7 Things to Do Tonight for a Better Workout Tomorrow
Ever been in the middle of a workout feeling sluggish, unmotivated, and like general crap? You could be doing everything right in terms of diet and supplements, but your bedtime routine is lacking. As it turns out, a solid bedtime routine can be a game-changer for your energy levels, workouts, and beyond.
It’s not just as simple as getting more sleep (that would be nice)—there are several simple changes that can be made to a nighttime routine for better workouts and overall long-term health. Below, Daniel Goebel, RD, LDN, CSCS, and former nutritionist for the Las Vegas (Oakland) Raiders, shares seven tips for triaging your bedtime routine for a better workout, and more gains, tomorrow.
1. Get 7 to 9 Hours of Sleep
You knew this was coming. Goebel says that proper sleep is one of the most important things for not only having a successful workout the next day, but also for our body’s long-term health and well-being. “Sleep is the time when our brains and bodies reset. An adult male typically needs seven to nine hours of high-quality, mostly uninterrupted sleep per night,” he explains (1).
During sleep, the body reorganizes cells, promotes tissue growth, and resets hormone levels—all functions that are extremely important for long-term health and wellness.
The first thing Goebel recommends is figuring out how to get enough sleep—and for that, he suggests backward planning. “Figure out when your workout is going to start. Then, figure out when you need to wake up. Subtract seven to nine hours, and plan on that being when you’re in bed, ideally asleep.” So if that means you need to be in bed a whole hour before you fall asleep, factor that in, too.
2. Stop Eating 2 to 3 Hours Before Bed
After establishing your optimal bedtime, Goebel recommends planning to stop eating two to three hours before then. “Anytime you eat, your digestive system is working. If your body is trying to digest food and sleep at the same time, this could lead to an interruption in sleep, and it could also lead to food not digesting properly.”
Goebel also explains that any protein eaten before bed needs adequate time to be digested and broken down into amino acids prior to sleep so that hormones and tissues can utilize those amino acids to develop and rebuild.
“Typically, two to three hours is the amount of time amino acids need to work through metabolic processes (2). Heading to bed with those already broken down is key for protein utilization,” Goebel says.
3. Eat a Combination of Complex Carbs and Protein for Dinner
The next step is figuring out what exactly to eat at dinner. “It’s important to remember that you need energy to get through a workout,” Goebel explains. “For most workouts, this comes from stored glycogen.”
Glycogen is the name for carbohydrates, the majority of which are stored in the liver and skeletal muscles (3). This is what our bodies use as energy during a workout. When glycogen runs out, we are hit by a tired, fatigued feeling and have difficulty continuing exercise or continuing exercise at the same intensity. In order to get through a typical 30- to 60-minute workout consisting of high-intensity interval training, traditional strength and resistance training, cardiovascular training, or a combination of any of those, it’s important to head into it with enough stored glycogen.
How quickly glycogen is stored, and how long it stays stored, depends largely on the type of carbohydrate (4).
“Complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and ancient grains are digested more slowly. For example, if you eat two hours before sleeping, then sleep for eight hours, the carbohydrates you consumed the night before should be ready to be used for a workout within the first two hours of the day,” Goebel says. “Pairing that with a protein is also important. Protein will help slow down absorption even more, and also help with having amino acids ready for the body to use during sleep.”
While this recommendation can change depending on specific training goals, Goebel says aiming for roughly a 2-3:1 ratio of grams of carbohydrates to protein for dinner is a great place to start.
4. Skip the Late-Night Snack
Unfortunately, eating anything within two to three hours before bed can be disruptive to the quality of sleep—even more so if you’re a dessert person. “Sweet snacks tend to have a combination of simple sugars and are higher in fat, which takes a very long time to digest, and again, may be disruptive to sleep,” Goebel says.
Dessert foods may also have small amounts of caffeine (5), which can make it very difficult to fall asleep at your pre-determined bedtime.
If you notice that you’re constantly hungry right before going to bed, Goebel says to try to figure out why that is and make adjustments. “If you’re feeling really hungry again right before bed, think about how much fiber or protein you had for dinner. You might have to increase one or both of those to get that feeling of fullness to last longer.”
5. Hydrate Earlier in the Day
It’s not uncommon to get home from work and realize that your daytime water consumption was shockingly low and try to make up for it right before bed. Goebel says that while yes, hydration is vital, trying to backload your daily water intake isn’t the best practice if trying to optimize your workout the next day. “As people age, the bladder needs to expel more quickly, so going to the bathroom at night is common. However, those are all interruptions in sleep, so trying to limit those moments as much as possible is important for sleep quality,” he says.
Goebel advises starting with a simple swap. instead of having that big glass of water right before bed, drink 8 to 16 ounces of water almost immediately after waking up. “Having water right when you wake up can help nutrients transport to organs and muscles. It helps get the blood moving.”
This could also help establish a habit of drinking water earlier in the day, negating the need to chug a glass right before bed.
6. Supplement Early-Morning Workouts as Needed
Depending on what time you’re actually hitting the gym in the morning, you may need to eat an additional source of carbohydrates two to three hours before your workout. If you know you’re getting enough sleep and eating a good, well-balanced dinner the night before, but still feel tired and sluggish during your workouts, that could be an indicator.
“The meal of complex carbohydrates paired with a protein should give you adequate glycogen for a 30 to 60-minute workout up to ten to 12 hours after eating,” Goebel says, “But if your workout isn’t starting until say 13 or more hours after that meal, you may need to give your body some more energy. A lighter, carbohydrate-heavy meal at least two hours before your workout should give you adequate glycogen stores.”
Goebel says that if your workout the next day is outside of that ten to 12-hour window, the number of complex carbohydrates eaten for dinner isn’t quite as important. The goal, in that instance, isn’t necessarily to load the muscles and liver with adequate glycogen for a workout. “If you’re getting in carbohydrates two to three hours before exercise, that’s where your glycogen is coming from,” he says, “But that source of protein with dinner is still very important.”
7. Stick to Your Routine
Goebel says that our bodies work best when they have a consistent routine. “During sleep, our bodies are going through circadian rhythms and want and need that full reset. Changing up the routine all the time can throw things off balance, which can throw off things like how well hormones are regenerated.” This can be particularly disruptive to, for example, how leptin and ghrelin work, which are hormones that regulate feelings of satiety and feelings of fullness (6).
- Doherty, Rónán et al. “The Sleep and Recovery Practices of Athletes.” Nutrients vol. 13,4 1330. 17 Apr. 2021, doi:10.3390/nu13041330
- “Is It Bad to Eat Before Bed?” Cleveland Clinic, 13 Apr. 2022, health.clevelandclinic.org/is-eating-before-bed-bad-for-you.
- Aragon, Alan Albert, and Brad Jon Schoenfeld. “Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition vol. 10,1 5. 29 Jan. 2013, doi:10.1186/1550-2783-10-5
- Holmes, R.. “Carbohydrate digestion and absorption.” Journal of Clinical Pathology. Supplement (Royal College of Pathologists). vol. 5 (1971): 10–13.
- Temple, Jennifer L., et al. “The Safety of Ingested Caffeine: A Comprehensive Review.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, vol. 8, 2017. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00080.
- D’souza, Anna M et al. “The glucoregulatory actions of leptin.” Molecular metabolism vol. 6,9 1052-1065. 4 May. 2017, doi:10.1016/j.molmet.2017.04.011