When’s The Best Time To Work Out: Morning, Noon Or Night?
If you leap out of bed with a spring in your step, have lots of energy first thing and feel super alert as the sun is rising, you may find it most beneficial to get your sweat on before 9am. There are lots of pros: you could burn more fat, boost your sleep and, best yet, get your workout done and dusted before those excuses can kick in.
Getting your body moving after noon also comes with plenty of perks, including peak performance, better reaction time and greater energy reserves. The perfect pick-me-up, an afternoon workout is also a great remedy for curing those end-of-the-day slumps.
Let’s not forget the joy of evening exercise. Your day is done and dusted, you’ve got energy to spare and you’re ready to blow off some steam. If this sounds like you, there are lots of positives to exercising at night, including more time spent in deep sleep, a more balanced brain and happier state of mind.
Read on to discover the benefits of exercising in the morning, noon and night – and how to find the best time to suit your body clock and lifestyle.
What is the best time of day to exercise?
We all have individual preferences for particular times of day. If you find it easy to wake and love getting an early night’s sleep, it’s likely you’re a “morning lark”, whereas if it feels more natural to rise late and stay up late, you’re probably a “night owl”. Larks feel most alert early on and find their performance peaks before midday. Owls, on the other hand, may find it harder to get going in the morning but have more energy as the day goes on.
This preference is influenced by your body's circadian rhythm, also known as your body clock. Not everyone’s body clock is shifted in one direction or the other, but if you find your energy levels are too depleted for evening exercise or mornings are a huge struggle, it might be worth listening to your clock to find your sweet spot. Your body clock also influences other processes that play a role in priming your body for exercise, like your heart rate, hormone levels, blood pressure and body temperature.
Different times of day all come with different benefits, but most important is finding a time of day that works for you. and building healthy habits that make your body feel good.
The benefits of morning exercise
Love the idea of getting your workout done and dusted while everyone else snoozes? Give a morning workout a whirl and you’ll reap the benefits of plenty of feel-good endorphins.
Early birds may burn more fat
Exercising on an empty stomach may help you burn more fat than exercising after a meal. This is called fasted cardio and can help shift stubborn fat by encouraging the body to utilise existing fat stores rather than use the food you just ate as fuel.
It’s important to note that most people achieve a fasted state within 4-6 hours of their last meal, so exercising in the morning isn’t a prerequisite, but you may find it’s a far more attainable feat first thing in the morning than after a full day of eating.
You don’t need to do a vigorous workout to reap the benefits of fasted cardio, either. Any moderate exercise like cycling, walking or jogging will do the trick, just as long as you keep your heart rate above 50% of your maximum and go at a steady pace.
Morning exercise could have a positive effect on your body clock
A 2019 study by Arizona State University in the US and published in the Journal of Physiology has found that exercising first thing could actually help shift your body clock earlier.
The research found that morning exercise may help shift your circadian rhythm so your body feels more alert in the morning and more sleepy at night.
Exercising in the morning can also improve the quality of your sleep. A 2014 study by Appalachian State University in the US, published in Vascular Health and Risk Management, found that people who did aerobic exercise at 7am spent more time in the deep sleep cycle – which is the most restorative sleep phase – than those who did cardio at 1 or 7 pm.
Yes, waking up early may be a huge struggle at first, but think about how good it will feel when morning exercise becomes second nature and you stop hitting that snooze button.
You’ll get your workout out of the way
Ever had the best of intentions to exercise after work only to have extra duties pile up? Or get stuck in traffic, or simply feel exhausted at the end of a long day?
When you prioritise exercise in the morning, there’s far less room for excuses because all those other time pressures haven’t had time to interfere. Your day isn’t running at full speed yet, so there are no conflicts with other responsibilities or distractions getting in your way.
Plus, the satisfaction of smashing your workout while you could have been snoozing will flood your brain with enough feel-good endorphins to keep you buzzing all day.
The benefits of afternoon workouts
When the afternoon rolls around, your body is perfectly primed for exercise: your muscles are warm, your body is fueled and your reaction time is on point. Here are three great reasons to give afternoon workouts a go.
Performance tends to peak in the afternoon
Schedule your workout between midday and 4pm and you may find you have more energy to squat, jump, lift and stretch.
A 2010 study by ASPETAR Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Hospital in Qatar, published in Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, found that most people perform physically better later on in the day. This is linked to your body’s internal temperature, which peaks at around 2pm to 6pm. The study showed that as your body’s temperature rises, your muscle function and strength increases, along with enzyme activity and endurance levels.
Exercising when your body temperature is warmer also has practical benefits: a cold body means stiffer muscles that are more susceptible to strains, while a warmer body means you’ll be able to get into the groove faster. (You’ll still need to warm up though!)
Your reaction time might be better
If your exercise style of choice is high-intensity training (HIIT), team sports, running, cycling or anything that requires a decent amount of coordination, you may find an afternoon workout helps you move with more skill and strategy.
That’s because in the afternoon and early evening, our reaction times tend to be better and our heart rate and blood pressure are at their lowest. This winning combination means you’ll think and move faster, plus decrease your overall chance of injury.
You’ve got more natural energy to burn
If you love the idea of a morning workout but feel like you end up going through the motions still half-asleep, you may want to switch things up to the afternoon.
Our energy levels tend to peak around midday and continue at a high until 6pm, mainly due to higher testosterone levels. Our bodies are also well-fueled at this stage in the day and filled with key nutrients that we need for optimum performance. Plus, every time we eat our blood sugar levels rise, and this boost of glucose is exactly what our bodies need to work at high intensity.
Timing your midday meal is important though. You definitely don’t want to work out immediately after you’ve had a big lunch, as intense exercise can slow your digestion. If you do need to eat before working out, choose something light and finish eating at least 45 minutes before you get moving.
The benefits of evening workouts
Need to let off steam after a stressful day? An evening sweat fest not only boosts mental health, it can also help our bodies spend more time in blissful deep sleep.
Working out before bed could help boost sleep quality
It’s often thought that exercising at night is detrimental to good sleeping habits, but research has shown that working out in the evening could actually help improve the quality of your sleep.
A 2018 meta-analysis of sleep studies by the Institute of Human Movement Sciences and Sport at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, found that exercising in the evening increased the amount of time the body spends in deep sleep, which is the most restorative sleep phase.
The researchers looked at 23 studies that compared the sleep quality in adults who worked out in the evening compared to those who did not, and found that exercising later in the day helped people spend more time in that wonderful deep sleep state.
Timing is important, though: the study also showed that those who did high-intensity exercise less than one hour before bed took longer to fall asleep, so make sure you finish your workout at least 2-3 hours before hitting the sack.
It’s a great way to blow off steam
Need a safe outlet to get rid of stress that’s been building up throughout the day?
Exercise is always a fantastic way to blow off steam but it’s particularly effective at the end of the day when you’ve got 12 hours of worries sitting on your shoulders.
The satisfaction of pushing through a tough routine, scoring that goal or hitting a personal best will release a flood of feel-good brain chemicals – otherwise known as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine – that will reduce your stress levels, lower your blood pressure and release positive hormones into your bloodstream.
After you’ve blitzed through your evening workout, you might even find that stuff that worried you that morning no longer seems like a big deal.
Evening exercise may help to reduce hunger
A small 2019 study by Charles Sturt University, Australia, published in Experimental Physiology, found that doing high-intensity exercise in the early evening was associated with greater reductions of the hunger-stimulating hormone, ghrelin.
Produced in the gut, ghrelin travels through your bloodstream and to your brain, where it encourages the brain to seek out food. Ghrelin’s main function is to stimulate appetite, but it can also affect our sleep cycle and metabolism.
It’s important to note that the study didn’t link a single session of exercise to reduced hunger, only that the observations supported evening exercise as a viable time of day to work out. The researchers also acknowledged that more research is needed to validate these claims.
Exercising any time of day has long-term brain benefits
Whatever time of day you choose to work out, you can sweat happily knowing you’re doing your mind just as much good as your body.
When you exercise and your heart rate increases, your brain initially thinks you’re under attack and prepares itself to fight or flee. To protect your brain from this stress, you start to release a protein called BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which works to protect and repair your brain cells. BDNF also helps us with decision making, higher thinking, and learning.
Aerobic exercise also helps us stay sharp as we age, according to a 2017 study led by researchers at Western Sydney University, Australia and published in NeuroImage. They looked at the effect of exercise on our hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning), and found that working out significantly improves memory function as we age.
It’s important to find your own best time to exercise
Whether you exercise morning, noon or night, the benefits of regular exercise are indisputable: increased stamina and strength, better blood pressure, healthier bones, improved sleep and plenty of happy hormones to keep your brain at its best.
More important than choosing the right time of day based on science is finding a time that works best for you, your body and your lifestyle. After all, it’s no use forcing yourself to exercise in the morning if you're sleepwalking through the movements or attempting an afternoon workout if you’re stressed about getting back to work on time.
The best time to get your body moving is whatever time works for YOU. This could be a regular routine or it could be a mix of morning, noon and night workouts depending on your schedule, health and mood.
What’s your favourite time to work out? Let us know in the comments below.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.