Many people have a love-hate relationship with rest days. If you’re an athlete, it can be hard to take the time off but a rest day is important for your body’s recovery. Everyone from elite athletes to the casual gym-goer should build in rest days to their training schedule. Not doing so can lead to overtraining resulting in exhaustion, sore muscles, or illness. It may seem counterintuitive, but rest days can actually IMPROVE athlete performance and help with improvements.

Here are six things to do on your rest days.

1. Listen to your body

First things first, no one knows your body as well as you do. When rest day comes around, take some time in the morning to assess how you feel. What is your body telling you that you need to recover? It could be more sleep, light exercise, certain foods, or a combination of all of these.


2. Get adequate sleep

Mental and physical rest is equally important when letting your body recover. The average person needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but athletes in training may need more. Sleep has been proven to increase mental sharpness, speed, and reaction time in athletes. Plan ahead to get those Zzzs!


3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Athletes know how important it is to hydrate during and after a workout, but that mentality should carry over into off days as well. Water acts as a lubricant for muscles and joints, helping athletes to avoid muscle cramps and soreness. Water is not the only answer; you can also incorporate sports drinks and hydrate through foods such as watermelon, strawberries, and cantaloupe.


4. Eat right

Carbs provide energy for when you’re hitting the gym, but on rest days it can be smart to limit them. Instead focus on lean protein, (which helps muscles recover), fresh fruits, and veggies. Think of your plate as a rainbow, including as many colors as possible. The vitamins and minerals in these foods play an important role in recovery. For example, red or orange fruits and vegetables provide beta carotene and other antioxidants to reduce inflammation.


5. Stay active

Rest day is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of low-impact workouts such as yoga or Pilates. Or simply take a walk. The idea is to take a break from those hardcore gym workouts, yet keep your body moving. Aim for 30-45 minutes of light recovery exercise on a rest day.


6. Stretch or foam roll

Taking a few minutes to stretch daily can greatly improve flexibility and may help alleviate tight muscles. However, these moves are especially important on rest days because they can help speed recovery. Using a foam roller provides a self-myofascial massage, shown to reduce muscle soreness and improve range of motion when done after a workout.

Consistently training to be in peak performance requires a lot of hard work and sweat. Make sure you schedule a time to reward yourself with mental and physical rest. Rest days allow athletes to recharge, which can improve future performance.