‘When’s the best time to train in order to lose body fat?’ is a question I get often. It usually stems from the myth that training first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is more fat burning. Truth is, there is little evidence to support this claim and this can often be counter-productive. Instead, I have always said the most effective time of day to train for fat loss is the time of day that would allow for the most adherence.
We all live different lives with different jobs, different commitments so to throw a specific time of day out there is very short sited. However, if you train in the evening after work then I have some tips for you to ensure your body gets the down time it needs in order to get a good night’s sleep and recover optimally.
To break it down, when you train intensely, you elevate cortisol which is your stress hormone. This isn’t a bad thing; however many struggle to get cortisol levels back down again to a level that allows melatonin, our sleep hormone, to elevate and do its job to get us into a nice, deep slumber. Cortisol and melatonin are like a see saw – when one is elevate the other is supressed, so whilst cortisol levels are up, melatonin will be low. Hence the reason cortisol levels are higher (or at least they should be) when we wake up, because it’s our get up and go hormone.
In a nutshell, the important information to take away from this is as follows:
If you want to burn fat, recover and optimise your performance then you need to do your best to get cortisol levels down in the evening and melatonin levels up.
So if you do train in the evening and with this all said, here are 7 things you can do in the evening after a training session to bring cortisol levels down and promote good quality fat burning, hormone nurturing and muscle-repairing sleep.
Train as early as possible
I know this slightly contradicts my previous comment about training when is best for you, but many of us could train a little earlier than we do and any time sooner will allow for more time to prepare the body for sleep. 15 minutes earlier can make all the difference. Another thing to consider is being more productive with your time spent in the gym by reducing rest periods, removing any distractions, and maybe even considering reducing your training time as many try and do too much in one session. If reducing rest periods you will find your workouts all the more challenging anyway.
Supplement with magnesium
Magnesium is known for its calming and relaxing effect on the body so taking it after an evening session makes a lot of sense. Applying topically after your shower or taking a tablet after dinner will help the body prepare for sleep. Magnesium supports the function of GABA, a calming neurotransmitter, that helps the brain to relax and switch off. Epsom salts baths are also great if you have the time and a bath of course.
Avoid more stressors
Remember whilst the endorphin rush of training makes us feel awesome, it does elevate cortisol so on your way home from the gym, be it on the train, bus or when you get home, avoid the urge to read emails or go on social media, especially if there is a chance you may see something that will have your brain ticking. If emails can wait until the morning, then read them in the morning. The moment you finish your workout you should be thinking about all you can do to calm the brain and body down.
Cool down after your workout
It’s important to have a stretch and a cool down after a workout whatever time of the day we train. However, I feel it’s even more important in the evening as it’s a great opportunity to relax the mind, calm the body and take that first step towards bringing stress levels down and have an awesome sleep. Another option is to have a cool shower instead of a hot one, the body doesn’t like being hot when trying to get a good sleep, so having a cool shower and bringing your core temperature down will be another good addition.
Have some carbs
Who doesn’t love carbohydrates after a hard workout, right? Carbohydrates are feel-good foods and can have a calming effect on the body due to their ability to boost serotonin levels. In some ways it makes sense to have them in the evening, and your muscles will no doubt be very grateful too as glycogen stores will be replenished. However, if you are eating quite late it is important not to eat too much food that requires a lot of breaking down such as anything too high fat or heavy, like red meat for example. Opt for leaner protein and easy to digest carbs such as white fish or chicken with some brown or white rice and some veg. When working with clients who train quite late and have trouble sleeping, having them consume a protein and carb based shake/smoothie almost immediately after their workout has helped them get a good nutrient hi,t and then when they get home or on the commute if possible, they have a smaller meal. This means they are able to replenish quicker, which is great if trying to bring cortisol levels down, but also means they won’t be eating too close to bed time either. The issue with eating too close to bed time is that the body will be trying to digest food when it should be unwinding, and elevated insulin levels will also inhibit growth hormone secretion which occurs mostly when we are sleeping. It therefore makes sense to leave as big a gap as possible and not give the digestive system too much to do right before bed.
Avoid coffee pre workout
As awesome as coffee is and as hard as it can be sometimes to motivate yourself to get to the gym after a long day at work, caffeine stays in the system for a lot longer than people think and even a 4/5pm coffee will most certainly affect sleep quality. A pre workout coffee in the morning is one thing but ideally the awesome Fitter Food you are eating in the day will help fuel you for that evening training session.
Listen to some calming tunes
Music has great power and the right song can motivate us in the gym, make us smile, cry or relax. Put a playlist together of some music you love, preferably not what you would listen to in order to get you going before a workout, and listen to it on the way home. Even a good podcast can promote and help us reach optimal relaxation.
Train in the morning or lunch time. I say this because often people who are adamant they can’t train in the morning actually can with some slight adjustments, and we have worked with clients who were adamant they were not morning people and there was no way they could get up earlier and train. However, they soon changed their mindsets when then gave it a go, realising how good a morning workout makes them feel for the day and then they get that awesome feeling that they can go straight home after work knowing the job is done. We have worked with loads of mums who took some convincing to get up a bit earlier to do a bodyweight circuit before the kids are up, but once they started getting better quality sleep and recovering faster it all balanced out nicely.
So if you’ve been struggling to switch off after your evening workouts and getting a good night’s kip, then give some if not all the above a try and see how you get on. Sleep really is the mac daddy of health and fat loss and it’s not to be ignored. Additionally, it just could be, and often is, the missing piece in many peoples’ fat loss puzzle.
For plenty of training program inspiration and ideas for those days when you can’t get to the gym or are pushed for time, join our awesome Fitter 365 community. Check it out here and get your first month for £1.
Yours in health and awesomeness,