Sleep, Muscle Gain, and Fat Loss

I’ve always liked personal training. I enjoy talking about and teaching exercise and instructing workouts. I love watching people become stronger, healthier, and happier. I hate waking up early, though, and think most people who wanted to work out before six in the morning were out of their minds, especially when most of them sacrificed sleep to do so.

While a lot of factors influence your physical fitness, appearance, and health, the three biggest are exercise, nutrition, and sleep. Think of them as the three legs on your fitness bar stool. If you compromise (shorten) any one of them even a little your stool is going to be wobbly, and if you ignore (remove) any of them entirely the whole thing is going to fall over. Also, you can’t compensate for a lack of one by putting more effort into (lengthening) one or both of the others. If you want to look, feel, and perform your best you need all three.

There is no advantage to working out very early in the morning that is worth the disadvantages of losing sleep. Unless you are willing and able to regularly go to bed early enough to get seven to eight hours of sleep before working out it is not worth it. If you’re tired you won’t put as much effort into your workouts and won’t get as much benefit out of them. You’re also more likely to make mistakes when you’re tired, and during exercise mistakes can cause injuries. In the long run getting too little sleep can interfere with your ability to build muscle and lose fat because it negatively affects many hormones involved in appetite, metabolism, and muscle growth.

Sleep is important for building muscle and losing fat

When you are sleep deprived your cortisol, ghrelin, and  insulin resistance increase while your testosterone, growth hormone, and leptin decrease. This slows down  your metabolism and increases your appetite making it harder for you to lose fat or keep it off and harder for you to gain or maintain muscle mass. To avoid this (and because I hate waking up early) I discouraged clients from working out too early in the morning unless they were able to consistently get seven to eight hours of sleep first.

If you can work out early in the morning without sacrificing sleep there are benefits. You’re less likely to skip workouts in the morning than if you plan to work out in the afternoon or evening. If you work out at a gym you can avoid the crowds by going in early enough. If you work out at home and have young children early morning may be the only time you can work out uninterrupted. If you work out outside it is often cooler in the mornings, and contrary to popular but uninformed opinion cooler temperatures are better than warmer for working out.

To ensure you’re getting enough sleep on a consistent basis it helps to set a schedule and stick to it, just like your workouts. Also, just like your workouts, the quality of your sleep is as important as the quantity and there are a few things you can do to improve it. If you’re getting enough sleep you’re spending about one third of your time in bed, so it makes sense to get the most comfortable mattress, pillows, and sheets you can reasonably afford. You should also optimize your bedroom for sleep, keeping it dark, cool, and quiet. If noise or light are a problem where you live (or if you like to nap during the day) good quality earplugs and a sleep mask can help. To minimize distractions from sleep reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex, and use other rooms for work, reading, watching television, using the computer or electronic devices, etc.

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