Do you work out at the crack of dawn or wait until later in the day to do your sweat session? If you work or have other obligations, you may exercise at a certain time because it’s the only way you can fit it into your schedule. In that case, you have less flexibility to pick your time. But if you are free to choose your time, can you maximize your gains by working out at a particular time of day?
Afternoon Better Than Morning?
Research shows you’ll perform best in the late afternoon between the hours of 4:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M. Why then? Your body temperature is higher around this time and both strength and endurance are at their peak. Your muscles are warm and flexible and strength is highest in the late afternoon. Your heart is also better prepared for the stress of a workout in the afternoon compared to when you first wake up in the morning. Plus, your reaction times are faster. Glycogen stores are another issue. Your muscles may be glycogen depleted in the morning, especially if you exercise before breakfast. This can impede your performance.
There Are Also Advantages to Exercising in the Morning
Your muscles may be warmer later in the day, but your body will use more fat as fuel first thing in the morning when glycogen stores are depleted. If you’re trying to lose weight, this can work to your advantage – but only if you’re doing low or moderate-intensity exercise. It’s often challenging to do high-intensity exercise when you’re carb-depleted from an overnight fast since high-intensity workouts primarily use carbohydrates as fuel. If you’re doing a high-intensity workout, eat a snack first.
For some people, exercising first thing in the morning is the best way to make sure you get it done. Holding off until later increases the chance that something will happen that makes it hard to work out – for example, an unexpected announcement that your boss needs you to work late. There are also advantages to working out before taking a shower in the morning so you only have to shower once. It can be a timesaver, especially if you work out at home. Plus, exercise gets the blood pumping to your muscles and gives you the energy you need to start the day off right. All of that oxygen flowing to your brain can even help you think better. It’s a good way to jumpstart your brain.
Morning or Evening?
There are advantages to sunrise workouts just as there are benefits to exercising later in the day. The key is to do what works best for you. If you’re not a “morning person,” you may have a hard time rolling out of bed and onto an exercise mat. If that’s the case, you may work harder if you wait until later in the day when you’re “awake” and your muscles are warm.
There are even advantages to splitting your workout up and doing both a morning and a later afternoon workout. If you work out twice, you’ll give your metabolism an added boost with the double after-burn effect from two different workouts. Plus, you can keep each workout shorter. This may help you work out at a higher intensity during each.
The Bottom Line?
Consider the benefits of working out at different times of the day and see what works best for you. If you’re trying to lose weight and you do moderate-intensity cardio, first thing in the morning before breakfast has advantages or consider twice a day workouts to get the double after-burn.
If building lean body mass or strength is your primary focus, working out later in the day is the best option since your muscles will be warmer and your strength at its peak. The most important thing is to make sure you do it on a regular basis. Consistency is the key to making changes in your body composition.
American Council on Exercise. “The Best Time to Exercise”
Ergonomics, Volume 32, Issue 1 January 1989, pages 79 – 92.
The University of New Mexico. “ Exercise After-Burn: Research Update”