Should I Eat Less On Rest Days When I’m Bulking?


One common question I get from people who’ve just started to bulk is if they should eat at a constant calorie surplus every day, or if they should eat less on their rest days and more on their training days.

Well, I’ve tried both approaches and here’s what I recommend:

Should you eat less on rest days when bulking? Yes, I recommend that you eat less on rest days and more on training days to ensure you put on as little body fat as possible. On rest days your activity is lower and hence that more of your surplus will go towards fat storage, while on training days more of your surplus will go towards muscle growth.

In order to ensure that you build muscle without gaining fat you need to be diligent in tracking your food intake.

Eat too few calories at the wrong time and muscle growth will not occur at any meaningful rate. Eat too many calories at the wrong time and unpleasant fat gain will occur.

In this post I’ll cover how and when you should eat to ensure that you’re gaining muscle at the quickest rate possible without getting fat in the process.

Why You Should Vary Your Calorie Surplus to Get The Best Gains

In order to gain muscle at the quickest rate possible you need to be eating at a calorie surplus, so that’s the main objective. Most people need around 2000 calories above maintenance per day, which works out to be an extra 285 calories per day, anything above this will not lead to additional muscle growth.

The mistake that most guys do when trying to gain muscle is that they eat 500 calories over maintenance per day. Which means that those extra 215 calories will be stored as body fat, or burnt of as heat or spontaneous movement.

So, first and foremost you should make sure that you’re not eating more than 285 calories per day or 2000 calories per week above maintenance.

Secondly, you should also consider when you choose to eat these calories. Instead of eating these extra 285 calories every day it’s beter to place more calories on lifting days and less calories on rest days.

Doing so will lead to slightly better muscle gains since you will be providing the most calories on days where your body is primed for muscle growth.

Okay, so in Greg’s Greek God Program I learned about two different bulking protocols that you can set up if you want the majority of your weight gain to be lean muscle mass, and these two are:

  1. The lean bulk protocol
  2. The recomp protocol

Let’s look closer at the benefits of each and how to set up your calories accordingly:

The Lean Bulk Protocol

This protocol will lead to maximum muscle growth, however if will also cause a bit of fat gain. But here’s the deal, gaining a bit of fat just comes with the territory if you want to gain muscle at the quickest rate possible.

So, if you’re fine with that here’s the average protocol:

  • Rest days (4x per week) +75 calories over maintenance
  • Lifting days (3x per week) +500 calories over maintenance

This amounts to a weekly calorie surplus of 1800 calories.

Most people following this protocol will gain muscle at the quickest rate possible with a bit of body fat as well.

If You’re a Hardgainer

If you have a hard time gaining muscle, and you try your best to eat and eat and nothing happens, then I recommend that you increase calories slightly on rest days:

  • Rest days (4x per week) +125 calories over maintenance
  • Lifting days (3x per week) +500 calories over maintenance

This amounts to a weekly calorie surplus of 2000 calories.

Hardgainers simply have to increase calories more to start gaining weight and muscle, so calories are bumped up by 200 more per week than the average protocol.

If You Gain Weight (and fat) Easily

If you tend to gain weight easily then you can reduce calories slightly on rest days. So, instead of eating +75 calories on rest days you could eat -75 calories on rest days.

  • Rest days (4x per week) -75 calories under maintenance
  • Lifting days (3x per week) +500 calories over maintenance

This amounts to a weekly calorie surplus of 1200 calories.

The Recomp Protocol

If you want to focus on gaining only muscle and losing fat slowly overtime then it’s better to use a recomp protocol.

Now, this protocol won’t allow you to maximize your muscle growth. But on the flip side, you will slowly be “exchanging” body fat for muscle over a longer time period instead.

This is where you’ll eat at a calorie surplus on training days to encourage muscle growth and a calorie deficit o rest days to encourage fat loss.

At the end of the week you’ll have eaten close to maintenance but it’s likely you’ll have improved your body composition (more muscle and less fat).

  • Rest days (4x per week) -300 calories under maintenance
  • Lifting days (3x per week) +400 calories over maintenance

This amounts to a weekly calorie surplus of 0 calories.

When doing this approach it’s best to use a modest calorie surplus on lifting days and a modest calorie deficit on rest days.

Going to high in calories on training days will inevitably lead to fat spill over. And going too low in calories on rest days and muscle recovery and growth will be compromised.

So, don’t try to use bigger calorie swings than the 300-400 calorie surplus/deficit outlined above as doing so will just lead to you gaining muscle and fat on training days and losing muscle and fat on rest days.


How to Find Your Maintenance Level Calories

Okay, so without knowing your maintenance intake of calories, none of the protocols outlined will be very helpful.

Fortunately determining your maintenance calories is simple. Assuming 60 minutes of physical activity per day, most people burn 15 calories per pound of bodyweight.

Now this is just an estimate and it’s very unlikely that these numbers will be dead on. However, it’s a very big cahnce that you’ll be within shooting distance of the number you calculated.

To solve the error in calculation you can simply lower your maintenance level calories with 10% if you’re gaining too quickly, and increase by 10% if you’re gaining too slowly.

Eventually you’ll be able to find your approximate maintenance level calorie intake.

Example for a 170 lbs guy:

  • Maintenance level calories: 170 x 15 = 2550 calories

Lean Bulk Protocol (the average one) Using This Example:

  • Rest days (4x per week) = 2625 calories (+75)
  • Lifting days (3x per week) = 3050 calories (+500)

Weekly calorie surplus of 1800 calories.

Recomp Protocol Using This Example:

  • Rest days (4x per week) = 2250 calories (-300)
  • Lifting days (3x per week) = 2950 calories (+400)

Weekly calorie surplus of 0 calories.

What’s Next?

So, there you have it! By eating less on rest days and more on training days you’ll build more muscle and put on less fat over your fitness career.

Now, when it comes to bulking there are a lot more that goes into setting up a successful diet. You have macros (protein, carbs and fat) that should be set up appropriately, you have meal frequency and timing of food, and of course various supplements that can give you a slight edge in your muscular development.

If all of this feels a bit overwhelming, I just want to say that I understand! So, to make setting up your diet a LOT easier here’s what I recommend that you do:

Get your hands on a high quality course! This is what I did in the beginning of my fitness journey and it’s the number one reason I was able to undergo my physique transformation sooner rather than later.

Having access to a step by step course and just following it to the T is the only real “shortcut” that exists to building a lean and muscular looking physique. You basically take what someone else learned over a time course of perhaps five to ten years and bring it down to a one, two or three year process depending on your goal and starting point.

Do yourself a favor and don’t wait ten years to build the physique of your dreams, get your hands on a guide and you’ll get there a LOT quicker. I use and recommend the Kinobody courses, mostly because I think he taught the most easy and enjoyable strategies to build an outstanding physique.

If you want to read more about why I recommend Kinobody you can do so at my recommended resource page by clicking here!

Related Questions

What to do on rest days? I know that people often find rest days hard. I mean we want to workout!

But here’s the thing, rest days exists so that we can recover and adapt our nervous and muscle system to be able to come in stronger in the gym the next time. This is what leads to progressive overload, which leads to bigger muscles.

Now, that’s not to say that you should just sit and do nothing on your rest days. No, staying active is great both for health and recovery. However, by staying active I don’t necessarily mean training.

I mean taking walks or easy bike rides, hanging out with your friends outside, or playing with your children. No matter what your current lifestyle looks like, try your best to stay active.

You can go for light training sessions on your rest days, such as low intensity/impact cardio, stretching or an easier ab workout. But be careful to not go overboard with rest day training as doing so will screw with your ability to build strength and muscle.

What to eat on rest days? What you choose to eat on rest days should be the same kind of food as you eat on training days, just less of it. This would be 80-90% wholesome nutrient dense foods such as meats, eggs, vegetables, nuts, seeds and starches. And then have the remaining 10-20% come from junk foods that you enjoy.

If you want to read more about food choices when bulking, read this post next.

Niklas Lampi

My name is Niklas Lampi and I work as a fitness writer, nutritional consultant and personal trainer. My favourite exercise is the bench press and my favourite food is pizza!

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