How To Maximize Your Morning Workout With Proper Nutrition & Supplementation

Fear not, early morning lifters. Learn how to structure your pre, intra and post workout nutrition & supplements for better gains. Article includes sample diet plans.

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.

Dumbbell CurlsDiet Tips

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.

Supplement Recommendations

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:

Pre-workout Supplementation:

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:

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.

Tricep Dips

Intra-workout Supplementation:

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).

Post-workout Supplementation:

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

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)

References:

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.