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

Morning running exercise time of day

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Our lives are busy. If you're anything like me, there's always something going on, and finding time to work out can be difficult. It’s great to get it out of the way first thing in the morning before I can find reasons (ok, excuses) to do somethingk else instead. But, I’m often stiff and groggy in the morning, and I find myself focused on planning an elaborate breakfast to quiet my rumbling stomach the whole time I’m trying to hold a plank. I don’t usually have time for a lunchtime workout, but my friends who have access to a shower at their office and a full hour off rave about how refreshed they feel afterwards. Evening workouts are popular for a reason: they tend to be most practical for many of us, but as someone who would choose most anything over exercising if I could, it seems like I miss at least half of my planned evening sweat sessions because life happens between setting my intention to go to Pilates class and the said 7 p.m. class. Or, perhaps I’m missing the boat and should be working out right before bed.

Clearly, I could offer points to any side in a great workout-time-of-day debate. But, instead of blindly guessing, or letting decision paralysis allow me to forego my workout altogether, I turned to two fitness experts to help us settle the debate.

Read on for their thoughts on the best time of day to work out.

Meet the Expert

Morning Workouts

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 start the day on the right foot.

If you’re anything like me, your workout falls more into the “need-to-do” side of the “to do” list than the “want-to-do” side. Getting your workout done first thing in the morning will jumpstart your day on a positive note. “You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, giving you an optimistic outlook for the day,” says McLendon.

It can increase fat loss.

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.

You might be more consistent.

When your workout is the first thing on your schedule for the day, it’s unlikely that something will come up and derail your plans. Even with the best intentions, if your workout is scheduled for late in the day, you might find yourself buried under unforeseen obligations instead of pushing through a sprint interval in spin class.

You can lower your blood pressure.

For those with high blood pressure, morning workouts may be the way to go. Research has found blood pressure dropped most significantly following 7 a.m. workouts compared to 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. sessions.

You can control your 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.

You might be groggy.

If you aren’t a morning person, you might find yourself trying to will your groggy body to get into gear instead of burrowing under the blankets. And, because our body temperature is lowest in the morning, it can also take longer to warm up and find your groove.

Your energy may be low.

Unless you have a small snack before your warmup, you might find yourself battling a growling stomach and low energy. “Lack of nutrients can lead to a session that's not so motivated,” comments McLendon.

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.

You may need to change your sleep schedule.

Not only do you need to wake up early enough so that you have adequate time for your actual workout, but you may need extra time prepping for your workout and getting ready for your day afterwards. Blomo notes that early morning workouts will impact your evenings as well. “You’ll need to get to bed a little earlier for the amount of time you wake up earlier,” she notes.

If you’re interested in giving early morning workouts a go, but feel like you can’t make enough time for anything worthwhile, Blomo encourages a change in mindset. “I hear a lot of perfectionistic thinking: ‘If I don't wake up early enough for a 1-hour workout, it's not worth it.’ What if you wake up 5 minutes earlier than usual? Could you do a few squats and push-ups? If you woke up 10 minutes earlier, could you take a walk down the street and back? It’s ok to slowly work your way backwards, allowing yourself to adjust to a new time to wake up.”

Midday Workouts

Some people opt to squeeze in a workout during their lunch break, which McLendon notes is an efficient use of time. Plus, you’re able to avoid some of the challenges of working out when the sun rises, such as grogginess and an empty stomach.

You can recharge your physical and emotions batteries.

“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. McLendon agrees 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.”

You might not have enough time for a longer workout.

McLendon notes that if have a tight schedule, a drawback of a midday/lunch workout is the time crunch. “You feel as though you have to rush the workout,” she says. “It can definitely be done, but it takes a quick turnaround to fit in a workout on a lunch hour.” Bolden agrees, but encourages some exercise over nothing. “Many of us have only 30-60 minutes to eat, take care of personal tasks, and rest, so don't beat yourself up if a lunch workout doesn't fit your schedule,” shares Bolden. “Instead, see if you can take a quick walk outside in the fresh air, or do a few laps in your house.”

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.

Afternoon Workouts

Many people don’t have the luxury of fitting an afternoon workout into their schedule, but if you do, you might find these sessions hit the time-of-day sweet spot.

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.

They aren’t practical for many people.

Afternoon workouts aren’t feasible for many people working typical business hours. But, if you have an alternative schedule or greater flexibility, you might have plenty of time for an afternoon sweat session.

Evening Workouts

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.

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 burn more calories.

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.

Life can get in the way.

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.

It can be difficult to plan around mealtime.

Blomo 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.

Nighttime Workouts

What about ending the day with your workout?

You can end your day feeling productive and connected to your body.

“Working out before bed is a way to go to bed happy, knowing that you ended the day doing something that can bring you closer to your goal,” says McLendon. Plus, because moving your body helps relieve stress, you can hit the mattress feeling at peace.

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.

Your options may be limited.

It may be too dark, and potentially unsafe, to hit the streets for a run and your gym might not offer your preferred classes. Unless you belong to a 24-hour gym or plan to stream an on-demand class at home, you might have fewer late-night options.

Hunger pangs may keep you up at night.

“You have to remember that when you work out, you burn calories,” McLendon says. “So, if you do a high intense workout before bed, you’re burning more calories, and you will get hungry either after your workout or in your sleep.” She says that if you don’t have a satisfying snack—preferably one with some protein, fat, and carbohydrates—a rumbling stomach may have you tossing and turning instead of sleeping peacefully.

So, When Is the Best Time to Work Out?

”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.

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.”

Article Sources
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