What’s your “go to” exercise time? Do you wake up bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to tackle a grueling workout or is your favorite time to work up a sweat later in the day? There are advantages to tackling a workout first thing in the morning. For one, it wakes you up! Who doesn’t feel energized after a few high-intensity intervals or a blood-pumping circuit workout?
Morning exercise does more than boost your energy level. Some studies show exercising in the morning helps keep food cravings in check. In one study carried out by researchers at Brigham Young University, researchers found that women who worked out in the morning reacted less to photos of delicious-looking food. In other words, they salivated over and craved these foods less!
In the study, the participants walked on a treadmill for 45 minutes daily before being tempted with photos of not-so-healthy food. You might expect subjects who worked out in the morning would move less later in the day, but this study found the opposite. Subjects who did an early workout were more physically active later in the day compared to those who didn’t.
Also, morning workouts are mental pick-me-ups. When you exercise, you increase your core body temperature and boost blood flow to the brain. The greater blood flow and oxygen boosts alertness and fires up your gray matter and preps it for tackling mental challenges during the day. Some studies even show that exercise boosts creativity! So, you might be a bit more imaginative or inventive after a sweat session. Yet hopping out of bed and lacing up your exercise shoes in the morning is challenging, especially if you’re not a morning person. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of a morning workout.
Morning Exercise: Warm Up Longer
Regardless of the time of day, always warm-up for at least 5 minutes before tackling any workout. But, go the extra mile for morning sweat sessions. The best approach is to do an active warm-up to gradually raise your body temperature and get the blood flowing to all of your body parts. Start off slow and gradually ramp up the intensity of your warm-up. First, walk a bit. Then, shift to light jogging in place as you gradually increase the intensity and add more muscles into the warm-up. As your body temperature starts to rise, add more intensity with butt kicks, jumping jacks, and light jump squats. The key is to warm-up slower and for a longer period of time. If you normally do a 5-minute warm-up, add an additional 5 minutes. The last thing you need is an injury from overworking cold muscles and your muscles are their coldest when you first wake up.
Morning Exercise: Decide Whether to Eat Beforehand
It’s controversial. Should you eat beforehand or do fasted cardio – and why does it matter? The idea is that fasted cardio burns more fat because your body is forced to use fat as fuel over carbohydrates when your glycogen stores are low. That’s fine if you’re exercising at low to moderate intensity, but if you’re doing high-intensity interval training or strength training using heavy resistance, this approach can work against you. When exercise intensity increases beyond a certain threshold intensity, your body taps into anaerobic pathways for energy and uses carbs, in the form of glycogen, as fuel. If you don’t have sufficient glycogen stores, your performance may suffer.
Another consideration: Exercising in a fasted state, especially if you do a long workout, can boost production of cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol has a catabolic effect and can trigger a greater breakdown of muscle. If you do high-intensity workouts, consider doing them later in the day if you don’t have time to eat something first. For a vigorous sweat session, you need the fuel!
Morning Exercise: Consider the Type of Exercise
What type of workout will you be doing? Morning is best for moderate-intensity cardio, lighter resistance training, and circuit workouts but not as favorable for strength training. For high-resistance strength training, it’s best to wait until later in the day as your muscles can handle more weight as your body temperature rises. Muscle strength is lowest in the morning after you wake up and increases as the day goes on. Most studies show people are strongest in the late afternoon and early evening. In fact, your body temperature peaks at around 7:00 P.M., so your muscles will be warmest at around this time. If you wait until your muscles are at their peak of strength, you can potentially lift more weight or do more repetitions. That can work in your favor if you’re trying to maximize muscle hypertrophy or build strength.
Morning Exercise: How Are Your Sleep Habits?
Are you a sound sleeper or do you suffer from insomnia? If you frequently struggle to fall asleep, morning workouts may work in your favor. One study found that women who exercised at least 3.5 hours per week in the morning had fewer problems falling asleep at night. Yet, despite popular belief, exercising at night doesn’t seem to interfere with sleep. But, morning exercise may give you an edge in managing insomnia.
Morning Exercise: Go to Bed Earlier
If you’re waking up 30 minutes earlier to work out, don’t let it come at the cost of not getting enough sleep. Sleep is important for fitness gains and for overall health. Lack of sleep can boost cortisol and higher levels of cortisol can interfere with muscle gains. So, turn in early enough that you’re getting at least 7 hours of sleep the night before a workout. Sleep matters!
The Bottom Line
Morning workouts have their advantages, but you may need to make a few modifications to maximize the benefits. Yet, getting your heart rate up early in the morning can make the rest of your day all that much better. So, set that alarm a little early and get ready to burn some calories!
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 Oct;44(10):1864-70. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31825cade5.
The Minds Journal. “How simple morning exercise can boost your productivity?”
Poliquin Group. “The Pros and Cons of Fasted Cardio”
WebMD.com. “Morning Exercise May Help You Sleep”