Cheat day rules

You may have a nutritional rest day but it’s not a free pass for gluttony. Here’s how to enjoy your food without derailing your diet

We all like a day off. A rest day is our reward for training hard, and while we have our feet up our muscles are busy repairing themselves to make us fitter and stronger. But what if you want a nutritional rest day – a break from gearing your eating habits around your training regime – as well? There are ways to meet your nutrition needs, enjoy your food and feel full without burying your face in a takeaway kebab.

‘While the amount and timing of carbohydrate before, during and after exercise is important, you also need to consider the timing of your day-to-day diet,’ says sports nutritionist Anita Bean. ‘Total intake of calories, carbohydrate, protein and fat over the course of days, weeks and months must be adequate or the training and performance will be affected.’

The really great news is you don’t have to starve yourself. ‘First and foremost, the body must meet its daily energy needs,’ says Bean. ‘Insufficient overall calories will limit storage of carbohydrate as muscle or liver glycogen.’

Breakfast is important. ‘Eating a balanced, low-GI carbohydrate meal first thing in the morning will set you up for the day,’ says nutritionist Christian Coates, author of . ‘Your body will have been breaking down muscle overnight as you haven’t eaten for 8-12 hours. Having protein at breakfast will help stop the breakdown of muscle.’ He recommends such delights as American pancakes made from buckwheat flour, which is high in fibre to keep you feeling full, with toppings including strawberry cream cheese and turkey bacon with maple syrup, strawberries and banana, or coco choc crunch – basically home-made cereal bars containing cocoa, honey and apricot that give slow-release energy.

‘Eat regularly throughout the day,’ Bean adds. ‘Athletes with a consistent fuelling pattern tend to be leaner and have more energy. Eggs on wholegrain toast or yoghurt with fruit, nuts and honey are also good breakfasts. Other meals should provide a good balance of carbs, protein and fat, for example, chicken and vegetable stir-fry, chicken casserole with veg or beef chilli with rice and veg.’

A key word here is veg, which performs the knockout one-two of providing a whole host of nutrients and filling you up. And that’s not to say that you can’t snack – go easy on the portions at meal times and then graze on fruit, nuts, flapjacks or oat-based bars when you’re peckish.

You can even treat yourself to steak, which as well as boasting plenty of protein contains goodness-giving creatine, carnitine, zinc, selenium and B vitamins. While some research claims eating red meat more than twice a week can increase the risk of bowel cancer, Mayur Ranchordas, senior lecturer in sport and exercise nutrition and physiology at Sheffield Hallam University, is wary of this: ‘The studies aren’t great and don’t actually tell you if steak is the problem. What’s clear is that when you investigate the stats further, once you get rid of highly processed meats from the red meat category the risk diminishes significantly.’

Takeaways are an option too – if you make your own. by Carolyn Humphries is a good starting point for making fresh, healthier and cheaper curries, kebabs and pizzas. It is your day off, remember.

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your GP before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.