Wake up and run! Fasted morning cardio - 10 hows and whys

We all know how beneficial exercise is for us, both in terms of our physical and cognitive capabilities.  But how many of us go day after day skipping our workouts, putting it off until the next day, feeling an ever-increasing layer of fat being deposited on our stomachs?  We've all been there but, from experience, one of the most effective methods to getting back on track can be done by lacing up your shoes and starting your day with a run.  We'll now explore why you should look to include this form of training in your fitness regime and some practical tips for those looking to take the plunge!

Why?

  • When you awake, bleary eyed on a Monday morning, your body is in what is commonly referred to as a fasted state.  In other words, presuming you did not wake up in the middle of the night to devour some chocolate cake, your body has not been given any food for roughly 8-12 hours (depending on when you had your evening meal).  So what?  Well, this also means that your glycogen levels are lower and so your body will have to rely on its fat stores for energy rather than glucose.  Just think, if you eat a bowl of pasta before running, you'll need to spend a decent amount of time expending energy before your body switches its fuel source from glucose to fat.  Exercising fasted, however, your body will be eating away at your fat stores from the off, helping to shift those areas of stubborn fat that so many people have trouble with.  Keep your run between 30-45 minutes at a pace where you can hold a conversation still.

  • Simply put, running, on waking up, is your best bet at ensuring that you get the work done!  Try working out after a stressful day at work, a long commute and a set of screaming kids to boot!  Nine times out of ten you'll be too tired to exercise later in the evening so get it done first thing, before your mind has a chance to start making up its excuses.  

  • So many of us get to our day jobs without truly waking up.  It's pure autopilot most mornings as you shower, dress and eat and before you know it you're sat at the office desk thrust straight into your tasks. An early run allows you some perspective and a chance to get in touch with your body.  This way you'll tackle the rest of your day having released those feel-good endorphins, increased the blood flow throughout your body and succeeded in reaching a goal before the rest of the world has woken up!  Try it, I guarantee that you'll feel more empowered and productive for the rest of the day.

How?

  • Perhaps the biggest objection I hear from people on early exercise is the sheer act of having to wake up early.  I have no doubt that these are also the people who hit snooze 10 times before they finally roll out of bed...  For the first week it will be difficult as your body adjusts but just stick with it.  Do NOT give yourself the chance to snooze - place your alarm well away from the bed, in a neighbouring room if possible.  Just make sure that you have to physically get off of your feet and you'll have a better chance of staying there!  Secondly, gone are the days of the standard alarm clock noise - set your wake up call as your favourite motivational song which will get you jumping out of bed.  And lastly, strategically place your running kit en route to the alarm so that you see it straight away on waking.

  • Particularly in the case of morning cardio I'm a big proponent of caffeine before running.  Not only in terms of the extra kick that the caffeine will give you but also with regards to its effects on fat burning also.  The ingestion of caffeine leads to lipolysis, a process in which your body breaks down your fat stores for use as energy.  This coupled with your fasted state as discussed earlier will work hand in hand in targeting that unwanted body fat.  Either through black coffee (no added sugar, milk, cream) or in pill form you should ingest the caffeine roughly 30 minutes before your run.

  • Whilst you let the caffeine hit your bloodstream use the art of visualisation to psyche yourself up for the run.  Close your eyes and see yourself after months of this exercise schedule - the dream body, the competitive marathon time, etc.  Whatever your reason for doing this, get the end result in your head, and really see yourself there and how it feels.  You can use this technique on the run itself also if you are lacking motivation.  For further information on visualisation, I would advise exploring neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) visualisation techniques in more detail.

  • Don't put too much pressure on yourself.  Exercise plans are often accompanied by targets and the need for results.  Whilst it's imperative that you progress do not put yourself off by setting unrealistic goals, losing the will to live when you do not meet them.  The most important thing, when starting off on this lifestyle change, is getting out of that door - put your personal best to one side every now and again, run for the sake of running and let your body dictate how far you go.

  • The subject of running footwear and surfaces is a highly debated and contentious issue.  It seems logical to me that you should, where possible, try and mix up the surface that you run on.  My standard route, for example, starts on concrete, which then leads to a grassy park and ends on a sandy beach.  If you currently live in an urban area, try and seek out a route which will allow you to run on grass, dirt or gravel in addition to the concrete pavement.  In terms of shoes and technique, this is another area which has undergone huge change in the last decade as to what is best.  Ten years ago, the widely held assertion was that running shoes should provide ample cushioning under the heel which would allow for the runner to land on their heels and spring off from their toes.  However, more recently this notion has been displaced by the barefoot movement and techniques such as the POSE running method which I use.  Switching to POSE (in simple terms, landing on your mid/forefoot) alleviated the shin-splints that had haunted me for years.  Since adopting a midfoot strike these have not bothered me since which is a huge relief and it is therefore the technique that I suggest you adopt.  If you don't believe me, try running barefoot - you'll notice that you naturally land on your mid/forefoot and that if you try and land on your heel it will hurt!  This is the action you should be looking to replicate on your run.

  • A lot of people tell me they do not run because they get bored.  This is a fair point and something which I'm sure everyone has experienced at some time or another.  Using the visualisation technique discussed previously on the run itself will help to combat this problem through focusing your attention.  It's important that you also become connected to the rhythm of your run; I'll do this by counting from 1-10 on every time my left foot hits the ground.  Such a technique is almost meditative in nature and after a while, once the rhythm is established, you'll truly be in the zone.  Not only will this eliminate any idea of boredom but it's quite a good way to think things over in your head, plan upcoming goals, or tackle any niggling problems you might have.  I can't even count the number of times I have come back from a run with a new idea, solution or plan!

  • Do not be embarrassed!  People new to running outside often tell me that they are embarrassed because they'll be exposing themselves in front of all those people, cars, etc.  Let me tell you now, out of all the things to be worried about, this is not it!  You can most definitely be embarrassed by a poor diet, unhealthy choices or the fact that you skipped today's workout but to be self conscious of a correct decision is absolutely absurd.  Going out in the morning and achieving your exercise goal is something to be extremely proud of.  Sure you might have a few other runners passing you but everyone has to start somewhere and within your visualisation exercise you can imagine being as quick as them very soon!

So, what have you got to lose, apart from that stubborn fat!  Lace up, get out there and be proud that you're doing so!