Science is indeed on the side of the early risers, showing that people who sweat in the A.M. have reduced blood pressure and get more sleep. In fact, researchers at Brigham Young University found that women who exercised for 45 minutes in the morning ate less and were more physically active for the rest of the day. But dragging yourself out of bed early does more than cut your cravings; men who ate a high-fat, high-calorie diet but exercised in the morning avoided weight gain and insulin resistance and sped more protein to their muscles than men who didn't, Belgian scientists discovered. Are you setting an earlier alarm yet?
But it's not enough to roust yourself from bed at a virtuously early hour to hit the gym. You can partake in the most intense CrossFit workout imaginable, but if you're making some common mistakes outside the gym, you run the risk of erasing your results. These are some ways you could be sabotaging your morning workout:
Eating Late at Night
Eating after 8pm isn't the one-way ticket to weight gain it's been made out to be. But if you have too big a meal too late, your body has to work to digest it overnight, disrupting your sleep and releasing the stress hormone cortisol, which causes weight gain. So be mindful of both when you eat and what. Jim White RD, ACSM HFS, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, says an effective morning workout begins with dinner the night before; he recommends brown rice, steamed broccoli and 3 to 5 ounces of lean protein.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Getting enough shut-eye isn't just key to having enough energy for your morning workout — it's critical for weight loss. In fact, not getting enough sleep could undermine weight loss by as much as 55 percent, a Canadian Medical Association Journal study found. The reason: Lousy sleep impairs the hormone that controls appetite, making you crave carbs for energy, say researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Since morning exercise has been shown to improve sleep, getting in that habit will kickstart a positive cycle. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly, and recent research suggests the optimal amount is at the low end of that range. Unfortunately, some 69% of Americans say they don't get enough sleep on the weekdays; to ensure you see the results of your work in the gym, don't be one of them.
Not Eating Beforehand
Whether you're doing cardio or hitting the weights in the A.M., you need to fuel up. There's been a lot of recent publicity surrounding studies about exercising in a fasted state in the morning., but the effectiveness of that approach is far from definitive, and nutritionists recommend having a light snack before any workout for energy. For a typical workout, Katie Cavuto, dietitian for the Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Flyers, suggests having 6 ounces of yogurt or a half-cup of fruit; Sean M. Wells, owner of Naples Personal Training, recommends grabbing a banana, some almond butter and raisins. If you're doing something more intense like CrossFit, you might want to load up with more calories; for personalized snacks, use our guide to the best fuel for every workout.
Eating the Wrong Kind of Pre-workout Fuel
When it comes to pre-workout snacks, avoid hard-to-digest foods like the sweaty guy on the bench press. According to Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, you should skip anything that's high in fat, like avocado, or loaded with fiber, such as raw veggies or green juices. Those can lead to bloating, stomach upset and workout-interrupting bathroom breaks. And make sure you avoid these seven foods that will ruin your workout.
Eating the Wrong Kind of Post-workout Fuel
Having an after-workout snack is key to recovery, ensuring that you see the results you've been working for. Starving yourself is not a virtue. Chocolate milk is the current hot post-workout drink for its muscle-building balance of good carbs and protein. White recommends a 2:1 ratio of low-fiber carbohydrates and protein, such as wheat puff cereal with half a banana and a cup of skim milk. If you supplement with a protein powder, go vegan to avoid the bloating milk-derived proteins such as casein and whey can cause.
And even if you work out in the A.M., you should be mindful of eating for recovery all day. Researchers found that exercisers who ate a light protein snack before bed had improved protein synthesis and muscle recovery, in a recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. We recommend reaching for some of our 25 best protein snacks in America.