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Should You Exercise in the Morning, Afternoon, or Evening?

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?

By
Brock Armstrong
8-minute read
Episode #396
The Quick And Dirty
  • Body temperature peaks in the afternoon, which means that you can do hard workouts even harder later in the day.
  • Protein synthesis also peaks later in the day, which means that you could maximize your body’s ability to recover.
  • A recent research study found that your body could actually adapt to any regular workout times.
  • So, if you are stressed or inconsistent in getting your workouts done in the afternoon, don't let perfect be the enemy of good.

Morning Exercise

So, it seems like a slam dunk for the afternoon and evening exercisers. Should we just stop there? Not so fast!

If you get out there early, you can do things like increase your post-exercise oxygen deficit and calorie-burning rate for the rest of the day.

If you get out there early and jump-start your metabolism and increase your body’s core temperature early in the day, you can do things like increase your post-exercise oxygen deficit and calorie-burning rate for the rest of the day. The science on this is unclear and torn but many trainers and coaches swear that if you are trying to lose weight, a morning session is going to get you more bang for your crack-of-dawn buck.

Interestingly, because exercise can increase your heart rate and your body temperature, if you work out too late in the evening (after 8:00 pm) you have the potential to disrupt sleep. One study showed that working out at 7:00 am, when compared to 1:00 pm or 7:00 pm, could help you sleep better that night.

Psychologically speaking, you may be more likely to exercise in the morning, instead of after a hard day of work. At the end of the day, your mind and body are tired and that can lead to things like lowered willpower. At the end of the day, you are also more likely to have other duties to fulfill with family or friends. At that point it really doesn't matter if you're able to exercise with higher intensity and larger hormone boosts in the afternoon if you don’t get a chance to do it.

If you work out too late in the evening (after 8:00 pm) you have the potential to disrupt sleep.

Finally, one study that measured the neural response to pictures of food after exercise found that 45 minutes of moderate morning exercise helped to suppress the volunteer’s appetites immediately after working out.

Research also showed that people can burn up to 20 percent more body fat exercising on an empty stomach, which is much easier to do in the morning than at any other time of the day. But as the Nutrition Diva pointed out in her article on the best time to exercise: “Exercising on an empty stomach may increase the amount of body fat you burn during exercise. But your body alternately makes and burns body fat all day long, transferring fuel in and out of its various accounts. So, you might burn a bit more fat while you’re exercising on an empty stomach but then burn a bit less fat later in the day. Over the long term, the amount of fat you have in your body depends mostly on how many calories you take in versus how many calories you burn.”

Exercising at Noon

When I worked in an office building that had a gym in the basement, this was a no-brainer for me. Sure, I still usually got up and did some sort of movement first thing in the morning (because that is how I roll) but I saved my heavy lifting for my noon workout. And for some people, lunchtime really is the best time to exercise, especially if you have some co-workers to keep you company and to keep you accountable.

I am sure I don’t need to say this but just in case, eat after you work out, not before. If you eat before, not only is it uncomfortable, but the blood that you want to go to your muscles is going to go to to your digestive tract instead. If you need some fuel for the workout, make it a light snack and eat it at least 30-45 minutes before you hit the office gym.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.