I get asked this question a lot, and the good news is: There is no best time of day to workout. The best time of day to workout is the time of day that’s best for you. Ideally, it’s a time that fits into your schedule and allows you to establish a routine and be consistent. After all, that’s half the battle. But there are some interesting facts and research when it comes to exercise, time of day, and how our body responds. Below I tackle some common questions and give you some straight up answers.
Do you burn more fat by working out in the morning on an empty stomach? It’s true that when you wake up in the morning your body hasn’t had fuel for a number of hours. This puts it in fasting mode and increases the use of fat for energy because glycogen (energy) stores are depleted. However, it also slows metabolism, and the best way to jump-start your metabolism in the morning is to fuel your body. Working out requires energy, and if your energy stores are depleted you won’t have the fuel needed to push yourself harder for longer periods of time. Thus you won’t burn as many calories or fat. For best results, fuel your body before you workout in the morning to boost your metabolism, burn calories more efficiently, and in turn you’ll burn more fat.
What are the benefits of exercising in the morning? Research supports that morning exercisers are more consistent and more likely to stick to a routine than late day exercisers. This may be partly due to the fact that morning exercisers get their workout in before their day gets too hectic. Work conflicts, errands, and schedule changes can arise throughout the day and no matter how well intentioned you are, it’s often your workout that gets sacrificed. If you have a demanding job, a busy social life, or kids’ schedules that require you to be everywhere but at the gym, it may be easier to be consistent in the morning. Another benefit of a morning workout is that exercise is proven to increase mental acuity and reduce anxiety. What better way to start out the day then with a sharp mind, a clear head, and the opportunity to “work through” any anxiety you may have about the day ahead? Best of all, morning exercise gives you a positive start to your day, revs up your metabolism, and is reported to help you sleep better at night.
If you can’t swing a morning workout, what are the benefits of late-afternoon workouts? Our body temperature is lowest about one to three hours before we wake up in the morning, whereas in the late afternoon it reaches its peak. Due to the increase in body temperature, some studies show that our muscles are stronger and we have more endurance in the late afternoon, therefore we can perform better and experience greater benefits. Research also supports that we are more awake and alert at this time, plus our muscles are warmer and more responsive, therefore we are less likely to get injured. If you’re looking for a good night’s sleep, studies show that vigorous exercise in the late afternoon might help get you there. Since exercise increases our body temperature above normal and it takes a few hours for it to come back down, by the time you get ready for bed the decrease in temperature initiates sleep onset. For those who can’t imagine swapping their bedroom slippers for a pair of running shoes first thing in the morning, changing out of their business clothes after a stressful day at work might be the perfect answer. What is my bottom line answer on the best time of day to workout? I tell my clients that the best time of day to work out is when it fits their schedule, when they can be most consistent, and when they feel their best. Forcing yourself to workout against your internal time clock, or at a time that isn’t convenient, will impact how you feel when you’re exercising and require a lot more effort. Ultimately, there is no reliable evidence to support that you burn calories more efficiently at a certain time of day, so rather than focusing on the “right” time, make the time right.