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Just What is the Best Time to Exercise?

Morning, afternoon or night – just what is the best time to exercise? Does it even matter, so long as you get it done at some stage of the day? Is there any real science suggesting that a specific time of day is going to make your training more productive?

Let’s investigate:

The Best Time to Exercise For You

There is no one size fits all answer to the best time to exercise question. Everybody’s different. We all have different schedules and work days. You simply have to work out what’s best for you.

It all depends on what type of person you are. If you’re a morning person, then getting it done early is a no brainer. Early mornings overcome the ‘don’t have time’ excuse – just get up earlier! But, if it takes you four hours to wake up, set your sights on later in the day, when your body is revved up for action.

That being said lets compare mornings and evenings to see how they stack up when it comes to the best time to exercise.

Mornings

Pros: When you work out in the mornings you have all day long to recuperate. Throughout the day you’ll be feeding your muscles for new growth and recovery. Another benefit of working out in the morning is that you don’t have the workout lingering on you all day long. Getting it done early when you’ve got no distractions is a major bonus.

In addition, if you’re working out in the gym, you’ll probably find that it’s not as packed in the mornings as it is in the evening. You’ll be more likely to get through your training session without having to wait around for your turn.

Cons: You work you butt off in the gym – and then you’ve got to face an 8-10 hour work-day. That can be a daunting prospect, especially if you’re a physical labourer. It can make for a very tiring day.

A downside to the gym being less busy is that it probably won’t have the kick-ass atmosphere that a fully pumping early evening gym environment can generate. If you feed off that type of energy then the mornings may not be ideal for you.

Evenings

Pros; There’s generally a whole lot more atmosphere in the gym at night. Seeing others taking their training to the wall can fire you up to go to the max yourself. When you work out at night, you’re also in a position where you’ve fuelled your body all day long. You’ve filled your body with protein, carbs and fats so that, by the time it hits the gym your body has everything it needs for a great workout.

Cons: After the workout, you’re likely to go home and sleep. That means that you’ll have an 8-10 hour period when you’re not eating. That’s not going to give you the regular supply of energy that comes when you work out early in the morning.

Another con to working out in the evening is that you are taking away time that could be being spent with your family to work out. In the morning they probably won’t miss you because they’re still sleeping. But at night your absence is likely to be noticed.

What Does the Science Say?

In terms of workout performance, recent studies suggest that the early afternoon is the best time of day to exercise. You’ll perform at your best when your body temperature is at it’s highest – and that is between 4 and 5pm. Anaerobic strength is generally about 5% higher in the mid-afternoon. In addition, as a result of our muscles being warmed up, injuries are less likely in the mid-afternoon.

A number of studies have shown that working out first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is the best time to burn fat. This is countered, however, by the fact that your body is unable to use carbohydrates to fuel you through the workout. As a result, working out on an empty stomach may not allow for as productive a workout as a training session performed an hour or two after a meal.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, it’s not about what time of day you work out but rather, how regular your workouts are. There are advantages and disadvantages to training at every time of day.

Finding what works for you and sticking with it is going to produce more benefit than forcing yourself into a pattern dictated by some perceived benefit of working out a certain time of day. Whatever time of day you do it, just make sure that you do do it!

Sources:

David W. Hill; Kirk J. Cureton; Mitchell A. Collins, Circadian specificity in exercise training, Ergonomics, Volume 32, Issue 1 January 1989, pages 79 – 92.

Youngstedt, S. t al. Is sleep disturbed by vigorous late-night exercise?[, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 31(6):864-869, June 1999.

Medarov, B.I. “Hour-to-hour variation of FEV1/FVC” Chest Medarov 126 (4): 744S.

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