“I have to exercise in the morning before my brain figures out what I’m doing.” -Marsha Doble
Yikes! It’s been way too long since I’ve written a blog post. Time to get back into it! I want to talk about something I’ve embraced more recently (over the past few months or so): developing a morning workout routine. I think developing a morning workout routine is one of the best things you can do for your health and physical well-being. The focus shouldn’t just be on training, though. The best morning workout routine incorporates several aspects of health, not just exercise. In this post, I will discuss them all.
First, why should you workout in the morning?
I’m not a morning person. I never have been and I probably never will be. If I didn’t have an alarm, then I’d probably never make it to work on time. In fact, waking up for work is hard enough for me to do even with an alarm. However, I’ll routinely set my alarm even earlier to wake up and workout before work. There are several reasons for this. The biggest one for me is that once I get it out of the way first thing in the morning, I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the day. It sucks those first few minutes you’re laying in bed, but it feels awesome after you’re done. You can spend the rest of the day or after-work hours doing other activities such as hobbies, socializing, or spending time with family.
What kind of morning workouts should you do?
My answer is any and all kinds. I used to only do cardio in the mornings once a week or so and only on the weekend when I could sleep in. You can burn fat more easily doing low intensity cardio first thing in the morning because you are in a fasted state and your insulin levels are low. However, these days I’ll even do HIIT type workouts and strength training first thing in the morning. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I lifted weights after work and I used to do this all the time. Doing HIIT or resistance training in the morning is great for boosting your metabolism and energy levels throughout the day. Some people worry about doing these type of workouts in a fasted state, but it’s fine. Once you fine tune your body to primarily burn fat instead of carbs (which is the optimal scenario) you will find that you don’t need to eat prior to intense workouts in order to have sufficient energy.
Another reason why I love working out in the mornings is that I love to eat a big breakfast.
Doing a hard workout in the morning allows me to do so afterwards. I can even eat a moderate amount of carbs one to two hours after my workout and not worry about them going to my gut! Instead, the carbs will flow into the muscles which have been depleted of glycogen. You don’t have to eat a big breakfast, by any means. It’s just one of those added perks. If you’re really trying to get shredded, try BCAAs post-workout instead. This will keep you in a glycogen depleted state which is even better for fat burning while still supplying amino acids to your muscles and aiding recovery. Being aware of when you are in a glycogen depleted state and taking advantage of it is one of the finer points Rusty Moore discusses in Visual Impact Cardio. By the way, this book is not just about cardio, folks.
What should you eat in the morning?
This really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are trying to bulk up, workout and then eat a lot. I assume that most people want to achieve maximum fat loss. If this is your goal, then I recommend either eating nothing (fasting) until lunch time, or eating a low-calorie, high-protein, no-carb meal. Many people have gotten very lean from both of these approaches. Martin Berkhan of LeanGains recommends fasting and Tim Ferriss recommends 30g of protein within 30 minutes of waking in The 4-Hour Body. My go-to 4-Hour Body breakfast is three scrambled eggs with spinach and turkey. You can do a protein shake as well, but if you do then go for a mixer like unsweetened vanilla almond milk or even just water and ice. Remember, for fat loss you want to keep insulin levels low and even something like milk with a low glycemic load can cause a larger insulin reaction. Both feeding and fasting in the morning have worked well for me and these days, I utilize them about 50/50.
Don’t forget about sleep.
Sleep is critical to maintaining your overall health. Without adequate sleep, your cortisol levels become elevated. This promotes fat gain and also throws your appetite out of whack (double whammy). In addition, you have less energy so if you do workout in the morning, you are not maximizing your workout. Make sure you get enough sleep. Some people can function normally on fewer hours than others but everyone knows when they reach that point where they need to catch up. If you don’t feel well-rested in the morning, chances are you are there. If you have to, skip a morning workout or two to make up for this. Your body will thank you. Take advantage of the days when you don’t have to get up early for work to sleep in. The best morning workout routine always comes after a good night’s sleep.