"Hormonal and neurological shifts occur in our body, which can impact how we feel about exercise and how we feel while exercising," says exercise physiologist Julia Moffitt, Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology and pharmacology at Des Moines University. Luckily, you can outsmart these internal power struggles and reduce the temptation of hitting snooze, working through lunch, or cutting a workout short. Here's how to clear the roadblocks in your running day.
YOU'RE SLEEPYWHAT'S HAPPENING:
"The predawn hours are challenging because body temperature and heart rate dip to their lowest point at this time," Moffitt says. "In the presence of light, body temperature and heart-rate increase, which makes it easier to be active." The carbohydrates in your last meal play a role, too. If you skipped dinner or ate fast-digesting carbs like rice, bread, or sugary desserts, your glycogen levels will be depleted, making it even harder to muster the energy to get up.
Prep for an early-morning run the night before. Eat slow-digesting carbs like broccoli, beans, and lentils. Set your automatic coffeemaker to brew before you wake. "Caffeine can help stimulate your arousal system and get you ready to run," Moffitt says. Shut-eye is important, too. If you're constantly waking up feeling exhausted, it's a sign you aren't getting enough z's. Turn off the computer and TV at least 30 minutes before you hit the sack and get blackout shades for your windows — the absence of light boosts production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy.
Jumpstart your day with these energy-filled breakfasts after your morning run.
WORK DEMANDS AND HUNGER PANGS STRIKE
Melatonin production is at its lowest around noon, so physiologically that's when you're most alert, Moffitt says. That means you may be motivated to continue plugging away. And your blood sugar dips, which may make you too famished or weak to run.
Schedule your run like you would any other meeting, then record your time and distance to give you a sense of accomplishment, says Steve DeVries, Ph.D., professor of exercise psychology at Cornell College in Iowa. Try splitting your lunch in two: Eat half an hour before you run, then have the rest afterward. If you're still tempted to bow out, consider this: A British study found that midday exercisers increased their productivity.
Need a kick in the pants? Here are 101 motivations to run.
IT'S BEEN A LONG DAY AND YOU'RE BEAT
Mental fatigue lowers dopamine, a brain chemical that makes you feel energized. Plus, blood sugar dips again between 5 and 7 p.m.
Don't confuse mental fatigue with physical fatigue. Researchers from Bangor University in Wales report that short-term mental fatigue doesn't impact the physical function. So it's your mind — not your body — that craves downtime. And running is the perfect antidote. "Running elevates your nervous system, which increases your sense of alertness," Moffitt says. Resist the urge to skip your run by packing your gear, changing at work, and going directly to the gym or trail. Even better, join — or start — an after-work running group. Keep your energy up with a snack before your run.
Want to top your personal best? Make sure your training includes this.
YOU'RE TEMPTED TO WALK OR CUT YOUR RUN SHORT
On a run that's longer than 90 minutes, it's probably a fuel issue. "As you run out of carbohydrates, your body uses fats for energy, which takes longer and leads to a sluggish feeling until that fuel kicks in," Moffitt says. Or it could all be in your head: "You may feel like you've done enough, and no one's watching anyway," DeVries says.
On runs longer than an hour, consume 100 to 200 calories every 30 to 60 minutes to replenish energy stores, says Nancy Clark, R.D., a sports-nutrition expert. Keeping a running log can also discourage you from taking shortcuts, DeVries says. You won't want to write that you did eight miles instead of 10.
Tips for toughing it out from expert and novice runners.
YOU WANT TO CRASH, NOT STRETCH AND ICE
When you stop running, your blood pressure drops and blood pools in your legs, which may make you feel weary and lightheaded. "You may feel 'my work is done; I deserve to chill out now,'" DeVries says.
Slow your pace the last mile of your run, and then walk for a few minutes before stopping. Because muscles are most pliable and inflammation is at its peak right after running, try to stretch and ice trouble spots after cooling down. Then, within an hour of finishing, consume a carb-protein snack. "Carbohydrates refill your glycogen stores, while protein repairs muscles," Clark says. Record your postrun routine (stretching, icing, refueling) in your log so you'll consider it just as important as the run itself, DeVries says.