What Is The Best Time Of Day To Work Out?

When people think of hardcore athletes, the standard mental image is that of a lone figure rising before sunrise to crank out their workout. There’s just something about the early morning exercise session that feels right. And, for whatever reason, many people hold on to the idea that this is the best time to hit the gym.

Over the past few years, though, a deeper understanding of human anatomy and endocrinology has caused some to question this view. So…what’s going on? When is the best time off day to work out?

Morning Merits

First, let’s deal with the somewhat classical view–that which heralds the morning workout. Generally, there are several arguments that athletes in this camp use to support their stance, some of which are based in solid research. Other factors, however, are a little more subjective.

For the weight-conscious athletes out there, working out while fasting has been shown to offer a respectable metabolic boost–increasing your use of body fat by as much as 20 percent. Since you fast every night while you’re sleeping, the morning is a perfect time to capitalize on this somewhat unique metabolic state.  By contrast, it would be much more difficult to try to accomplish this later in the day after you’ve already broken that fast.

There is also some research to suggest that exercising after 8pm could disrupt sleep. Which, considering the fact that your workouts increase your heart rate and overall alertness, makes plenty of sense. Moving your workout to the AM, though, can have the opposite effect, improving the overall quality of your sleep.

Finally, many people feel that exercising first thing in the morning makes it easier for them to stick to this healthy routine. As the day progresses, a variety of demands on your time will pop up. Gradually, these can crowd out your workout plans. If you take care of your workout first thing in the morning, though, it has no competition. As a result, you can easily move on with your day.

The Argument For The Afternoon

As mentioned, though, there are two sides to this debate. Overall, the hormonal condition of your body in the afternoon does provide a pretty strong case for exercising later in the day.

Because of the natural circadian rhythms of your body, the window between about 2 and 4pm seems to be the peak time. During this period, your internal temperature peaks, increasing the range of motion and overall responsiveness of your muscles. At this time of day, key hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) are usually at relatively high levels, which can improve both your performance during the workout and your recovery after.

Sorting It Out

Frustratingly, then, both sides of this argument have pretty good evidence to support their point of view. So…what should you do?

In the end, the advantages associated with each time of day are relatively minor–especially if moving your workout to that time makes things difficult for you personally. The simple truth is this: the best time to work out is the time that you work out. Find a window that is comfortable for you, and stick with it.