What Time of Day Is the Best Time for Training?
Perhaps one question about training that’s almost as common as, “How should I work out?” is, “What is the best time of day to work out?” The question of the best time for training is something every trainee ponders at some point in their life.
While you’re probably learning that “it depends” is a common answer to your training questions (and a reasonable one, at that), we’re going to provide you with a little more detail (and some science) so you can decide what the best time for training is for you.
It’s All About the Circadian Rhythm
Whether we are naturally “night owls” or “early birds,” one thing we all have in common is that our bodies work on a 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm. This circadian rhythm influences your blood pressure, hormones, heart rate, oxygen consumption, and body temperature.
The circadian rhythm is controlled by the hypothalamus in your brain, but it can also be impacted by things like darkness and daylight. Additionally, things like not getting enough sleep, jet lag, and stress can throw your circadian rhythm out of whack.
All of this is important because the bodily systems the circadian rhythm influences ultimately influence your training and its effectiveness. To answer the question, “When is the best time of day to work out?” let’s look at how your body’s natural cycle coincides with the different times of day and the different forms of exercise you might be pursuing.
Pros and Cons of Training in the Morning
Training in the morning may be better for weight loss, but not because we work out before eating. In fact, both a 2013 study and a 2014 study demonstrated no difference between fasted and non-fasted morning workouts when it came to making a change in body composition.
However, it has been shown that those who exercise in the morning have lower blood pressure and experience improved sleep. This better-quality sleep leads to lower stress levels and more balanced hormones, which is all likely linked to better weight control.
And, perhaps more than anything, exercising in the morning can set a mental tone for your day that begins a cascade of good choices. A 2012 study conducted at Brigham Young University found that doing 45 minutes of morning exercise caused women to have a lower response to food cues and to be more active throughout the rest of the day.
If you decide to switch to morning exercise, keep in mind that because of where you are in your circadian rhythm, your body temperature is likely to be lower in the morning. This means you may need more time to warm up properly.
Pros and Cons of Training in the Afternoon
One benefit of working out in the afternoon is that this time of day is when you are likely to have the lowest cortisol levels. Therefore, testosterone (in both men and women) has the best shot at doing you some good.
Testosterone levels are actually highest in the morning, but it has to compete with the highest levels of cortisol at that time, too. Research shows we have a higher “exercise-induced T response” in the afternoons, meaning we produce more testosterone during afternoon exercise than during morning exercise.
Here are some other things to consider when it comes to afternoon workouts:
Perceived exertion, or how hard you feel like you are working, is typically lowest in the afternoon, so you may be able to work harder than you could in the morning.
Your body temperature typically peaks in the late afternoon; therefore, so does flexibility.
Your ability to synthesize protein is highest in the late afternoon, and the impact exercise will have
is the greatest.
Some research has shown our
in the later part of the day, so it may be an excellent time for endurance training.
Your reaction times tend to be quicker in the afternoon.
Thus, if you’re hitting big weights, working on skill development, or doing your best to avoid injury, afternoon might be a prime time for you to work out.
Another important benefit of a late-afternoon, after-work workout is the potential for stress relief. If your workouts help you let off steam and allow you to reset for the remainder of your evening and sleep time, then an early evening training session might be a great idea.
Exercise Times to Avoid
While you’re wondering, “What are the best times to work out?” you should also be asking, “What are the worst times to work out?”
If you plan to compete, one thing to avoid is training at a completely different time of day than when you expect to compete. Your body will organize its cycle around your consistent training times. So, while afternoon might be the best time for strength training based on bodily changes, if you plan on participating in a morning weightlifting meet, then you’ll want to consistently train in the mornings.
According to research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, very early or very late workouts should be avoided by most people. That said, research also indicates that the idea that working out late can disrupt your sleep is likely to be a myth. This belief is based on the fact that exercise can raise your body temperature at a time it should be naturally cooling. However, one study found that resistance exercise improved sleep, no matter what time the subjects trained, and evening exercisers in the study actually experienced the best sleep.
So, What’s the Best Time to Exercise?
If you’re already exercising regularly and you want to squeeze more out of your training and elevate your performance, then optimizing your training schedule for the best results may be something to consider. That optimization may be based on whether you have endurance or strength goals, or if you’re trying to train for a specific event start time.
If you are trying to boost your performance and are feeling sad about afternoons being so prime for training, you should know that the research also shows morning exercisers tend to be the most consistent. That consistency could still put you ahead of those athletes working out at the “ideal” afternoon time.
However, for most people, the short answer to the question of when to work out is, “Whenever you will actually go.” If you’re new to regular training, scheduling your exercise at the same time every day, no matter what time that is, will help you create and stick to your new habit. So, if you’re naturally a night owl or an early bird, let that help you decide when to exercise.