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Set your alarm earlier: More incentive to exercise early in the day

More evidence suggests that soldiering into that 5:30 a.m. bootcamp class or 6:00 a.m. fitbarre class might be the best decision you make all day.

See New York Times article.

What are the most common excuses for not taking the early morning class? Well, first and most obvious, the classes happen to be that early, and it’s cold out—very, very cold and dark. Second, we think our bodies aren’t trained to function optimally at those hours. Third, it’s quite easy to hit snooze, roll over, curl our bodies into the warm blankets, and tell ourselves we’ll hit the gym or the studio later in the day.

However, we also know that our most lofty goals get sidelined when life’s other plans come sweeping up behind us. Kids get sick. Our boss keeps us late at the office. We have to get groceries because there’s no food for dinner. Subsequently, our vision of making it to the later class becomes the reality of sitting on the couch, watching TV. Then we might overeat. Then we might berate ourselves for not working out. Then we scrutinize ourselves with a more negative focus.

Research suggests that people who work out early in the day are more likely to stay consistent with a program. What’s also fascinating is that people who work out earlier in the day seem to burn calories more efficiently. This theory was investigated in Belgium. Researchers recruited three groups of physically fit and active men. They fed them a similar diet that was composed of 50 percent fat, and contained 30 percent more calories than their average diets. One group didn’t exercise at all. (You can easily imagine what happened to their waistlines.) The other two groups exercised strenuously under supervision four times a week. The difference in the groups was that one ate a carbohydrate-rich breakfast before exercising and also drank sports drinks during their sessions. The other group started on an empty stomach, only drank water throughout the workout, and then ate breakfast afterward. This breakfast was also high in carbohydrates and about the same amount of calories.

This study took place over the course of six weeks. The men who chowed down on the fattening foods and didn’t exercise at all gained about six pounds each. The men who ate the rich breakfasts before working out gained about three pounds each. It was the members of the third group who didn’t gain any weight. The researchers believe exercising in a fasted state allows the body to burn fat more efficiently. These results are illuminating but they do leave some questions open. First, your performance will probably improve with some type of carbohydrates before working out, so is no fuel realistic? Second, how would these results compare if the participants were women or if the exercise wasn’t that strenuous? The answer to this last question is my favorite line from this article:

according to Leonie Heilbronn, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who has extensively studied the effects of high-fat diets and wrote a commentary about the Belgian study, “I would predict low intensity is better than nothing.”

An old adage that remains true: more exercise is better than some, and some is better than none at all. So, chew on this information next time you’re plotting your upcoming fitness regimen. We’re all facing holiday parties, extra sweets in the office kitchen, and more baked goods around the house. How fantastic would you feel if you began your day with a sweaty workout? It might be rough when the alarm squawks and the sky is still dark, but your feelings of being a champ will last all day long. Go get ‘em tiger!

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