For the gym rats amongst you, your rest days may leave you feeling uncomfortable and agitated as sitting around and doing nothing on your downtime, may not come as natural to you as it would to somebody who happens to have lead a more, shall we say, sedentary lifestyle that was perhaps more heavily influenced by the TV and the sofa. On rest days where you don’t hit the gym or engage in any strenuous physical activity at all, you may find yourselves at a loose end and simply won’t know what to do with yourself. Not only can off days for training be frustrating and boring, they can also be pretty confusing as well. When it comes to supplements for example, there will be supplements that state that the user should take X amounts of scoops before, during, or after training, or that they should consume X amounts of capsules on training days. On non training days however, some people will tell them to continue using the products, whilst others will convince them not to bother. As well as supplements however, people’s diets and macronutrient consumptions, can also cause a fair deal of confusion and uncertainty, especially where carbohydrates are concerned. Say for example, you’re looking to build muscle and just generally build an awesome physique, obviously your daily protein consumption should not change from day to day, because protein is always essential for building muscle, no matter when you consume it, although obviously a post-workout shake is essential. Fats and carbohydrates, though, well, they’re slightly more tricky. If you aren’t sure how to structure your carbohydrate consumption on days when you don’t exercise or work out, take a look at the following.
Why do we need carbohydrates?
First off, it’s important that we understand the fact that, no matter what we’re training for, or no matter how frequently we train, that, unless we are following a professional, carefully structured low-carb diet plan that has been tried and tested in the past, I.E Keto or Atkins, carbs are a necessity for our bodies. Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients, the other two being fats and proteins, meaning that they are only one of three sources in which our bodies are able to get fuel and energy to perform the various tasks and processes required on a daily basis, and not just those relating to muscle growth and repair either. Carbohydrates are made up of simple, and complex sources, with the simple sources being broken down and absorbed far quicker than the complex sources. Typically, simple carbohydrates are made up of sugar foods that can lead to hormonal imbalances and unstable blood sugar levels, which is why they should be consumed sparingly. Instead, complex carbohydrates are much safer bets, as they are digested, broken down, and absorbed over a much longer period of time, meaning that they don’t cause unstable blood glucose levels, or hormonal imbalances relating to insulin secretion and sensitivity.
Why do most people go low/no carbs on non training days?
If you read various articles or magazines, or spend a fair amount of time at the gym, you will probably have seen/heard, people talking about the fact that they, and you, should go with low/no carbs on days when you aren’t in the gym, so that you can get carbs into your system on days when you do train, and so you can put them to good use. Whilst there are some people that do benefit from that type of eating, generally speaking, most of those individuals are those who are carb cycling. Some people believe that eating carbs on non training days will make them fat, because, as they aren’t expelling as much energy, they won’t be burning off as many carbs, meaning that any leftover will be stored as fat. If however, you carefully monitor your carb consumption, and don’t go crazy, especially with the simple carbs, you will not only be able to burn body fat, you will also be able to replenish your muscle glycogen stores so that the next time you do hit the gym, your energy levels will be through the roof, allowing you to get a much more productive workout in.
Do you need to go low/no carbs on off days?
In a word – no. A lot of people will structure their carb intakes so that, on off days from the gym, they are consuming very few carbs, and certainly less than they would on days when they were training in the gym. In reality however, this is simply not essential. You see, each day/each week, you have a certain amount of carbohydrates to aim for to hit your daily macro requirements. As an example, if your weekly target amount is, say, 1800 grams of carbs. By the end of the week, it doesn’t matter which days you consumed the most/the least amounts of carbs, as long as your weekly consumption falls into the 1800 grams. Within reason of course, because obviously the body can only process so many carbs, so you can’t expect to go 0 carbs for six days a week, and then 1800 grams on day seven. But, say you went with, 150 grams one day, 200 the next, 80 the next, and so on, in reality, as carbs stay in your system for up to 2 days, sometimes 3, as long as you haven’t gone for two days straight with zero carbs, the carbs that you do consume, won’t make that much of a difference, whether you eat them on training days or not.
Why we need carbs on non training days
In actual fact, carbs on non training days have proven to be incredibly beneficial, with many experts telling us that we should ensure we are getting plenty of carbs on non training days. Here’s a look at why.
Carbs promote sleep – Sleep is essential for muscle growth and recovery, not to mention the fact that we feel awful if we don’t get enough. Well, it just so happens that carbohydrates have been found to help trigger the release of serotonin when we relax and unwind, I.E in the evening. Serotonin is a hormone which helps to induce sleep and promote rest and relaxation, so if you want to wake up refreshed ready to tackle your workout the next day, better get some carbs inside of you.
They act as pre-workout fuel – Marathon runners and endurance athletes, will often do what is known as a “carb load” the night before a big race. The evening before they are due to compete, they will chow down on huge portions of pasta, rice, bread, cereal, and various other sources of carbohydrates, so that, by the time they wake up the next day, their muscles, or rather, the cells that make up their muscles, are full to the brim with glycogen, which is a form of sugar, used by the muscles for energy. Well, the same principle applies to non training carb consumption. If you have an early morning workout ahead of you, a complex carb source in the evening will ensure that the next morning, you feel strong, energized, and that your muscles function extremely well.
Carbs prevent muscle catabolism – Muscle catabolism is basically where the body takes muscle tissue, and breaks it down and uses it as a source of energy, due to a lack of other energy sources. Studies have found that the body is most likely to use muscle protein for energy, when the body is in a glycogen depleted state. Put simply, if the muscle cells have no glycogen, the body begins breaking down muscle tissue, ironically, to provide energy to get you through the workout that you are using to try and build muscle with.
How should you structure your carb consumption on non training days?
Put simply, you should structure your carb consumption on off days, just as you would on training days, apart from the post-workout, insulin spike inducing, simple carbs of course. Know your macros, try not to combine high fat meals with high carb meals, and make sure you are hitting your macro targets, whatever they may be.