The days are getting shorter again and if you’re a morning gym go-er you might start to struggle with the early alarm. What is the optimal time to train? Is it in the morning or is it the evening?
The answer is simply down to the individual as it highly depends on your schedule and preferences. Some people swear they can only do morning workouts and to others a morning run is their idea of hell. I have done both, even though I used to be part of the latter category of people. There are pro’s and cons to both from a scientific standpoint and also from personal experience. Here’s a bit more about what I’ve learned about getting your sweat done, be it am or pm:
Training in the morning..
- Because it’s easier to be consistent
Your plans are not going to change at 6AM but they may change at 6PM. If you train in the evening, there is always a potential plan B. Your colleague might invite you for a drink or you may be tired from work and spot your favourite show is starting a new season. It’s really easy to cancel your gym session and go with plan B when evening comes, but these chances are pretty much zero in the morning. The only real competition is staying in bed a little longer. Unless you don’t have a social life or a TV, for the sake of consistency mornings are probably best. This also allows you to be social after work because your workout is done for the day. If working out is not part of your current daily routine, I’d recommend working out in the morning.
- Because it sets me up for the day
This is more a personal preference but I find getting my training done at the early sets me up for the day ahead. We all know that buzz you get after a good workout and research has shown that exercising has a positive effect on mental performance. Getting your workout done in the morning is like a mental tick off your “to-do list” which boosts your productivity for other tasks of your day.
For me, running outside before the rest of London wakes up has a relaxing effect and allows me to clear my head, as it seems to be the only time that the city is quiet(ish). Running outside in the evening isn’t quite the same because you need to be alert constantly and focus on not running into the many others crowding the streets. If outdoor cardio training is your thing mornings are the time to do it.
- Because it is the most time-efficient time of day to train
I am not sure if there’s any research on this one but after working in a gym for 4 years and training consistently for longer, in my experience the gym tends to be quieter in the morning than in the evening. There’s no waiting around for equipment you want to use and you can get through your workout quickly. There’s also a lot less chatting because if your friends go to the same gym, most of them will still be in bed. Mine are anyway, maybe yours are all morning gym rats. I always found that I was able to finish the same workout much quicker in the morning than in the evening, simply because I wasn’t waiting around or chatting on breaks between sets. If time is of the essence you may want to try training in the morning.
Training in the evening…
- Because you will get better gains
Your performance is most likely best in the evening because this is the best time to train according to your circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm can be described as our “biological clock” that tells our bodies when it’s time to sleep and eat by regulating hormone production, body temperature and blood pressure for example. The optimal body temperature for resistance training is reached in the late afternoon/early evening between 14:30 and 20:30. However, this assumes you’re having a normal sleep-wake rhythm. If you don’t sleep during nighttime (midnight to 8ish) because you work shifts for example, it is advised to wait at least 6 hours after waking up to train. The effect isn’t as strong for endurance based activities, so things like running and cycling, these tend to be less affected by the circadian rhythm. If your goal is to gain muscle and have a normal sleep-wake rhythm, you may want to train in the evenings.
- It makes it easier to stay on track with your diet in the evening
Staying on track with my diet I found easy in the morning and during daytime. Towards the end of the day I start craving something sweet and it turns out I’m not the only one. Research into food preferences has shown that most people tend to be quite good with their diet in the mornings and early part of the day craving fruits, having yoghurt for breakfast and a healthy lunch but develop a strong preference for snack foods later in the day and after 8PM. Combined with the fact that for most people their will power is lowest at the end of the day it’s probably best not to spend this time at home surrounded by full cupboards. If you train in the morning, you’ll likely be at home in the evening, maybe you’re watching your favourite show and because you’ve trained this morning you feel like you can have a square of chocolate or 2, and before you know it you’ve finished the complete bar (because who is able to eat just 2 squares?).
Now I’m not saying this is always a bad thing but it does become a problem if this is a nightly occurrence and you’re chasing a fat loss goal. Training in the evening eliminates this problem. If you train in the evening you keep yourself occupied and you’ll be tired by the time you get home. If you have your meals prepped you can literally just have dinner and roll into bed which is what I tend to do. Maybe you are one of the rare species that has no problem with not snacking in the evenings, but if you do, you might be better off spending your evenings in the gym.
- It allows you to be productive in the morning
If you work a regular 9 to 5 job training in the evenings frees up time in the morning to work on your own things. It gives you time to finally read that book, meditate or do anything else that you’ve been putting off due to simply not having the spare time. . Time after work is often not used as efficiently because you’ll be tired from work, more mentally than physically, and it can be difficult to focus. In the morning your brain is still fresh after a good night’s sleep. There’s a reason multiple productivity guru’s advise doing the most important task of the day first thing. You’ll also be more productive in the mornings because there are less distractions. The rest of the world is still asleep so there’s likely to be less bleeps from the telephone that tends to depict our days!
What is the best time to train for you?
I prefer to work with my head in the morning and get physical in the evening. I am currently working on my PT course in the mornings or sometimes I go for a run. I train mostly with weights and because I feel stronger in the evenings too, this is my preferred gym time. It works with my current schedule as I have a 9 to 5 job at the FFF office. Downsides are that my sessions at the gym are long because I have to train during rush hour and I sometimes spend far too much time chatting, but this is what works for me.
As for anything in diet and training, what matters most is consistency. I have pointed out some benefits and personal experiences surrounding different training times to help you decide how to create healthier habits for yourself. Recognise within the points I have made and try different times during the week. Next up notice how you feel, do you actually feel stronger in the evenings? Is there really no way you can get yourself out of bed at 6? What science says isn’t always what’s most practical for people. If you do not have the time to workout in the evening, a morning workout is still better than no workout. Often it’s simply a case of trial and error.