The early bird gets the worm, and if you want to beat the afternoon rush of workaholics you better be up at the crack of dawn to hit the gym. For those of you who prefer to get your workout in soon after wiping last night’s sleep from your eye cracks, this guide should give you some helpful tips for how to structure your diet and supplementation in the morning hours.
Tips for Early Morning Trainees
What’s the best time to train?
Rather than dabble in the enduring debate of what time of day is most “optimal” to train at, I think it’s more worthwhile to consider the fact that consistency and applicability are far more important on the hierarchy of your fitness regimen. To answer the question about “the best time to train,” my answer is simple: train at the time you prefer and that fits your schedule. I know, shocker, eh?
Don’t get all caught up in circadian rhythms and trivial matters that have little to no significant effect on your gym performance. If you get your best workouts in when you train in the morning, then don’t change it. If you’re a night owl, then by all means hit the gym during graveyard hours. As long as you’re consistent and it fits your lifestyle than the time of day you train at is immaterial.
AM Training Nutrition & Supplementation
For simplicity’s sake, this guide will detail supplementation and nutrition suggestions for people who train within an hour or two of waking up. I do realize some folks might be “mid-morning” gym-goers and those individuals could still follow similar protocols to what is outlined this guide, but they might want to adjust things a bit.
While it is impossible for me to provide exact diet breakdowns that fit all trainees, there are still some general guidelines to help you formulate your own nutrition plan. A breakdown of some key points to consider when structuring your morning diet plan is listed below:
Protein is key—30+ grams of a leucine-rich protein source (such as most animal proteins and whey protein) will provide a sufficient elevation in muscle protein synthesis for a good 3-4 hours post ingestion; don’t skimp on your protein intake. Moreover, high-protein breakfasts will provide plenty of satiety to keep your hunger at bay throughout the morning hours.
Fats are essential—Fats play a myriad of roles in humans and are essential for cellular processes. Unsaturated fat sources (especially the omega-3 fatty acids) are revered for their heart and metabolic health benefits. It is recommended to ingest the majority of your fat intake from mono/polyunsaturated sources, but some saturated fat is necessary as well. (1)
Carbohydrates are your muscle building ally— Gym-goers often seem to form a love-hate relationship with carbohydrates due to their inherent insulinogenic property. Insulin has been shown to enhance the muscle protein synthesis response from a nominal dose of amino acids. (2,3) That being said, insulin also inhibits lipolysis, so you don’t want to get too carried away with carb intake. There is also no significant advantage to “spiking” insulin levels with simple carbohydrates vs. eating complex carbs after your workout.
Preferably eat your biggest meals around the time you train—This is not a huge deal, but due to the acute effect elicited by weight training, it is somewhat beneficial to take advantage of favorable metabolic adaptations by eating your largest meals around the training timeframe. Again, if this doesn’t fit your schedule, don’t fret; the highest priority is meeting your calorie and macronutrient quotas at the end of the day, not the timing of your meals.
Stay hydrated—Don’t skimp on fluid intake, especially around the training timeframe. You don’t need to carry around a gallon jug of water like most meatheads do, but just be diligent with your intake. If your urine is dark yellow, drink more; if it’s clear, you’re fine.
Supplementation for morning trainers is pretty much the same as what is outlined in the Peri-workout Supplementation Guide. If you haven’t had the chance to read that guide yet, don’t worry, we will cover the basic necessities here:
Consider using a “pre-workout” product; there are a plethora of them of available on the market now days. Most pre-workouts are formulated around caffeine/stimulants, and some other worthwhile ingredients like creatine, citrulline malate, betaine, etc.
Alternatively, you can concoct your own pre-workout blend with bulk ingredients, here is a list of some popular, worthwhile supplements to consider:
- Creatine Monohydrate
- Citrulline Malate
Protein supplements (preferably whey) may come in handy if you don’t have time to eat a solid-food meal in the morning and/or after training.
A branched-chain amino acid or essential amino acid supplement can be taken before, during and/or after training if you desire. This is probably a worthwhile consideration for those who train fasted and won’t be eating soon after their workout is over.
A carb-based drink (with BCAAs/EAAs added in) may be useful for endurance training or if you train for an excessive period of time (>2 hours at a time).
Some of the supplements listed in the pre-workout section of this guide may also be taken after training, such as creatine and citrulline.
Protein supplements (especially whey) may again be a useful consideration for people who want a quick, convenient source of protein after training.
Sample Diet/Supplementation Layouts for the Morning Trainer
As always, nutrition should be high on the list of priorities, especially for those who hit the gym in the morning. There are a few approaches people generally adhere to with regards to diet in the morning and there really is no single “wrong” or “right” way to go about it. I’ll lay out a few sample dietary protocols and you can adapt them to your regimen as you please.
One thing to keep in mind is that there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to nutrition/supplementation; the human body is highly adaptable and you can make most anything work. As aforementioned, consistency and applicability are of utmost importance. Be flexible and try new things if you’re not happy with your current regimen.
Sample AM Workout Nutrition Plan 1: Whole-food Breakfast
- 7:00 AM—Wake up
- 7:30 AM—Breakfast (*see diet tips above)
- 9:00 AM—Pre-Workout Supplement (*if desired)
- 9:30-11:00 AM--Train (*intra-workout supplement may be taken)
- 11:00 AM—Post-Workout Supplement (*if desired)
Within an hour or so post-workout eat next meal (*see diet tips above)
Sample AM Workout Nutrition Plan 2: Pre-WO/On-the-go Shake
- 7:00 AM—Wake up
- 7:30 AM—Pre-Workout/On-the-go Shake (*see diet tips above)
- 8:00 AM—Pre-Workout Supplement (*if desired)
- 8:30-10:00 AM--Train (*intra-workout supplement may be taken)
- 10:00 AM—Post-Workout Supplement (*if desired)
Within an hour or so post-workout eat next meal (*see diet tips above)
Sample AM Workout Nutrition Plan 3: Fasted trainer
- 7:00 AM—Wake up
- 7:30 AM—Pre-Workout Supplement (*if desired)
- 8:00-9:30 AM—Train (*intra-workout supplement may be taken)
- 9:30—Post-Workout Supplement (*if desired)
Within an hour or so post-workout eat next meal/lunch (*see diet tips above)
1. NIH Publication No. 01-3290, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Cholesterol Education Program Brochure, High Blood Cholesterol What You Need to Know, May 2001
2. O'Connor, P. M., Bush, J. A., Suryawan, A., Nguyen, H. V., & Davis, T. A. (2003). Insulin and amino acids independently stimulate skeletal muscle protein synthesis in neonatal pigs. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism, 284(1), E110-E119.
3. Kimball, S. R., Jurasinski, C. V., Lawrence, J. C., & Jefferson, L. S. (1997). Insulin stimulates protein synthesis in skeletal muscle by enhancing the association of eIF-4E and eIF-4G. American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology, 272(2), C754-C759.
Interesting article. The u.s. military normally do fitness training Monday - Friday starting around 0600hr (that's 6am for you civilians). As a young soldier, here's how I supplemented for morning PT:
0445/0500hr- BCAA + Carbohydrate drink
0600-0700hr- Physical Fitness Training (typically 20-25min of calisthenics and running up to 4mi at 6:30-7:30min mile pace)
0730hr balance breakfast (e.g., fruit,bread/cereal,meat, dairy) multi-vitamins+minerals
1000hr - protein shake
Of course this is also an example plus, the quality of today's supplements are better digested and tasting than 20 years ago.
I'm a early morning gym goer
I'm up between 3 330am due to starting work early from there I have my creatine with apple juice. Then I have my aminoxl as an intra as long as I am getting that down me within the first 30 minutes of my work out then my post work out I have gold standard whey protein. Breakfast I change it up between 3 4 poached eggs on wholemeal toast or oats an table spoon of honey. Morning snack is natural yogurt with a banana lunch is either tuna sandwich with light mayo or chicken/tuna and rice with broccoli and spinach. Afternoon snack is whey protein shake or some almonds and nuts dinner is either chicken steak or fish with broccoli sweet potatoes or salad.
Im up at 5.30 and in the gym by 6. As soon as you wake up, smash down a protein shake, followed straight away by 2 scoops of pre workout (2 scoops depending on the strength of your pre workout supplement). Iv found that Albuterex is the best but i believe is now band. Oxyshread is a good alternative. After this im usually buzzing when i get to the gym and fully awake. Do a 5 minute warm up on the cross trainer to get your blood moving then hit the weights. After 20 mins ill eat a banana then continue through to the end of my session. Have another protein shake ready for when you exit the gym. I get to work and usually have a 35g packet of oats with hot water which is quick and easy and green tea. Iv been doing this a while and am in the best shape iv ever been in.
Like Chris - at the gym at 5am
Here is my breakdown
Pre-workout - Assault/Creatine
Hit the gym
Post-workout - whey protein supp mixed with cinnamon, matcha, honey
Breakfast 30-45 minutes later - carbs (oatmeal), protein (egg whites)
Exactly, I wake up at 5.30 and am in the gym by 6 so only have 30 mins to get something in me which can't be solid as I am likely to throw up once I start working out. I usually go for a whey shake, with milk, teaspoon of coffee and some honey. No idea if that is suitable or not but can't find any articles that accomodate early lifters.
I lift in my basement and always workout before breakfast. Is working out after not eating for hours going to affect my gains? Also how fast do I have to get post-workout protein into my system for it to be the most effective?
Same as the guy above I am up at 415am and at the gym by 430am I take a intra work out and the protein shake then have breakfast at work like cereal and take bcaa's threw out the day
I just want a fast anabolic steroids
To just my body as quick as possible.
Intermittent Fasting doesnt require this hassle. it gives you better benefits with less the effort.
What about if you are up and in the gym by 5.30am like me?
Same here. It's the only time I can go on a consistent basis. Wake up at 5:15, at the gym at 5:30. Have a banana and some water before I go.