Since you already know you need to be active, the next question is when is the best time to work out?

This article will look to answer that question in regards to the best time of day to workout and if training at specific times is better than others.

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Table of Contents

  1. What Are the Benefits That Come from Working Out?
  2. Is It Best to Workout in the Morning or Night?
  3. What Is the Best Time of Day to Exercise?
  4. Is It Better to Exercise on an Empty Stomach?
  5. Is It Bad to Exercise Before Bed?
  6. Bottom Line

What Are the Benefits That Come from Working Out?

If you’ve been committed to the same workout routine for a while, you may forget why you were even doing it in the first place. Looking good is usually at the top of everyone’s list, and that’s still a valid reason. But here’s a quick refresher on just SOME of the many benefits that come from keeping your body active:

  • Improved lean muscle mass
  • Decreased body fat
  • Stronger bones
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Better insulin sensitivity
  • Natural hormone production such as testosterone and human growth hormone that contribute to anti-aging
  • Stress relief
  • Improved creativity
  • Better sleep each night
  • Combats depression

Honestly, this list could go on for a while, but you can see how beneficial even just a few of these things can be to your overall health and wellness. So with this in mind, let’s take a look at the question of when is the best time to work out.

Is It Best to Workout in the Morning or Night?

If you’re a morning person, this can be an easy decision as you are probably already working out first thing. If you’re not a morning person, you may want to start considering it. Working out in the morning is not just a good way to get you up and running for the day, but it can have some benefits for the very end of the day. When you get active first thing, your circadian rhythm becomes better engaged. This is your biological clock and it can be thrown off pretty easily.

If you stay up too late at night, you don’t give it a chance to run properly. Working out in the morning helps to set things in motion, which means it will wind down right when you’re needing to go to sleep. This is beneficial because it will improve the quality, and quantity of your sleep. Falling asleep will be easier as will staying asleep.

Research from Johns Hopkins found that morning workouts improved slow-wave sleep, which is the deep restorative sleep you need to recover and rejuvenate your body.[1] The morning workout also raises your body temperature which is a signal to the body that it’s time to wake up. The rise in core temperature that comes from exercise will help wake you up and increase alertness.

If you can only workout at night, you may want to keep things less intense. Whereas working out first thing can wake you up and jumpstart your energy, the same thing can happen at night making falling asleep difficult. We’ll get more into this in a bit.

What Is the Best Time of Day to Exercise?

So working out in the morning looks pretty beneficial, but when exactly is the best time? If you’re looking for weight loss and calories burning, the research shows that there is no best time of day to workout.[2] If you’re looking to feel better and more energized, the morning is still going to be best. Not only that, but exercising in the morning makes it more likely that you are going to stick with it and be consistent.

You also need to look at what type of exercising you are doing to find the ideal time. If it’s regular cardio such as running or walking, you should be good to go first thing when you wake up. If you are engaging in more high-intensity exercise such as strength training, HIIT training, circuit or boot camps, you may want to wait for a bit after you wake up.

Depending on your schedule, this may or not be possible. If it is, you can wait an hour or two after a light breakfast to participate in a more engaging workout. You may also want to do some low-intensity cardio first thing in the morning and save the high-intensity stuff for lunchtime or after work.

So the best time of day to workout will depend on your goals. If you want to lose body fat, earlier in the morning will be best and it will keep your metabolism burning throughout the day. If your goals are primarily strength and muscle-based, you could wait until the late afternoon. This is the time of day when your hormone levels are higher – specifically testosterone – and this is when strength levels can peak.

Whichever time you can commit to, it’s important to stay consistent with it as research shows this will lead to better performance, improve oxygen consumption, and lower exhaustion rates.[3]

Woman doing pushups with dumbbells

Is It Better to Exercise on an Empty Stomach?

You may not be a big breakfast eater or even feel like eating that much before a workout. If your morning workout is less-intense, you should be fine working out on an empty stomach. You need to remember that you still will have muscle energy in the form of glycogen stored in your liver and muscles from the carbohydrates you ate the night before. Don’t go longer than 20-30 minutes though, and make sure you have a replenishing meal within 30-60 minutes once you are done.

If you are engaged in something more intense early in the morning, you want to have something light and easily digestible 30-60 minutes beforehand. This can be something like a banana and protein shake. Remember to drink 8 oz of water about 15 minutes before you exercise, and continue to sip water throughout the duration of your workout.

The main thing that is important is to focus on post-workout nutrition to replenish and repair the body. You don’t need to eat the moment you finish a workout but, you want to take advantage of the post-workout window to restore muscle glycogen and start repairing muscle. This is all part of recovery, and what you do at the end of one workout helps to prepare you for the next. So as long as you get in some decent nutrition within 2 hours of a workout, you should be all set.

Combining protein and carbohydrates with this meal is an ideal way to jump-start recovery. A good rule of thumb is eating 30 grams of carbohydrates and 15 grams of protein for every hour of intense exercise.[4]

Is It Bad to Exercise Before Bed?

This will again depend on the type of exercise. If it’s a lower intensity, there shouldn’t be a problem and this may help in getting you to sleep.

Some good forms of exercise before bed would include walking, cycling, and even yoga. If a workout is too intense close to bedtime, your body will have trouble winding down. Your endorphin levels will be spiked and this makes your body awake and alert. It can take an hour or two until these endorphins are washed out. Any intense workouts need to be a few hours before bed or you risk difficulty falling and staying asleep.

A good way to wind down the day can also involve some stretching to help in muscle recovery, relax the body and improve sleep quality. This can be a good time to do any foam rolling or treat any deep tissue issues that you may have.

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Bottom Line

When answering the question about the best time to work out, you need to look at a few factors.

Your goals will be the first thing you want to consider and then what your schedule allows. For general fitness and cardiovascular exercise, it does look like earlier in the day will be more beneficial. It also allows you to not have to worry about eating first thing and could lead to more body fat burning.

If your goals are more strength and muscle-based, waiting until later in the afternoon may serve you better. This is of course not written in stone, and the most important thing is to find the time of day that you are most likely able to commit and stay consistent with. This is ultimately what drives success and results.