The time of day you work out gets a lot of attention, but is it really that important? Let's dig deeper and take a look at the reality of how much the time of day you work out can affect your results. I'll also share with you the five best times of the day that you should work out.
While this may seem obvious, you should not lose sight of the fact that exercise is almost always preferable to no exercise. While technical "nitpicking" can help make your fitness journey easier, it can also work against you if you get too wrapped up in it. Exercise and healthy eating will always trump all other advice. I've seen every excuse in the book, including "I missed my optimal window for training so I skipped today's workout." Don't let this happen. Unless you're injured, sick, or overtrained, exercising is better than not exercising. Schedule your workout when you have the best chance of getting it done.
There are times during the day when you will have a slight physiological advantage if you work out during them, but none of those trump the psychological edge you have if you feel like exercising. As simple as this sounds, effort equals results more than any other one factor. This means that if you're a night owl, work out at night. Morning person? Work out first thing in the morning…you get my drift. Anytime you're in the mood to really Bring It will work because, by far, the biggest physiological changes happen to your body when you push yourself further than you've pushed yourself before. There's a reason the P90X® mantra is "Bring It." The closer you get to putting in 100% effort, the more you force your body into an adaptive state, which is exactly where it needs to be in order to change.
Now, let's get technical. Your body can push itself anaerobically longer and harder if you begin your workout with a full tank of muscle glycogen. This will let you lift more weight, jump higher, move faster—pretty much improve every important aspect of every workout that's not tied to recovery or aerobic efficiency.
Glycogen is mainly recharged by carbohydrates, and is extinguished very quickly with exercise, brain activity, and most other tasks. This means it fluctuates throughout the day and is always highest immediately after you digest a meal containing carbohydrates. This means—depending on your eating schedule—your body is probably primed for peak exercise in the late morning, afternoon, or early evening.
At night, your body can store glycogen, meaning that it's possible to wake up and train in the morning before you've eaten and still have enough energy to get through a workout, but this is a theoretical scenario. Most of us, especially when we're training hard and not eating a ton, will burn through glycogen recovering from the prior day's activities. The result is that those early morning workouts can lead to something called "the bonk," which is what happens when your body runs out of glycogen. Essentially you lose the ability to push your anaerobic realm, and you feel like you've hit a wall.
Bonking is not one of those "good pain" times. When your body is out of glycogen, it starts to break down muscle tissue and you quickly begin to offset the fitness gains you've made. It's inevitable that it will happen to you at some point. When it does, don't try and push through. Instead cut your losses and get on the recovery program by eating, resting, and then reevaluating your eating schedule and/or choice of workout times.
If exercising when your glycogen stores are low is the only time of day available, you can fix the situation nutritionally. If it's first thing in the morning, eat a half or a whole banana or drink a half or a full serving of Results and Recovery Formula® (depending on how long you're training) before you start your workout. If that helps, try adding another serving of complex carbohydrates to your evening meal and then skip the banana. If that doesn't work (you'll know if it doesn't—bonking isn't subtle) it means you're on a nutritional edge and aren't eating enough calories to recover from your workout program. It's time to reevaluate your daily caloric intake.
In the morning, before you've eaten, your body is forced to utilize its fat stores for energy, and you can train your body to be efficient at doing so, which is cool. You're also "burning fat," which sounds even cooler (although it's not nearly as effective as "burning glycogen" when it comes to losing body fat). While fantastic, in theory, it's not if you force your body into a situation where you bonk.
You won't bonk, however, unless you're training anaerobically (in other words, hard—as in your heart rate is pegged during parts of the workout). This means easy workouts can have added benefits if done in the morning on an empty stomach. This is why during programs like P90X Doubles, the easier workout of the day is scheduled in the morning.
This time of day is last for a reason. Unless it is really the only time you will work out or the only time you feel the best, you should probably avoid it.
Working out directly before bed can affect your sleep. Most people have a hard time getting to sleep after a workout because exercise can throw off your melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, among other things. This isn't ideal because sleep is very important for recovery. It's when your body naturally produces most of its own performance-enhancing drugs in the form of hormones. Anything that hurts your ability to sleep should be eliminated if possible.
Exercise also utilizes a lot of nutrients, which are further depleted at night. If you're on a strict diet, perhaps trying to lose weight, you run further risk by training and then not eating to recover from the workout prior to bed. If you're on a low-calorie diet and plan to train hard at night, you should follow your workout with, at least, a nutritional recovery strategy (Results and Recovery Formula or equivalent), if not a small meal before going to sleep.
I'm not the norm, so I'll play the counterpoint to my point as I can fall asleep (and often sleep much better) immediately after a very hard workout. If you're like me, there's nothing wrong with training at night. Just follow nutritional protocols that don't leave you depleted and starving when you wake up. I've done this and it can be so severe that you wake up in the middle of the night, a common issue with bodybuilders and fitness trainers getting ready for competition. This is not ideal as it means your body is essentially bonking during sleep. And while that's okay if your goal is to pose in front of a crowd with absurdly low body fat, like a bodybuilder, it's also a sign of starvation and, if done too long, will cause your body to begin to shut down its metabolic processes.
The bottom line is that everyone's body responds differently. We all need to exercise and most of us can eat better. In between are a lot of individual variables. When it comes to getting your best possible workout, psychology often trumps physiology. Exercise when you can and pay close attention to your performance. Then choose your preferred workout time based on your results. It's really that simple.
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Recently, the mainstream media stumbled on a new University of Southern California study pointing to the connection between high-protein eating and cancer.1 The result was sensationalism at its worst, going so far as to claim that eating a diet higher than 20% in mostly meat-based protein is as carcinogenic as smoking. Is this true?
No. Not even close. There are holes in the research that you could drive the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile through. This study is important in that it further opens up the conversation on the protein/cancer link, especially as it relates to animal protein. While it's not definitive, it's definitely worth considering.
I generally don't recommend long-term high-protein diets, mostly because no one needs that much protein.2 Usually, when you're piling on the beef, it means you're getting less fruits and veggies, which are chronically missing in the Standard American Diet, so high-protein diets are often nutrient-poor. However, if you want to eat high protein for a brief period for weight loss, nothing in this study suggests you need to worry. Just make sure your nonprotein calories are made up of high-quality, nutrient-rich carbs such as fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains, as well as "good" fats such as raw nuts and seeds, avocados, olives, and olive oil.
From a scientist's perspective, there are two things in the universe. Things that cause cancer and things that might cause cancer. Smoking, asbestos, and radiation, to name a few, are "known carcinogens." Very few sane people would argue against their cancerous effects (unless they worked for a tobacco company).
Then there's everything else. Sooner or later, most things come under scrutiny as being cancerous—even vegetables.3 This month, it looks like protein is getting its moment in the sun (which falls into the "causes cancer" group, for the record).
The USC study was divided into two parts. In the first part, scientists put tumors on lab mice and then upped their protein, which increased the size of the tumors. But keep a few things in mind. First, mice are not humans. Second, there's a difference between increasing the size of a tumor and creating a new one, which is to say, the protein didn't cause cancer; it just made the existing cancer worse. Finally, there's also a difference between increasing the size of a tumor and the tumor killing you. The protein boost didn't kill the mice—not that they didn't have a raw deal anyway. Poor rodents.
The second part was an epidemiological study on human adults over 50 years old. It showed that people who got 20% or more of their calories from (mostly animal) protein had a fourfold increased chance of dying from cancer unless they were over 65. At that point, increased protein intake actually decreased their chances of cancer-based mortality. If there was that big of a shift for people 15 years older, what would be the shift for people 15 years younger? We don't know. Therefore, if you're 49-years-and-11-months-old or less, this study doesn't mean much.
(And regarding the smoking thing, for the record, if you smoke, your chances of getting lung cancer increase over 20-fold, so that comparison is absurd.4 Admittedly, one of the researchers made the initial smoking connection, but the media took it to an extreme.)
"Epidemiological" means that they pulled the results from existing information. That means causality can't be proven. Excess protein doesn't necessarily cause cancer; the two just seem to happen at the same time. There are almost certainly other factors at play. For example, the study didn't look at quality of the food or lifestyle. There's a slim chance that the researchers might have gathered their data from aging Paleo or Zone dieters who eat a high-protein diet, but keep it healthy. Odds are the group was made up of typical baby boomers who eat (or "ate" if they fell into the mortality group) nightly red and/or processed meat and minimal fibrous, antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies—which are known cancer fighters. It could very easily be that it wasn't the protein that killed them, but rather their generally lousy diet!
It's also important to note that the study didn't include physical activity as part of their evaluation. Exercisers require more protein than inactive people for muscle repair and recovery. Therefore they should be able to increase protein intake without negative effects.
Despite all these holes, if you look at this study as part of a wider field of research, it does add to the argument that consuming too many animal products is a bad thing, considering the participants got the majority of their protein from meat.
The American Cancer Society has long been outspoken about the cancerous effects of red meat and processed meat5 and a search of "Meat Cancer" on Google Scholar yields tons of studies linking the two. Could these studies all be written off the way I just wrote off the USC study? Certainly, but it's hard to deny the critical mass of research.
I'm not saying you shouldn't eat meat. We're an omnivorous species and animal products can be a good source of protein, omega-3 essential fatty acids, vitamins D and B12, and many other nutrients. You just probably don't need to eat as much of it as you currently are.
That brings us back to the USC study. Issuing a blanket statement that if 20% of your diet is protein, you're more likely to get cancer is overreaching. However, this study should be a wake-up call regarding the impact a dietary imbalance can have on our health. I'm betting that follow-up studies will show it's not the quantity of protein that's the issue, but rather the quality.
So don't freak out and avoid protein entirely. (You'll be in a world of hurt if you do.) Instead, take a good, hard look at your diet to confirm that, in the likely event that you eat one too many chicken sandwiches than you need, it doesn't mean you're eating one too few salads.
"Ask the Expert: How Much Protein Do You Need?"
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It's your second month of your new job and, unfortunately, you're in way over your head because—just maybe—you may have fudged a couple tiny facts about your skill level on your resume. Should you scamper from the office with your tail between your legs? Heck no! You have psychology on your side. It's time to take a deep breath and fake it until you make it.
"If you alter your actions, usually the belief system within you follows," explains licensed therapist Cerina Griffin. "When we choose to put mind over mood, it is transformative what can take place within our emotional and mental well-being."
Here are seven tried and true ways to get your game face on.
"How to Bust Your 6 Biggest Excuses"
"25 Ways to Be More Productive"
"Tidy Up Yourself: 7 Tips to Spring Clean Your Body and Mind"
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†Results may vary. Exercise and proper diet are necessary to achieve and maintain weight loss and muscle definition.
Please consult with a physician before beginning any exercise program.
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