This Is the Best Time of Day to Work Out, According to Science

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Due to life commitments, some of us don’t have a choice when it comes to the time of day we choose to get a workout in. Others simply have a preference as to what time of the day they prefer to break a sweat. Working out in the morning certainly helps you get your workout out of the way, but perhaps you prefer some end of the day movement to help you unwind. But are there any benefits to working out first thing in the morning versus last thing at night?

Ahead, I turned to a few fitness experts to help us settle the debate. Read on for their thoughts on the best time of day to work out.

Morning Workouts: The Pros and Cons

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Even though tossing your comfortable blankets aside and lacing up your sneakers for a HIIT workout can be unappealing, many people opt to work out first thing in the morning before other obligations of the day set in. “Early morning workouts physically warm your body up, require your brain to come online, and it can give you a serotonin boost if you're doing a workout that connects you with others,” notes Bolden. Let’s delve into some of the other benefits and drawbacks of getting your heart pumping when the day begins.

You'll Get It Over With

“For many people, a morning sweat session is more beneficial than an evening workout,” explains
Dan Bowen, personal trainer and owner of HIT Fitness. “It’s way easier to get it done in the morning, namely because you’re more likely to feel tired or be in a bad mood after work. The longer you wait, the more excuses pile up on you.” Working out in the morning usually means you are waking up early and planning your routine around your exercise habit, “which generally leads to better adherence,” Dr. Smith adds.

It May Help Control Your Appetite Throughout the Day

Working out in the morning may help to control appetite and lead to more weight loss more than working out at other times of day, Dr. Smith explains. One January 2020 study found that people tend to eat less after a morning workout. “If that is your main goal, it might be worthwhile to adjust your workout time to the morning.” 

It May Also Help Burn More Calories 

Working out first thing in the morning—prior to breakfast—may also promote weight loss in the form of calorie burn. One small 2015 study published in EBioMedicine found that 24-hour fat burn is maximized when individuals exercised in the morning before breakfast compared to those who exercise in the afternoon or evening. What's more, it may increase fat loss as well. Research has found that if you skip a pre-workout snack, and do your morning workout fasted from the night before, you might burn more fat. But, keep in mind that if you’re too hungry and weak, you will lack the energy you need to get a good burn.

There Are Fewer Distractions

It’s easier to get into your workout zen when you have zero distractions. In the morning, your phone is less likely to be ringing or filling up with emails or texts. Additionally, the gym is more likely to be packed later in the day, which can translate to a less effective workout, especially if you have to spend time waiting in between sets. 

It Will Help You Stay Active Throughout the Day

Working out first thing in the morning can help promote activity throughout the day. A 2012 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that people tend to exert more energy throughout the day when they exercise in the AM.

May Help Increase Your Productivity

Working out in the morning can help improve focus and concentration. A 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that working out in the morning can help improve attention, visual learning, and decision-making throughout the rest of the day. 

You Might Not See Your Best Performance

We're tired when we first wake up, which means you might not be at your maximum energy capacity during a morning workout. This is especially true if you're not a breakfast person (or if you like to eat breakfast after your morning workout). When we sleep, we're essentially fasting for eight hours, so our bodies are hungry for nutrients come morning and, consequently, deprived of energy.

Can Help Improve Sleep 

Bowen suggests that working out in the morning may reap reward in the form of more and even better quality sleep—and science agrees. One 2019 study published in the Journal of Physiology found that exercising at 7 a.m. may shift your body clock earlier, improving your alertness in the morning and making you more tired earlier in the evening. And, it will help you get sufficient rest to get up in the morning and continue following your healthy habits. Dr. Smith adds that working out in the evening can negatively affect sleep, as exercise is stimulating, “so it’s best to finish working out at least a few hours before you want to go to bed.”

You Help Regulate Blood Sugar

Research indicates that morning workouts increase the ability of muscles to metabolize sugar and fat more significantly than do evening sessions. This could mean that for those with type 2 diabetes, morning workouts are especially beneficial.

Set your body up for success by pushing dinner closer to bedtime, eating a protein-rich snack (like cottage cheese with mixed berries and slivered almonds) before bed, or having a small snack like a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter when you first wake up.

Afternoon Workouts: The Pros and Cons

Efficient Stress Relief

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“They help you come back into contact with your body which helps us manage stress, re-energize, and give a boost in confidence,” says Bolden. And Kira McLendon—certified personal trainer and owner of BodyWorks by Kira—agrees, saying that the stress-relieving benefits of a midday workout can’t be overstated. “Working out on your lunch helps relieve stress so you can go back to work and handle everything in a stress-free manner.” She also shares that lunchtime workouts break up the workday and help you return to your desk invigorated and refreshed. “Let’s just say a midday workout is better than a cup of coffee. It wakes up your brain and your body, which makes you a little more productive.”

If you’re short on time but want a serious burn, try Tabata—a challenging HIIT workout that involves bouts of 20:seconds hard and 10 seconds of rest.

They Offer a Happy Medium

Afternoon workouts tend to split the difference between the extremes of morning and evening workouts. “These sessions are great because you are a little more alert so you have this boost of energy to help push you during your workout,” says McLendon of the benefit of afternoon sessions over morning ones. She notes that you often have optimal energy levels because you’re able to digest lunch beforehand, and you’re not yet starving for dinner. “If you’re not a morning person, it's a great way to knock out your workout and not have to worry about hitting the gym later on,” notes McLendon.

Unrealistic For Most

If you work a 9-5 job, you may find it difficult to stick to your plan to workout, even if you intentionally carved out time (or if you work from home). Inevitably, the day might get away from you and it's easy to prioritize your work over your workout. If you tend to feel like the day slips away from you quickly, afternoon workout sessions might not be for you.

Evening Workouts: The Pros and Cons

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If you’re not a morning person, and you can’t realistically get your workout in during your lunch break, evening workouts are usually the most appealing option. The sheer number of evening classes offered at nearly every gym are evidence alone of the popularity of getting a post-work sweat on. McLendon adds, “Some people may find their energy level is high in the evening, and after a day full of food, you won’t be fighting hunger or sluggish energy.” Let’s consider other pros and cons of your evening workout.

Jean Blomo, ACSM-certified personal trainer, says one of the main challenges with evening workouts is planning them around eating. You have to be fueled enough so that you have energy for your workout, but if you’re too full from a big dinner, you’ll feel sluggish and potentially battle stomach cramps. Blomo recommends waiting at least an hour or two after dinner if you’re going to go that route. “Eating a snack before your workout, then your full dinner after, might be a good option so you're fueled during your movement session, then fully nourished after without getting cramps or discomfort,” say says.

You’re More Likely to Crush Your Workout

When you’re really looking to push yourself and test your limits, it may be best to save your workout for later in the day. Studies have demonstrated that physical performance—strength, speed, power, endurance, etc.—peaks in the afternoon or evening. This is due to the body’s circadian rhythm and fluctuations of hormones, metabolism, and core body temperature.

You Can Multitask

“Evenings are when many of us are watching TV, reading, or listening to music,” says Blomo. “If you are fortunate enough to have a treadmill, stationary bike, or rower at home, you can do double duty—getting in some movement while watching or listening to something you enjoy.”

You May Boost Your Metabolism

Although the benefits and purpose of exercise far exceed burning calories, research comparing the metabolic responses to morning versus evening exercise found that metabolic rate increased more after evening sessions than morning ones.

You Can Blow Off Steam From the Day

Tough meeting at work? Traffic on the way home? An evening workout can blow off stress from the day and help you find your calm before bed. “Pushing yourself through a tough routine after a long workday can help you reduce stress better than almost anything else,” says McLendon.

Both of our experts note that consistency can be an issue if your workout is late in the day. Distractions, obligations, and various things can come up, squashing your well-meaning plans to hit the gym. You might find yourself exhausted after a long day and opting to go to happy hour with friends or rushing home to take up residence on the couch for another episode of The Crown instead of going to yoga class.

Keep In Mind You May Disrupt Your Sleep

McLendon notes that for some people, exercise is energizing. If your workouts leave you particularly alert and wired, getting your heart pumping before hitting the hay can make it hard to fall asleep. However, not all types of workouts are likely to disrupt sleep; some may improve it. “Remember that ‘workouts’ are any definition you choose,” says Blomo. She says that self-care workouts like restorative yoga and stretching are great before bed. “Connecting with your body and your breath before falling asleep can help you ease worry and stop your mind from spinning in a million directions, so you can fall asleep quickly and get the rest you need,” says Blomo.

The Final Verdict

So, what do our experts ultimately think? ”The best time to exercise is when you will most enjoy it! You can also break up your movement into mini sessions throughout the day,” suggests Blomo. “There’s no right or wrong way to move your body, including the time you do it.”

”Working out should add to your quality of life,” says Blomo. “So, if you're finding that your workout routine makes you feel stressed, tired, or forces you to go against your values and how you want to spend your time, it's ok to stop, recalibrate, and rethink how you want to approach it.” Clearly, there are plenty of benefits for opting to work out at any time of the day. Most—if not all—of the potential drawbacks can be sidestepped with a little planning.

Article Sources
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  3. Seo, D. Y., Lee, S., Kim, N., Ko, K. S., Rhee, B. D., Park, B. J., & Han, J. (2013). Morning and Evening ExerciseIntegrative Medicine Research2(4), 139–144.

  4. Shogo Sato, Astrid Linde Basse, Milena Schönke, Siwei Chen, Muntaha Samad, Ali Altıntaş, Rhianna C. Laker, Emilie Dalbram, Romain Barrès, Pierre Baldi, Jonas T. Treebak, Juleen R. Zierath, Paolo Sassone-Corsi. Time of Exercise Specifies the Impact on Muscle Metabolic Pathways and Systemic Energy HomeostasisCell Metabolism, 2019.

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