Best Time of Day to Workout

When Is the Optimal Time of Day to Train? Here's What the Science Says

Fitness quickly becomes an obsession. One day you wake up eager to make a change, maybe add some cardio or weight lifting to your weekly routine, and then the next thing you know you’re tracking your macros, meticulously logging every mile ran and every pound lifted, and spending inordinate amounts of time learning about muscle fibers, protein synthesis and the role micronutrients play in regulating your hormone levels (if you know you know).
Best Time of Day to Workout

At some point on your journey, you’re going to start to wonder if your workout schedule is properly optimized. Should you be waking up at five in the morning, slugging down some raw eggs, and running into the sunrise like Rocky Balboa, or are you better off carving out a workout window in the afternoon, after your body has had time to take in food and properly wake up? Or what if, based on your work and sleep schedule, an evening workout is preferable?

If you’re curious about the pros and cons of various workout schedules, read on to learn how to optimize your training time.

Why You Should Work Out in the Morning

If you can squeeze in an hour or so in the morning to get a workout in, you might experience some unexpected benefits. Naturally, it pays to be the first at the gym. You’ll quickly discover that the pre-work gym crew is much smaller in number than the after-work gym crew. But the benefits don’t end at convenience. Here are three good reasons to work out in the morning:

1. Higher Energy Levels

Exercise is paradoxical, in that it’s inherently tiring but also, somehow, increases both our capacity for work and our desire to work. Don’t take our word for it: a poll taken by Velotric on workout timing found morning workouts associated with increased work productivity (69%), greater job satisfaction (73%), and reduced stress throughout the day (42%).

Best Time of Day to Workout

2. Better Focus Throughout the Day

Long before there were studies confirming this finding, men and women everywhere were reporting greater alertness, productivity and focus when they began their day with a vigorous workout. Well, the science is in, and it turns out that morning exercise really is associated with better cognitive performance, including faster visual learning, better recall, and heightened focus.

This one shouldn’t be too surprising, since high-achieving men have been extolling the benefits of early mornings forever, and many of today’s most successful men, from CEOs to actors, like to begin their day with some form of exercise, whether yoga or a morning run.

3. Improved Weight Loss

Another big association from the fitness community, that long predated any actual study of the matter, was between morning workouts and fat loss. A study examining the exercise habits of young men found that those who trained in the mornings before breakfast experienced an added benefit that those who trained at other times of the day did not: greater fat oxidation throughout the day. In plain English: the men who trained fasted, first thing in the morning, burned more fat throughout the day than those who trained later.

If the thought of hitting the weights on an empty stomach scares you, but you’re attracted by the weight loss potential, you can get the best of both worlds by doing some form of fasted cardio in the mornings and leaving the weights until later in the day.
Best Time of Day to Workout

There’s one other benefit worth exploring: studies have repeatedly shown that those who exercise earlier in the day tend to make healthier food choices throughout the day — the phrase “setting yourself up for success” comes to mind.

Why You Should Work Out in the Afternoon

There’s a lot to be said for training in the afternoon, after you’ve had two good meals, and not just because afternoon workouts allow you to hit “snooze” on your alarm clock. Here are three good reason to train after lunch:

1. You Can Train Harder

Exercise scientists tasked with optimizing human performance have known for a long time that the average human being is stronger and faster, with better reflexes, in the early to mid afternoon. Is it because of our natural circadian rhythms? Or because of the food we’ve eaten? Or because our core body temperatures tend to rise until the mid afternoon and then fall as evening comes on?

Your guess is as good as mine, but as a meta-analysis conducted by the journal Cell demonstrated, peak athletic performance tends to occur in the afternoon. The effects were most pronounced for activities involving speed, strength and reflex response, and least pronounced for endurance activities, so if you’re an athlete trying to improve at your sport, the afternoon workout window might be a real difference maker.

2. Exercise in the Afternoon to Regulate Your Circadian Rhythm

Exercise, in general, is great for regulating your circadian rhythm and helping you fall asleep at a normal time while drinking energy drinks in the wee hours of the morning so you can play more Call of Duty or Fortnite is generally good for your body. not good. Your circadian rhythm (we haven’t done research on this, just common sense). But it turns out that afternoon exercise is particularly good at regulating your body's biological clock.
Best Time of Day to Workout

A study on exercise timing and circadian rhythms found that exercising in the afternoon produced the greatest physiological response, leading to better sleep quality and an earlier bedtime. So if you tend to toss and turn at night instead of falling asleep right away, try an afternoon workout.

3. Better Health and Longevity

A longitudinal study of more than 90,000 British men and women on the health effects of exercise in the journal Nature Communications found both an obvious thing (exercise is associated with positive health outcomes) and a surprising thing: Afternoon exercise appears to increase the preventive benefit against all-cause mortality. This finding was particularly strong among men and for cardiovascular disease, but since the effect was large enough, it's safe to say that afternoon exercise appears to have added preventive benefits for your overall health and well-being.

If you have family members with heart disease or you simply exercise to become healthier and live longer, afternoon exercise may be your best option.

Why You Should Exercise at Night

Anyone familiar with commercial gyms knows that peak times are usually between 6 pm and 8 pm or even 9 pm, so regardless of the best time, most people tend to work later in the day, i.e. after getting off work. Thankfully, there are good reasons to exercise later today:

1. You Are Not in a Hurry

If you're like most people, you have very limited free time during the day, and most of it is concentrated at night. Sure, you can work out in the morning, but most gyms open at six and most people need to get to work at nine, and once you factor in travel time, showering, changing clothes, etc., if you have a full hour to sweat it out in the gym. In theory, an afternoon workout is great, but most people don't have the freedom to take an hour or two off after lunch to work on their weights or run.

If you train after getting off work or even after dinner, you may be able to take your time and combine weight training with cardio without having to keep looking at the time. And if someone spends too much time between sets or curls on the only squat rack, there's a much lower chance that the entire training program will be ruined.

2. Safer

Remember when we said core body temperature rises throughout the day and drops at night? Well, if you're exercising at the top of your body's daily temperature range, you're also exercising at the optimal time for flexibility and muscle recovery.
Best Time of Day to Workout

Does this mean it's dangerous to train in the morning when body temperature is lowest? Not necessarily, but it does mean you may need to spend more time warming up for your morning workout.

3. Overcome Tomorrow’s Pressure Today

Exercise is a great stress reliever. As the Dothraki says, "It is known to all." But what's often overlooked is that the stress-relieving benefits of exercise can actually help strengthen your brain for future stress.

What does this mean for exercise time? If you exercise in the evening, you are essentially providing positive mental and physical benefits for the next day, setting yourself up for future success.