Foods and Activities to Include on Your Workout Recovery Days

Last updated on : June 23 2021

Breakfast in bed on rest day

Rest & Recovery Days

If you’re passionate about your health and fitness, then it’s essential to understand that your rest and recovery days are just as important as the days you spend in the gym, going on a long run, or doing any strenuous exercise.

You should take at least one recovery day between every three to five days of active exercise. Resting allows your body time to recover, helps to prevent fatigue and injury, and can improve your performance as you continue to work out.

Without recovery days, your body can burn out quickly. You also might be less motivated to push yourself during exercise because you’re so mentally and physically exhausted.

So, if you want to make steady progress with your fitness regimen, understanding what you should do, eat, and avoid during your rest days can make a big difference.  

Recovery days aren’t excuses to “undo” everything you’ve tried to accomplish during your workouts. Instead, they are days to let your body recover and get stronger so you can continue to work harder.

With that in mind, let’s look at what you need to do to fuel your body for maximum performance.

What to Eat

When you work out for a few days in a row, you’re burning a lot of calories. That’s especially true if you’re doing high-intensity cardio workouts or using free weights. So, it’s essential to eat enough calories on your “days off” to make up for what you’ve lost.

If your goal is to lose weight, you can eat less or focus on natural fat burning foods, but it’s essential to give your body enough nutrition and fuel to keep working out and even functioning for your everyday activities.

When you make healthy eating a commitment, you don’t have to starve yourself.

Some of the basics of healthy eating that you should keep in mind every day include:


  • Balancing your calorie intake with your fitness goals
  • Eating “good” calories
  • Getting into routines and habits
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Reading food labels


Eating right on your days off is about more than just consuming calories. It’s easy to think that just because you’re regularly working out, you can treat yourself to whatever you want.

While you don’t need to deprive yourself of the things you love, you also want to treat your body with respect so you can be healthy as you work toward your goals.

So, what foods are the best for recovery?


  • Protein: Eating lean protein on rest days will help your muscles to grow stronger. It also helps to repair your muscles, mainly if your workouts include strength training. When you work out, tiny tears develop in your muscles that need repairing for you to get stronger. Protein is the building block for those repairs. Foods like chicken breast, lean ground beef, fish, eggs, and natural peanut butter are great protein-packed options.
  • Carbohydrates: Though there are several “fad diets” suggesting you should avoid carbs, they aren’t the enemy if you’re working out regularly. Your body needs carbohydrates to power your workouts. Even on your recovery days, carbs are necessary because they will turn into glycogen in your muscles. That glycogen will be “stored” so you can use it later when you’re working out. Some of the best foods with good carbohydrates include sweet potatoes, oats, whole grain bread, and brown rice.
  • Anti-inflammatory fats: Your body needs some fat, but it’s essential to choose healthy fats that will reduce inflammation on your recovery days. Some of the most effective options are salmon and nuts.
  • Micronutrients: Most people focus on their macronutrients, but micros are just as crucial on recovery days. Taking in enough Vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium will help to repair your muscles and can reduce the risk of further damage. Include foods like citrus fruits, bananas, spinach, and tuna in your diet to boost your micronutrient intake.


Eating right every day should become a habit and a lifestyle, not something you do because you feel you “have” to.

When you make healthy food choices, you won’t just recover from your workouts faster. You are also choosing to take care of your overall health. It’s a natural form of preventative healthcare, which can reduce your chances of illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer.

Preventative healthcare is critical when it comes to fighting away chronic conditions prevented by diet and lifestyle changes. So, instead of making your food choices part of your fitness routine, work with professionals like your doctor or a personal trainer to make them a part of your lifestyle.

What to Do

This answer should be easy, right? It’s your rest day, so it should be okay to lounge around on the couch and binge-watch your favorite Netflix series (again)? Well, yes and no.

While your body needs to rest on your recovery day, there are certain things you should do to make the most of those days, so your next workout can be even better.

If you don’t give yourself time to rest properly, not only do you risk injuring yourself, but you might start to find that you push your body to its limits. When that happens, you’re less likely to see the results you want from your exercise efforts.

So, what activities should you do on your day off?

For starters, think of your rest days as “active recovery” days. You can (and should) still find ways to move and be active, but with less intensity. Turn these days into opportunities to stretch, unwind, and focus on your mental fitness with different relaxation techniques like mindfulness and meditation.

You can also keep your body moving while still allowing it to rest and repair itself.

Some of the best activities if you want to remain active while letting your body recover include:



The most important thing you can do is to listen to your body. Not all of your recovery days need to be so active.

If your muscles are incredibly sore, you’re feeling fatigued, or you feel like you’re burning out, stop. Don’t push yourself on a rest day.

There will be some times where it feels like all you can do is walk from your bed to the couch, and that’s okay. While it shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence, if that is what your body is telling you it needs, then listen to it.

What to Avoid

There are a few obvious things you should avoid on the days you’re not working out and some less-obvious factors that could set back your exercise efforts.

There are certain foods that you should avoid indulging too much in on your recovery days. While carbs and fats are essential, they are not all created equally.

You might think that working out gives you a “free pass” to eat whatever you want. But, eating processed foods, foods high in saturated fats and sugars, and refined carbohydrates can hinder your workouts and make you feel sluggish.

You’ve probably seen some people in the fitness community talk about “cheat days,” where they either have an incredibly large meal or eat anything and everything they want for one day before getting back on track.

While you shouldn’t deprive yourself of indulgences once in a while, cheat days can be dangerous. They can lead to heart problems, and they increase your risk of binge eating.

Eating just one large meal a day can also cause spikes in your insulin levels. By repeatedly doing that, it can increase your risk of developing diabetes, no matter how healthy you are otherwise.

It’s also a good idea to limit foods that keep your body in distress, including alcohol, foods that are highly acidic, or even dairy products if they don’t always agree with your system.

Remember, your body is in recovery from the inside out. Eating things that can cause issues like acid reflux or digestive problems aren’t giving it a break it needs. You know your body better than anyone. If you know that certain foods upset your system, limit your intake of those foods, or avoid them altogether.

The last thing you want is to feel lousy on your rest day and have that carry over into your next workout. In fact, by eating the wrong stuff on a recovery day, you might not feel good enough to give your maximum effort the next time you work out. It’s a vicious cycle that can easily be avoided by staying away from certain foods.   


Mixed berries in a bowl

If you regularly workout and watch the common workout mistakes, you deserve a day off once or twice a week! Your body needs it, no matter how much you want to keep pushing yourself. When you make your recovery days a priority, you will put just as much into them as you do into any high-intensity workout.

So, keep these foods and activities in mind as an essential part of your fitness regimen. When you start to recover the right way, you might find that you’re able to work out even harder and see faster results without burning yourself out - and give your immune system a positive boost

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