Should You Eat Less When You Skip the Gym?

man cooking at home

Experts such as those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agree that taking in fewer calories than you expend is the best way to lose weight. They also agree that the smartest way to accomplish that is to eat a lean, healthy, plant-based diet and be consistent about exercise. But making sure that you burn more calories every day can be hard if you need to skip a workout. Fortunately, weight-loss math is not that unforgiving.

Calorie Facts

A calorie is a measurement of how much energy is contained in the nutrients in foods. Proteins and carbohydrates both offer 4 calories per gram, while fats contain 9 calories in every gram. Counting calories is one way to lose or maintain weight, but all calories are not equal in the effect they have on your body. A salad containing lettuce, diced broiled chicken, olive oil and lemon juice containing 250 calories contains fiber that can help keep you full, as well as offering protein and essential fatty acids. Eating 250 calories worth of potato chips offers you salt and saturated fat. Refined starches tend to raise your blood sugar, causing an insulin spike to process the extra glucose. When your blood sugar drops, your brain signals hunger, so those 250 calories may lead you to eat 250 more.

Workout Facts

Working out every day is fine if you are doing cardiovascular exercise or very light resistance or weight training. If you are working out more intensely, the American Academy of Sports Medicine recommends waiting 48 hours before working out again to give your body time to recover. On the off days, you still need to feed your body enough to nourish it, so you can eat less, but you should not skip meals entirely.

Tips and Hints

Load up on extra fruits and vegetables and skip the red meat and starchy carbohydrates on days when you aren’t working out. This will keep you feeling full while ensuring that you don’t experience the blood sugar spike and fall that occurs with refined starches. Eat frequent, small meals to keep your energy levels up and your hunger at bay. Eat slightly larger meals before and after workouts.


Skipping meals can lead to overeating later, especially on days when you do exercise. Lack of proper nutrients can also lead to dizziness and weakness when you are working out, which can lead to injury. Decreasing calories slightly on days when you don’t work out should not cause problems as long as you don’t decrease them too much and as long as the calories you are taking in are not empty ones.