Exercise scientists have studied and written articles repeatedly on what time of day is the best time to work out and yet we all know people who buck the trend and work out at times that would make those researchers choke. So, are they wasting their time or are we?
I am one of those smug people who get up early, down a cup of coffee, and immediately get active. I hit the gym, run the trails, cycle the path, splash the pool, or whatever tickles my fancy that day. Not necessarily because I think it is the ultimate and optimum time to work out, but rather because I like it. I like how it feels. I like how it sets up my day. I like the boost of energy I get from it.
I am also one of those spur-of-the-moment exercisers who will find himself in the middle of the afternoon staring at a blank page (where a blog article or workout plan is supposed to be) and instead of buckling down, suddenly gets up and goes for a walk, rides his bike to the pool, or puts on a yoga video before diving back into work.
Am I doing myself more harm than good by doing those early morning sessions? Should I stop giving into my afternoon exercise whims and simply get my work done instead? Well, let’s take a closer look.
The Optimum Workout Time
The other day, I got into a brief discus-gument with a friend of mine (who is also a fitness coach) about when exactly is the best time of day to work out. And while I didn’t disagree with his very scientifically-backed assessment, I am not one of those people who moves heaven and earth each time a study suggests that I am "doing it all wrong." In fact, I believe I concluded our conver-greement with the statement, "I think I am doing just fine."
Sure, science says that your body temperature peaks in the afternoon, which means that I might be able to do my hard workouts even harder later in the day. Sure that could theoretically result in me getting a bigger fitness boost from that workout, but you know what else gives me a bigger fitness boost? Getting the actual workout done.
And sure, my protein synthesis (the ability to use dietary proteins for muscle repair) also peaks later in the day, which means that I could maximize my body’s ability to recover from that workout, but I also find it easier to recover from workouts when I am not stressed out. Feeling rushed, pressured, or under the gun to get my workout done and get back to work or off to dinner is not my idea of a worthwhile cool-down.
If you are purely exercising to achieve the absolute highest possible intensities during your workout, then the optimal time to exercise is in the afternoon or early evening.
That is just me. I am not trying to convince you all to become morning exercisers. On the contrary! If you are able to make afternoon/evening workouts work for you, then that is great. You actually have science on your side. But if you are like me, don’t sweat it.
Exercising in the Afternoon or Evening
As my friend reinforced during our dis-argument, if you are purely exercising to excel at a sport or if you really want to achieve the absolute highest possible intensities during your workout, then the optimal time to exercise is when your body temperature is at its highest and that is in the afternoon or early evening.
Our body temperature typically increases throughout the day and peaks in the late afternoon, so the theory is that our muscle strength and cardiovascular endurance also peaks in the late afternoon. There is also the added benefit that in the afternoon our reaction time is the fastest and our heart rate and blood pressure is at its highest. All of this combines to improve athletic performance and also potentially reduce the possibility of getting injured.
Working out in the evenings can increase your physical capacity, aerobic capacity, and strength output by between 8% - 30%.
In addition, research suggests that working out in the evenings can increase your physical capacity, aerobic capacity, and strength output by between 8% - 30%. Sprint capabilities have also been measured as being higher in the afternoon by four to five percent.
You probably know that testosterone is an important hormone for muscle growth and strength, for both men and women. While performing resistance training in the afternoon, your body produces more testosterone than it does during the same workout in the morning. And, the stress hormone known as cortisol, which has been linked to the storage and accumulation of fat and also the wasting of muscle, peaks in the morning and then gradually decreases throughout the day.
I take all of this to mean that the next time I miss that early morning swim or hill sprint session, I won’t beat myself up because if I can make it up after my workday is complete, I may even train harder.
There are a couple drawbacks with late-in-the-day workouts. Gyms and fitness centers generally get the most action between 5:00 and 8:00 pm and that can make it difficult to get the machine, weight bench, or class that you really want. Mid-mornings tend to see less traffic. There is usually a bump in gym-goers between 6:00 am and 8:00 am but these exercisers tend to be of the hit-it and run variety. Plus, in my own experience the folks who get out on the trails for their run or ride early in the morning tend to be of the friendlier variety as well. I am met with many "good mornings" at 7:00 am and many more steely gazes at 4:00 pm.