The Science of Exercise Timing: When Is the Best Time of Day to Work Out?
I get asked this a lot. Especially by new members trying to find the optimal time to set up their training routine around. We’ve all been there, pondering the ideal time of day to hit the gym, lace up those running shoes, or roll out the yoga mat. Is there really a “best” time for exercise? Well, let’s dive into the science to uncover the secrets of exercise timing and discover when your body may be most primed for a workout.
The Circadian Rhythm: Your Body’s 24-Hour Clock
First things first, let’s talk about the circadian rhythm. This internal biological clock regulates various bodily functions, including body temperature, hormone release, and sleep-wake cycles, over a 24-hour period. It plays a crucial role in determining when you might feel most alert, energetic, and, yes, ready to work out.
Morning Workouts: The Benefits of an Early Start
Early birds, this is your moment to shine! Morning workouts have several science-backed advantages:
- Boost in Mood and Energy: Your body’s core temperature is naturally lower during sleep, and exercise can help raise it. Morning workouts can give you an energy boost and increase alertness, setting a positive tone for the day.
- Consistency: Morning workouts are often less susceptible to scheduling conflicts and distractions. You’re less likely to miss a workout due to unexpected work meetings or social engagements.
- Improved Fat Burn: Some studies suggest that exercising in a fasted state, like in the morning before breakfast, may enhance fat burning.
- Better Sleep: Regular morning exercise can improve sleep quality by helping regulate your circadian rhythm.
Afternoon Workouts: Hitting the Sweet Spot
The afternoon presents a compelling case for exercise timing, too. Here’s why it can be a sweet spot for your workouts:
- Warmer Body Temperature: As your body temperature naturally rises throughout the day, your muscles and joints become more flexible, reducing the risk of injury.
- Increased Strength: Studies indicate that strength and endurance levels peak in the afternoon, allowing you to perform at your best.
- Improved Performance: Reaction time, coordination, and lung function are often at their best in the afternoon, making it an optimal time for high-intensity workouts.
- Lower Perceived Effort: You might perceive your workout as easier in the afternoon due to your body’s peak performance capabilities, which can motivate you to push harder.
Evening Workouts: Unwinding with Exercise
For night owls or those with packed daytime schedules, evening workouts offer their own set of benefits:
- Muscular Strength and Flexibility: Your muscles are warmed up, making it an ideal time for activities that require flexibility and strength.
- Stress Relief: Evening workouts can be an excellent stress-reliever, helping you unwind and sleep better.
- Better Physical Performance: Some studies suggest that your cardiovascular system functions at its peak during the late afternoon and evening, potentially leading to improved physical performance.
- Social Interaction: Evening workouts can be a great way to socialize and connect with others, especially in group exercise classes or team sports.
What the Science Says About Workouts Vs Time of Day
The science of exercise timing goes beyond anecdotal experiences. Research has delved into the effects of exercise at different times of the day, shedding light on the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Cortisol and Exercise Timing
Cortisol, often dubbed the “stress hormone,” follows a daily pattern with its peak in the early morning. Exercise can further elevate cortisol levels. While this might sound like a reason to avoid morning workouts, it’s important to note that this elevation is natural and can be beneficial.
Morning exercise triggers an acute rise in cortisol, which can actually enhance alertness and focus. This temporary increase can also help mobilize fat stores for energy. As the day progresses, cortisol levels drop, allowing your body to relax and recover.
Testosterone and Muscle Building
Testosterone, the hormone crucial for muscle growth and repair, also follows a circadian rhythm. It peaks in the morning, making this time ideal for muscle-building workouts. However, it’s important to note that the effects of testosterone fluctuations are relatively subtle, and consistent exercise over time is key for muscle growth.
Body Temperature and Flexibility
One of the most prominent factors influencing exercise timing is your body temperature. Your body temperature is lower in the morning and gradually rises throughout the day. This temperature increase improves muscle flexibility and reduces the risk of injury, making the afternoon an optimal time for intense workouts.
Tailoring Your Workout to Your Body
The key takeaway from the science of exercise timing is that the best time to work out ultimately depends on your individual preferences, schedule, and goals. Whether you’re a morning person, an afternoon enthusiast, or an evening exerciser, consistency is the most critical factor.
Here are some tips for tailoring your workout timing to your body:
- Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to when you feel most energetic and alert. Your body’s natural cues can guide you toward the right time to work out.
- Experiment: Try working out at different times of the day and see how your body responds. You might find that you perform better or enjoy your workouts more at a specific time.
- Schedule Consistency: Whatever time you choose, aim for consistency. Regular exercise is more important than the specific time of day.
- Quality Over Timing: The benefits of exercise are vast, regardless of when you choose to work out. Focus on the quality of your workouts, and you’ll see progress.
- Consider Your Goals: If you have specific fitness goals, such as muscle building, you might want to align your workouts with the corresponding hormonal peaks. However, remember that consistent effort over time matters more than daily hormonal fluctuations.
The Verdict: Timing of Exercise Matters, But Consistency Is Key
The science of exercise timing reveals that there are advantages to working out at different times of the day. Morning workouts can boost mood and energy, while afternoon sessions can capitalise on enhanced strength and flexibility. Evening workouts provide stress relief and social interaction.
However, the most crucial factor is consistency. The best time to work out is the time that suits your schedule, preferences, and lifestyle. Whether you’re a sunrise warrior, a lunch-break gym-goer, or a night owl at the gym, regular exercise is the key to reaping the countless benefits of physical activity.
So, go ahead and embrace the time that works best for you. Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, regardless of the hour on the clock.
It is clear after 20 years in this business that our members overwhelmingly prefer to train in the morning. We’re consistently always busier then. But my advice will remain, there is when you will be able to train at your peak, when will suit your training goals, your circadian rhythym etc but the most important factor to consider is adherence to your plan.
Consistency is King!
Find your rhythm, be consistent, and enjoy the journey of becoming a healthier, happier you.