I was once a die-hard evening workout person. A 9 to 5 job work schedule coupled with a disdain for mornings that began before 7am left me with no choice. Work, eat, exercise, sleep was my daily routine.
However, as I’ve gotten older a lot has changed. Most importantly, I’ve grown to love early mornings and now find that my energy and exercise motivation level is highest before 9am. The thought of exercise sessions in the evening makes me feel tired and even a little restless (I’d prefer to get my workout finished early in the day so that it’s not on my mind).
This is not just personal preference either. There are many reasons why getting up and moving your body first thing in the morning is a must.
If you’re not a morning person then I just ask that you read this with an open mind. Maybe it sounds impossible for you to become a morning exerciser, but I once thought that too and now I can’t imagine life any other way.
Why Morning Exercise Kicks Butt
Exercising early in the morning offers numerous benefits, both to your health and to your daily schedule, that exercising at other times of the day just can’t provide. Yes, you will have be disciplined to wake up early. And yes, you have to be focused on achieving an effective workout, not just go through the paces in a zombie-like state. It just takes a little time and practice before morning exercise becomes your habit.
Need some convincing? Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of exercising early in the morning.
1. Enhance Your Metabolism
Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumptions (EPOC) is a buzz word in the fitness industry. Basically it means that your body burns more calories after your workout, even when you’re sitting at a desk or driving in your car. One study showed that participants burned an extra 190 calories in the 14 hours after exercise when compared to those who didn’t exercise at all!
The purple section of the graph shows how oxygen consumption (and calorie-burning) takes time to return to normal after your workout.
This works perfectly with a morning exercise routine. Get up, get moving, pump up your metabolism and then start eating. Whenever you eat your body can do 1 of 3 things with the calories you take in.
It can use it as a source of energy
It can use it to replenish your body
It can store it for later (i.e. fat!)
What do you think happens when you eat after exercise? Yup – you are replenishing your body. What happens when you eat later in the day while your metabolism is still rocking from your morning workout? You guessed it – you are replenishing your body and providing calories to meet your higher metabolic needs. You do not get this benefit when you exercise later in the day.
2. Cultivate Some Consistency
Working out in the morning ensures that you don’t interrupt your workout schedule with other daily items that can seem more pressing. For example, if you exercise in the evening you run the risk of being late from work, feeling overloaded with errands that must be done, or saddled with other unexpected to-do items. There goes your workout.
First thing in the morning is the time of day when you’re least-likely to have something “just come up”. This is the time to establish consistent exercise.
Other times you may simply feel too tired to exercise by the end of a long day. But, in the morning there is nothing to distract you from getting down to business. Exercise will be your first priority and it will get done.
3. Improve Your Physical and Mental Energy
Engaging in morning workouts is your all-natural cup of coffee. Wake up your body and prepare your mind.
Movement can be a tremendous source of energy, something many of need when we start our day. But beyond that, morning exercise has been shown to improve focus and mental abilities all day long. Not only will you feel awake and have more energy after your workout, but your mind will be ready to take on whatever tasks you have lined up that day.
Some research has measured the effectiveness of exercise to “wake up” the mind, and the results show that it does a better job than coffee!
A quick stint of exercise has been shown more effective than a cup of coffee in promoting cognitive abilities.
I don’t think anyone will argue with me when I say that waking up early in the morning to exercise enhances your personal discipline. Just like any habit, developing the discipline to get up and exercise in the morning only gets easier with time.
Perhaps more importantly, this discipline is likely to spill over into other areas of your life. After all, if you’re going to such lengths to exercise each morning, pairing that work with healthier eating, as an example, only makes sense.
5. Get Better Sleep
Waking up early in the morning to exercise will in turn help you sleep better. Your body will enjoy a healthy sense of fatigue at the end of the day and will be ready to sleep. Say goodbye to the tossing and turning that comes when your body is restless!
I’m not making this up either. A recent study had participants exercise at 7am, 1pm, or 7pm 3 days per week. Guess who got the deepest, longest sleeps? Yeah – it was those who were doing the 7am workout sessions!
Morning exercise not only improves the length of sleep you will enjoy, but also your quality of sleep by promoting deeper sleep cycles.
Evening exercise can actually have the opposite effect. Exercise is a form of stress, and your body reacts to stress by releasing hormones including adrenaline. Would you take a shot of adrenaline and then expect to fall asleep soon after? (I didn’t think so).
6. Reach Your Fitness Goals
As mentioned earlier, waking up early in the morning to exercise places a high priority on physical fitness. Whether you are aware of it or not, committing to something (in this case morning exercise) that requires sacrifice (in this case sleeping in) creates a compelling argument in your mind that says, “it better be worth it!”
Nobody wants to wake up early every morning to exercise if they aren’t going to see results. The sacrifice required will subconsciously prompt you to work harder, look for other ways to support your exercise results, and help you commit to the process over a longer period of time (hopefully for life!). A goal-oriented mindset is fostered by the sacrificial habit of morning exercise.
7. Love Your Life
Do I even need to argue this one? You have created a strong habit of morning exercise, your metabolism is flowing, your body is looking and feeling better, you’re sleeping well at night, and your mind is as sharp as ever. Are you enjoying your new life yet?
Exercise has been touted as a cure for just about anything that ails you. Frequent colds? Exercise. Poor digestion? Exercise. Feel depressed? Exercise.
Exercise is a trigger that release endorphins, our built-in happiness drug. Here is an excellent video that highlights a few of the ways that establishing your regular exercise routine will make your life more enjoyable.
So, while it might not seem enjoyable to get out of the bed to exercise, you can be sure that it is worth it. Aside from all the benefits that come with being healthier, your brain is literally going to its “happy place” when you exercise. Why not start your day off that way?
But I Hate Mornings!
The benefits of morning exercise are pretty evident, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to become a morning workout person if, well, you hate waking up in the morning. If it’s incredibly tough to drag yourself out of bed to do your morning workout, then try establishing a few “rules” that will help make the adjustment more likely to succeed:
Rule #1: Put Your Alarm Far Away
If you can reach your alarm clock while lying in bed then it’s too close!
If you have a hard time waking up in the morning, set a loud alarm and place it all the way on the other side of the room. A gentle buzz from a cell phone beside your bed won’t cut it. Force yourself to get up.
Rule #2: Keep Moving
Don’t go to the shower and don’t sit down for breakfast (or to check your email). Get a small bite to eat, put on your exercise clothes (which you laid out the night before), and get moving!
Rule #3: Give Yourself Something To Look Forward To
If you’re going to get up and do a workout you hate, you can only expect this morning routine to last for so long. Make sure that your morning workout is something you look forward to. Set your favorite TV show playing as you hit the stationary bike, put on your favorite running playlist, or turn on that audiobook you’re trying to make it through.
Rule #4: Don’t Skip The Warmup
You don’t need to spend 20 minutes stretching to get flexible, but you do need to limber up those muscles that are stiff from a night of sleep. Make sure to spend at least 5 or 10 minutes warming up with light movements before you ramp up the intensity.
Rule #5: Keep It Short
Who has 2 hours to spend exercising in the morning?
Not too many people, but nearly everyone can find 30 to 40 minutes if exercise is a priority. Whatever you do, make it short so that you have plenty of time to shower, eat breakfast, and get to work on time.
Final Point: Morning Exercise Nutrition
One common complaint about morning exercise is the lack of clarity surrounding nutrition. Eat before your workout? Eat after? What to eat? Here are some morning exercise nutrition reminders to help sort it all out:
Eat Small Before
Eat a small quantity of high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, low-fat foods before your workout. A small apple, half of a banana, or even a little yogurt as your pre-exercise meal should be enough to fuel you without bogging you down.
Drink, Drink, Drink
Drink 1 cup of water as soon as you wake up, then keep drinking while you exercise.
Your body is dehydrated after sleeping all night. Drink 1 glass of water (250ml) before you begin your workout, and another glass for every 20 minutes you spend exercising. Sports drinks are only necessary if your workout is going to very intense or long in duration (i.e. 2 hours+), which we’ve already established is not the goal for most morning workouts.
Experiment to see what you can stomach for various kinds of exercise. If you discover that you can’t stomach food at all, simply be sure to eat a little bit extra the night before (not a feast, just a little snack before bed). See what types of food, quantities, and timing provides you with the best energy for your workout without causing upset stomach.
Now You Can Feast
Eat immediately after your workout to refuel your body and prepare you for your day.
Lots of early morning exercisers complain of a ravenous appetite by mid-morning. If your post-workout breakfast never satisfies you, you’re not eating the right foods. A proper post-workout morning meal supplies ample amounts of calories, carbohydrates, protein, and some healthy fat.
Here’s my go-to green smoothie that is packed with all of the nutrients you need post-exercise. Again, some experimentation may required to find a balanced meal that works for you.
A Challenge For You
If you’re not a morning exerciser and you think you might be missing out, then I have a challenge for you…
Grab your calendar and schedule what time and what type of exercise you’re going to do in the mornings for the next week. If you can make it through one week of morning exercise then you can do it again (and do it – put it in the calendar!). Then do it again for the following week…and again…