You’ve probably seen hundreds of recommendations for the ‘perfect’ morning routine. However, everyone is built differently, so the ideal morning routine is about making choices that suit your personal lifestyle and goals.
With most people WFH, it’s pretty common for some to be more productive in the afternoon or evening. That’s totally fine, but there are simple hacks to make sure you’re setting yourself up for the best possible start to the day.
Leading Myprotein nutritionist Jamie Wright takes you through his tried and tested tips to optimise your morning. Whether you’re squeezing in a workout or tackling your to-do list; from fasted cardio to blue light filters…learn your way to seizing the day.
The morning starts the night before
Jamie points out that to have a successful morning routine, you need to start preparing the night before. We often underestimate how critical it is to have a good night of sleep and recover from the stressors of the previous day.
NHS studies have shown that when we get less than seven hours of sleep, our ability to function cognitively drops significantly, along with a spike in the hunger hormone ghrelin causing us to experience increased feelings of hunger throughout the day, while a drop in leptin lowers our ability to feel full.
Winding down before bed and having a routine is key, Jamie says. It gives you a chance to clear your head, relax and be in the right frame of mind for sleep. Avoiding social media or any screen time an hour before bed is highly recommended, as social media is incredibly stimulating and screens tend to emit blue light, which negatively affects our levels of melatonin, the essential hormone needed for sleep. If screen time before bed is essential, then setting devices to night mode, lowering the screens’ brightness and wearing blue-light blocking glasses can help to reduce the negative effect.
Make time for yourself
It’s also important to keep some time for yourself in the mornings. Some people prefer to take their time over breakfast, enjoy a cup of coffee or get in a morning workout. Whatever it is, allowing time for something you enjoy can start your day off on a positive note.
“Though some people are able to use their phone functionally without getting distracted, most people can’t,” says Jamie. “If this is you, don’t use your phone to wake up – buy an alarm clock instead and charge your phone in a different room at night.
“Another good tip is to not say you ‘can’t’ use your phone in the morning, but set aside 15-20 minutes after all the important things are done to sit and scroll.”
Having a regular routine is critical, even though that routine will be different for everybody. That said, don’t be afraid to change things up a bit if you find your routine is becoming stale and monotonous – particularly during the current times.
“Difference can re-inject a bit of life into you and help you adhere to the best behaviours more effortlessly,” Jamie says.
Top tips: Have a pre-bedtime routine to wind down, avoid screen time an hour before bed and wear blue light blocking glasses if it’s essential to look at a screen. Find something you enjoy doing in the mornings and make time for it. Set aside 15-20 minutes for phone use. Stick to a routine, but don’t be afraid to change things up if you find it’s no longer working for you.
Breaking the fast
While some people may choose to fast until lunchtime, others make breakfast a priority, aiming to eat as soon as they get out of bed.
But which option is better?
Turns out – both!
“There’s no real optimum time to wait before eating breakfast after waking,” Jamie explains. “It all depends on the person and their schedule, circadian rhythm, personal preferences, and also their unique circumstances, like whether they have kids etc.
“There are many studies that suggest having breakfast helps with weight management and performance, but there are also just as many studies showing the opposite. The health and fitness world can seem very black-and-white, but really, it’s all about that person’s preferences and goals.”
Whenever you do have your first meal of the day, Jamie suggests making it protein-focused.
“Whatever your goals, protein should be the focus for every meal,” he says. “It’s beneficial for everyone regardless of age, gender or any other factor.”
It’s true that besides the recovery benefits of muscle building and repair, protein can also help to regulate blood sugar levels, maintain energy, improve mood, focus and concentration, boost satiety and reduce cravings. This is all incredibly important – especially during the current pandemic, when people may be suffering with lowered mood in general.
That said, carbohydrate-heavy breakfasts that are high in fibre also have their place, particularly in weight loss or management, or as an energy boost before a workout (more on this later).
Don’t forget your supps
Meanwhile, the morning also is a great time to get in any daily supplements you’re taking.
For those working out regularly, this might look like a whey or vegan protein powder, but also everybody can benefit from taking an omega 3 and vitamin D supplement, as these are two micronutrients we commonly don’t get enough of, Jamie says. Those following a plant-based diet will have additional requirements, such as B12 (an essential supplement) and optional extras such as calcium and iron.
Remember to speak to your GP first before adding any new supplements to your diet.
Top tips: No real advantage to be had from having breakfast straight away or fasting – it all depends on your preferences and goals. Make sure your first meal of the day includes a quality source of protein and a slow-releasing carb if necessary. Don’t forget your supplements – omega 3 and vitamin D are the main ones to watch.
How to smash your morning workout
When it comes to getting in a morning workout, there can be a lot of conflicting information out there about how to best prepare for optimum performance.
Though some firmly believe that the morning is the best time to work out, once again it’s not always as simple as that.
“The best time of day to work out is all down to the individual and their unique responsibilities,” Jamie says. “For example, somebody with young children might find it difficult to fit in a workout first thing, whereas for somebody else this will come easy.”
We hear you Jamie – any workout is better than no workout. So what about pre-workout food vs working out fasted in a morning?
“Research shows that both males and females can benefit from fasted training if goals are around body composition,” Jamie explains. “Fat oxidation increases over a 24-hour period when we train fasted in the morning.”
That said, if a workout is performance-oriented, then a pre-workout breakfast can be the better option in order to fuel the body and boost energy levels.
“This is recommended before longer workout,” Jamie says. “A good rule of thumb is if the workout is an hour or more.”
So what kind of workouts are best first thing?
“The type of workout first thing in a morning again all depends on the individual and their own fitness goals,” Jamie says. “For most people regardless of their fitness level I would say walking is the easiest and most accessible form of exercise, as well as being a good way to enjoy a socially distanced catch-up with loved ones. If you do nothing else, this is a good place to start.”
Optimise your pre- & post-workout breakfasts
When it comes to gearing up for a longer or more intense workout, Jamie recommends consuming something carbohydrate-rich for energy that the body can easily break down. This can be a banana or small handful of dried fruit, or small serving of cereal, about 30-60 minutes before. Pre-workout supplements like beta alanine, including non-stimulating variants, can be great options too if that’s what the individual is used to.
Meanwhile, a good post-workout meal should contain a source of high-quality protein containing all of the essential amino acids. For most this will involve an animal-based protein; for plant-based eaters it can involve more than one source in order to hit all the important EAAs at once.
Jamie recommends avoiding casein after a workout as it is very slow to digest and won’t be absorbed into the bloodstream quickly enough. Whey is the most ideal as it flips on the anabolic switch helping recovery after any sort of training. Dairy (including yoghurt or milk), egg whites and some form of carbohydrate such as cereal are great options too. Jamie’s own go-to post-workout meal? A whey protein shake and bowl of Coco Pops!
A savoury option might look like a couple of pieces of toast (wholegrain or not – your choice) with scrambled eggs. Plant-based options could include a vegan protein shake, quinoa/buckwheat porridge, soy yoghurt with granola, mixed beans or a tofu scramble with toast. As mentioned earlier, combining more than one plant-based protein source will be most effective for recovery after a workout.
Caffeine – good or bad?
Caffeine often gets a bad rap in some circles, with some claiming that its use indicates a failing diet or warning of the dangers of caffeine dependency. Though caffeine should never be used as a replacement for a healthy diet, it can actually be part of a great pre-workout meal.
“The benefits and ‘dangers’ of caffeine are all dependent on how you use it – similar to a fitness tracker,” says Jamie. “Some definitely use it as a meal replacement, but when used smartly, it can be part of a healthy lifestyle and give you the extra boost needed to work out or stay focused.
“Coffee and tea actually contain antioxidants that have been shown to protect against various diseases including cancer, as well as cognitive diseases like dementia and Parkinsons (when drinking two or three cups a day).
“A safe recommendation would be no more than 400mg of caffeine a day, which amounts to 2.5 cans of an energy drink or three or four cups of coffee. It’s also worth remembering that caffeine takes roughly 6 hours (half-life) to break down, so avoid drinking it too close to bedtime.
He adds: “When it comes to food, it’s not what, but more how and why you’re using it that determines whether it’s good or bad.”
Top tips: Any workout is better than no workout, so don’t stress too much about working out first thing. Whether you choose to work out fasted all depends on the type of workout and your fitness goals. Caffeine can be a great part of a pre-workout meal and healthy lifestyle overall – so long as its consumed smartly and mindfully.
Train insane or remain rested?
We are constantly told how good it is to hit the gym or go on a run as soon as you wake up. Sure, it may work for some, but it could also be the complete opposite for others. So, should you work out as soon as you wake up or have that extra 30 minutes to lie in?
“Again, this all depends on the individual. If you’re lying in bed wide awake, it is probably best to get out of bed and get something done. That way, not only will you feel productive, but that post-exercise endorphins will be flowing which sets you up nicely for the day ahead.
“Sometimes, we all need an extra few minutes in bed – and that is absolutely fine. The key here is to be self-aware and self-audit to figure out what is good for you individually. We can never underestimate the importance of rest and recovery when it comes to our training. Studies have shown a single night of missed sleep can result in your reaction time and physical function to fall by up to 300% with sleep recovery taking several days. Train hard, recover harder”.
Top tip: self-awareness and self-audit is key.
Not a morning person?
The early bird catches the worm – or so it goes. Some of us just aren’t made for mornings but most of us, if not all, will eventually have to drag ourselves out of bed at some point to get ready for work. Jamie shares his best advice for the night owls…
“This is where self-honesty really comes into play – are you really not a morning person or are you just lazy? If you are genuinely better suited to a later rise, one of the best ways to improve your mornings is by building a routine that suits you and works for you. Not a morning person? Fine. But try to form a habit that improves on what you’re currently doing.
“Habit and routine formation are all about doing small things regularly. So, instead of saying ‘I’m going to wake up an hour earlier every day and smash a workout’, maybe instead try setting a realistic goal going to bed 20 minutes earlier and setting your alarm for 20 minutes earlier than you usually would. Before you know it, your new rise will be the norm and you will have 120 minutes extra every week to propel yourself towards your goals.
“There are also a few big no-nos when it comes to routine formation. A key point being to avoid, at all costs, comparing yourself to those who do manage to rise at the crack of dawn – this is not only unrealistic (for you) but it is also demotivating. Negative thoughts drive negative feelings and negative feelings drive negative behaviour.”
Top tip: Set realistic goals to build a routine and avoid comparison with those who are doing your desired routine.
Take home message
Whether you’re working to improve your fitness, boost your energy levels or stay productive and focused, having a strong morning routine can be key to achieving your goals. However, how you choose to set yourself up for the day will often depend on what those goals are and your own personal preferences and circumstances.
Hopefully, you’ll have seen here that there’s no one way to do the right thing. Don’t be afraid to play around and experiment with your morning routine as much as you need to, to find what works for you. And if things start getting stale, feel free to change things up. Variety is the spice of life.