Your alarm goes off. You roll out of bed and your feet hit the floor. Its pitch black outside. While the rest of world sleeps, you are off to the gym. There you join a handful of other super-dedicated, die-hard early-risers and begin the work of making your body better than it was yesterday. Then it is off to first appointment and the rest of your busy day. Early morning training can have great rewards, but it also brings up challenges and questions. What do I eat? What can I do to get the best possible results with your early morning training? If you like or need to train first thing in the morning, here are my top 10 tips to get you the best possible results!
|This doesn't have to be you in the gym at 6am
Recently, I got this question on my Facebook Page:
Andrew, what’s the best preworkout meal for weight training in the mornings? I have a busy schedule during the day and I have been training at 5 am. However, I just don’t seem to have the energy to lift as heavy as when i workout in mid-day or evenings. Kidus
I quickly realized this was a great question that really needed a full blog post as there are many factors that go into knowing how to optimize your early morning training.
Back in my single days and even the pre-kid days, I did a lot of my training in the early morning hours. While it took some getting used to, I found I really liked it. No one wanted my time early in the morning. The training sessions gave me a sense of accomplishment and left me feeling invigorated. I also enjoyed knowing that no matter what unexpected craziness the rest of the day held, the workout was already done.
1. Make sure you are a morning person – or it’s the only option
Early morning training is not for everyone. If you are a morning person, you may love early morning training. However, if you naturally a night-owl, it will make you loathe working out. Have a careful look at your schedule and consider the pros and cons for you of when you train.
2. Get to bed at a reasonable time
Sleep plays a massive roll in your mental and physical performance as well as your emotional stability. In addition, getting extra sleep is one of the most underappreciated body transformation secrets. Almost everyone would have better body composition if they got an extra hour of sleep each night. You cannot burn the candle at both ends. If you are up late, then getting up early to train will do more harm than good.
Also, do what you can to improve your sleep quality. For more information, check out: Cheap, Effective Sleep Aids
3. Have a higher-carb dinner
If you have had any exposure to fad diets or bro-science nutrition, you have likely been indoctrinated with rules such as never eat past 7pm and never eat carbs at night. Thankfully, we now know better. The main reason eating carbs at night is problematic for most people is that they already ate all the carbs and calories they needed during the day. The other problem is that most people have simply run out of discipline by evening time and make horrible food choices. The added food simply puts them into a calorie surplus and causes weight gain.
However, if you simply take some of the carbs you normally eat during the day and move them to the evening, you get two fantastic benefits. The first is that many people feel sleepy after eating carbs. Since you will soon be off to bed, this can actually work to your advantage by helping you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper. This also helps to maintain glycogen stores (how your body stores carbs in your muscles and liver) so you have more “gas in the tanks” for your morning training session.
4. Give yourself as much time as you can between when you wake up and when you start training
Have you ever heard or noticed that you are taller in the morning than you are at night? This is because, during the night when you are horizontal, you do not have compression forces on your spine. Because of this decreased pressure, the fluid content in the discs between your vertebrae increases. This not only makes you a little taller, also according to low-back expert Dr. Stuart McGill makes you more susceptible to low back injury. While it takes about two hours for your spine to return to normal height, even as little as 30 minutes can make a big difference. The more time you have to wake-up, fuel-up and warm-up before lifting, the better and safer your early morning workout will be!
5. Make yourself a deal as you get out of bed
When your alarm goes off, the first thoughts that go through your head are, “I’m still tired, I want to be sleeping and I’m not up for working out today – let’s just go back to bed!” To work around this, I simply make a deal with myself. I tell myself, “Just start warming up and see how you feel.” This removes any anxiety about the upcoming training session and 9.99 times out of 10, once I start warming up, I feel just fine and have a good session.
6. Get warm ASAP
The early morning hours are when your body temperature is at its lowest and this is not ideal for training. Lay out plenty of warm layers of clothes to wear the night before. When you wake up in the morning, get these on as soon as possible. In addition, put on a warm hat or hood as you lose a lot of heat from your head (especially if you are folically-challenged like me). Also, try to stay on your feet and moving around as much as possible between when you get up and when you start training.
7. If you have time, have a light breakfast
I’ve tried workout out on an empty stomach and the results were terrible. I had little energy for training and I lost a lot of muscle. While some people may be just fine with this, I recommend trying a light breakfast – if you have time.
If I need to lift early in the morning, I simply have about half of what I would normally eat. For example, I might have 2 eggs with spinach, 1 piece of toast, a banana and 1/3 scoop of protein powder. Then I will read while pacing back and forth in the room and then start setting up my home gym for the training session.
The trick with finding what to eat for you first thing in the morning is recognizing that it is very individual. You need to play with what and how much you eat and compare this with your workout performance.
For example, years ago when I was training early in the morning, I found myself puking after every leg day. The heavy, high-rep leg press sets to failure certainly didn’t help. However, I found I was able to keep breakfast down by eating it before I went to the gym instead of on my way to the gym.
8. Consider peri-workout nutrition
If you don’t have time to eat a light breakfast (and even if you do), you may find protein/carb shake helps improve your training performance. This can work well for goals such as performance or muscle building. For these goals, you could try mixing up a protein/carb shake (e.g. 1-2 scoops of whey protein isolate and 1-4 scoops of dextrose in a 3:1 to 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein). Have 1/4 to 1/3 of the shake before training, sip on another ¼ to 1/3 during training and finish the rest after training. If you are eating and training for fat loss, you could try just protein powder or BCAA’s.
While these days everyone seems to love getting all jacked up on stimulants, I still discourage pre-workouts. Yes, you can have some coffee or green tea, but remember that the more you use caffeine, the less effective it is.
Also, if you have big nutrition needs, make sure you follow up your training with a big breakfast.
9. Don’t skimp on warm-ups
If you are training in the morning, it is probably because the rest of your day is really busy. As a result, you may be tempted to skimp on your warm-up. Don’t! As I mentioned previously, your body temperature is naturally lower in the morning and as a result, you will feel stiffer, slower and be more susceptible to injury.
One of the easiest and fastest ways to warm-up is to wear extra layers of clothes. As I mentioned previously, pile on the layers as soon as you wake up. Then, keep them on as warm-up and start training until you have to take them off because you are getting uncomfortably warm.
For a complete guide to effective warm-ups, check out: The Best Way to Warm-Up
10. Take a 1-2 week break-in phase if you are new to early morning training
When you first start training in the morning, you may find that you feel a lot weaker than you do later in the day. Don’t worry about this. Just dial things back a bit from what you normally do for the first week or two. While it may never feel amazing, it will get better.
Remember that one of the biggest secrets to success in almost anything is consistency. If early morning training allows you to train consistently, you will likely get better results in the end – even if you have more energy in the evenings.
How about you? If you train early in the morning, what have you found to work the best for you? As always, I welcome your comments/questions below or on my Facebook Page.