Embracing efficiency in the pre-dawn hours.
Experts say the best time to work out is…whenever you’ll actually go work out. People love excuses, and I was no different. In the past, I had always gone to the gym 3-4 days a week, in the evening after my 9-to-5. It worked for a while, but I often found excuses to avoid going: “It’s too cold, I’m tired, there’s a dinner with friends, there’s a happy hour, there’s…beer in my fridge.”
Then I stumbled onto a window, horrifyingly known as “pre-dawn”…that has catalyzed not only a successful work out routine, but a more successful day overall.
THEN: Sleep until 7:00am, jump in the shower, eat a sub-par breakfast (if any). Stumble out for a sluggish walk to the subway.
NOW: Wake up at 5:30am. Clothes are waiting, contacts go in, teeth are brushed, and a scoop of pre-workout powder (think: edible jet fuel) before heading to the gym. Then shower, and out for work at the same time as I was “then.”
Bonus: The gym is almost always empty. When I get to work, I hit the ground running, because I feel infused with a jolt of inspiring energy and feel like a genius for doing the hard thing first. According to The American Council of Exercise, this creative boost comes naturally: working out in the morning leads to a huge boost of energy the rest of the day.
THEN: Crave snacks at 10:00am due to my crappy breakfast. Drink a lot of coffee, but not enough water. For lunch, either bring a small sandwich or go get takeout.
NOW: Eat a bowl of Greek yogurt with granola at my desk once I get in. Have a water bottle staring me in the face so that I can’t avoid it. Either bring a filling lunch or go get something outside the office.
A major change has been my appetite. Not only am I eating more because I skip the gym less often, but I’m driven to actually eat healthy. That heightened appetite comes from the post-weightlifting release of ghrelin, better known as “the hunger hormone.” I know that I’m hungry because I did something beneficial to my health, so I don’t mind putting something (like the occasional huge sandwich) back in.
THEN: Raid my company’s snack closet all afternoon. Around 3:00pm, start dreading the gym and dreaming of excuses to not go.
NOW: Lunch is filling since I eat a real breakfast, so I snack a lot less. Have a green tea at 3:00pm. Start looking forward to my free time after work and how I should spend it.
The afternoon slump—everyone knows it. It used to hit me especially hard, with the caffeine crash combined with any number of gym-avoiding excuses. For me personally, motivation doesn’t come easily at this time of the day. I’m naturally better in the morning, when most people are understandably on the verge of a breakdown. I still slump in the afternoon, but it’s a whole lot less than before due to my morning workout, smarter eating habits and the fact that I don’t have to hype myself up for the gym after I leave the office.
THEN: Walk into my apartment, begrudgingly change into my workout gear (if I hadn’t found an excuse to skip the gym by this point). Post-gym, make dinner and eat by 8:30pm. Spend the following two to three hours fairly restless, and go to bed late (often having trouble falling asleep).
NOW: Walk into my apartment knowing I don’t have to go to the gym. Meet friends for drinks, cook dinner with the girlfriend, get errands done, do some freelance writing (cough, cough) or just plain relax. By the time 10:00pm rolls around, my body is telling me I need to go to bed. Once my head hits the pillow, I’m out.
Looking back, I feel like a special kind of idiot for sticking with a routine that clearly wasn’t efficient or working for me. As a guy closing in on 30, I feel like being closer to my health matters more and more. In a decade or more, I don’t want to look back and think: “In my 20’s, I really was stupid for skipping the gym for beers with friends.” Instead, maybe I’ll be looking back, proud that I had resolved to live fully and find a way to do both.