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When is the Best Time to Workout ? – Pros and Cons of Different Workout Times

Morning Workout for Weight Loss and Great Sleep

When you workout first thing in the morning, your body’s better able to burn stored fat. This is especially true if you get your sweat on before breakfast. It’s shortly after waking when your cortisol and growth hormones are highest. Since both of these hormones are associated with metabolism, your body burns fat as a fuel at a higher rate when they’re elevated.

Research out of Brigham Young University has revealed another encouraging reason to consider working out early. Engaging in 45 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise in the morning decreases appetite. So, not only do you flip on your fat burning switch, but you simultaneously decrease intake throughout the day just by setting your alarm an hour early. 

Some of us simply aren’t morning people, but, before you write off the idea of a.m. athletics, consider the fact that early morning cardio stimulates the body to produce melatonin, the hormone that controls the sleep cycle. This effect is even more pronounced if you can exercise outdoors in the sunlight. Ergo, working out early can kickstart the circadian rhythm to help encourage you to sleep well. Over time, you may find it easier to fall into a morning workout routine than you would have thought possible.

Best of all, when you get it off your to-do list before the day begins, unexpected circumstances and excuses won’t get in the way of exercise later.

Man and Woman Stretching

Who Should Avoid the Morning Workout

Research has shown a number of benefits to support working out to start the day. However, it’s not the best option if you realistically don’t see yourself making the effort to do it consistently. Furthermore, if waking up early to exercise would compromise your ability to get at least six hours of sleep, you’re better off getting those extra z’s. A few other conditions that may contraindicate early morning workouts include:

  • You have a heart condition as changes in blood pressure could cause issues when working out first thing in the morning. If this is you, check with your doctor. 
  • You have diabetes and don’t see yourself consistently eating prior to working out to manage glucose levels. Again, this is something you should discuss with your physician. 
  • You are trying to bulk up as the hormonal level needed to facilitate muscle growth is more compatible with evening workouts (more on this later). 

Afternoon Workout for Energy Boost and Higher Calorie Burn

After lunch, do you ever feel tired and groggy? The midday slump can be a real problem leading to a lack of productivity, stress, and even health issues. Primarily caused by a disruption in the circadian rhythm due to a variety of contributing factors including light exposure, sleep patterns, and use of electronics, that groggy feeling can be overcome by an afternoon workout. Unlike morning exercise, afternoon workouts are fueled by a meal or two, so blood sugar levels are likely higher. With increased blood glucose on your side, high intensity exercise is more attainable.

If the afternoon is the best time for you to get your sweat on, you have another benefit working in your favor. A recent study found that, during the mid-to-late afternoon, the body burns approximately 10% more calories than later on in the day. 

Three women running together

Who Should Avoid the Afternoon Workout

The afternoon workout can be difficult to fit into your day. Even if you have an hour lunch break, it doesn’t leave much time to shower afterward. 

Evening Workout for Big Muscles 

If you have a goal of increasing your muscle mass, the evening workout is well worth consideration. A 2016 study found that evening strength workouts yield up to 84% more muscle gain than morning sessions. Since testosterone is beneficial for anabolic training, the results of this study make sense as testosterone production is higher at night than it is during the day. 

Want a great way to unwind after a strength workout that will also help you sleep better? Take some time to engage in stress-relieving yoga or stretching. This is an excellent way to prepare the body for relaxation and improve your recovery time. Remember, muscle is built during rest, so it’s important to supplement your strength training with plenty of uninterrupted sleep.

Woman running in the evening while the sun sets

Who Should Avoid the Evening Workout

If you’re not a fan of waiting for equipment and larger crowds, evening workouts can be aggravating if you use a public gym. Furthermore, for high intensity cardio exercise, waiting until the evening hours isn’t ideal as it can disrupt sleep. However, if the evening is the only time you can do your cardio, it’s better to do it than skip it altogether. Furthermore, if you lack motivation and/or self control, evening workouts are much easier to skip. You’re more likely to be tired from a long day, and recreation with friends and family can often creep in and steal the spotlight. 

Considerations for Night Shifters

Before we wrap up, there are a few considerations worth pointing out for all the night shifters out there. The time of day can become an unrecognizable haze when you work odd shifts, but a regular workout regimen can help you maintain balance and stabilize your circadian rhythm. 

All the tips mentioned here apply, but they’re based on what time you wake up. It can be tempting to treat 11 p.m. like it’s the middle of the night. However, if this is the time you’re getting out of bed, the morning workout pros and cons apply. Although it can be tricky, a little bit of self control and clear acknowledgement of your fitness goals and preferences go a long way in consistency and progress. 

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, the best time to workout is during that window of opportunity you can most regularly stick to an exercise routine. While there are certain advantages and disadvantages based on time of day and goals, none outweigh the importance of consistency. 

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