Whether you’re setting your alarm for a 6 a.m. run or planning to squeeze in some post-work gym time, trying to be healthy and active during the day usually comes with one primary consideration: fitting a workout into your busy schedule. You’re not really concerned with when you work out, so long as you you actually do work out. Easy as that. Or is it?
The truth is, not all workout times are created equal. And while a hectic schedule might have you scrambling to fit in some exercise without having the luxury to worry about which time of day is optimal for physical activity, understanding how the time of day when you work out impacts your body could be a great way to optimize your performance and the benefits you reap from your exercise regimen.
Now, while the scientific community hardly has a unanimous opinion on the matter, a majority of trainers and fitness experts are in agreement that the best time of day to work out is… (wait for it) … in the morning. Apparently, fitting your workout into the a.m. hours makes for overall greater gains throughout your day.
“The very best time of day [to exercise] is first thing in the morning; specifically, within 2 hours of waking up,” says master certified personal trainer Danielle Girdano. “Not only will this give the body extra energy throughout the day, but also better sleep at night because your body will be ready to shut down. Other benefits include burning more fat calories throughout the day and better sleep. Plus, working out in the morning really sets a tone for the entire day as well as gifts better sleep.”
As for working out in the evening, one of the biggest drawbacks might be that doing any kind of intense exercise close to bedtime could mess around with your sleep cycle. “Optimal sleep requires the body to be at a lower temperature, so if you work out in the evening, your body temperature will be higher and you’ll have more energy and endorphins making it difficult to go to sleep,” says Dimitri Sonck, former world-class bodybuilder, personal trainer, and the owner of Dynamic Fitness Solutions. “[Meanwhile], morning workouts create better sleep, which allows you to wake up energized to work out again.”
Putting the science of optimal sweat schedules aside, the truth is that the best time to workout is the time that you are most likely to do it. In other words, trying to pick a workout time based on what’s best scientifically is all well and good, but if it starts deterring you from exercising altogether because it just doesn’t fit into your day, you were probably better off fitting it in whenever you have time and are most up to it.
“The simple rule of thumb in my opinion is work out when you feel the strongest or have the most energy,” says Craig Cristello, exercise physiologist at Well & Being. “Some people will just do better during different times of the day; just listen to your body and work out accordingly.” He adds that one of the most important things is also developing a habit, and that it’s important to pick a time of day to work out that is repeatable for you.