What time of day is it best to exercise?
We all want to get the most out of our time spent exercising. Two of the biggest reasons that people cite for not exercising are lack of results and lack of time, so we need make sure that we maximise the outcome for both. Which opens up the question of whether should we exercise in the morning or the evening?
Our bodies work in 24hr cycles, referred to as circadian rhythms, and we regulate according to these cycles, producing hormones accordingly. All things being equal, cortisol (primary stress hormone) reaches its peak mid-morning, decreasing throughout the day. Being that cortisol is an important factor for exercising, mid-morning would seem to be the best time to don your workout gear and go for it.
But what about those of us who exercise first thing? Well, that has benefits also, especially if your goal is to lose some body fat. This is because glycogen, the sugar stored in muscles to be used as fuel, is lowest in the morning, so we can tap into other sources, such as fat, to fuel our workouts. Good news for the early birds.
However, research has also shown that people tend to feel stronger, more alert and have more energy in the afternoon and early evening. This being the case, most of us would be able to push ourselves a bit harder at this time of day, meaning that we would likely get more out of our workouts; which means better results.
So it seems there are benefits to exercising at any time of day. It’s worth noting, however, that there are cons to all of the above also. Stressed and tired folk would probably do better not to further stress a depleted system first thing, for example. And those who exercise in the evening may find that it affects sleep, something that we should try to avoid at all costs. So what is the answer?
The bottom line is that for most of us it’s not relevant. Assuming that we are not professional athletes and that we do not have the luxury of choosing at what time of day we should exercise, does it really matter anyway? We just need to get it done when we can! And for those of us who do have the luxury of being flexible, we should go with the time that feels best for us in terms of energy levels.
Remember, the best exercise programme is one that you enjoy and the one that can do consistently. Don’t stress about the smaller details, just choose the time you have left after you’ve factored in your other commitments. Follow the right programme and you’ll get results regardless of the time of day that you exercise.