Question: For reasons beyond my control, I have to change my lifting to mornings, rather than evenings. Not really pumped about it, but it’s either change, or don’t lift at all. I’ve been looking on the Internet for credible information about morning lifting (what to do, what not to do, in terms of nutrition, supplements, volume, etc). It’s one of those subject where I FEEL like I know what would/wouldn’t inhibit my progress; but there’s a reason I’ve not chosen to do it in the past and it had nothing to do with the alarm – I just wasn’t getting anything out of it. Do you have any recommendations for my situation?
Answer: With early morning training (and here I’m talking here about resistance training specifically) there are a few issues that need to be taken into account. One of them is food intake and here there is a lot of variance. Blood glucose is usually on the lower side in the morning and not everyone performs at their best under these conditions.
In this situation, getting something (ideally with some carbohydrate and protein) before lifting is a good idea (I’d mention here that the studies which found that pre-workout carbs/protein were more anabolic were looking at morning fasted training so this is one place where getting something into the system is probably ideal from a training adaptation standpoint). This isn’t universal and some people do just fine without eating.
But let’s say you’re one of those people who needs to have something in them to lift at their best. Now we have another issue, some people don’t do well with food in their stomach during high-intensity activities. At the same time, others can eat a big meal and go train and have no issues. Some of this depends on the type of training as well: folks doing low repetition work with longer rest intervals don’t tend to have the same issues as those doing more ‘metabolic’ type work (with higher repetitions and shorter rest intervals).
Mind you, you don’t need a lot of food to get blood sugar into the normal range and I wouldn’t recommend a huge meal prior to training regardless. A small amount of protein with some carbs is all that’s needed. But what if you can’t handle any solid foods prior to a workout? Then what. In this case, liquids can be invaluable. A simple glass of low- or non-fat milk or even a premade carb/protein drink will get carbs and amino acids into the system without sitting in your stomach during an intense workout.
So that’s issue one. Another has to do with the training itself. Research back in the day suggested that most people show optimal performance about 3 hours after they wake-up, it simply takes some time for the body to warm-up after you’ve been asleep. And for folks who train first thing in the morning, this can be a real issue because odds are you’re not getting up at 4am for a 7am lifting session. How to get the body warm?
A hot shower is one approach although it’s more of a passive warm-up. Mainly realize that you may need to do a bit more extensive warm-up for early morning training than you did while training in the afternoon/evening (when you’d been up all day). That may mean a bit more cardio to get the body fully warmed and you may need more warm-up sets prior to heavy lifting (read Warming Up for the Weight Room: Part 1 and Warming Up for the Weight Room: Part 2 for more details on optimizing your warm-up). Of course, stimulants are usually part and parcel of early morning training as well.
Finally realize that there is likely to be an adaptation phase as your body gets used to training first thing in the morning. You may have 2-3 weeks where your workouts just aren’t that great until you adjust. But the body does eventually adjust (and there are plenty of folks who have gotten to their goals despite very early morning training). The body’s circadian rhythms to adjust to training (and there is evidence that you perform best when you habitually train) but it can take a little while. You may have to reduce your volume or intensity a bit initially but within a few weeks you should be back to your normal workouts without any issues.
Hope that helps and good luck.
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