What is a deload week?
"Deload" is a period of training (typically 4 - 7 days) with a reduced training volume, planned to help you recover from training/competing and to prepare you for the next phase of training.
Why should I deload?
When you are working hard, fatigue accumulates progressively through a training (and competition) period. Over a period of multiple weeks, you reach a point where you can no longer recover from the work you're putting in (assuming that you're working sufficiently hard).
A period of easier training (lower volume, somewhat reduced intensity), especially when combined with sufficient sleep and food intake, will help restore both your body and mind.
What if "I don't need to deload"?
Try it, you might be surprised by how much better you feel and how motivated you feel to train after
Consider that you might need to train harder or increase your training volume if you constantly feel that you don't need a deload after 4 to 5-weeks of training.
OK, I'll do it. How can I make the most out of the deload?
I'm glad you asked. Here are a few things I recommend you'll do during the deload:
Take some time away from the gym, spend it out in nature and your loved ones. Read a good book, play another sport or a game and watch a great movie. Breathe, meditate and have a great conversation with someone.
The most effective way to help your body to recover is to improve how long you sleep and how well you sleep. We'll be tackling all things sleep in much detail soon but here's a few good ways to improve your recovery with sleep:
Sleep 8+hrs a night (yes, 9+ hrs is even better). If you cannot do 8+hrs (for now) then consider at least 7+hrs, and take a nap when you can. If you're not able/willing to sleep 7+hrs a night you must face the reality that it will have a significant negative impact on your recovery (and most likely long-term health).
Sleep on a comfortable bed (with clean sheets) in a pitch black, cool and quiet room without electronics.
Expose yourself to daylight for an hour each day (or as much as you can if that's not feasible). The earlier in the day the better and it doesn't matter if it's cloudy out (although some sunshine is a nice bonus).
Your body needs sufficient fuel to repair itself. Here are a few guidelines that will help you recover better:
Eat enough. While it feels intuitive to eat less when you're less physically active, maintaining or even increasing your calories slightly during the deload will help your body recover better.
Get your carbs, proteins and fats in. These macronutrients are the fuel and the building blocks for your body. A minimum starting points to aim for athletes would be: Protein - 1g/lb BW, Carbs - 1 to 3g/lb BW (depending on how much you train), Fat - Remaining calories (and no less than 0.3g/lb BW).
Eat nutrient dense foods. Aside from macronutrients, you'll need micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) to recover. Aim to eat a wide variety of vegetables (of as many colours as possible) and mainly eat real food (as opposed to fake food) to increase your micronutrient intake.