When Is the Best Time to Exercise?
What effect does exercising at different times of the day have, and what is really “best”? In this comprehensive article we're going to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of working out at different times of the day, so you can get the most out of your training sessions. Before we get into it however, we have to start at the very beginning, with the biology of the human body and time…
What Is a Circadian Rhythm?
The way your body functions during different times of the day is affected by a circadian rhythm. This circadian rhythm synchronises different bodily functions to environmental stimuli like light levels and temperature.
Circadian rhythms are more commonly referred to as your body's internal clock, which can be both disrupted or rescheduled depending on circumstances. An example of a circadian rhythm is the production of melatonin; a hormone that helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. When day turns to night and light levels decrease, or when you stay in a dark environment for long periods of time, your body produces melatonin in an effort to help induce deep sleep. Many of us have experienced this when flying abroad, as the production of melatonin is generally calibrated to your previous time zone. This in turn disrupts your circadian rhythm and leads to the symptoms we know as “jet lag”.
How Do Circadian Rhythms Affect Exercise?
Your body's internal clock is likely to play a role in your preferred time of day to exercise. Most importantly you may find that your motivation and energy peak and deplete at different times of the day. When you're energised and motivated you're likely to get the most out of your exercises, but those feelings throughout the day are different from person to person. Before you commit to a regular exercise routine it's therefore important to take a look at the natural rhythms of your body to assess the best time for you to exercise.
When Is the Best Time of Day to Exercise?
Truthfully, there is very limited science that conclusively determines whether one time of day is better than another for exercising. The sheer level of individuality that occurs from person to person means that there is no one-size-fits-all schedule that can be applied to everyone. As inconvenient as it might be, it's important for you to develop your own weekly exercise schedule that is unique to you. To help you do this, let's take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of each time of day.
Exercising in the Morning
The saying goes that the early bird gets the worm, but does this saying stay true when applied to exercise? Let's take a deeper look. Advantages:
• Weight loss benefits – When you wake up in the morning, your body's reserve of carbohydrates and blood sugar is diminished, meaning that exercising in the morning causes your body to rely on stored fat for the energy it needs for physical activity. Exercising in the morning may therefore benefit your weight loss efforts.
• Consistency – A lot of people find that the hardest part of a weekly exercise routine is sticking with it over the long term. Waking up bright and early in the morning and setting off for a jog straight away may make it a lot easier for you to stick to a routine.
• Momentum for the rest of the day – Exercising as soon as you wake up is believed to have a priming effect that mentally and physically stimulates you throughout the day. As long as you keep your body topped up with energy from healthy, well-balanced meals, you may find that midday sugar crashes and evening fatigue become a thing of the past.
• Regimented sleep – Sleep is essential when exercising regularly as it helps your body to recover and repair itself, and prevents you from becoming fatigued. Getting up at the same time each morning to exercise may help to “train” your body to sleep better in the evening, leaving you feeling more refreshed.
• Miss the crowds – Gyms tend to be a lot quieter in the morning, meaning that you usually don't have to worry about other people. With fewer people about it is easier to target a specific piece of equipment without disrupting other people. Disadvantages:
• Tiredness may impact results – Exercising first thing in the morning may mean that, especially in the early stages of a new fitness routine, you could experience varying degrees of tiredness. This tiredness may impact your motivation, meaning that you don't work out with the same intensity as you might later in the day.
• Tiredness may increase the risk of injury – If you're susceptible to bouts of morning drowsiness then operating heavy machinery like bench presses and Smith machines may not be safe. If you do commit yourself to exercise in the mornings, be sure to properly wake yourself up and stretch thoroughly before getting started. A clear mind and limber body may mean the difference between a successful workout and a catastrophic injury.
Exercising in the Afternoon
Don't have the time or motivation to commit to a morning workout? Don't worry, there's always the afternoon. Advantages:
• Body temperature may influence results – It is believed that your general strength and endurance are higher in the afternoon, which may be able to help boost the effectiveness of your workout. This is commonly attributed to the idea that your energy levels are typically higher in the afternoon, providing more power for exercise. Your body temperature is also typically higher during the afternoon, corresponding with the ambient temperature of the environment you're in. A warmer body may result in better muscle performance.
• Protein synthesis peaks – Protein synthesis is the naturally occurring process within your body that creates new protein cells. Proteins are used extensively throughout your body, especially in your muscles where they help support growth and maintenance. Capitalising on this process may be beneficial to you if building muscle is a goal of yours.
• A break from work – If you've got an hour for lunch at work, a nice 30 minute walk can do you a world of good to help refresh and revitalise yourself before you have to continue with the rest of the day. Disadvantages:
• Timing – Although exercising in the middle of the day may seem appealing, work, school and other commitments are much more likely to get in the way. Although this downside of afternoon exercise might not apply to groups like students and retirees, the vast majority of us can't help but be exempt from working out at this time due to other responsibilities.
• Easily interrupted – Interruptions are often unavoidable in the afternoon during business hours. These interruptions, no matter how minor or trivial they seem, can compromise your workout.
Exercising in the Evening
A lot of people prefer to round out their day with a good exercise session, but what are the positives and negatives of doing so? Let's take a look. Advantages:
• Availability – Finishing work can be the perfect opportunity to seamlessly move on to the gym. Taking your fitness gear to work can be helpful, because many people find that their motivation falls rapidly on getting home. After-work gym activities like yoga, boxercise and spin classes are also frequently timed to allowed people who work a full time job to enjoy a thorough workout in the evenings.
• Stress relief – Stress can be unpleasant to deal with, and if allowed to persist it can be detrimental to your health. Exercising in the evening is a fantastic opportunity to work out the stresses of daily life, and may help to improve your mood when you get back home.
• Easier start to the day – Exercising in the evening allows you to take some pressure off your morning routine, meaning that your start to the day is often a lot calmer. An extra hour in bed can go a long way, and may even mean that you're more likely to work out later on in the day. Disadvantages:
• You won't be alone – A lot of people, particularly gym-goers, wait until the workday is done, which can make exercising in the evenings incredibly busy. Under such conditions the queues for certain pieces of equipment may even prevent you from using them at all.
• A hard day's grind – Really hard days at work can often leave you feeling tired, stressed and unmotivated. When this happens, the last thing you feel like doing is exercise, which may cause you to ditch the workout altogether.
As you can see, there's no right or wrong approach when it comes to choosing the “best” time to exercise. Some of us aren't morning people, and that's ok. Others can't commit to an evening gym class. That's ok too. What's most important is that you manage to meet the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week , whilst at the same time balancing the other responsibilities in your life. However you choose to meet that target – and at what time – is entirely up to you. If, however, you find it difficult to juggle the two, talking to a local fitness professional may be the perfect way of getting some much-needed insight, and we would encourage you to do so before you find things getting out of control.