When is your go-to workout time? Are you an early riser who laces up your exercise shoes before your feet even hit the floor? Or do you enjoy a kick-butt exercise session after you get home from work in the evening? The controversy about the “best” time to exercise rages on, if there really is a “right” time. The reality is we’re all a little different. What works for you may be totally unworkable for someone else. Still, if any of the following describe you, an early morning workout could be your best option.
You Have a Super Busy Life
How many times have you had the best workout intentions, only to have something come up that made exercising impossible? If you’re super busy or have a somewhat unpredictable life, morning workouts fit the bill. At least you know you’ll get it done! Setting your alarm a little earlier gives you time to slip in a workout you might not otherwise be able to do. Even if you only have time to do 10 or 15 minutes of a workout DVD, you can always come back later in the day and do more if time permits.
You’re Doing Moderate-Intensity Cardio and Want to Lose Body Fat
When you work out after an overnight fast, your muscle glycogen stores are likely low, unless you ate a midnight snack. Low glycogen stores force your body to oxidize fat as a fuel source. One small study showed participants who exercised before breakfast scorched up to 20% more fat. Just as importantly, they didn’t compensate for the calories they burned by eating more calories later in the day.
If you’re trying to lose body fat, morning cardio may work to your advantage – but not in every case. If high-intensity cardio is on the agenda, you’re better off having a snack or small meal before your workout so you’ll have enough energy to maximize the intensity. If you have trouble getting revved up for a workout, sip a cup of coffee beforehand. Research shows coffee boosts exercise performance and actually makes a workout feel easier.
You Have Trouble Sleeping at Night
Few things are more frustrating than tossing and turning half the night and then counting sheep in a feeble effort to get some shut-eye. If that sounds like you, a morning workout may help you slumber a little more peacefully. In one study involving women with post-menopausal breast cancer, researchers experienced participants experienced more restful sleep when they exercised 30 minutes in the morning 7 days a week. Those who exercised in the evening didn’t experience this benefit. In fact, evening exercise actually worsened sleep quality in this group of women.
How might morning exercise improve sleep quality? Researchers speculate that morning exercise helps regulate the internal biological clock inside our brain that controls our sleep-wake cycle. This internal clock is influenced by factors like when you eat meals when you exercise and the times you expose your eyes to light. If your biological clock is out of sync you’re more likely to experience sleep problems and other problems like weight gain and daytime fatigue.
You’re Normally Not Very Productive in the Morning
If you rarely feel alert until almost noon, a morning workout helps you wake up and could be just what you need to boost your energy level and get more done during the day. If you need a few cups of coffee to get going in the morning, exercise will give you the pick-me-up you need without the caffeine jitters. In fact, exercise may put you in a better frame of mind to tackle the things your to-do list, thanks to the endorphin release you get from a vigorous workout. Use exercise to get going in the morning!
Worried That Your Performance Will Suffer?
You might think exercising first thing in the morning reduces workout performance. Not necessarily. In one study, researchers had participants exercise to exhaustion on a stationary bike at two different times of day – first thing in the morning or in the evening. Surprisingly, time to exhaustion was 20% longer when the participants exercised in the morning. If you’re doing a power workout, your performance could suffer a bit. Some studies show power performance is better in the afternoon than the morning. Still, the difference in performance isn’t dramatic.
If you’re trying to build lean body mass or strength, evening workouts have a slight advantage, based on some studies. One study showed training in the evening boosted anabolic hormones like testosterone that promote muscle gain. At the same time, cortisol levels are lower in the evening, an advantage when you’re trying to preserve lean body mass. Not all research shows evening and afternoon workouts are superior to morning workouts for building strength and muscle tissue. If you split up cardio and strength workouts, you can maximize benefits and performance by doing cardio in the morning and strength training later in the day.
One drawback to an early morning workout is your body temperature is lower and your muscles are stiffer. If you work out by doing either cardio or strength training first thing in the morning, be sure to do a suitable warm-up before upping the intensity.
The Bottom Line
Would a morning workout be a good option for you? Give it a try and see how you feel for the rest of the day. It could give you the energy boost you need to get more done. At the very least, you’ll start the day by doing something good for your health.
Fred Hutch News Release. “New Study Details Effects of Exercise on Sleep Quality in Postmenopausal Women”
Science Daily. “Lose Fat Faster Before Breakfast”
WebMD. “Exercise Fights Fatigue, Boosts Energy” November 3, 2006.
Runner’s World. “The Physiology of Morning v. Evening Workouts”
Chronobiol Int. 2009 Dec;26(8):1622-35. doi: 10.3109/07420520903534492.
J Sports Sci. 2008 Aug;26(10):1005-14. doi: 10.1080/02640410801930150.
Chronobiol Int. 2004 Jan;21(1):131-46.
Related Articles By Cathe: