Rest Days: The Unsung Hero of Fat Loss
Rest days are arguably the most underutilised tool when it comes to achieving fat loss and overall body goals.
Now I know what you're thinking.
“What the hell are you talking about?! I look good because I lift heavy weights, do cardio and stick to my nutrition”.
Well, technically you're not wrong mi amigo. These are the things that force adaptation to occur in your body, there's no doubt about that.
But answer me this -. how do your muscles feel 24-72 hours after your workout?
They're in pain right?
This is your muscles letting you know that microtrauma has occurred (tearing of the muscle fibres to you and me). This is now your muscles time to save your ass by repairing, growing and as far as it’s aware, stop it from happening again.
Throughout this recovery period your muscle tissue will restore, adapt and grow, so that the next time you train that particular muscle group it will be better equipped to deal with the stress of training. This is a process called supercompensation and is an important aspect of training progression.
In this article, I’ll talk about exactly what your muscles go through post workout, the consequences of training while muscle groups are repairing and how much recovery you need to optimise fat loss and/or muscle gain.
If you want to know why rest days are important for progress, hitting your body composition goals and even just for your own sanity then this is the article for you.
Read on to find out more…
Why Are You Sore?
Let’s set the scene.
You’re walking into the gym one evening after work, tired and lacking motivation. You just happen to avert your gaze to the class timetable.
While quickly skim reading the list of classes that you’ve already tried (but couldn’t quite get along with) you suddenly narrow your gaze to one class that has taken your eye.
You know this class, you’ve heard that one woman from work drone on about it every single week.
“What the hell. I’ll give it a go
“How hard can it be?”...
Fast forward to the next morning, and to your dismay, this question has been answered in the most unforgiving manner imaginable.
You move your leg to get out of bed.
You reach down to pull your socks over your feet and realise that some muscles now ache and you weren’t even aware that they even existed up to this point.
Muscle soreness has well and truly arrived.
Now I’m sure that you have your own choice words to describe this soreness, but the widely used terminology to encompass this discomfort in all its agonising glory is DOMS.
Simply put, DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) is in many respects a necessary evil; it’s not an indicator of how hard you’ve worked and it doesn’t mean you’ve injured yourself, but it does let you know that your muscles have experienced something that they’re unaccustomed to. And for this reason it shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing.
In fact, repeated exercise at a the same intensity is highly unlikely to elicit the same discomfort again. Your body is clever like that.
It’ll realise that you struggled to complete the last session and will adapt to not only perform better next time but also to recover quicker .
Should You Train When Sore?
The answer to this question is entirely dependent on the severity of the soreness.
There will be times where you are hurting so much that your range of motion is decreased and your muscles are sensitive to the touch.
The kind of soreness that leaves you in bed, huddled in the foetal position cursing your training.
For obvious reasons (excruciating pain being the most obvious), exercise - particularly the same exercise that caused the pain in the first place, should be avoided.
Recent studies, however, have shown that exercising again between two and four days after your initial training bout doesn’t result in an increase in long-term muscle damage or recovery time . And this is great news - it means you can train hard, regularly… and cleverly too..
For years it was thought that training so soon after your previous workout would most likely result in injury.
It’s worth bearing in mind though that general rest time recommendations following a weight training workout are a minimum of 48 hours. This means that a Monday night leg workout ideally wouldn’t be repeated until Wednesday night. And even then that might feel a little too soon if you’ve had a monster session in the squat rack.
Taking into consideration that the full recovery time of any given muscle following a hard workout can be anywhere between 7-14 days, 48 hours rest doesn’t seem like an unfair compromise .
How Can You Make The Most Out Of Your Rest Days?
Not all rest days are created equal.
What may be classed as a rest day to one person could entail exertion at a level that is equal to another person's strenuous activity for the day.
And there’s more to it than simply putting your feet up and watching a box set too.
When you add in factors of effective nutrition, sufficient downtime and sleep, the idea of a rest day sounds much more technical than I'm sure you first imagined.
Luckily for you, I’m here to break this down into bitesize chunks.
Here is your list of must do’s for rest days in order to optimise your recovery period and as a result, the speed at which you lose fat.
Sufficient sleep helps to keep your hormones in check and your body composition (muscle/fat ratio) on the favourable side of lean. Individuals with less sleep (5 hours as opposed to 8 hours) had reduced leptin and elevated Ghrelin (metabolic hormones), which is likely to increase appetite and therefore hinder your fat loss goals (5). 6-8 hours per night is a great goal to aim for.
Unless on your rest day you are training completely separate muscle groups from the previous day or your intention is to help recovery through active recovery. A rest day shouldn't cause you to overexert for a prolonged period of time. This isn't to say, sit down and don't move all day, but for the most part, don't push your body to the extent that a workout would.
Ensure an adequate intake of calories but don't use the fact that you're recovering from a workout as an excuse to overeat. Keep calorie intake consistent regardless of whether you're training or not. A good balance of Protein, Carbs, and Fats would be my recommendation here, with a slight favouritism towards protein and carb intake to ensure that your energy stores are replenished and muscle is rebuilt and repaired as quickly as possible.
Stay hydrated. Entering into a new workout dehydrated is only going to be detrimental to your performance. One study has even linked sufficient hydration with fat loss due to a decrease in feeding and increased lipolysis (the breakdown of fat) (6). The general recommendation is a minimum of 2 litres, but I always try and aim for closer to 3 litres for both training clients and myself
It's important to remember that your body is designed to move, not sit on our asses for 40+ hours per week.
A rest day is a great opportunity to do something fun. Go for a bike ride with the kids, swim, go rock climbing, walk, practice your gymnastics floor routine.
It's irrelevant what you do as long as you're mildly active and preferably enjoy what you're doing.
Why Does Rest Help You Burn Fat?
Well it doesn't directly...
But hear me out because this is why rest is your unsung fat loss hero.
As we’ve previously covered. While you’re resting, your muscles are repairing, which is great because once your muscles have repaired and adapted to what you expect of them, they’ll grow back bigger, stronger and faster.
While resting, your body will of course be burning more calories as it is being forced to repair the aforementioned torn muscle fibres.
As well as this, it has been said that one pound of muscle can take 50 calories per day just to maintain, so the more muscle mass that you have, the more calories your body burns at rest. And without your rest days, you’re going to struggle to build as much muscle as you would need to in order capitalise on this fact.
Taking rest days also helps with adherence to your programme, they allow you to perform other hobbies and socialise with friends more, this creates a good balance between training and social life which is easy to let slip when you have set your sights on a certain weight or measurement goal.
(Fat loss goals can be all consuming that way.)
Adherence to your programme goes hand in hand with consistency, which is arguably the most important part of any training and nutrition programme.
Rest days are something that you can't get away from. You need them… your muscles certainly need them.
Failure to rest after a strenuous workout will most likely hinder your progress, no matter what you're aiming to progress towards.
The pain you feel after working out is often referred to as DOMS and is thought to be a response to the trauma your muscles have undergone during your workout.
Studies dictate that ideally 48 hours rest is required between workouts. This will help your muscles build, strengthen and generally adapt to the workload.
Which is, of course, a good thing. Muscle is expensive to maintain. More muscle = more calories burned at rest to maintain this muscle = greater fat loss results.
The Greatist Team 2015, Greatist, Accessed 20 September 2017,
Nick Grantham 2009, Nick Grantham, Accessed 21 September 2017,
L.T Davidson 2017, Livestrong, Accessed 19 September 2017,
Natalie Rizzo n.d., Muscle and Fitness, Accessed 23 September 2017,
Taheri, S et al. 2004 ‘Short Sleep Duration Is Associated with Reduced Leptin, Elevated Ghrelin, and Increased Body Mass Index’, NCBI, Accessed 23 September 2017,
Thornton, S.N. 2016, Increased Hydration Can Be Associated with Weight Loss, NCBI, Accessed 23 Sepember 2017,