My secrets for making every early-morning workout awesome

While prancing along on the treadmill this weekend, it occurred to me that as of today, there are only 13 days until my half marathon – YIKES!! Time has passed FAST, and I can’t believe it’s almost here. Training is going really well (even though my feet have definitely been in better shape and are certainly not sandal-ready), so there’s really no reason to worry. The only thing that makes me nervous is the weather, which I’ve got my fingers and blistered toes crossed really tight for, in hopes that we get a non-rainy, reasonably warm morning for the race. We’ve certainly been getting our fair share of April flurries and showers, so May better be full of sunshine and flowers!

Lately I’ve been getting lots of emails and questions from some of you who follow me on Instagram and Twitter. The most common question is how on earth I find the motivation to do my HIIT runs and long-ish runs so early in the morning. And today friends, I’m going to spill my secrets!

I should start by saying that I have long been an early morning exerciser. (I wrote a post about how to become a morning person a while back – feel free to refer to it for tips!) In my early teens, I’d go to the pool with my mum to swim laps before breakfast. After having gained a ton of weight when my family moved to the Middle East and realizing I wasn’t so cool with that, the first thing I did was added a 1-hour cardio session to my mornings before breakfast. When I moved back to Canada for university, I was one of the only people in our campus gym at 6am when it opened each day. (Well, along with the football team, and based on their zombie faces I could tell that none of them wanted to be up at that time.) I’m now 24 and my morning exercise habit is going strong. In fact, a day that doesn’t start with a good sweat just feels…. weird.

The main point here: This has been my routine for years. If you’re a night owl, it might take a little while to get into this habit, but it’s certainly do-able so have faith!

Alright, so with that said, I’ve got three tricks that I use to set myself up for awesome early-morning workouts. Here they are, in order of simplest to most detailed:

1. Get a decent amount of sleep.

The amount you need will be unique to you, but it’s really important to figure out what this is and to adjust your schedule accordingly. I’m up at 4, which means that ideally, I’m in bed by 9. I know, I know, you were probably 10 years old the last time you were in bed that early, but that’s just how my body operates. Sleep is so crucial to the muscle recovery process, and without it, your workout won’t be as effective and you run a greater risk of injury. Not only do your muscles need to be rested, but you need to give your brain a chance to wind down too. Enduring intense workouts requires stamina, so if your brain is fatigued, chances are that the rest of your body will follow suit. (And I know it’s hard because I struggle with this too, but repeat after me: “Shut. the. laptop. It will be there in the morning.”

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2. Get your hardest workouts done near the beginning of the week (or whenever your body feels most energized).

I don’t know about you, but my desire to work really hard in the gym usually fades toward the end of the week. If my muscles had voices and I tried to do a tough HIIT run on a Friday, they’d be like “Whhhaaaaaat are you doooooooing!!?!?” By the time rest day (Sunday) comes, my bod is more than ready to relax. It’s because of this that I tend to schedule my hardest HIIT and hill runs on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays when my muscles and mind are fresh. What if Sunday isn’t your rest day? No problem – just try adjusting your schedule so that the first couple of days after your day off are used for your most intense efforts.

3. Fuel yourself properly.

Ok, this could be an entire post in itself and I have a lot to say about sports nutrition, but let’s just focus on pre-workout today. Up until about 6 months ago, I’d roll out of bed, throw on my gym clothes, and head out the door – no food in the belly, nothing to drink, just get up and go. This had worked for me for years. In fact, it was when I did try to eat something prior to my early morning workouts that I started having digestive issues and cramps mid-run. And let’s face it – whoΒ really feels like eating at 4am? Not I, and that’s coming from someone who loves food. I’d do my workouts, I’d sweat pretty hard, then go home, shower, and have breakfast (my biggest meal of the day) to refuel and help my muscles repair. I was training hard, but not smart.

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One day when I was cooking up a storm in my kitchen (I believe I was making Lean Mean Green Apple Juice), I began thinking about my fitness goals and ways I could get closer to achieving them. It occurred to me (in what now seems like one of those ‘duh’ moments) that unless I made some changes, my body was going to stay the same. I decided to experiment with pre-workout drink formulas on my most intense gym days, and noticed an enormous difference immediately. Not only did my runs feel less strenuous, but I felt that I had more energy to go longer and faster, and to lift heavier weights afterwards.

Now that I’m training for a half marathon at the beginning of May, I’ve been sticking to my pre-workout nutrition routine religiously. So what does that involve? Right now, it’s a scoop of Vega Pre-Workout Energizer, or jetfuel as I like to call it, which is a powder that is mixed with water and ideally consumed 20 minutes before working out.

Vega Sport Performance Protein, Electrolyte Hydrator and Sugar Free Energizer - Eat Spin Run Repeat

Here are all the reasons why I love it:

  • It’s plant based and allergen free (no corn, soy, dairy, or wheat) like the other fabulous Vega products
  • Two of the ingredients are yerba mate and green tea which contain a bit of natural caffeine to help your body metabolize fat more efficiently (meaning you don’t burning away hard-earned muscle!)
  • It also contains rhodiola, an adaptogenic herb (meaning a herb that helps your body resist stressors) which has been shown to boost endurance and improve mental focus.
  • There’s ginger and turmeric, both are known inflammation fighters (so really, you’re promoting recovery before you even start your workout!
  • It’s super easy to digest – just shake it up with 1 cup of water and knock it back
  • I feel more awake and energized within about 10 minutes of drinking it.
  • I can work harder and endure longer workouts (and therefore become a better runner)
  • Like all other Vega Sport products, there are NO artificial colours, sweeteners, or flavours.

Pretty fantastic, right? Note that I’m not being compensated for talking about Vega, but am doing this because I am in love with so many of their products and like to share when I find fabulous things!

Let me tell you, I definitely notice a difference in workout quality if I don’t drink my Pre-Workout Energizer beforehand! Unlike other foods that tend to upset my stomach if I eat them prior to running, I have yet to have an issue with this product. I can’t say I’m a fan of many others that I’ve tried – this one by far reigns supreme in terms of clean ingredients, the way it makes me feel, and my performance. But what if you don’t want to spend money on powders? There are plenty of options for that too! Of course, it depends on a few things, including…

  • What type of workout you’re planning to do (strength, speed, endurance etc)
  • How long you have to consume and digest your pre-game fuel
  • Your overall fitness goals
  • The strength of your digestive system (and knowing what it likes and doesn’t like)

This post is already getting long so I’m just going to focus on what I tend to eat for a 1 hour run with an hour or less to digest. All of these things are high in carbs and low in protein and fat. They contain glucose (sugar which is absorbed into your bloodstream quickly and provides energy right away), and fructose (also a sugar, but a slower-digesting one).

  • Fruit – berries, oranges, tangerines and bananas
  • Cereal – a lower-fiber one (because too much fiber can mean nasty digestive issues when your energy is flowing to your muscles, not your stomach) like puffed rice
  • Dried fruit – dried apricots are my faves, followed by mango, pineapple and cranberries. Dates also have a good glucose/fructose profile, but I’m not a huge fan of their taste

Blackberry Acai Hemp Smoothie Bowl | 5 lower-sugar, banana-free smoothies to try right now | Angela Simpson, Eat Spin Run Repeat | #cleaneating #plantbased #healthy #lowsugar

To sum up…

it’s one thing to work out regularly and go through the motions. But it’s quite another to work out, feel awesome, AND get results. if your routine feels stale, your mind is bored, and you’re not noticing any improvements in your fitness, it might be time to crank things up a notch. This certainly was the case for me, and the three secrets (which aren’t so secret any more!) have helped enormously.

So tell me…

  • Do you have any tips or tricks for finding more energy and motivation to work out?
  • What are your favourite pre-workout snacks?

44 thoughts on “My secrets for making every early-morning workout awesome

  1. Great tips Angela. My husband and I are early morning exercisers too. Actually as I type now my husband has been to the gym and is already at work. He’s up and out the door by 4am. I am at the gym by 8:30am with all the other mom’s who had just dropped the kiddo’s off at school. However in the summer I go back to pre-sunrise workouts so I can one, beat the heat, and two, I like to get in my workout early so it doesn’t conflict with the kids activities. We actually have a group of runners who meet at 4:20am (The Rooster Crew) that I sometimes join for a early run. I have used the Vega Recovery drink which I really like, but haven’t tried the Pre-workout energizer. Going to give that a try. Going to bed early is key. My family is usually all asleep by 9am too.

    1. Sounds like you and your husband are totally meant for each other Desiree, both being morning exercisers! That is so great that you have a running group that meets so early. I really wish I could find one in my area because as much as I’d love to run outside in the morning, it’s not really the safest thing to do when it’s still dark outside.
      Great to hear your thoughts on the recovery drink. I tend to use the Vanilla Performance Protein and make a green smoothie with it, which makes me feel pretty good afterwards. I may check out the recovery drink too though, now that you’ve mentioned it. Thanks for the tip!

  2. fantastic post, angela!! thanks for sharing your tips – they are awesome. you have pretty much convinced me to try the vega. could you share where you have found it for the best price, locally? so exciting that your race is less than two weeks away – i, too, hope the weather improves. saturday here was plain silly with that snow!
    loved “julie and julia!” wonderful film. this weekend i saw “silver linings playbook” and i give it ***1/2 stars – loved the story, the acting, so glad i fiinally saw it!

    1. Thanks Cathy! I actually buy my Vega supplies from National Nutrition (http://www.nationalnutrition.ca) because I like to order my probiotics and other goodies like spirulina and maca at the same time. They ship from just outside of Toronto I believe, and only take a couple of days. If you order over $79, shipping is free. On that site, Vega Performance Protein (the large tub) is currently $54.99 which is definitely the cheapest I’ve seen it (I use vanilla) and the pre-workout energizer is $37.99 for the large tub. If you’d like to try the energizer before committing to a tub, Fiddleheads has the sample packets for $2.99 each. I’ve only tried Acai Berry but it also comes in Lemon-Lime. Let me know what you think of it!
      As for Silver Linings Playbook, I really want to see it! I don’t know much about the plot but I DO know that Bradley Cooper is in it and that’s enough incentive for me!! πŸ™‚ Have an awesome day!

  3. Ah a kindred soul to learn from! A few weeks ago, I just started getting up at 4 to go to the gym and work out. It’s been a hard transition since one year ago, I was getting into bed at 4!! Crazy! It feels so unnatural to be getting into bed at 8:45-9. Especially since all my shows are on at 9 and 10 — the DVR is a wonderful thing I’m learning πŸ™‚ And it’s hard because when I do get into bed, I don’t feel tired yet! Slowly but surely, I’m getting used to it and figuring it out.

    1. Wow that is definitely a change of schedule!! Congrats on switching it up though. I’ve read that every hour of sleep we get before midnight is as valuable as 2 hours after midnight.. I’m not sure if it’s true but I definitely feel more rested the earlier I sleep!

  4. Great post. My gym doesn’t open until 5:30am and I was at the gate this morning when it was unlocked. I could only spend 20 minutes on the treadmill before hoping in the shower. For such a short workout, I don’t feel I really need to consume anything before getting on the treadmill. I am a weekend warrior. I eat my full breakfast, usually oatmeal, before going to the gym Sat. and Sundays. Thank you for the post.

    1. Ah I feel your pain Tracy! My gym doesn’t open until 5 on Monday mornings so I’m always there as they open the doors. I usually do TurboFire at home while I wait so that I don’t throw off my sleep schedule. I guess these are #morningpersonproblems? Lol!

  5. I’m a big fan of Vega products. I use the pre-workout and the protein powder. As for the morning workouts – I try, I really do. I get up early for work everyday (at work by 8 so I leave the house around 7:15am) so getting up an hour or so earlier shouldn’t be a problem.. but some mornings it is. It takes me at least 20 minutes to fully wake up and then get ready and go. Right now I try to workout at least one morning during the work week. I’m trying to up it to 2-3. I love going for a run after work, it is such a stress reliever, so I will keep some mornings free.

    1. Great to hear that you use both products too Christine! I love the vanilla flavoured performance protein. Is that the flavour you use too? Regarding getting up early and being awake, maybe you’ll find it easier as we get into summer and the sun comes up earlier? Great job on your efforts so far!

  6. Hey! Have you tried genuine health’s activ fuel + ?

    It’s a similar product. I’m trying to decide which one would be best for me!

  7. Hi Angela great post! I too just started going to the gym early but not as ealy as you! I try for 6:30 and its definitely a tough transition… That being said I usually roll out of bed and jump on the treadmill without breakfast. My workouts are from 35-50 minutes so I wasn’t sure about adding in the extra calories before that type of workout. What do you recommend for us beginner early risers who aren’t working out for over an hour??
    Thanks Angela!

    1. Hey there Samantha!! Congrats on getting into the habit of getting up early! For your pre workout fueling, It depends on what your goals are. After you’ve been sleeping, your body doesn’t have a whole lot of energy readily available for burning during your workout. If you’re looking to improve performance (for example, increase the intensity of your workout, or run faster or something like that) I’d say experiment with a small amount of simple whole food carbs to see if you notice a difference. Even just a couple of dried apricots could give you the boost you need to work a little harder and get better results. If you don’t notice a difference in your energy level (or otherwise) I don’t see much harm in just waiting until after you finish. Just be sure to get some food in you within 30-60 mins to help your muscles start to recover right away!

  8. I was the same as you – couldn’t imagine trying to eat & then go work out. Now I can’t imagine not having a little something in my stomach. My typical pre-workout snack is half a bagel w/ peanut butter. Then I come home & eat the other half. πŸ˜‰

  9. I have started working out on an empty stomach in the morning. I read that you burn 300% more body fat when you do that so giving it a try. I thought I would be weak but so far so good… don’t run on an empty stomach though.

    I agree – getting a good sleep is key.

    1. Elle, I used to run on an empty stomach, until I realized how much better and energized I felt with a little fuel in me (‘duh’ moment of the century!) I wish I’d started years ago – I could be 10x faster by now! πŸ˜‰ Let me know how you do with your current plan. I’m interested to hear!

  10. This was so interesting Angela! Thank you for sharing! I don’t usually eat prior to morning workouts, but I have the feeling if I were more consistent with them I would need fuel to see better results. I’m a bit of a night owl, so getting up early enough just to make it to the gym is a struggle…

  11. Thanks for the post, Ange! I am an early bird too and as I switch from morning fitness instruction to morning marathon training, I have been inspired to try the Vega Pre-Workout energizer. I have a case of the stuff and home and have not drank it. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Great post – Also saw that you were at David’s Tea! (For some reason, that reminds me of SPRING!!!)

    1. The stuff is gold, girl! You’ve gotta give it a go. Let me know what you think too – I’m curious to hear if it has the same effect on you. (And if it does, it’ll probably mean you’re running at the speed of lightning, you speedy gonzales you!) πŸ˜‰

  12. I love love the feeling during and after a morning workout…i sort of ride on a high wave all day long! My body feel energized, and my mind is alert and positive.

    That all being said…I run into a problem when i hit snooze and roll over to ‘sleep in’ until 6:30am when I have to wake up and leave for work. The problem is that this rolling over and snoozing become a habit for the rest of the week! Then i just get frustrated and angry with myself for not getting up, and part of my day is me feeling disappointed with myself. Morning workouts are great, just can’t ever stop πŸ™‚

  13. Love this post! I am a morning exerciser and wondering… do you take the VegaSport before EVERY workout? Or just ones that are a bit more intense? I’m wondering if there’s any risk to becoming “averse?” Would love you thoughts. I am definitely going to pick some of it up!

    1. Great question Erin! I take Vega before the majority of my runs, but not on cross training days. My running workouts tend to be 30 mins at shortest (most intense in terms of heart rate) and I typically do some weight training afterwards as well. I find that I don’t rally need the boost for cross training but love how great my training improvements have been when it comes to runs. Can you clarify what you mean by averse?

      1. That makes sense. I think I meant “immunity” vs. averse… basically, have you found it’s just as effective now as when you started taking it? Or is it like caffeine, where now I need two cups of coffee vs. one to feel awake in the morning?

        PS I bought some sample packets from Whole Foods used it before Yoga Sculpt (yoga + weights + heated room = more like bootcamp) this morning. I didn’t get the “buzzing” feeling described by some but definitely felt that it helped me wake up much faster. I have a speed workout planned for tomorrow and am excited to try it for a run.

        1. Ah ok, yes that’s what I thought you meant! Hmm… I think I still get the same amount of energy as the first time I took it. I don’t know if my body will eventually accommodate but I guess we’ll just have to keep using it in order to tell? Funny you should mention about the ‘buzzing’ – one of my friends just asked me that and asked if it was like taking one of those 5-hour energy shots. I have no idea because I’ve never actually taken one, but like you said, I wasn’t all jittery and buzzing like you would be on a caffeine or sugar high. It was definitely more of a “Ok, I’m very awake right now” sort of feeling, which in my opinion is much more pleasant! Let me know how it works for you once you’ve used it for some of your other workouts. I find the effect is greatest when I do cardio first (rather than weights), but I’m interested to hear if you find the same!

  14. I completely agree. I used it before a speed workout this morning and definitely felt like I was chomping at the bit during the warm-up.

    Thanks so much for passing along the amazingness of this product. I am a believer!

  15. Hi Angela, I just found your website and I’m loving it. I stumbled upon it because I was looking for information for an early morning pre workout breakfast/energy drink for my 5:45am spin class. Are you still using Vega Sport? Do you have any other suggestions? I always have to eat/drink before I work out, or for that matter I always eat first thing in the morning, or I feel faint. Thank you in advance for your help.

    1. Hi Julie! Great question, and I’m happy you asked! Yes, I do still drink Vega Sugar-Free Energizer before my workouts and find that it does the trick for me, every time! There are 2 varieties – the sugar free one, as well as one that does have simple sugar (the kind you’d want to consume before a workout) and is about 70 calories per serving. I use the latter before longer sessions when I know I’ll need a bit more fuel, but if you feel you need something before your morning workouts, it could be a good place to start. Some solid food suggestions that I sometimes use are a banana, dates (again, simple sugar, easy to digest), or jam on a piece of gluten-free toast. (In fact, the Vega endurance gels sort of work well as ‘jam’ if I’m traveling for a race and need some simple carbs for my pre-race breakfast!) I hope that helps you out. Let me know what you end up going with and how it works!

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