Morning Workout Benefits - Backed by Science | EP#58
If you want to stay consistent in your training (it's the number one way to improve performance, so you should) then working out in the morning is your best bet to make sure you don't miss workouts. But there are other benefits to morning workouts than just consistency.
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- Practical tips for getting the most out of your morning workouts (incl. warm-up, fueling, etc.)
- When to train fasted and when not to
- How morning workouts may make you burn more calories (the EPOC effect) and sleep better
- Why even though some research indicates that endurance performance may be peaking in the afternoon or evening, this effect is reversible through adaptations (ie. working out in the morning)
- How the potential performance boost later in the day likely doesn't apply to triathletes anyway due to a) mental fatigue due to cognitively demanding jobs and b) typical race start times
Benefits of training in the morning
1. When you train in the morning, you just get it done. It’s a time management benefit.
- Many triathletes say that they want to train more but they say that they can’t. Then when digging a little bit deeper, it turns out that all their workouts are in the evening.
- There’s just so much going on in the evening with family – having to drive your kids around to different activities, having to prepare food. This is difficult.
- However, have you considered training in the morning? If not, do consider that because that’s usually when you can more easily get your training in. Yes, you may need to get up early but there are a lot of triathletes that do this. It will be easy once you get used to it. It’s never easy to start something new.
- Things don't come up in the morning the way that they come up in the evening and make your schedule go out of the window as soon as something does not go according to plan.
2. Training in the morning kick-starts your metabolism so you’ll burn more calories throughout the day
- This is from a phenomenon called Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
- Essentially, even after you have been working out, your energy expenditure remains higher than normal. Your metabolism is elevated compared to your baseline.
- If you have a morning workout then you will have a longer duration for that elevated metabolism to take place. So, you’ll burn more calories. This is super beneficial if your triathlon goals include weight loss.
3. You may sleep better if you workout in the morning.
- Evening exercise, especially if it’s high-intensity can have a negative impact on sleep. It can make it more difficult to fall asleep or it may disrupt the quality of sleep.
- There is a study showing that people who exercise at 7 AM slept longer and had more beneficial sleep cycles than when they exercised at other times in the day like in the afternoon or evening.
4. If you workout in the morning, you’ll generally have more energy and feel more alert throughout the day.
- This can make you perform better at work.
- You’ll get a rush and get in a good mood from the endorphin release and other feel-good substances and hormones in your body that get released from exercise.
- There are some caveats to this. If you have really long and hard sessions, this might not be the case. But you’ll just have to try and see whether this is true for you or not. It’s highly individual.
5. If you workout in the morning, your workout doesn't suffer due to mental fatigue accumulated during the day.
- You may have a very cognitively demanding job which can really cause mental fatigue that greatly increases your perception of effort if you train after work.
- This is something we discussed at length in Episode 17 of the show with Samuele Marcora. Also David Tilbury-Davis talked about this in Episode 53.
- In Episode 17, professor Marcora talked about a study where they had people doing a cognitive computerized task before a cycling test.
Then they had people doing 100 drop jumps before doing a cycling test.
That cognitively demanding computerized task caused mental fatigue that reduced the performance in the cycling test just as much as those 100 drop jumps reduced the performance from the muscular pre-fatigue.
- There is a phenomenon called decision fatigue wherein during the workout you decide to push through it or not. If you’ve already made a number of decisions throughout the day, you may not have the willpower anymore to make that decision to push.
- Let’s say (for argument’s sake) that you on average miss one workout every other week due to things coming up in the evening when you have planned to do a workout.
- Even if your performance in the rest of your evening workouts would be slightly better than morning workouts, I would take that consistency of not missing any workout any day of the week.
- It comes down to the fact that consistency in training is the number one factor that will make you improve as a triathlete. If that comes with a very slight reduction in performance if you train in the morning, then choose that consistency and make sure those things don’t come up.
Practical tips on how to get your morning workouts done
1. Get to bed earlier than you used to.
- For example, I try to get to bed at 9 PM and I tend to always wake up at 5 AM or at latest 5:30 AM.
- You can go to bed at 10 PM and get up at 6 AM which will still give you time to do the workout and get to work on time in most cases, depending on your commute.
- The principle here is just getting to bed a bit earlier and that will make it easy enough to get your 8 hours or so of sleep and get the workout in.
2. Depending on the workout that you have, have some breakfast and maybe drink coffee - if you’re a coffee drinker - for workouts requiring so. This will be those harder workouts.
- For example if you have a swim with a hard main set, I would definitely eat some breakfast and have some coffee before that.
- For shorter and lower intensity workouts like a 30 or 45-minute run or even a 1-hour run, then you can easily do them fasted and then have some breakfast afterwards.
- Low-intensity fasted workouts will benefit your fat metabolism in endurance performance.
- What research is currently indicating is that if you do some of your workouts fasted then you get most of the benefits. In other words, you don't need to exaggerate the amount of workouts you do fasted. So don't skip breakfast before hard workouts.
- Personally, for many workouts I actually prefer waking up really early, like 5 AM. Then for the next 45 minutes to an hour, I do things like coaching or working on the podcast while having my breakfast and coffee.
- This gives myself some time to wake up before heading out for the workout or getting on the trainer for a hard workout. At least for quality sessions, I find that this 45 minutes to an hour of really allowing myself to wake up is super beneficial in how I perform in the workout.
- So, if you have the opportunity to do that I think that this is a great idea that you can at least try and see how that works for you.
- Doing a swim workout in the morning may be ideal because it takes some time to get to the pool which gives you the same effect of having a bit more time to wake up properly.
- For quality workouts, you really need to do a proper warm-up in the morning if you have a hard main set. This is much more important compared to in the evening because your core temperature is at its lowest during early morning. You can check out Episode 35 for more on warm-ups.
- It takes time to adapt. It’s definitely worth it because you’ll be getting that consistency. You will be able to manage your time and not miss workouts.
- But this requires some work on your part, and that is just getting started with getting up early and getting those morning workouts in.
Performance in morning workouts vs. afternoon or evening workouts, and the factors affecting performance
- First we need to define the circadian rhythm. This is a 24-hour cycle that controls the human body’s physiological processes including things like sleep and wake patterns, control of hormone release, metabolism, and core temperature. Therefore, this indirectly affects athletic performance.
- There a couple of review studies out there on how the time of day that you train affects your performance.
- The first one is by Drust et al. from 2005:
They concluded that performance in skill-based activities like serving a tennis ball or balancing on one single leg is higher in the morning. This may be due to the fact that alertness as per the Circadian rhythm is at its highest in the morning.
But performance in strength and endurance based activities steadily follows the body’s internal temperature. Therefore they peak in the early to mid-evening.
This is very interesting and it definitely gives some indication. The one limitation is that this study lumped together different sorts of exercises like strength and short anaerobic type exercises (100 meter dash or 10-second cycling sprints) with longer endurance type workouts (which might be as high-intensity as VO2max intervals).
- There is a newer review that did this same kind of analysis but they did separate those different kinds of exercises.
So they had a different analysis for strength training and for anaerobic type of training, versus more aerobic type of training.
What they found was that in the aerobic training analysis there has been 12 studies conducted. This is what’s most interesting for us triathletes because we’re doing almost exclusively aerobic workouts.
The impact on performance of the time of day was only statistically significant in 3 of those studies. They all showed a significant effect in favor of afternoon and evening compared to the morning. All the other 9 studies were non-significant.
For the strength workouts and the analysis of them, there were 46 studies and the vast majority of which were statistically significant in favor of afternoon or evening work.
So, for those aerobic workouts that we as triathletes do, the evidence currently doesn’t really support the fact that we perform better in the afternoon or evening. We may do, but it’s very unclear at this point and more research is needed. Whereas for anaerobic and strength type of workouts, it’s clear that performance is better in the evening or afternoon.
- But again, this can be influenced by several factors such as regular training at the specific time of day. So, regular training in the morning hours may increase the morning performances to the same or even higher level as you get used to this time of day of training.
- So, you adapt. Especially for triathletes who typically race in the morning. This has critical implications for racing, because if you want to race well and start well in races, then there’s definitely a point to be made for training a lot in the morning as well.
- This is different for track runners and sprinters for example, that typically might have trials in the morning or afternoon but the most important events are usually in the evening. Because that’s when world records are set.
- So, this study (here's the link again) is the best piece of scientific evidence at the moment that gives any sort of indication for when to train. I believe that this supports the notion that training in the morning for triathletes in general, is good and should be recommended.
- There’s no doubt that if you want to set a world record in shorter events or an event requiring a lot of maximal strength, the afternoon or evening is a better time to train than the morning in terms of performance.
- But the evidence is very conflicting if there is any sort of performance difference when working out in an aerobic type of exercise (which might include hard, high-intensity workouts). There is not a lot of studies supporting this although there is some trend supporting that there may be a slight performance increase in the afternoon or evening compared to in the morning.
- When taking all the other things into consideration as well, I do think that working out in the morning is recommended for triathletes.
- Consistency together with, for example, the mental fatigue that you may have after a day at a cognitively demanding job coupled with the fact that your race is probably in the morning makes this the takeaway message.
- You should adapt to performing in the morning (because your race likely starts then), and you will improve your morning performances by working out in the morning.
- And finally, consider the fact that you can get great metabolic benefits. Both from the EPOC effect wherein you will burn more calories throughout the day if you work out in the morning. Also, if you train fasted you're teaching your body to utilise fat more efficiently.
- These all work together to support the fact that working out in the morning quite a lot, not always necessarily, is a good thing.
- I would say as a caveat to this, if you know that you can get your workout in and you have a high-intensity workout that you’re looking to use as a breakthrough workout of your training week, then doing that workout in the afternoon may be a good thing because you might be able to squeeze out a few extra percentage points of performance out of yourself.
- This is what I do myself in most cases. But not in swim workouts, in which case I tend to do all of them in the morning, because I have some more time to wake up to do them due to going to pool and other things.
- But for example, for running track workouts, and hard VO2 max workouts on the bike, I tend to do them after work in the afternoon or in the evening.
So, this is something that you can play around with and see what works best for you. Don’t be bound to one or other. Combine the morning and the evening workouts the way that works best for you.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with host Mikael Eriksson
Hi! I'm your host Mikael,
I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.
I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show.
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