Maximizing the effectiveness of a workout is something everyone is interested in. Some exercisers swear by the early morning sessions to dive into the day, while others can't imagine doing anything physically active before noon. The truth is that everyone's biological rhythms are different and whether you're an early bird or night owl will influence when it's best to exercise.
There are particular perks, however, to exercising in the morning, afternoon or evening. Depending on whether you're looking to lower your body fat percentage, build strength or increase muscle mass, the time of day that you do your workout can offer some fitness benefits.
For Fat Loss: Morning
For those interested in lowering body fat and losing weight, morning workouts may be the way to go. A 2012 study found that women who started their day by walking briskly for 45 minutes were less distracted by pictures of food and were more physically active throughout the rest of the day. This suggests that a morning workout helps you be more nutritionally disciplined, therefore leading to fewer consumed calories, and encourages you to move around more, which causes you to burn a greater number of calories.
Additionally, exercise has been found to boost metabolism for a few hours following a workout. This suggests that with an intense morning training session, you can burn more calories throughout the rest of the day even while you're at work. This metabolic boost isn't as significant when you exercise at night, because when you're asleep, your metabolism naturally slows.
Lastly, losing fat requires workout consistency. Scheduling sessions first thing in the morning can help prevent personal or work responsibilities from popping up and forcing you to cancel your workout.
If you do opt to work out in the mornings, be sure to eat a small breakfast first, because you'll be able to exercise harder and will in turn burn more calories.
For Strength and Muscle Building: Morning, Afternoon of Evening
Depending on your specific weight lifting goals, the ideal time for working out could be morning, afternoon or evening. In the morning, testosterone levels and mental alertness are at their peaks. Testosterone is an important component to protein synthesis, the muscle building process. Therefore, if you're looking to put on muscle mass, a morning weight lifting workout could be best.
Afternoon workouts may be optimal for pushing through a plateau. Pain tolerance is at its highest in the afternoon hours, and adrenaline and body temperature typically rise as the day goes on. If you feel like you've been stuck in a weight lifting rut, try an extra-challenging strength-training workout in the afternoon.
Evening workouts may be ideal for building strength, because while mental focus is starting to wane, coordination, stamina, body temperature and strength are at their highest levels. Therefore, if you're looking to get stronger, hit the gym between 6 and 8 in the evening and lift heavier loads. Keep in mind that starting around 9pm, the body begins slowing down in preparation for sleep.
Respect Your Circadian Rhythm: What Time is Best for You
Keep in mind that the truly best time for a workout is the time when you're most likely to stick with your workouts consistently. Fat loss, muscle building and flexibility improvements only occur when workouts are done regularly. If you're sporadic with your training, it doesn't matter what time of day you workout.
Set yourself up for success. If you absolutely hate getting up early, recognize that and understand that it's best if you schedule your training sessions later in the day. If you one that goes to bed early, a morning or afternoon workout would be better than trying to go to the busy gym in the evenings. Additionally, if you find that responsibilities and obstacles always seem to pop up and keep you from getting in your workout in the afternoon or evening, then exercising first thing in the morning is more ideal. You'll be doing yourself a favor if you opt to exercise whatever time of day you feel at your best physically and mentally, no matter your fitness goal.