Early-morning workouts make sense for busy people who want to prioritize fitness before the day gets away from them. (Research also happens to show that they’re top dog for weight loss.) But springing out of bed when the alarm goes off (without hitting the snooze button even once) and crushing a morning workout doesn’t just take a healthy dose of discipline, it also requires a solid nighttime routine.
Here, experts share the nighttime tips that’ll set you up for a successful morning workout session.
- ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Avery Zenker, R.D., is a registered dietitian and an expert with Everflex Fitness. Derek Lipton, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., C.S.C.C., is a sports dietitian. Lexi Moriarty, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., is a sports performance dietitian with Fueled and Balanced Nutrition. Taylor Kuhlmann, C.S.C.S., is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with High Caliber Health.
1. Eat A Balanced Dinner
To fuel yourself for workouts, include nutrient-dense foods throughout the day before your workout (and, ideally, every day), says registered dietitian Avery Zenker, R.D., an expert with Everflex Fitness.
“Opt for a combination of complex carbohydrates for sustained energy, lean proteins for muscle repair, and healthy fats for longer satiety,” she recommends. Think whole grains like quinoa, whole-grain pasta, whole-grain bread, and legumes for complex carbs; nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil for healthy fats; and fish, tofu, and lean poultry for protein. Vegetables will also contribute essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber—so add those to your plate, too.
Skip anything too heavy, greasy, or high in fiber, as these foods might cause discomfort during your workout the next morning. (Think anything deep-fried, fast food, and piles of fibrous veggies like cauliflower.) You’ll also want to avoid eats known to disrupt sleep (looking at you, spicy foods and alcohol!).
The goal here: “Aim to feel satisfied but not uncomfortable,” Zenker says.
2. Have a Protein-Rich Snack Before Bed
If you plan to go hard at the crack of dawn or are focused on building muscle, consider a high-protein snack before hitting the hay. Sports dietitian Derek Lipton, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., C.S.C.C., recommends that clients who work out early in the morning think of their bedtime snack as a “pre-workout breakfast.”
Opt for something like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with milk, a smoothie with protein powder, fruit, and nut butter, or a Greek yogurt bowl with granola, berries, and nuts, he suggests.
“Having a large, protein- and carb-rich snack like this at night will help limit any hunger upon waking and allow you to be full of energy going into that workout, without the full stomach,” he says.
Your goal: Make sure your snack includes at least 20 grams of protein, recommends sports performance dietitian Lexi Moriarty, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., with Fueled and Balanced Nutrition.
3. Create A Consistent Nighttime Routine
No shock here: Solid sleep is crucial to exercise performance and recovery. “Getting high-quality sleep enhances muscle recovery, improves energy levels, and sharpens focus,” Zenker says.
Most people do well with seven to nine hours of quality sleep—and a consistent nightly routine can help ensure you get what you need. While the optimal bedtime routine might look a little different for everyone, Zenker suggests turning off any screens a few hours before bed, setting up a dark sleep environment, and taking part in relaxing activities. Whatever you choose, do it consistently to signal your body that it’s time to wind down.
It’s also a good idea to refrain from consuming coffee, soda, or other forms of caffeine in the afternoon and evening, as it can disrupt sleep, she notes.
4. Try Some Light Stretching
So, what should you do in the hours before bed when you’ve tucked away your devices? Zenker recommends incorporating some light stretching or gentle yoga, as these activities can increase blood flow (and nutrient delivery throughout the body) and improve flexibility, ultimately reducing the risk of injury. Think of them as an extra early warm-up for your sweat.
5. Supplement with Magnesium and/Or Tart Cherry Juice
If sleep often evades you, turn to some smart supplements to ensure you get the rest you need to power through your training come morning. “Magnesium supplements and tart cherry juice can both positively impact sleep quality and may be worth considering if you struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep,” says Moriarty.
Magnesium can help with sleep due to its impact on the nervous system and muscle relaxation, she explains. Research has also shown that magnesium can decrease cortisol levels and potentially have a positive impact on plasma melatonin levels, both of which can help support a quality slumber. Magnesium glycinate, in particular, is a favorite for sleep.
Tart cherries, on the other hand, contain melatonin, which can have strong positive impacts on the sleep-wake cycle in humans, Moriarty says.
6. Map Out Your Workout
Waking up without a plan for what kind of workout you’ll be doing or how much time you’ll need can just add stress and confusion that tempt you to just hit snooze. Never go to bed without knowing exactly how you’ll be sweating in the morning and you’ll never have this problem, says certified strength and conditioning specialist Taylor Kuhlmann, C.S.C.S., with High Caliber Health.
Ideally, you’ll have a fully mapped-out training plan in place (that you created or worked with a trainer on) so you know exactly what’s on tap for the next day when your head hits the pillow, Kuhlmann says.
7. Prep Your Gear
To ensure you can run on autopilot when you’re half-asleep and getting ready for your workout in the morning, prep your workout clothes, shoes, and any other gear you’ll need before going to bed. “It’s early, dark, and you’re tired; if your clothes are already laid out, you’ll get out the door and into the gym quicker,” says Kuhlmann.
Mix up your pre-workout and throw your shaker bottle in the fridge, stash your work clothes and toiletries in your gym bag, measure out your protein powder for post-workout—prep whatever of your morning routine you can to make things easier for yourself in the morning (and avoid having a crummy workout because you were rushing around and left your usual energy drink at home…)