Fitting regular workouts into our busy lives can be challenging. You may have bursts of motivation and start hitting the gym first thing in the morning, but soon find it too much of a squeeze, on top of juggling all your other morning tasks. And before you know it, those gym shoes are gathering dust. Or, maybe you take up running after work, only to be distracted by fun social events and once more, those shoes are gathering dust.
Finding the best time of day to workout which aligns with your fitness goals and daily schedule, is crucial for maximizing results. Perhaps you can’t commit to the gym, as you are going at a time of day which causes you added stress and isn’t providing the results you would like to see.
So, what is the best time of day to exercise? We’re taking a look at the benefits of working out in the morning vs evening, to help you plan your exercise routine effectively around your day.
Benefits of working out in the morning
Starting your day with a sweat session means you have more time in the evening to enjoy yourself - whether that’s socializing, taking part in a hobby, or having some well-earned “me time”. Although it may be hard to bring yourself to hit the gym before work, exercising in the morning has a number of benefits that may help advance your fitness and well being.
1. Food choices
Exercise can change your relationship with food and spur you on to make healthier choices throughout the day. One study found that women who exercised first thing in the morning were less likely to be tempted by tasty looking food, compared to when they did not exercise at all. It was also observed that these women were more likely to increase their physical activity throughout the day.
Another study found that regular cardio exercise promotes healthier food choices and can inspire a change to eating patterns. For us, this makes sense. Exercising in the morning is a good way to set the tone for the day. By starting your day healthily, you are more likely to want to carry that feeling of being healthy throughout the rest of your day, which means healthier food choices and more physical activity.
Trouble sleeping? Morning exercise may be just the ticket.
Early morning workouts have been shown to help improve sleep quality by increasing the amount of deep sleep, and reducing awakenings and time it takes to fall asleep. On the other hand, evening workouts may actually hinder your sleep, as exercise increases your heart rate and body temperature. Not ideal for getting some shut-eye. This is because the body requires a lower heart rate and temperature to induce sleep and maintain sleep.
Light exposure in the morning may also increase levels of sleep-inducing hormone melatonin at night, and help your body wake up in the morning.
3. Support weight loss
Exercising in the morning before you eat breakfast may seriously help you shift some weight.
Research suggests that working out on an empty stomach can burn up to as much as 20% more fat. This is because muscles need energy in order to function and an empty stomach means there is no food available to convert to energy. Therefore, the body begins to burn through fat reserves to obtain energy to fuel your workout. This is perhaps the biggest perk of a morning workout, if you are looking to lose weight.
4. Stress and mood
Physical activity is great for relieving stress and improving your mood. During exercise, your brain releases “feel good” endorphins, helping you start your day right and on a positive note.
One study found that morning exercise is associated with improved attention, visual learning and decision-making. This may be hugely beneficial to those with long working days ahead of them.
Benefits of exercising in the evening
Despite the numerous benefits of working out in the morning, late-risers will be pleased to know that working out in the evening also has its perks.
You may find your performance is better later in the day. This is because your body temperature is at its highest between 2pm-6pm, allowing muscles to function at optimal capacity. If your goal is to boost your muscle strength, working out in the evening may be advantageous over morning workouts.
One study found that endurance performance may be better in the evening, as oxygen uptake and anaerobic capacity is higher. It is believed that you may be able to workout 20% harder than early in the day, which is a big advantage for those looking to up their endurance and strength.
2. Stress and Mood
As with morning exercise, an evening workout can help you blow off steam from the day and allow you to destress. By getting those endorphins flowing, exercise can help put you in a better mood, especially if you have had a bad day.
3. High intensity exercise
If you wish to challenge yourself with higher intensity exercise, it may be better to do this later in the day. Not only is muscle function and oxygen uptake at its peak later in the day, your reaction times are also at their quickest. These are all important factors for high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves short bursts of intense exercise, followed by periods of rest.
HIIT training is well known to be a great method for losing weight, as your body is forced to use energy from fat reserves as opposed to carbs. By performing short bursts of intense exercise, you can also burn more calories in a shorter amount of time and increase your metabolism, so that you burn calories even after a workout - result.
Whilst exercise in the evening is thought to hinder sleep ability, some research suggests that low intensity exercise may actually help improve sleep. However, the endorphins released by the brain may cause it to stay active and make it harder to sleep. As such, it is best to leave at least 2 hours before you go to bed if you are planning to exercise late.
So, taking all of this into account - is there a best time of day to workout?
The good news is there are advantages to both morning and evening exercise. The most important thing to consider is what works best for you. If working out in the morning suits your schedule better and you are more likely to stick to a regular workout routine, then this might be the best option for you, and vice versa. You are more likely to see results if you can be consistent.
Deciding on your fitness goals may also help you choose the best time of day to work out. For example, if you are looking to build your endurance, evening training would be better as you are able to workout harder. But if you are exercising to lose weight, morning workouts may be more effective, as the body burns fat more efficiently. There is no one size fits all answer, the right time for you, may be the wrong time for someone else.