that surge of energy needed to lean out, get stronger, and keep getting better.

Let’s quickly summarize what rest and recovery can do for your body:

Torch caloriesBuild muscleRe-fuel musclesHelp prevent injuryImprove mental clarity and motivation

What Happens When You Don’t Rest?

So what happens when you don’t listen to your body and give it the time off it craves? 

Maybe you’re really close to your goals and are scared a rest day will set you back. Or maybe you don’t feel tired or sore and think that resting would be pointless. Whatever the reason, not taking time to recover (overtraining) can have some pretty serious consequences. 

Remember that inflammation we talked about earlier? When you don’t rest up, that inflammation never has time to heal, leading to potential injuries, a weakened immune system, and the potential for muscle mass loss.

Studies show that during periods of intense stress, like a really tough workout, the body’s immune system isn’t able to function fully. This means that your body will have a tougher time fighting off germs and viruses, and you might end up under a pile of tissues and cold medicines. The same studies have found that one of the best ways to prevent this is to—you guessed it—prioritize rest.

Another side effect of overtraining is burnout. Burnout is that feeling that anything (watching grass grow, cleaning out the closet) would be better than going to the gym. And it happens when you forget to take time for life outside of fitness. It happens when you don’t rest. 

Not to mention how moody overtraining can make you. Constantly being on the go and under intense physical stress can really take a toll on your mood. And nobody likes being around someone who’s worn out, sore, and grumpy. Take your rest days. 

Focus On Recovery: Here’s How

Everyone has different recovery needs. Some people find that going for a light cardio helps speed up their recovery, some prefer a massage, and others might opt for ice baths. There are lots of ways to exercise, and an equal amount of ways to recover.

But are all recovery techniques created equal? Let’s take a look.

Passive rest s simply taking time off and relaxing. With passive rest, you don’t actively try to recover—you simply let your body do its thing. Research shows that this type of recovery may be the best option for most people. Active recovery can be thought of as an easier workout than usual. If you’re an avid long-distance runner, active recovery may consist of a shorter run at a more leisurely pace. If you prefer to lift weights, you might opt for a 30-minute yoga session. Active recovery has been shown to be especially effective for runners, clearing out blood lactate faster than passive recovery. But like previously mentioned, this depends on personal factors and intensity. Hydration is important before, during, and after exercise. Water is recovery’s best friend because it helps flush toxins from the body and prevent dehydration, which can make soreness even worse. While there’s no official consensus on how much water you should drink daily, a good place to start is ½ your body weight in ounces. Ice baths and cold-water immersion therapy use the therapeutic effect of ice or cold water to help soothe sore muscles. Research has shown that cold-water immersion may reduce soreness and DOMS more effectively than passive rest. If you don’t have a cold-water immersion tank readily available, you may get similar relief by targeting sore areas with ice packs. Supplements such as amino acid drinks and protein shakes are garnering more and more popularity. Most people drink these intra- or post-workout, but new research has shown that consuming a high-quality protein shake pre-workout creates the largest increase of protein synthesis rates in recovery. In layman’s terms: drinking high-quality protein before a workout increases the amount of protein building (muscle repairing) that happens after a workout. If you’re considering trying other supplements, we suggest starting with the basics and then giving some of these a try.  Sleep is the ultimate recovery tool—blasting fat, building muscle, and improving your body composition. When you snooze, your body goes to work making major repairs and preparing you for another day of crushing your goals. If you’re trying to change your body composition, you need to get your sleep. 

Recovery Foods

Proper nutrition plays a vital role in helping you reach your body composition goals and it also helps recovery. If you want to speed up recovery and feel better faster, snack on these foods:

Chocolate milkTart cherry juiceHigh-Quality Whey protein (containing 6 grams of essential amino acids)

Focus On Recovery: Here’s How

Improving your body composition, by increasing Lean Body Mass and decreasing Body Fat Mass, requires more than just a few hours in the gym and sticking to a diet. If you want to look better, feel better, and perform better, you need to take rest days!

Incorporating rest days into your exercise program ensures your muscles have time to rebuild, your body can find its “normal,” injuries will be few and far between, and your body remains a fat-burning machine. 

Sweat a lot, move a lot, and rest a lot—you will be able to reach your fitness goals faster and your body will thank you.


Kaili Meyer is a health and travel writer based in the Midwest. If she’s not writing, you can find her cuddled up with a good book, in the gym, or on a plane headed somewhere warm. 

Clean Eating vs. If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM): What You Need to Know

Clean Eating vs. If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM):
What You Need to Know

There has been a lot of discussions both in the media and in doctors’ offices about the obesity epidemic this country is facing. While everyone has heard that diet and exercise is the way to fix this, there is an overwhelming number of diets to choose from. Is a meat based high protein diet better than plant-based? Do you need to go dairy-free or gluten-free? With the sheer number of options, people often jump from diet to diet when they don’t see continuous weight loss. The result? People to become frustrated over time as they don’t reach their health goals or struggle to stick to their program. 

One school of thought you may be familiar with touts that counting “calories in versus calories out” is the answer; indicating that it is energy balance and not the type of calorie that matters. However, it can be argued that not all calories are created equal. Every diet requires you to consume a balance of nutrients like protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, but there are different types of carbohydrates, fats, and even proteins that can make “the right” decision difficult. 

Two diets that bring the age-old question of quantity versus quality into the light are “Clean Eating” and “If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM).” Even though many people have been frustrated by past failures with diets, it is important not to give up! In this article, we are going to explain a bit more on what these two diets are, how they’re different from other diets, and how these diets impact body composition.

Body Composition: What Is It?

Body composition is more descriptive than overall weight because it reports what is really making up that body weight. Weight is comprised of lots of different components including protein, water, minerals, and fat. Combining all these components determines someone’s body composition.

When dividing the body into different components, usually the most focused upon is body fat. Clearly, there is cause to be concerned about fat mass, which is why fat loss is the selling point for many diets; however understanding the balance between lean mass, fat mass, and water is just as important when it comes to maintaining a healthy body composition. 

Diet is a crucial factor in maintaining a healthy, balanced body composition.

The Clean Eating Diet

Clean eating is less of a diet and more of a lifestyle. There are a few important points when it comes to clean eating, such as:

Eating more nutrient-dense whole foods and fewer processed foods or “refined” foodsFocusing on eating full, balanced meals and fewer snacks Eating more at home where people can control what goes into their meals Sleeping more at night and exercising regularly.

These points show that focusing on healthy eating habits and getting the right food groups places fewer restrictions on your diet, giving you some freedom; plus, there are also scientific studies to back up the claims. 

A study published in the British Medical Journal followed over 10,000 people and collected their dietary information. This list included more than 3,000 different foods and they were categorized by their degree of processing. 

What the researchers found was that ultra-processed foods were associated with dramatically higher cancer risk, specifically breast cancer. The researchers also attempted to adjust the results to account for sodium, lipid, and carbohydrates. However, no matter how they interpreted the data, processed foods led to higher chances of developing cancer.

Another research study looked at the impact of processed foods in pregnant women on the gestational weight gain and size of the baby. The research data was collected from St. Louis, MO and analyzed the links between the mother’s diet and the body composition of the baby. The researchers found that:

On average, more than 50 percent of the daily calories in these women came from processed foodsA 1 percent increase in the percentage of processed foods resulted in an additional 1.33 kg (close to 3 pounds) of weight gain during pregnancyThis same percentage increase led to a 0.62 percent increase in the body adiposity of the baby

This is important because excess gestational weight gain can lead to maternal hypertension, gestational diabetes, and possible pre-eclampsia. 

By eating clean and avoiding processed foods, people can improve their body composition and overall health. Many people have trouble eating clean because of the “convenience” factor. It is important to remember that foods can be both convenient and healthy. Just reach for foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and nuts before you succumb to junk food.

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition echoed this sentiment. Researchers studied a few dozen adults who increased their intake of fruits or vegetables. The researchers found that not only did this lead to decreased food intake (measured in energy) but it also led to a reduced waist circumference and weight loss. 

The Takeaways: Clean Eating

Clearly, clean eating not only leads to weight loss but improves body composition as well. By improving body composition, individuals can improve their overall health and reduce their chances of developing dangerous complications of obesity down the road. 

For people who embrace “clean eating,” they focus on a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and protein without getting caught up in counting the number of calories. This diet might be right for people who get frustrated by counting calories and would like an overall “big picture” to which they can adhere.

“If It Fits Your Macros”

Another diet that people may have heard about is the “If It Fits Your Macros” diet, also called IIFYM. For those who have trouble counting calories, the IIFYM diet could provide more structure. The macronutrients or “macros” include:


All of these components impact overall health and body composition in a different way. The diet isn’t “low carb”. Nor does it make specific recommendations like eating lots of healthy fats or whole grains. Instead of focusing on a “one-size fits all approach,” you calculate your macros to tailor the diet to your specific metabolic demands. Then, people are allowed to eat whatever foods they would like as long as it fits their individual macronutrients. 

An interesting research study included hundreds of thousands of people and, over a period of several years, swapped the percentages of their dietary macros. Then, they tracked their weight at follow-up visits. 

Some of their results showed that swapping fat for protein led to weight gain, swapping carbohydrates for protein led to weight gain, and diets with 14 percent protein were associated with less weight gain than diets with 20-25 percent protein.

While these individuals may have been building lean muscle mass with this increased protein intake, the results still show that diets with excess protein can cause someone to become overweight and obese. Too much of a good thing is possible. Everyone needs to ingest all macros in the right amounts, which can be different from person to person. Some people need more healthy fats or whole grains depending on their lifestyle. Swapping the amount of each macro that you eat on a regular basis impacts both lean muscle mass and fat mass.

Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition took a similar approach. In the study, participants around the age of 45 were randomly placed into two different energy-restricted diets which were either moderate in protein or high in carbohydrates. The individuals had their body composition measured at four months and then again at 12 months.

At the four month mark, the protein group had lost 22 percent more fat mass than the carbohydrate group, but the overall weight loss did not differ. At 12 months, the protein group had higher adherence to the study with a greater improvement in body composition, but weight loss still did not differ much. Finally, the protein diet provided an overall greater improvement in body composition along with a greater reduction in triglyceride levels and a more significant increase in HDL.

This study shows that, while either diet can help someone lose weight, each macro impacts body composition differently. Diets that have a significant amount of protein in them might not help someone lose more weight than a high carbohydrate diet, but it can help someone build more lean body mass. Importantly, it can also help someone lose fat mass and might be easier to adhere to.

Furthermore, strict one-size fits all diets often do not work because people cannot stick to them. In fact, for some people, indulging a little bit can actually help them stick to a diet while still remaining within their macros. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology highlighted that:

On occasion, indulging while on a diet can help someone regain their ability to self-regulatory their intakeIndulging can also help people maintain their motivation to stick to their dietThis also has a positive impact on their mood, which helps them stick to their goals

With this in mind, if people can indulge while still adhering to their macronutrients, it could help them stick to their diet. If they are able to adhere to their diet, they are more likely to attain their goals. The point of this is that the “right” diet for someone ultimately needs to be one with which they can stick to.

The goal of the IIFYM diet is to provide everyone with an individualized dietary structure that allows for more to hit the plate than just chicken and veggies. However, the IIFYM diet goes beyond basic calorie reduction or counting and acknowledges that every macro impacts body composition in a different way. 

With this in mind, the IIFYM diet provides everyone with a plan that is tailored for them and their goals. The IIFYM still asks people to count calories and to calculate and track their macros, but it provides comfort to those who like to have structure and also allows them to eat foods that they like.

Adhering to a Diet

There are many different diets that people have heard about and everyone talks about finding the “right” one. Ultimately, many people become frustrated because they have trouble sticking to a diet or feel like they aren’t seeing results. For this reason, the “right” diet is the one that you can stick to.

Clean eating and IIFYM diets each have their merits and can be successful for different people. But remember, a diet can be successful even if people aren’t losing weight. The goal isn’t just to lose weight but to reach a healthy balance of fat mass and lean body mass. It is vital to focus on body composition as a marker of overall health instead of just the number on the scale. If the weight stays the same but there is body fat loss and lean body mass gain, this should still be viewed as progress. 

A diet will not work if people are not fully invested and if the individual does not feel like they can stick to the eating plan. In the end, remember that diet is a slow but proven process and the approach to improving body composition needs to be well-rounded and easy to maintain. Aim to discuss your dietary plans with a nutrition professional to ensure that you are losing weight in a healthy manner and choosing the diet that works best for you.


David Randolph graduated from medical school at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He is currently completing his Residency in Pediatrics at the University of South Carolina.


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