If you’ve been struggling to make it to the gym, or lately you’re just not pumping out the same number of reps, the culprit may be the time of day you’re exercising. Research shows that there is indeed an optimal time in the day you want to workout. But will it be the best for you? Well, let’s look at the pros and cons of whether you should be working out in the morning, afternoon, or night.
If you’re looking for extra energy throughout the day or a push to get you to the gym, then you’ll want to workout in the morning.
You’re not alone in wondering when it’s the best time to workout. There is countless research on the topic, and the majority of them support morning workouts. There are good reasons morning workouts are the best too as they set your day up right — after you solve one problem that is.
The biggest challenge with morning workouts is getting in a good breakfast beforehand because your body isn’t fully awake yet. To remedy that issue, make sure eat fast absorbing proteins like meats or eggs and high GI index carbs like whole grain toast or oatmeal.
If you’re going big and lifting heavy weights or bulking, make sure to follow your workout up with a second mini-breakfast that focuses on casein protein and Low GI carbs to replenish glycogen levels. 1% chocolate milk is a perfect post-workout drink.
With a pre and post-workout-catered breakfast delivering essential nutrients to your muscles, you have the advantage of knocking out the biggest weights compared to any other time of the day — with plenty of time to recover. Being able to lift heaviest in the morning may sound odd, but think about it. Unlike in the afternoon or evening, you haven’t used your muscles a lot yet, and if you work manual labor, your muscles may already be too depleted when trying to workout post-morning.
By promoting a healthier breakfast, giving you extra energy, and boosting your metabolization — burning more calories throughout the day — morning workouts is the preferred time of day to work out.
But not everyone responds well to morning workouts, and the last thing you want is to hurt your consistency to go to the gym by forcing yourself to workout when it’s not right for you.
Working out in the afternoon
Sometimes no matter how big of a breakfast we had, we just can’t get to our max potential when working out in the morning. For most people, they will find their strength and endurance is best in the afternoon. As well, our body temperature is at its lowest, and this offers improvements across all workouts.
Afternoon exercising is nice because you don’t have to prep the body like you would in the morning. You will likely have already eaten once or twice, your muscles are already stretched and flexible, you’re awake and alert, and protein synthesis is peaking. In fact, a study by the Clinical Research Center of the University of Chicago found that on average those that worked out later in the day worked out harder.
Night workouts are a mixed bag, and the results can go in polar opposite directions.
First, working out stimulates the body, and for most people, this wakes them up. Working out is great for improving sleep, but in most cases that sleep takes several hours after you’ve exercised. However, sometimes you’ll find yourself with too much energy at the end of the day. Instead of tossing and turning in bed, knock out some pushups or squats to help deplete stored-up energy.
Second, it’s so easy to not be consistent when trying to work out at night. Life, work, friends, alcohol, etc. are all things you’ll fight against if you plan to workout only at night. However, have you ever been to the gym late at night? It’s fantastic as no one is there and you’re left with a gym full of thousands of dollars of equipment all to yourself.
What Time Of The Day Should You Workout?
Only you know that question but don’t worry we’ll finish this article with questions you can ask yourself that will guide you in making an easy decision. All in all, you want to give morning workouts a shot because if you prep right, you set yourself up for a fantastic day. You can optimize morning workouts by eating meals before and after, having a consistent warm-up routine, and doing cardio before weights.
But don’t stress out if mornings don’t work for you. For each of these next questions, ask yourself what time of the day you feel you can do these the best.
- When do you have your first substantial meal of the day?
- How long does it take you to feel fully woken up?
- Is your main goal cardio (morning) or weightlifting (afternoon)?
- How comfortable are you with a busy gym? Afternoon/evenings (worst), mornings (bad), last nights (best).
- How tiring and/or physical is your job?
- Do you like going out at night / when does your social life take place?
- If you’re looking to exercise for more than an hour, will it help if you broke it up into chunks?
Personally, I prefer working out in the early afternoon. If I can achieve the elusive morning workout, I will, but I’ve never been good about eating breakfast. In the mornings, I have to prep to the point where it’s a chore, and that ultimately hurts my consistency. Now if I’m in a phase where I like working out or am bulking, the morning prep work helps prepare and focus my mind for the big workout.
However, the average person just wants to hit the gym a few times a week to keep up their health. Prep work can kill that so judge how your body feels. You likely want to avoid heavy late-night workouts, but I find that a 5-10 minute compound exercise session is great for fully depleted energy levels for better sleep. And according to one study this may be close to an optimal workout session.
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