Q: Whenever I eat a big dinner and work out the next morning, I feel sluggish. What is the best way to eat in at night to make my a.m. session easier?
A: If you find that you are feeling sluggish in the morning following a big evening meal, stop eating that particular dinner the night before your workouts. Digestion is a complex process and everyone is different. Just because you have an evening of sleep to break up the time between a large dinner and your workout doesn't mean that the two aren't connected.
A great example of the carryover from your night meal to the morning is from a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found that eating lower-glycemic carbs at dinner yielded better blood sugar control in the morning compared to eating high-glycemic carbohydrates at dinner.
Here are four tips for getting your dinner to stop making you feel sluggish the next morning.
1. Know your body. Everyone is different. I have clients that can eat a whole food meal 10 minutes before they start training and feel fine, while if others eat within two hours of their training session, they will feel like they are going to puke the entire session. I'm betting that a particular food or combination of foods seems to stay with you more than others. Take note of those foods and either avoid them entirely or eat them in much smaller quantities the evening before your workouts.
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2. Eat a smaller dinner. I generally aim to have clients eat meals that are similar in size throughout the day, with the post-workout meal potentially being slightly larger than the rest. Is your dinner such a big meal because you are not eating enough during the day? Are you eating more at dinner due to excessive feelings of hunger? If the latter is true, then a high-protein snack three to four hours before dinner will help reduce cravings and hunger that may be leading to overconsumption.
3. Eat dinner earlier. It is a myth that your body doesn't digest food while you are sleeping, but if you can eat dinner a little earlier, it might allow you enough time to take a stroll after dinner. Research shows that a 15-minute walk following a meal can aid in digestion and blood sugar control. The added digestive help of a post-dinner walk may be all you need to feel better in the morning.
4. Eat fewer carbs. If high-carbohydrate meals are the ones that are making you the most sluggish in the mornings, you might benefit from eating fewer carbohydrates at dinner. A high-carb meal causes a large rise in your blood sugar levels. To get a little science-y, orexin neurons are a particular type of neuron in your brain that produce the neurotransmitter orexin. Orexin influences wakefulness, with more orexin leading to increase alertness. How is this related to your big meal? The orexin neurons are very sensitive to blood sugar levels, and elevated blood sugar inhibits orexin release—this results in you feeling tired and sluggish. The effect might be so pronounced in your body that it is carrying over to the morning.
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You don't have to be doomed to feeling sluggish for your early morning workouts. Test how each of these four tips impacts how you feel before your morning training session. Also, don't forget to look at sleep. Make sure that you are getting enough rest, as the sluggishness derived from lack of sleep can only be solved by getting more sleep.