Everybody has a different view on when is the most beneficial time to exercise. Many would tell you to exercise first thing in the morning before breakfast because you’ll burn more fat. Others claim it’s better to train in the afternoon or evening because that’s when you are at your strongest. I personally exercise better in the evenings as this is when I feel I get the most out of my training sessions.
Basically, there are positives to training at any given time in the day. Studies show that the best time of day to work out depends greatly on the person in question, your goals and the type of exercise you’re doing whether it be strength, endurance, cardio etc. Most studies find strength is at a low point in the morning and gradually climbs until it tops out in the early evening. So, if your training involves a lot of strength or power-based exercises, chances are you’ll perform a little better if you hit the gym after work.
But this doesn’t apply to all forms of exercise. Performance during low-intensity steady-state cardiovascular exercise such as walking, swimming or cycling isn’t affected by the time of day. And some research has also found that exercise in a fasted state (before breakfast) leads to a small increase in the amount of fat being burned. That’s because blood sugar, insulin and glycogen levels are all lower than normal after an overnight fast.
Something else you’ll need to consider is your chronotype. A chronotype is your own personal body clock that controls your bodies rhythms and is the reason you are grumpier in the morning or get more out of yourself later in the day. So, if you are a “lark” you are an early riser and may benefit from training early, if you are a “owl” you rise late so are likely to train better in the evening.
The exception to the rule
If you have a job that is particularly stressful, it may be better to train during lunch than after work. Mental stress, such as very high responsibility or long commuting and physical stress, such as manual labour, can take its toll on the body. The fatigue from work may then offset the benefits of the optimal physical state later in the day. At least one study shows that in shift workers peak performance occurs before work, followed by lunch, followed by after work. So, if your work is particularly fatiguing, it may be best to schedule all your training sessions before work or during lunch. Note that this particularly holds for physical fatigue, not necessarily mental fatigue.
So, the answer to “When is the best time to exercise” is down to whatever works best for you and when you can maximise your performance in the gym. To find this out, it is worth trialing different times in the week when following your day to day nutrition plan to see when you perform best.
- When your glycogen stores are full. Best for boosting aerobic performance, especially endurance. Best time: Late morning, afternoon, and early evening.
- When your stomach is empty. Best for burning fat and losing weight.
- When your body temperature peaks. Best for: Building strength.
- Your Chronotype. Could dictate whether you will train better in the morning or the evening.