Are Rest Days Good For Muscle Growth?

7 December 2022
By Sandra Calva

This article will delve into the relevance and importance of rest days. We will look at what rest days are, the benefits, what occurs to the body during rest days, and how to maximise the benefits of rest days when you're trying to build muscle.

Rest days are vital for physical and mental recovery as well as muscle growth and should be a key component of any training program. They should be included into everyone’s training programs, whether you are an experienced gym junkie or whether you have recently taken up the gym and train a couple of times a week. When and how you should include rest days in your program depends on many factors.

This article will help you gain a better understanding of why and how often you should be implementing rest days into your training program to achieve maximum benefits for muscle growth.

What are rest days when you're building muscle?

Rest days are days of deliberate lower activity or complete rest in order to help the body and mind recover from training. Rest days allows for muscle recovery, repair and growth, replenishment of the body’s energy stores, and allows the mind to relax and recover.

What does the body do on rest days?

When training we use our muscle glycogen stores in order to perform rep after rep, exercise after exercise. Our glycogen stores are therefore being depleted throughout the session which is why we might find it harder to produce our best quality reps towards the end of a set or towards the end of a session. We need rests between sets to allow our body to restore energy before we do our next set/exercise. Training programs are no different, we require rest days between training days in order to allow our glycogen stores to recover and allow us to get the most out of our training.

Strength training works by breaking down muscle fibres and it is during days of rest where the muscles rebuild by increasing the number and thickness of these fibres, through a cellular process. This leads to muscle growth, but this can only happen when the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown, emphasising the importance of rest days.

Not accommodating rest days into your program can lead to overtraining. Overtraining has many negative effects including injury, loss of motivation, decrease in performance and loss of muscle mass. You may wonder how can training more decrease your muscle mass? Depletion of muscle glycogen stores from overtraining means the body then uses its proteins for energy meaning there is less protein available to aid recovery and muscle growth. Similarly, the increased risk of injury may mean you are unable to train altogether, and this inactivity could reduce muscle mass.

So then how often should you be having rest days? As a general guide you should take a rest day every 2-5 days. How often you should rest depends on your goals, age, training age, volume/intensity of training. Those who are younger, with a greater training age and train at lower volumes/intensities need less frequent rest days. However, it is important to be flexible with your rest days. If you are experiencing any overtraining symptoms that may be a sign that you need to accommodate more rest days into your program.

How can you make rest days really count when you're building muscle?

 Now there are a number of ways you can make the most of your rest days. Some may want to completely relax and read a book or watch TV, others may want to have a bit more of an active rest day by going on a walk or doing yoga/pilates. This very much depends on personal preference as well as your level of fitness and training. If you are someone who finds walking/yoga/pilates very taxing and tiring on the body this (for now) probably isn’t the best way to spend your rest day. However, if you are someone who has trained regularly for years, a slow walk or yoga/pilates can actually refresh your body whilst still recovering from your training sessions.

During rest days our aim is to not expend much energy and allow the muscles and mind time to recover. Your diet should therefore reflect this by reducing the amount of carbohydrates you consume whilst increasing the amount of protein you consume to help aid this recovery. Due to your activity levels being lower so is the number of calories you burn which is why, you should be consuming less calories on your rest days compared to your training days. 

Sleep is also vital for recovery, getting a good 8 hours sleep a night can help with muscle growth and repair. When we enter deep sleep (non-rem) the pituitary glad releases growth hormones stimulating muscle growth and repair. So, when trying to recover from exercise ensure you make time to get enough sleep too.

If you'd like the support of one of Fitness Lab's strength coaches to help you on your muscle-building mission, we'd love to explain what we can do. Get in touch!

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