Should you work out in the morning or evening? (3-4 minutes read)
Heading to the gym is almost a regular part of our week once again as we near April 12th and the easing of lockdown restrictions. For most, this will mean adjusting the routine we’ve been in for the last few months to factor a workout session in. This begs the question, 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. There are pro’s and cons to both from a scientific standpoint and also from personal experience.
Training in the morning
1. It can be easier to be consistent
Your plans are likely 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.
2. It sets you up for the day
This can lean more into the personal preference space but getting your training done early sets many 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. You often find yourself making better choices, all contributing to a happier and healthier lifestyle.
3. It is the most time-efficient time of day to train
In many cases, the gym tends to be quieter in the morning than in the evening. There’s no waiting around for the equipment you want to use and you can get through your workout quickly. There’s also far less chatting because if your friends go to the same gym, a lot of them will still be in bed. This means you might be able to finish the same workout in much less time in the morning than in the evening, simply because by less chatting in-between sets and less time waiting for kit to become available. If time is of the essence you may want to try training in the morning.
Training in the evening
1. You might 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.
2. It makes it easier to stay on track with your diet in the evening
Towards the end of the many of us start craving something sweet and in fact, research into food preferences has shown that most people tend to stay on track 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 willpower 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 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.
3. 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 gurus advise doing the most important task of the day first thing. You’ll also be more productive in the mornings because there are fewer distractions. The rest of the world is still asleep so there’s likely to be fewer bleeps from the telephone that tends to dictate our days!
What is the best time to train for you?
As for anything in diet and training, what matters most is consistency. Try exercising at different times over the next few weeks as your schedule changes. 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. Often it’s simply a case of trial and error. There is no right or wrong, it’s what works for you.