Sometimes, getting to the gym is hard enough. For others it’s made even more difficult because they’re up before the sun. Some people prefer a morning workout because of their busy lives or their energy levels. For those people, or anyone who wants to join the club, there are ways to improve exercise performance the night before based on proper nutrition.
Why Morning Training?
Training on an empty stomach, or fasted training, can make for great performances (1). This will enhance functionality through a metabolic switch to cellular neural networks. As an effect, plasticity improves on a neurological and synaptic (nerve) level. The heightened focus will lead to a resistance to stress. This morning alertness will turn on the “fight or flight” mindset. Our ancestors experienced similar effects when they hunted for their food in the morning. In a way, breakfast can be the reward for a morning workout.
This style can also lead to enhanced weight loss (1). Fasting turns off mTOR, or the protection of protein synthesis, and activates autophagy, the recycling of dead tissue cells. The body will rid itself of dead weight, be it dead cells or pre-stored glycogen (fat). While the body is in this mode of repair, it can still protect the body without food.
The Night Before
It should go without saying that the best preparation is through rest and proper nutrition. Carbohydrates have been proven to activate melatonin and enhance quality of sleep. If carbs are eaten the night before a morning workout, they will remain stored in the liver and muscles for energy. Glycogen depletion could inhibit performance via muscle fatigue, therefore it’s best to stay sufficiently supplied (2).
Fats, on the other hand, can be detrimental to performance at higher intensities. It’s important to limit saturated fats since they can impair muscular output. However, omega-3’s have shown a positive impact on endurance capacity and gut microbiome health through bile acids. Foods rich in omega-3’s include fatty fish, eggs, and seeds. Foods containing high contents of saturated fats include red meat and full-fat dairy.
The optimal strategy is carbohydrate loading (3). This will maximize glycogen storage. The choice of carbs are important too. Simple carbs are easily digestible, reduce fatigue, and support hydration. Fiber is important for digestive health, but be wary. Too much fiber can cause gastrointestinal issues, while not enough can be harmful to the gut microbiome. A proper balance between fibrous carbs and simple carbs should be considered. While fast carbs can replenish glycogen storage, fibrous carbs can keep appetite satiated.
Probiotics can also be helpful on a mental level. They can manage proper cognition, gut health, and personal mood. They can be ingested the night before a morning workout, but they are most useful in the recovery process. Yogurt, a popular choice, contains probiotics and protein that support recovery and protein synthesis.
It’s also recommended to avoid a high intake in sugar and alcohol. High sugar intakes can lead to high sugar crashes. As for alcohol, it can dehydrate the body, disrupt sleep, and impair cognition. Working out hungover is also a dangerous idea.
After adequate nutrition, the hours leading up to the workout also matter.
The Morning Of
The key to a morning workout is supporting hydration. Hydration intake affects gut function, energy levels, and cognition (3). Exercising in a dehydrated state can impair performance. Carbohydrates are valuable the night before because they support hydration, causing the body to hold onto water.
In order to further prevent dehydration, electrolytes can assist in water intake. These come in supplement form and can be found in lemon juice. Mixing these with a morning cup of water can help the body wake up better than caffeine. During a workout, it can reduce excess sweat and improve cognition. After getting in some water, caffeine is a helpful addition to the morning routine.
Caffeine is a popular choice for the morning. It improves focus and reduces fatigue. It can be a valuable supplement, but it should not be chosen over water. Both caffeine and water go hand in hand. Their combination, alongside the optional electrolytes, can prepare the body and mind for the best possible performance. There are a variety of forms of caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and pre-workout. If a fasted workout is the goal, they should be made plain. Sugar, milk, and oils can break the fast. Even if they are fast-digesting, the spikes in energy will lead to an eventual crash.
To sum it up, a balance of fast and slow carbohydrates and an inclusion of omega-3’s can optimize the health of an athlete the night before a morning workout. Meanwhile, a reduction of saturated fats, sugar, and alcohol can be a factor to the following morning’s energy levels. So store up that muscle glycogen and sleep well, cause those weights aren’t going to lift themselves.