What is the best time of day to exercise?
For most people, deciding when to go to the gym isn’t a case of weighing up the best health benefits, but a case of fitting it in around all our other schedule commitments – work, socialising, sleeping. But is this the best way to do it?
Banafsheh Hassanzadeh, personal trainer and instructor at Ride Republic, tells HuffPost UK: “The best time to work out is the time you can stick to. The time you know you can make it to the gym without making excuses, without having to cancel, and without being too tired to perform at your best.”
And Carly Rowena, fitness blogger and personal trainer, agrees that when you exercise should foremost be a personal preference based on your knowledge of your body and lifestyle, rather than a specific time for everyone.
“You want to look at moving when you have your most amount of energy,” she says, adding: “You’ll be destined to get better results.”
If morning or evening exercise doesn’t suit you, consider squeezing in a quick run, HIIT session or yoga class on your lunch break. Do your research, there might be a nice park to run around or a local gym, some even offer shorter classes at lunch time, which enable members to workout around their own schedule.
So there is no science to support one or the other?
Jonathan Taylor, Deputy Head of Education at Ultimate Performance Fitness and senior personal trainer, says: “There is no conclusive evidence that shows there is a universal best time to train. It all comes down to the individual.
“There does not appear to be any significant difference in health benefits between training in the morning or at night.”
What are the benefits of a morning workout?
If you are still trying to decide whether to go in the morning or the evening, it might be worth considering the benefits of setting that alarm a little earlier.
“One of the reasons why people suggest getting it done in the morning is to avoid distractions getting in the way. From late nights in the office, to evening plans, and general weakening of willpower leading to skipped workouts in the evening. Getting it done early avoids over thinking your gym session for the rest of the day,” says Hassanzadeh.
Not only does this stop from shirking your gym routine when you get a better offer, but Hassanzadeh also says it can affect your sleep routine working out in the evening: “If you have difficulty getting to sleep at night you may prefer to do cardio workouts in the morning. The boost in temperature that comes with strenuous physical activity may make it more difficult to get to sleep.
“This will not apply to every individual so if you don’t have trouble getting to sleep there is really no need to change your routine.”
How do I properly fuel my morning workout?
Committed to getting up earlier but not sure what to put in your stomach to fuel your session? Hassanzadeh says: “Realistically, you’re probably not going to wake up early to eat a balanced breakfast before your 6.30am spin class.
“If you can’t stomach a full breakfast before your workout your best option is to have a small snack 30 minutes before and refuel properly after your session. It is okay to workout on an empty stomach if it works for you, it if doesn’t impact your performance, and if you don’t have low blood sugar levels.”
Rowena suggests a peanut butter sachet or a banana banana before you start and have overnight oats ready for once you have finished.
And what about coffee?
Rowena says: “Sometimes stimulants such as caffeine, pre-workouts or a mood-boosting snack can push you out of that energy slump. I always train without stimulants and believe its best to move when you are feeling your best.”
It’s the end of the day and you feel exhausted by work, not to mention someone just invited you to the pub; working out in the evening can also be fraught with potential distractions and excuses. But are there benefits to later in the day?
Hassanzadeh says: “This may give you longer to fuel your body for a tougher workout and can often be a great way to release stress after a particularly busy day.”
Taylor also says that not compromising on your sleep is essential.
“A lack of quality sleep can increase levels of stress hormone cortisol, when chronically elevated, this will lower levels of testosterone – an important hormone for both men and women – not to mention the effect fatigue can have on your appetite if you’re trying to adhere to a diet.
“So, if you’re sacrificing a few hours of extra sleep in order to get up at 5am and train, it may not be optimal to get you results with your fitness, unless you adjust your bedtime accordingly to allow for 7-9 hours of sleep.”
How do I properly fuel my evening workout?
After a whole day of eating and drinking, it can be hard to feel like you have properly fuelled for a gym session, compared to in the morning when you’re working with a clean slate.
Hassanzadeh says: “If you’re exercising after work either have a snack 30-60 minutes before you hit the gym or a balanced meal 2-3 hours prior. You want to make sure you have enough energy without feeling lethargic or nauseous. And of course drinking water before, during and after is very important.
“For my clients that train in the evening I usually ask them to have a higher carb based lunchtime meal and go home and cook their dinner after,” says Rowena.
So should I change the time I exercise?
Overall, is there enough of a reason to change the routine you already have? The experts say there is not “enough evidence to warrant changes” and there is science to back up both options.
Taylor says: “Unless you are an elite athlete, you need to be realistic and balance your training schedule with other life commitments to ensure that your training programme is sustainable and you can get week-to-week consistency.”
Another factor you might not have considered is how busy your gym is, only you know best. “If you know that your gym is going to be busy at a certain time, with queues for machines, no benches free or weights you need not available, it may be better to find a different time to train if possible,” says Taylor.