We're all guilty of checking our abs immediately after a tough workout, only to feel disappointed that a six-pack didn't magically appear. (It's not insane to think we might see instant results, right?) But have you ever noticed that sometimes it's the days when you haven't worked out—and maybe even were a little lax with your healthy eating plan—that you seem to feel and look your best?
If the real route to your best body is rest and food, then we're about to change the fitness game. Netflix and Oreos, here we come!
Obviously, that's too good to be true. That's why we asked Trainerize kinesiologist and nutrition coach Michelle Roots all about the weird science behind our hot, rest-day bods. The long and short of it? When you're contsistently pushing through tough workouts, recovery is like your body's godsend. Just think of it as the ultimate reset button.
"Everyone thinks that you're losing weight during the workout, but it's actually during the recovery," says Roots. "When you're working out, you're doing damage to your body—especially when strength training. You're causing tiny tears in your muscles and increasing stress on your body."
Afterwards, your body works really hard to try to decrease that stress, maintain homeostasis, and get everything back to normal, she says. And the best way for it to do that? Allowing it to rest. (Try these 7 Essential Strategies for Muscle Recovery to maximize the benefits.)
A lot of it has to do with hormones too. Increasing stress on the body (like when you're hitting HIIT class after HIIT class or following a very strict, clean diet), your body actually releases more cortisol into the blood stream, a hormone that causes your body to store fat, says Roots. The antidote is leptin, a fat-burning hormone (it's also the miracle drug behind your runner's high.) The way to reset your leptin levels—believe it or not—is breaking that strict diet and workout plan. This cheat meal/rest day combo increases your energy levels, resets your hormones, and leaves you refueled and ready to work hard in the gym again.
The takeaway: If you launch yourself too hard at your get-fit goals (like working out seven days a week and adopting a super restrictive diet) and you're not giving your body enough time to recover, you're putting a ton of stress on your body, which can send it into over-training and/or starvation mode. This is basically doing even more damage than if you just took a day off and ate whatever you want, says Roots.