There’s a lot of discussion in the fitness world over the right time to work out. And depending on who you ask, the answer to the best exercise timing will differ.
Some people swear by morning workouts, others subscribe to an afternoon workout routine or even nighttime workouts.
For some of us, it’s just about fitting in a workout wherever we can.
But which workout slot is most effective? Are you currently hampering your progress by hitting the gym at the wrong time? Does it even make a difference?
Read on to learn more, as we let you know the best time of the day to work out.
Pros and Cons of Morning Exercise
Morning person? Here are some pros and cons to morning exercise.
Pro: It’s Easier to Stick to a Routine
The most important thing about working out is that you actually do it. And the best way to make sure you consistently get your workouts in is to develop a routine or a habit.
While each person is different, in most cases it’s easier to keep to your exercise routine if you make a habit of working out in the morning. You’ve got less time to talk yourself into skipping a day, and you get your workout in before any of the day’s distractions hit.
Pro: Morning Workouts Provide Increased Metabolism Throughout the Day
When you workout, you speed up your metabolism. This means your body is actively burning energy (calories). The best part is, your metabolism remains at an elevated rate even after your workout is over.
That means a morning workout can be good for burning fat, since you get your body into a high-metabolism state as soon as possible, so you can be in an efficient, fat-burning state throughout the day.
Research suggests that if you workout early, your increased metabolism is likely to promote weight loss.
Pro: May be Beneficial for Sleep
Working out in the morning may help you fall asleep and get better sleep. The reason for this is how an early morning workout affects your blood pressure, and circadian rhythm or sleep cycle.
A workout first thing kicks your body into an active state. You start to release certain hormones that signal to the brain that you’re awake, active, and getting at it. This can set your body clock earlier, priming you for another early bird workout the same time the next day.
By releasing these hormones early in the day, the opposite hormones - those that tell your body it’s time to sleep - are released earlier as well, just in time to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Con: You May Not Be at Peak Performance
Most people aren’t going to be at their physical peak first thing in the morning. You probably haven’t eaten for at least 8-10 hours, so your body may be running low on fuel (though working out while fasted is not necessarily a bad thing). It’s also common for your reactions to be slower early in the morning, so you may not be able to hammer out high intensity exercises right away.
Con: Longer Time to Warm Up
Your body’s core temperature is lower in the morning, and your muscles and joints are stiffer, having been inactive for 8 or so hours during sleep. That means you need to take more time to warm up at the start of a morning workout, so that you don’t risk getting injured.
Pros and Cons of Afternoon Exercise
Here are some pros and cons of midday or afternoon workouts:
Pro: Better Exercise Performance
The body relies on certain hormones and compounds, including testosterone and Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to reach peak performance. Our body naturally produces varying levels of these compounds throughout the day, and some studies indicate that they may be at their highest levels (testosterone in particular) during the afternoon.
Pro: Won’t Interfere With Sleep
Morning workouts are generally thought of as good for sleep. But in some cases, the stress of an early morning workout coming up, or interrupting your sleep schedule to get up early to work out, can actually disrupt sleep.
The best time to work out to ensure your workout has no ill effects on sleep is the afternoon - you have more than enough time afterward for your nervous system to cool down, and you’re allowing yourself to get enough sleep in the morning as well.
Con: Can Disrupt Workflow
For a lot of people, afternoons are not the best time to exercise, as they can be disruptive to the rest of their day. After hard afternoon workouts, you may find yourself unable to slow down and concentrate again - for example, if you took an hour or so off in the middle of your day before going back to work.
Pros and Cons of Nighttime Workouts
Now let’s look at some advantages and disadvantages for the night owl at the gym.
Pros: We May Have Greater Endurance at Night
According to certain studies, we may have greater exercise capacity and endurance later in the day. These studies showed that physical performance in moderate and low intensity exercise was much greater in the later part of the active cycle - meaning later on in our circadian rhythms, and closer to the time we go to sleep.
Pro: Good for Stress Relief and Anxiety
We tend to build up a lot of stress and anxiety over the day. Working out is a great way to relieve stress and generate endorphins that produce a feeling of calm and happiness, resulting in a better nocturnal blood pressure.
By blowing off steam and disconnecting with a late night or evening exercise, you can avoid stress from affecting your sleep and building up by creeping into the next day.
Con: An Evening Workout Might be More Exhausting
While it’s hard to be at peak physical performance in the morning, the same can be true for evening exercise. A hard day working or studying can leave us feeling drained, at which point it’s difficult to summon the energy to muster any physical activity.
Con: Possibly More Difficult to Stay Consistent
Leaving your workout late in the day also means more time for you to blow it off. There’s more time for other commitments to come up, and as we get tired and fatigued throughout the day, willpower tends to fall off.
It’s not necessarily true for everyone, but in most cases, it’s easier to develop and stick to a routine if you can get it over and done as early in the day as possible.
Con: May Hurt Sleep Quality
A lot of sources claim that exercise at night is detrimental to sleep, which makes up most of the arguments against working out at night.
By elevating your heart rate and core body temperature close to bedtime, sleep can be affected. However, there are just as many studies out there that claim that evening workouts don’t hurt sleep quality, and in some cases can even make you sleep better.
The key, if you do choose to work out at night, is to try and avoid high-intensity exercise in evening workouts and avoid working out within 1 hour of going to bed.
So, What is the Best Time to Workout?
The best time to work out is… whenever you can. Sorry, there’s no clear answer to this.
There are pros and cons to working out in the morning, night, or even the afternoon. There’s a lot of contradictory information out there, if you look at what science says about working out at particular times.
A lot of it varies from person to person. For example, one person might find a late night workout keeps them up, yet another person might sleep easier after a long and tiring workout.
That’s why some people will find that they’re more effective working out in the morning, while others prefer to crush it at night. And that’s fine.
The most important thing to remember is that any workout is better than no workout. Instead of stressing over making sure you exercise at the perfect time, just focus on getting to the gym (or the track, dojo, park, wherever you like to work out).
Is it Better to Exercise on an Empty Stomach?
Working out while fasted (meaning having not eaten for some time) is generally not a problem. In fact, it can even be beneficial.
Some studies indicate that fasted cardio - doing cardio while in a fasted state - may help you burn more fat. The idea is that, in a fasted state, the body is forced to use fat stores as energy, as food-sourced glycogen (which is what we usually use for energy) is not available.
There is still more research needed to know for sure if working out on an empty stomach is better than the alternative.
But it’s fair to say that you can exercise without food in your belly as long as you ensure you’re not trying to work out if you’re feeling lightheaded or shaky due to a lack of food.
What is the Best Time of Day to Exercise to Lose Weight?
Morning workouts are generally the best if your goal is to lose weight.
Working out in the morning helps you boost metabolism, which aids fat loss not only during your workout, but in the hours after your workout too.
It’s also easier to train without food in the morning, as you’re likely to be in a fasted state when you come out of sleep.
This is not to say that you can’t lose weight effectively when you work out at a different time of the day, however, so if you feel you’re more effective doing late-night cardio, go ahead and stick to that.
There are pros and cons to working out at different times of the day - morning, afternoon and night.
While there are probably more pros for working out in the morning, there’s not enough evidence to say that working out at night or in the afternoon is a bad thing.
And remember, any workout is better than no workout.
It’s good to stick to a consistent time, to help you maintain a routine. And it’s likely you’ll have a certain time of the day that fits best with your schedule, and when you feel you’re most effective. So find out for yourself when this is, and stick to it.