When’s the Best Time to Exercise?
Whether you can’t start the day without your morning run or you prefer to squeeze in your sweat sessions at the gym after a stressful workday, it’s a given that exercising at any point in the day is always better than being a couch potato.
But does it really make a difference whether you work out in the morning or the evening?
Turns out, it might, depending on your goals.
There is some evidence that working out on a completely empty stomach — or “in a fasted state” — prompts the body to burn more fat and potentially stave off weight gain, compared to exercising at other times.
In a groundbreaking Belgium study, researchers persuaded young, healthy men to eat 30% more calories and 50% more fat than they typically eat. The men were divided into 3 groups:
- Sedentary group
- Strenuous mid-morning exercise after they ate
- Same workout regiment but before they had breakfast (on an empty stomach)
What Happened after Six Weeks…?
- gained about six pounds
- also developed insulin resistance
- had increased fat cells in their muscles
Men who exercised after breakfast
- also packed on pounds, about three pounds
- developed insulin problems
Men who exercised first thing in the morning
- gained almost no weight
- retained healthy insulin levels
- were also burning more fat throughout the day
While the early-morning exercise prevented weight gain, this is not the same thing as inducing weight loss. Combining a healthy well-balanced diet along with being physically active is the best strategy to prevent weight gain.
However…as we have seen, early-morning exercise in the fasted state is more potent than an identical amount of exercise in the fed state.
If you can’t fit in a workout before noon, don’t sweat it. The body can adapt to any workout time but consistency is key. Research suggests that sticking to a specific workout time can result in better performance, higher oxygen consumption, and lower perceived exhaustion.
- A cold body leaves muscles stiff, inefficient, and susceptible to sprains
- Higher body temperatures leave muscles more flexible
- Body temperature typically increases throughout the day, so muscle strength and endurance may peak in the late afternoon, when body temperature is highest.
- Testosterone is important for muscle growth and strength, in ladies and men
- The body produces more testosterone during late afternoon
- The stress hormone cortisol aids in the storage of fat and reduction of muscle tissue
- Cortisol peaks in the morning and decreases throughout the day so exercising in the morning MAY be a disadvantage
- It’s sometimes easier to keep a morning workout routine consistent.
- Afternoon and evening workouts are more likely to conflict with other responsibilities
- Plus a full day’s work can take a serious toll on will power
- Morning workouts can help with sleep
- Exercise increases heart rate and body temperature so working out too late may disrupt sleep
- One study found that 45 minutes of moderate morning exercise (like walking briskly on the treadmill) helped curb appetite directly after working out
- People can burn up to 20 percent more body fat exercising on an empty stomach
The Bottom Line
In the end, it’s most important to find a consistent workout schedule.
If working out in the morning is best for your schedule, make sure to warm up muscles that might be cold and tight from sleep.
To keep afternoon workouts consistent, treat them as unbreakable appointments…find a workout buddy (that may help).
“Exercise is beneficial regardless of the time of day you do it.”