Adjusting to morning/fasted workouts

Hi all,

I decided recently to start doing workouts in the early morning rather than in the evening as it works a bit better with my schedule. However, the past few morning workouts have started out feeling sluggish. My cadence starts lower than normal (~5rpm) and I found it takes way more mental motivation than when I do the workout in the evening. It’s much harder for me to get a nice kick/pull going, and I feel like I have to stomp on the pedals to keep up with the power target.

Did anyone else experience this? I’m wondering if it’s because I haven’t eaten before the morning workout, whereas evening workouts usually mean I have eaten dinner with the family about an hour or two beforehand. Do I just need to train this energy burning system more? Do I work up to it? (or at least, will it get better with time?) I am vaguely aware of fasted training and how it causes your body to use different metabolic pathways, but am not very familiar with it.

Thanks!

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Think it just takes longer to get going first thing in the morning, not just fading

I switched to early morning workouts back in March. I’m up a little before 5am and try to be on the bike within 10-15min of getting up. I think the main thing is if you make sure you fuel up the previous day and in evening, even if running a small calorie deficit (~500), you should be good for 90 - 120min even with intensity. I don’t want to ride depleted, and I think ensuring I’m topped off after the last ride and previous day I might be fasted but won’t be depleted.

I sometimes feel lethargic / not smooth and hitting intervals this week at 120% FTP and 105% FTP doesn’t always feel the best at 5am, but it is doable. My cadence drops a little when lethargic, similar to you about 5rpm, but it doesn’t prevent me from putting down the power. I might extend the warm up a couple of min depending on how I feel.

If I know its going to be a tough workout I’ll quickly down a banana or something small, maybe have a sports drink as I ride. But being realistic, more complex food takes time to digest and I suspect most food consumed past 30min in isn’t really helping you out for a 60min workout. There is talk on the podcast about it improving RPE though, so it might be worth on-the-bike fueling just to make you feel better. I drink my morning coffee as I ride, but the caffeine probably doesn’t really kick in until after the ride is over.

How long have you been trying the new schedule? I have done early morning rides on/off for a while due to insomnia before the schedule change in March. There probably was a couple of weeks of adaption. Some days I still don’t feel great, but I think as long as I’m topped off, its more mental / RPE.

It will eventually get easier if you stick at it :slight_smile: I think it’s worth finding a routine that works for you- don’t be afraid to experiment as from some of the threads on early morning training here it looks like that can be really different for everyone. I personally prefer waking up ~1 hour early and having a bit of time to drink some coffee and wake up- not much of a morning person haha.

Likewise, whether you choose to do morning workouts fasted is pretty subjective- I know some people are fine doing all sessions shorter than 90min fasted or whatever, but for me anything above threshold benefits significantly from eating something beforehand so I’d rather just eat a banana and have a better quality workout. (I also consider RPE in this scenario- hitting v02 work at 5am is enough of a struggle so I’d rather not make things any harder on myself.) But again- try a few things out and see what works for you!

A couple quick points, with more details in the linked post from another thread.

I sometimes have a handful of craisins or raisins to keep my stomach quiet before harder workouts (non-fasted).

I also need 15 minutes to warm up, usually 55-75%, stepping up 5% every three minutes. I modify any TR workout in Workout Creator that doesn’t have at least 12 minutes. My cadence is also slower than normal when I first start so I do three 30-second quick leg spins above 100 rpm during the warm up, usually one each at 55%, 60%, and 65%.

I workout in the morning. But I wait 45 minutes to an hour to wake up and drink a cup of cold brew coffee. From past experience if I just try hopping on the bike before the caffeine hits then things go horribly (probably doubles the RPE).

I have also started a regime of intermittent fasting where I don’t eat (with a few exceptions) between 8PM and noon. The exceptions is that I am allowed to eat after being on the bike for more than 30 minutes if necessary for the workout. This was extremely tough at first and I had to start it with a relatively low workout volume. However, a couple of months in and my body has made some amazing adjustments. I really don’t feel like I need to eat before workouts now shorter than an hour and half. This is coming from someone who always considered themselves to be very prone to hypoglycemia. So what I have learned is that your body is amazing and can adjust (if you give it time). I would suggest lowering you workout intensity / volume for a few weeks and let your body adjust and then build back up.

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Thanks for the help everyone. I tried a morning workout again this morning, but let myself wake up for ~1 hour and had a bit of coffee beforehand. I also had a snack before I went to bed and I think all of that helped. I was able to jump on the bike, didn’t feel lethargic, felt motivated, and was also able to bump up the intensity a couple of percentage points.

I think I’m at the point in my fitness (and age) where I need to start paying closer attention to nutrition and what exactly my body is telling me.

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Coffee is 100% mandatory for me. I’ve been a morning (always before 6am) rider for the last 3 years now. A couple other things I like to do to wake up are:

  1. Air squats (10-15) to get the quads/legs going
  2. Donkey kicks (10x per leg) to get the glutes activated
  3. Coffee

I find that waking up the body needs to be done by getting some muscle groups firing as well as my ritual cup of coffee. Also give myself a little more time to warm up if the prior night’s sleep wasn’t 100%.

Last bit of advice, fight the hunger. If you want to ride fasted you’ll have to adjust.

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In the summer, I have run or ride early and I definitely need coffee and usually something small, easy to digest and sweet like a banana … or even better, a small piece of cake. I think cake was invented for this. When I was younger, I used to pop out of bed and go running — no coffee, no sugar. Now, I cannot put my shoes on without coffee.

How do you feel the tough VO2 or threshold workouts not earring breakfast? I have been doing intermittent fasting for the past year with low carb life style. I never eat breakfast for zone 2 up to Sweet Spot workouts regardless duration. But when doing threshold workouts, I started to fail my workouts. Now I’m really conflicted if I should do carb loading the night before or not. The thing is I don’t know the reason I’m failing these tough workouts is because food or my FTP just set too high and my legs are not handling the intensity of the workout. I’m thinking is the latter. I really want to continue to be a fat burner instead of sugar burner. But reading all the articles, it seems most people say you need keep pumping carb to fuel intense workouts because Ketones can’t keep up the energy required for tough workouts.

I am not on a low carb diet. I am simply not eating between 8PM and noon. Other than that I am just trying to eat good non-processed foods. The exception being when I am on the bike I can take whatever I want in to get through the workout after about 30 minutes or so. I am also not a fundamentalist about any of this — if the workout feels tough or if I feel sluggish when I start I will take in some carbs to fuel the workout (start drinking Skratch instead of water or eat a HoneyStinger waffle). The overriding priority being the workout.

I also may hit more of a wall soon. I am only on about month five of this (you probably know more about this than I do) — the first 6 weeks of this I just did easy / fun riding to get used it (and as a break), and the past few months I have been following a non-Trainer Road century plan. Who knows I might be taking in a lot of carbs if I was on a TrainerRoad plan. I still don’t think I would carb-loading the night before (though carbs are definitely part of my dinner ---- which is usually vegan). However, if I wake up and I felt like I was starving / weak I will probably eat a bar or something — but it will be in reaction to my body telling me something rather than a set habit / routine. Basically, what I think I have gained is learning that my body needs a lot less carbs than I thought, and pretty much no fuel before noon unless doing a hard(ish) workout on the bike.

I think this is all going to be n=1 stuff…

My experience is that you get used to it. I used to struggle with morning workouts (and rides), particularly when I used to switch between morning and evenings and particularly high intensity.

For me, sticking to mornings has worked - consistency, again, showing a benefits! I just get up, do my ablutions kit on, and out. It’s early enough without building in time for tea, breakfast etc. I sometimes extend warm up, but not always.

I do tend to try to fuel the night before. It’s a difficult balance not affecting sleep. I’ve also (just restarted) fuelling the workouts in the morning if they’re over an hour. Carb drink during warm up, and in between the early intervals/ blocks. Pre-Covid, I was training in work, so I used to have something on the way in. Probably not necessary, but definitely reduces my RPE and even helps me mentally with the hard workouts.

Just another point though - my understanding is that not having something to eat before a workout is not the same as “fasted”. “Fasted” generally means glycogen depleted, which you may or may not be depending on the diet the previous day.

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