If you want to know the best time of day to exercise, it will ultimately depend on what your daily schedule looks like. For example, you may work outside of the home and have a lengthy commute? Or you may have children and need to be with them throughout the day. Your ability to exercise at a specific time of day may be challenging. The important thing is that you are exercising.
Best Time of Day to Exercise
To help you plan your workouts, we’ll look at the three most common types of exercise and the time of day that’s best for each.
Most Common Types of Exercise
While there are several types of exercise, they all fall under three basic categories.
- Cardiovascular aerobic: Cardio requires repetitive rhythmic exercise that raises your heart rate, requiring you to breathe in a lot of oxygen. And when done in high-intensity bursts, followed by short resting periods, you can meet your fitness friend: the afterburn effect.
- Strength or Resistance Training: The building and maintaining of muscles using ever-increasing weights or resistance.
- Stretching: You may be surprised to find this under exercises, but it is a vital part of a fitness program. Stretching limbers up the muscles before and after more strenuous exercise. It also improves flexibility (limiting injuries from lifting, for instance), increases circulation, reduces muscle tension, and helps improve your posture.
A fitness program utilizing all three types is sure to be a winning formula for you. Now, let’s look at the times of day to help determine which exercises you’ll want to do for each.
Your Body in the Morning, Afternoon, and Evening
Does your body have different chemistry at different times of the day? The short answer is No. However, your body clock, your natural blood pressure rising and falling, and small changes in your body’s temperature can affect which time of day is best for which type of exercise.
Let’s break this block down further into pre and post-breakfast. The reason is a little molecule friend of yours called glycogen. Glycogen is what your body breaks down from the glucose in the food you eat. Your body stores it in your muscles and liver and uses it for fuel, even when you sleep. So, if you eat dinner, go to bed, and wake up to exercise before breakfast, your glycogen tanks are low. By exercising before adding more glycogen your body turns to its second fuel source, fat.
If you eat breakfast before exercising (waiting about forty-five minutes or so afterward), your body will have refueled, giving you more strength and endurance for strenuous training.
Our body clocks are greatly affected by light, and light is most prevalent during the afternoon. You also probably have had one or two small meals by the afternoon, which gives you enough energy to workout. One study found that you burn about ten percent more calories in the afternoon than in the morning or evening without even working out. It’s all based on our circadian rhythms — sleep and wake cycles.
What about working out late in the day? Working out pushes your body clock forward, but studies have shown that sleep isn’t affected very much. Working out in the evening may help you lose weight due to the reduction in the release of the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin.
What is Your Fitness Goal?
The best time of day for you to exercise will depend a lot upon your overall fitness goals. Someone wanting to lose twenty pounds fast isn’t too concerned about weight-lifting at 3 pm. And the person who wants to increase muscle bulk isn’t going running before having pancakes.
If your fitness goal is to lose weight, you will want to concentrate on cardiovascular aerobic and anaerobic routines. Why both? Again, studies have shown that high-intensity exercise interrupted by short periods of rest burns the most fat.
The reason is you will not be able to take in enough oxygen to meet your body’s demands while in the high-intensity phase. This lack of oxygen will cause your body to rely on fat alone for energy. When you take a short rest, your body will keep burning calories to restore and repair.
It is the coupling of high-intensity / rest-period exercising that leads to your body benefitting from the afterburn effect — your body restoring and repairing for hours after you’ve finished your routine.
Since you will be low on usable glycogen first thing in the morning, it makes sense to do your weight-loss program then. Don’t eat before you exercise (unless a medical condition exists or you are training for a high-endurance event, such as marathon-training).
If your fitness goal is to build muscle bulk, then you’ll concentrate on weights and resistance. You’ll add more and more weight or increasing resistance as you get stronger. You are not as concerned with losing weight as gaining it — in the form of more muscle mass.
Your body temperature is highest in the afternoons, giving you a natural pre-game warmup. Even your ability to accept pain is at its peak in the afternoons, meaning you can push harder and go longer in sporting events.
Muscle doesn’t weigh more than fat. Sorry to destroy old myths, but it is denser, so it takes up less space in the body for the same number of pounds.
So when is the best time of day to strength-train? The afternoons or evenings will be best because you’ll have a full tank of glycogen from which to draw. Your lungs function 17.6% more efficiently at 5 pm than they do in the morning. You will also be at the least risk of injury due to flexibility from daily activities. Afternoon exercise can even help you sleep better.
Stretching and Flexibility Training
Although stretching should ALWAYS be a part of your fitness routine to help avoid injuries, is there a best time for it? There is, believe it or not. The reason? Balance. Your ability to balance is greatest in the morning.
But perhaps the best reason for doing an evening stretching routine is the drop in blood pressure and the relaxation and calm your body will receive. Yoga and other forms of stretching exercises improve your ability to ‘detox’ after a tough day.
Evening stretching exercises not only help you reach a calming state; they increase your musculoskeletal flexibility and induce sleep biorhythms. Your body will thank you in the morning.
Where Do You Go Now?
You read this far. Great job! And hopefully, you learned a few tips along the way that will help you discover the best exercises, the best time of day, and the best way to reach your fitness goals. The most important thing to remember is that exercise will be beneficial no matter when you do it. But there are optimal times for each type.
Find what works for you. Only you know your schedule. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t do a specific type at a particular time of day. The above-mentioned are for your education and as a guide to help you along your fitness journey. Use them to your best benefit. And remember to enjoy whatever way you choose to workout.
Read more: Beginners Guide To Running