Two of the most common questions I get from a whole range of athletes are:
“Why am I always so tired and so ravenous on rest day?”
“How do I tame my hunger on rest days and stop myself over-eating?”
A quick peek at a food diary or a run-down of the day's intake does indeed show a feast of snacks and high carb meals, despite a rest day that’s mostly spent on the lounge while any life chores, work, study or family commitments are shelved through overwhelming fatigue.
Often what an athlete is after are tricks and tips, ways to distract from eating or foods that can be swapped for those lower in energy.
These are massive red flags and for me completely misses the point, or misses the glaring problem: appropriate energy matching.
It’s actually a pretty easy fix, but for athletes, and particularly endurance athletes is a far too common problem, and one that can quickly lead to performance and health issues.
A closer look at a training and food diary reveals energy mismatches throughout the week; failing to fuel properly for key sessions, skipping adequate recovery or attempting to get through sessions deliberately under-fuelled to meet body comp goals.
A reliance on caffeine as an energy hit is also pretty common in these instances. Come rest day and an athlete’s body is in catch up mode and without the immediacy of training to distract – hunger sets in – exacerbated by fatigue and an overload response that sees hormonal and immune function suppressed, both of which have the effect of increased hunger and in particular cravings for short, fast energy hits.
These habits are a fast path to poor performance. An athlete who is mismatching energy like this fails at almost every front; they aren’t taking advantage of the effort put into key sessions, they aren’t recovering and they’re over-eating on rest days often leading to poor nutrient choices.
In turn, this means body systems are overly stressed and athlete’s are more likely to get sick, less likely to meet body comp goals, more likely to have abnormal hormonal function and less likely to see training progressions.
Not many wins in there.
To better match energy levels so that you can function as a human at work, with family and outside of training in general – take a more considered approach to your week.
It doesn’t need to be complex but key sessions in particular should be accompanied by sufficient fuel before/during/after. For busy athletes, this might even mean chopping into actual training time to give time for meal planning/cooking/eating – a choice that will pay dividends in the long run.
On days when training demands are higher, or when sessions are all about intensity, plan on having a higher carb meal or snack before, top up as necessary during and don’t skimp on the recovery (the carbs/protein combo). This rule holds true even if you are looking to drop body fat or change body composition. On lighter and recovery days, your attention can focus on nutrient dense options, fill your plate with colour (of the fruit and veg variety) to maximise nutrients and fibre to maintain health as well as optimal cognitive and mood balance.
It’s really easy to forget that for most of us training and racing is secondary to ‘life’.
Work, family, life, training – they all add up and stress is cumulative – physically, mentally and emotionally. Endurance athletes tend to take a more is better approach, with many amateurs thinking they should or need to train the same number of hours as a pro.
It’s important to be critical when it comes to training programs, assessing what is essential and what is just logging extra kms unnecessarily (and taking away from other aspects of life). This will be crucial in ensuring you have the energy not only when it comes to the training sessions that matter, as well as race day, but that you have the energy outside of sport for the things that matter.
- Pip Taylor