It can be tough to decide on the best time of the day to exercise. There are pros and cons with each choice and there is no definitive answer because it is based on perspective. Your body clock plays a vital role in this matter because your body’s circadian rhythm determines whether you’re a morning or an evening person.
An important factor is your daily schedule, will it allow for you to exercise consistently at a set time every single day? There may be some need for experimentation and a trial and error approach to this question, in the end, only you can decide what’s best for you.
There is no concrete evidence to suggest that calories are burned more efficiently at any specific time of the day, but the time of day can affect how you feel when you’re exercising and that will help you determine what kind of routine you will feel happy maintaining.
The key to an effective exercise routine is consistency, if you find a routine that you can stick with then your body will adapt to this and you will eventually find that your body performs better at that time of day than any other.
There are several claims that sticking to a specific workout time can result in better performance, lower perceived exhaustion and higher oxygen consumption.
Here are some negative and positive claims for exercising at different times of the day:
If you struggle with consistency, then morning might be the best time for you to exercise because there’s less chance of you putting it off due to other commitments or distractions that might present themselves later in the day. If you do exercise in the morning, then remember to allow yourself more time to warm up than you would later in the day.
Your body’s core temperature is an important factor when determining the quality of exercise. A cold body leaves muscles stiff and susceptible to sprains whereas higher body temperatures leave muscles more flexible. Muscles are tighter in the morning and this can be counter-productive when exercise is supposed to feel good.
Also, due to the rush of endorphins that exercise yields you will have boosted energy levels that will help you through the rest of the day.
A primary argument in favour of morning workouts is that if you exercise with an empty stomach, then your body is reliant on fat as its primary fuel source so you should burn more fat during a workout session. Also, working out early boosts your metabolism which in turn means you will burn more calories throughout the day.
Research shows that people can burn up to 20% more body fat when exercising on an empty stomach. One study found that around 45 minutes of moderate exercise (like brisk walking on a treadmill) helped curb appetite.
Experts claim that there are benefits to your sleep pattern if you work out in the morning. It’s also been claimed that being exposed to daylight early in the day helps your body wind down at night.
Many people end up sacrificing their much-needed rest time if they work out early in the morning. If you’re rising early to exercise, then ensure that you get a suitably early night beforehand otherwise you’ll end up with diminished energy levels.
Many people try to incorporate their workout into their lunch break, but this can yield disappointing results. Many people find that this is a challenging time to incorporate exercise into their day or perhaps they are justifiably concerned at the prospect of skipping their lunch time meal or about the time it takes affecting their work life.
Your body temperature typically increases throughout the day, so there’s reason to believe that muscle strength and endurance can peak in the late afternoon when your body temperature is at its highest.
The afternoon is also when reaction time is quickest and heart rate and blood pressure are lowest, all of which combine to improve performance and reduce the overall likelihood of injury.
Hormones levels are also relevant here. Testosterone is important for muscle growth and strength and the body produces more testosterone during late afternoon resistance training than it does during morning workouts. Also, the stress hormone cortisol, which aids in the storage of fat and the reduction of muscle tissue, peaks in the morning and decreases throughout the day and during exercise.
If you’re determined to use your afternoon for exercise, then try to be as prepared as possible. Schedule the exercise in your work diary or calendar and ensure that you have your protein powder and suitable workout gear in your car or locker so that you have no excuses.
Exercising an hour and a half before bedtime has been linked with better mood states, falling asleep faster and it also promotes undisturbed sleep. There is also evidence to support the claim that exercising later in the day when your body is warmed up is a more effective approach.
However, an argument against exercise in the evening (after 8pm) is that exercise increases body temperature and heart rate which might disrupt sleep.
A full day’s work can negatively affect your willpower and energy levels, and this can decrease the odds of you sticking with your routine.
If you’re planning on exercising in the evening, then ensure that you wait an appropriate amount of time after finishing your dinner. Don’t exercise directly after a meal because the blood that needs to go to your muscles is going to your digestive tract. If you’ve recently consumed a heavy meal, then allow 90 minutes before engaging in any exercise.
Some people find that when it comes to exercising in the evening it is better to choose a calming exercise like walking or yoga. Cardio workouts could give you unwanted amounts of energy that could affect your sleeping pattern.
If you are planning on a tougher workout like weight training, then evenings might be a better choice overall because you will be more alert and focussed.
After weighing up all the pros and cons it’s clear that there will always be benefits to working out at any time of the day, under almost any conditions.
The best answer to this question is to figure it out for yourself. Try working out in the mornings for a few weeks, then afternoons and then evenings for a balanced experiment.
Then ask yourself which feels best at the time and after you’ve finished? Take all other relevant factors into consideration as well such as your other daily commitments and what type of exercise you engaged in.
In order to stay regularly active some people change the type of exercise they do and the time of day they do it. Keeping it fresh and enjoyable increases the odds that you will continue to stick with it in the future.