Rest days are an important part of any exercise routine. While some may think rest is the way of the slacker, it is quite the opposite. For people who exercise regularly, rest days can be critical for repairing damaged muscles, preventing injury, and improving performance. This brings up an important question: what is the best routine for a rest day?

Use your rest day as a chance to hit snooze

Sleep is critical to athletic performance. Roger Federer sleeps 12 hours a night, Usain Bolt gets 10, and most NBA players report scheduling naps on game days. Sleep is the time when your body repairs cells and tissues that have been broken down during your exercise and releases hormones to help the immune system fight off infections. This means that you don’t have to miss more training days. 

Conversely, a lack of sleep is associated with decreased stamina, slower reaction times, and poorer cognitive performance. Use your rest day as an opportunity to sleep in, hit the hay early, or squeeze in a nap so that you are reset and recharged for the rest of the week. 

Rest days do not have to be exclusively for lounging

While you should attempt to take a break from your usual activities on rest days, less strenuous exercise can be optimal for an active recovery and can help the tissues absorb blood lactate. Such Exercise can include an easy bike ride, a walk in nature, a swim to help take pressure off your joints, and more! Yoga in particular can be a great rest day activity, as it develops body awareness, improves mobility, loosens tight muscles, and calms the mind.

Even if you can’t bring yourself to fully depart from your usual routine, a change in intensity can suffice for rest. Personally, when I used to run competitively, my rest day would include a short, effortless jog for 25 minutes with some stretching and foam rolling. Compared to the 60- to 90-minute-long runs or interval training I was used to doing, this was enough to keep my body feeling refreshed week after week.  

Maintain proper nutrition

As previously mentioned, your rest days are a chance for your body to focus on rebuilding and repairing tissues, which means they need the proper fuel to do so. During your rest day, use the extra time you get from skipping the gym to put an emphasis on eating well. 

If you’re strength training or performing exercises that are lower in intensity, your carbohydrate to protein ratio should be two to one. A three to one ratio is good for athletes that do more cardio. You should aim for well-rounded meals on a rest day. Besides protein for muscle repair, you also need omega-3 fats to reduce inflammation and carbohydrates for energy. 

At the end of the day, how you spend your rest day is entirely up to you. Whether you’re sleeping in, biking, or stretching, you should use it as a day to reset your mind and body so that you can come back from it even stronger.