So, you think you’ve mastered the fit life. You meal prep every Sunday so you don’t end up having Cheetos for dinner every night the next week. You’ve stocked up on new athletic wear from Forever 21, because holy cow, do they know how to hold a sale. And you’re absolutely in love with the cool fitness classes you’re taking — but stop right there. Is obsessing over fitness and exercising to the max every day the best approach? All signs point to no. In fact, if you’re not familiar with the importance of rest and recovery, you’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle.
Overtraining can lead to serious mental and physical consequences, not to mention totally work against you, rendering all your hard work pointless. Here are just a few vital points to remember about the importance of rest and recovery.
Fitness Breaks You Down — Rest Builds You Up
Exercising breaks your body tissues down. In fact, this is how we build muscle. Resistance training creates microscopic tears in your muscles; as everything heals, it gradually increases in size. But it won’t heal if you’re constantly training, meaning you’ll actually slow your progress down. During periods of rest and recovery, you allow your muscles, bones, tissues, and nerves to reconnect and regenerate. Eat plenty of good food, stay hydrated, and remember to take your supplements.
Sleep is Vital to Hormone Management
Part of your recovery includes getting adequate sleep. During your REM cycle, your body produces and releases more hormones, which aid in repairing your muscles after a grueling workout. It’s not just getting enough rest that matters; it’s getting enough sleep — and the right kind of sleep.
Nutrition Matters — Even on Rest Days
Some of us (myself included) tend to look at rest days as “free days” — meaning we treat them almost as cheat days and forget about being healthy. While the occasional cheat day is A-OK (and even beneficial), look at it this way: If you’re only concerned with your diet on the days you train, and you train four days a week, that’s nearly 50% of your week where you may not be properly fueling your body. How can you progress with half the effort?
Remember that if you aren’t training, you’re recovering from training, and your body needs special care. This includes your nutrition. For example, muscle protein synthesis continues for about a day after you last worked out. Your body hasn’t stopped working just because you’ve left the gym. Respect your body, and fuel properly! If you’re not sure what this means for you, Google nutrition tips for rest days based on your sport.
Mental Fatigue is a Real Thing
Have you ever had a day where you felt like your mind just needed a break? It sounds corny to say out loud, but your feelings aren’t unwarranted. Train too much and you can experience burnout, and your mental wellbeing takes as big of a hit as your physical wellbeing. Even though I miss training, I love my rest days, because I come back determined, mentally hungry, and motivated.
Rest Days Help Prevent Injury
We’ve already learned that physical activity breaks your body down (in a good way), and you need recovery in order to progress. But you also need rest so that the next time you hit the gym, you don’t leave with an injury. If you’re a runner, for example, the joints in your lower extremities are heavily stressed. Muscles tighten, and inadequate rest can mean muscle tears, shin splints, bone spurs, and more. Do these sounds like conditions you want to train under?
What’s more, when you’re recovering, your immune system releases fluid to cushion the worked areas. This is important to healing; but if you try to train while you’re retaining this fluid, you’re even more at risk.