Exercise in the Morning for Better Weight Loss? Science Says...
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).
Pros of an Evening Workout
- You can get home, eat something, then suit up for the gym. When you exercise in the evening, you can do so at your leisure. Most people aren’t required to rush to the office afterward. The only thing that you really have to worry about is getting home, showering, and crashing.
- Continuing with this idea of convenience, evening workouts may be something your buddy can do as well. That means you’ll have a lifting partner or gym class buddy that can act as a motivator. Having a workout partner has been shown to help both parties be more consistent with the exercise program.
Cons of an Evening Workout
Fight Against Yourself
- In a perfect world, we would arrive home after 9 or 10 hours at the office and still have plenty of energy to dedicate to our to-do list. The reality is that many people jump on to the couch after work… and they don’t get up until bed. It’s understandable: You have been working all day and you feel burned out. Getting to the gym can be tough. The way around this, as many people can attest to, is a pre-workout supplement. Pre-workout supplements are packed with energy boosters that can help you push through that workout.
- Exercise raises blood pressure and elevates cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is responsible for, among other things, spiking your energy level in the morning. Exercising before bed may negatively impact your sleeping schedule. This is especially true if you use a caffeine-based supplement in the evening. The way around this is to follow up your workout with a high protein, simple carbohydrate beverage. A shake with a whey isolate protein and two bananas is a perfect example. It’s not guaranteed to help you fall asleep but it will help bring cortisol levels back down.
- Finally, the most obvious drawback to an evening workout is the other people who have the same schedule as you do. We all know that frustrating feeling of lining up to use the weights or equipment. For many, this over-crowded can be a deal breaker that results in not even showing up to exercise for days or week.
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)
Pros of an Afternoon Workout
(Possibly) More Strength, Better Performance
- The afternoon is an ideal time to hit up the gym in terms of how much strength you have. Studies show that testosterone levels, in particular, peak in the afternoon for both men and women, which is also why libido also seems to peak midday for so many people. With this boost in testosterone, you may experience greater natural energy and strength levels during your workout. (1)
- Many people complain about having that midday slump and exercising in the afternoon can be a great way to offset that. When you work out, you’re increasing blood flow and the release of feel good chemicals like serotonin. The result is alertness and a better mood, especially if you’ve been in the office all morning.
Cons of an Afternoon Workout
- If you have to return to work following your exercise routine, then you may have a sense of urgency that can negatively impact your workout. Rushing through a workout increases your chances for strain or injury.
- It isn’t common but it certainly isn’t impossible: Working out in the afternoon, just like in the evening, may be too much for some people. The result is a disrupt in sleeping patterns, especially if you go to bed earlier than most. Also, just like with working out in the evening, if you take a pre-workout supplement in the afternoon, this may also impact your sleep schedule.
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.
Pros of a Morning Workout
- The benefits of a morning workout are cemented in convenience. You wake up and you get to the gym. No matter how the rest of the day goes, you got in that workout. Gyms are typically less crowded in the early morning as well. Time it just right and you can get in your workout, get ready for work, AND beat the morning rush.
Setting Your Mood and Energy
- Exercise releases feel good hormones in the body. For example, serotonin levels spike during and following exercise. Exercising first thing in the morning can help to start the day on a positive note and keep it that way for the rest of the day. Instead of jumping into the work day groggy, you’ll be alert, awake, and chipper.
Cons of a Morning Workout
Greater Risk of Strain
- You just spent the last 7 or 8 hours lying down and sleeping. Jumping out of bed in the morning, your muscles are still in lax mode. Cold, or inactive, muscles may increase your risk for strain during a workout. The way around this? Spend a few more minutes warming up and stretching.
Morning Workouts and Increased Fat Loss
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)
Hormone Levels & Morning Workouts
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.
Science Says to Work Out in the…
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.
Tell Us What You Think!
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!
- Crawford ED, Barqawi AB, O'Donnell C, Morgentaler A. The association of time of day and serum testosterone concentration in a large screening population. BJU Int. 2007 Sep;100(3):509-13. Epub 2007 Jun 6.
- Jessica L. Bachman, Ronald W. Deitrick, and Angela R. Hillman. Exercising in the Fasted State Reduced 24-Hour Energy Intake in Active Male Adults. J Nutr Metab. 2016; 2016: 1984198.