When you think about the ideal training time, you can’t help but picture that washed-up boxer who wakes up before the sun rises. He drinks his shake and he hits the pavement, despite the temperature showing below freezing. The morning workout has long been considered the holy grail for dedicated fitness enthusiasts. It’s associated with starting the day off right. Proponents swear by it, citing supposed weight loss benefits.
Sure, working out in the morning has always been looked at as the best time to exercise but is that necessarily true? Will you see better results by waking up early and getting yourself to the gym? Or is this just another belief that is more of a cultural norm than an actual fact?
Let’s review the pros and cons of each time-focused workout and take a look at what science has to say about the best time of the day for working out. The answer just might surprise you.
Let’s kick off the list with evening workouts. For most people, evening workouts are just more comfortable. They don’t require an early morning alarm clock and they let you work out the stress from the day. Let’s define an evening workout as exercise that takes place from 6 p.m. (18:00) until the gym closes, which is usually around 11 p.m. (23:00).
Fight Against Yourself
For those with extended lunch breaks or odd work hours, an afternoon workout may be ideal. Let’s define an afternoon workout as exercise that is completed between 12 p.m. (12:00) and 4 p.m. (16:00)
(Possibly) More Strength, Better Performance
Now it’s time for that bright and early workout in the morning. Most gyms will open around 5 a.m. so let’s define a morning workout as beginning somewhere between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. The reason for the cut off at 8 a.m. is due to hormone levels within the body, which play a big role in the pros and cons section below.
Setting Your Mood and Energy
Greater Risk of Strain
So what about all of those people who swear that morning workouts burn MORE fat?
It is possible to burn more calories during the morning workout but there’s a catch: you have to exercise on an empty stomach. Exercising in a fasted state has been shown to significantly promote an elevated metabolic rate, resulting in more calories burned. What’s more, post-workout, you’ll have an increased EPOC level. Essentially, this means that you’ll continue to burn calories at a high rate even after you complete your workout. (2)
Hormones are a tricky thing. At night, your body floods with melatonin to get you ready for sleep and in the morning, your cortisol levels spike to get you ready for the day. Cortisol is a double-edged sword.
Sure, it wakes you up and helps you get the day started; however, it’s also a catabolic hormone. That means it likes to break things down. Cortisol is also released in large quantities during times of stress. This includes exercise. See how this can be problematic?
The way to get around your cortisol worries is to eat a high protein, high simple carbohydrate meal before the workout. For example, a whey isolate shake mixed with a banana. However, this poses a problem for those of you out there who want to focus on weight loss and exercise on an empty stomach.
If you want to protect your muscle from cortisol AND exercise on an empty stomach, the best thing to do is to drink a calorie-free amino acid supplement before or during your workout. The amino acids are muscle sparing. This means they will protect your muscles from breakdown and your body can safely burn calories at an elevated rate.
It’s not that simple. It all comes down to two things: your goals and your schedule. Here’s how we look at it:
If your primary goal is weight loss and you really want to focus on maximizing your fat burning potential, then morning workouts on an empty stomach are going to be exactly what you need.
If you aren’t as concerned with body hacking in the morning to trigger a higher rate of fat loss, then any time of day is okay to exercise. The important thing is that you exercise.
If you exercise during the afternoon or evening, just be sure to watch out for some of the common cons we mentioned. Follow our advice to avoid any potential trouble during afternoon and evening workouts.
What time of the day do you work out?
Have you tried switching it up?
Notice different benefits when you work out at different times?
Let us know in the comments below!
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