This is probably all too familiar to you.
You go to the gym, you get a sick pump, and you’re looking HUGE. You’re thinking greek gods would stare at you in awe and glory.
But, then you go to bed- and BAM, you look like half your size or something. It looks like you just lost tons of muscle overnight!
So, why do my muscles look smaller in the morning?
While you sleep, your body depletes the ‘glycogen stores’ on your muscles that are causing them to look ‘bigger’. These are used to build muscle and deplete (get used) while you sleep. Plus, you lose a lot of water while you sleep and your ‘pump’ fades away- making you look smaller.
Overall, this causes you to look smaller in the morning and more depleted.
On the bright side- it’s often easier to get good ab pics or pics of you looking ‘shredded’– however, if you want better pictures of you looking big, it’s best to wait until after your workout and after you’ve eaten.
And on the other bright side, once you workout and eat- you’ll be right back to that ‘big’ size again.
Let’s talk about this more in-depth, and explain this further.
Glycogen Stores Make Our Muscles Look HUGE
Glycogen stores are what make our muscles look HUGE.
The problem is- they often deplete as we sleep, which is often why when we wake up- we look tiny.
But, What Are Glycogen Stores?
Glycogen stores are actually very simple, it just has a very scientific name because the bodybuilding community just loves to toss annoying science jargon into everything.
Glycogen stores are a complicated way of saying, ‘carb storage’. Remember how we eat proteins, carbs, and fats for our diet?
Well, we know protein is important in actually BUILDING our muscle. And most of us know the carbs are very good for providing a ton of energy.
So, our body often takes these ‘carb storages’ and puts them right on our muscles so they can use them immediately when needed. When our muscles have large glycogen stores, they look bigger.
Test This For Yourself – It’s Easy!
If you don’t believe me, there’s an easy way to test this for yourself.
Do your bodybuilding, but on one day, eat basically a minimal amount of carbs- say 30-40 grams max. The next day you’ll probably feel really depleted and look really small.
Then, workout, then carb load and eat like 200 grams of carbs. (Which isn’t that much, actually)
Now, when you wake up you will see a huge difference in size. It will look like you went from your first day of bodybuilding (without the carbs) back to being a muscle monster (after the carbs).
When bodybuilders lose weight or cut fat, they often have to cut back the carbs as well for a long time. This is why before many competitions, bodybuilders do what is called ‘carb loading’- to prep their muscles to look big for the stage.
Carb Loading is Really Popular In Sports
You may be familiar with carb loading if you played any sports in school.
Oftentimes, before a big game or competition- your coach would have a big pasta feed or something with a ton of carbs. The idea was, that you guys would all have a ton of carbs the night before, then the next day at your game you guys would all have a ton of energy to play the game.
It’s the same thing here, however- when you’re building muscle, a positive effect of carb loading is making your muscles look bigger.
Also, Your ‘Pump’ Wears Off, Causing Your Muscles to Look Smaller
This one affects me a lot, and I HATE it! If I work out, my arms will look 1.5x the size they normally do, and when I don’t- they look tiny.
So, when I’m doing my normal workout routine 5-6 days a week, my arms look big. But, then- the moment I go on vacation my arms will look like toothpicks again until I find some dumbbells.
A lot of the reason we look so big is because of our workout, and when we sleep- a lot of the “pump” we get wears off.
The “pump”, was a term coined by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The pump is when you workout and your muscles ‘swell up’ and get bigger because they are being worked out.
This is basically when you go into the gym looking small, then 30 minutes later you’re looking way bigger because there’s a ton of blood flowing into your muscles.
The “big pump” really only lasts like an hour after your workout if you’re lucky. But a ‘small pump’ still remains for the next 12 hours or so. By the time we sleep, most of this is gone- with some still remaining for the next few days.
So let’s recap:
- You go to the gym and work out.
- Your muscles flow with more blood because they are being worked out.
- Your muscles look HUGE.
- They look REALLY big for about an hour after you leave the gym.
- This slowly shrinks down and they still look a little bigger for the next 12 hours.
- After that 12 hours/usually, when you wake up from your sleep, most of that is gone and there’s just a tiny ‘pump’ remaining for the next few days.
Why Do Our Glycogen Stores ‘Deplete’?
Our glycogen stores deplete when we sleep for two main reasons:
- Glycogen stores across your body deplete to fuel basic body functions like breathing and well, existing- glycogen is used for everything in our body to power it.
- Muscle growth. Glycogen is huge in being used to build muscle, namely after a big workout where it’s most needed.
Because of this, there is still a lot of controversy in the fitness world about ‘eating a snack 30 minutes after your workout’ or ‘eating carbs after a workout, not protein’. This idea stems from this saying, “Well, our body uses glycogen stores to repair muscle, so if you don’t give it carbs- it won’t be able to build it no matter how much protein you throw at it”.
This idea is, well- very controversial. If you’ve heard of it, you’ve probably heard endless back and forth.
Personally, I always think it’s a good idea to eat after your workout, but I hardly think it’s important in building muscle. I’ve always stuck with the idea that most of our muscle growth happens while we are asleep, not awake.
This is outside of the scope of this article, but if you’ve heard that before (and if you haven’t, I’m sure you’ll hear it soon the longer you lift), now you kind of know where it all stems from!
- TO RECAP: Our glycogen stores deplete for a good reason, they’re using that energy to help rebuild our muscle with the proteins.
You’re Also Dehydrated
During sleep, we lose a ton of water.
That’s why when you wake up at 3AM, you feel very thirsty and that old cup of water you have on the nightstand tastes like it came from heaven.
When we lose water, our overall body ‘shrinks’ in a sense. Basically, everything in our body uses water, and when it has less water, EVERYTHING in your body shrinks down to spread water equally across the body.
Why Do I Look Ripped In The Morning?
After you wake up, most of your glycogen stores have depleted and you have lower water in your body. Because of this, you look ‘ripped’ as your body is dehydrated and in a sense ‘starved’.
This is why after you eat breakfast a lot of this ‘shred’ goes away pretty fast.
Conclusion of Why Do My Muscles Look Smaller in The Morning?
So, let’s recap:
- Basically, your ‘carb stores’ on your muscles deplete to rebuild muscle and power the body. These carb stores depleting make you look smaller.
- You lose a ton of water in your sleep.
- Your ‘pump’ also fades away.
But, the good news is once you hit the gym and eat again- most of that size comes right back.