Thursday, August 20, 2009

Morning Workouts or Evening Workouts?

Like many people, I have a busy life. I work full time and have a family. It is very difficult to find enough time in the day to do everything I want/need to do, particularly when the things I need to do includes: (a) help get my 11-month-old son Andy up in the morning, get him fed, get him dressed, and get him to daycare (although my wife takes care of most of Andy's morning routine, but I usually help and I almost always drop him at daycare); (b) drive to work; (c) work 9-10 hour workdays; (d) drive back from work; (e) pick Andy up from daycare; (f) spend some quality time with Andy before bedtime; (g) feed Andy (usually every other day, split with my wife); (h) bathe Andy (same); (i) put Andy to bed; and somewhere in there (j) eat dinner and spend time with my wife before going to be.

As I'm sure my schedule is not really that unique (or challenging compared to some parents... we only have one kid... imagine a whole brood!), I'm sure there are many others who have trouble fitting exercising into their daily routine. Most of us have to squeeze in a workout either in the morning before work or in the evening after work (some have the ability to take a long lunch, which I have done in the past, but it isn't ideal for my work environment). I've tried both (er... all three, I guess), and each has their pros and cons.

Morning Workouts
Pros:
  • A great jumpstart to your day - I have found that I am generally much more awake (particularly in the morning) when I workout before work. There is just something about the feeling of hitting the pavement before most people are even up and getting to work knowing you've done more already that morning than most of your coworkers. I'm sure there is some kind of physiological response that comes into play as well, like the adrenaline released as you exercise helps wake you up, but I don't really feel like researching it.
  • Get it out of the way - if you get up in the morning and finish your workout early, then you can't forget about it and don't have the chance to talk yourself out of it later on. Obviously, this requires you to actually get out of bed and do the workout, but once you've won that battle, actually running (or whatever) is a piece of cake.
  • Seems to be more efficient - I have no way of quantifying or proving this, but my day just seems to run more efficiently when I run in the morning rather than the evening. Perhaps there is some logistical reason for this, but my point is I just feel like I have more total time in the day to work with. Even if it is just more efficient by 15 minutes, that can be a huge benefit as far as stress management.
Cons:
  • You have to get up EARLY - this one is pretty obvious. To workout in the morning beforeo everything else you have to do, you have to actually get up earlier than you normally would. This is mostly a problem when you first start doing morning workouts, because your body quickly adapts to the change in sleep routine, but there is no doubt about it, the psychological fight to actually get up and go when you could just go back to sleep for another hour is palpable.
  • Can lead to submaximal training - because you have to get up early, that also means you should go to be early so that you get enough sleep. But, if you're like me, you may go to bed at pretty much the same time you would have if you weren't running in the morning. This can lead to a less-than-optimal performance in your morning training sessions, which over time will lead to less-than-optimal performance in your races. Similarly, since when you get up early it is difficult to eat a proper meal before you workout (unless you want to get up even earlier), you may not be properly fueled, which can also lead to less than optimal training. But, since I never plan on being a serious competitor, the fact that I don't necessarily squeeze out every last possible second from my race time isn't that critical to me. Don't get me wrong, I want to do as well as possible, but (to borrow a cliche from the work world) I'm "running to live... not living to run." If I were a professional athelete, this would be a BIG con, but I'm just a normal guy who just needs to get the workouts in and hope for the best
  • I'm HUNG-RY! - I have no idea if this applies to everyone who works out in the morning, but I am generally ravenous all day long when I workout in the morning. I'm sure it's my bodies way of responding to the jumpstart in metabolism and to the large breakfast I eat after my workout, but my stomach starts demanding more food by about 9 or 10 in the morning, and it doesn't seem to stop until mid to late afternoon regardless of how many snacks I have or how big a lunch I eat. This can lead to weight gain problems if you aren't careful (I am trying to be very good about eating healthy snacks including whole-grain crackers, fruit and vegetables rather than sweets or other nutrionally-devoid foods).
  • It's 2PM... I need a nap - the other big side-effect for me is that I have an energy crash in the mid-afternoon. This is partly counteracted by eating the snacks I talked about above, but the combination of waking up early and exercising early causes my body to start crying for rest much earlier in the day. It usually passes after a half-hour or so, but that is a pretty hairy half hour!
Evening Workouts:
Pros:
  • You don't have to get up early
  • It's light out (this is becoming more and more apparent... my morning workouts now require a flashlight, or the snazzy (or perhaps I mean dorky) new head lamp I purchased)
  • It is usually a little easier to rearrange your schedule to fit in evening workouts, whereas morning workouts are always done at about the same time (right after you wake up).
  • For me, it is usually easier to adjust my workouts based on how I feel that day. In the mornings, I usually haven't been awake long enough to figure out what my body is telling me, so if it is screaming "Take it easy!" the message doesn't penetrate my foggy brain until halfway through the workout.
  • Adequate fuel. Since you have been up all day and have eaten at least two full meals, your muscles are usually well fueled and you can have a more effective workout.
Cons:
  • Laziness can take over and convince you to put off your workout. If you've already gotten up and ran in the morning, its too late for your laziness to rear its head.
  • Life can get in the way and prevent you from working out. There have been a few nights where I had planned on working out in the evening after my son went to bed, but then he was more difficult to deal with, or something else got in the way and I was either unable to do my workout, or had to settle for running late at night in the pitch black.
  • If you are worn down after a long day of work, you may be so tired that even if you do workout, you may not have the energy or drive to workout effectively. For more casual runners like me, this isn't a huge deal, since putting in the miles is much more important than the quality of the miles, but the more serious you become, the more this matters.
Okay... that's all I can really think of right now, but I'm sure there are plenty of reasons that the rest of you can come up with. If you have any other thoughts on this conundrum, please put them in the comments.

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