This Is The Best Time Of Day To Work Out

Whether you're an exercise junkie or someone who has just started their fitness journey, you've probably wondered at some point what time of day is best to work out and reap the most benefits. If you hopped on Google to find out, you probably found conflicting views and realized that there are two kinds of people in the world: Those who exercise early in the morning and those who do it during their lunch break or after work. Both parties will most likely tell you that their time of day is best while flexing their biceps to prove it, leaving you slightly intimidated and very confused.

The truth is that various studies have been done on the subject and, well, the answer is nuanced. If you're wondering whether you should schedule an early morning workout or rather opt for a sweat session after work, you should probably assess your goals first and then make a decision. Knowing what you want to achieve with your workouts will be a great indicator of what time of day will work best for you.

Morning workouts can help burn more fat

Let's get real: We no longer use exercise for the sole purpose of losing weight. Many people exercise because they enjoy it and want to keep their bodies healthy and strong. Should your workout goal be to lose some weight, however, a morning workout might be just what the doctor ordered.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism looked at how morning workouts affected weight loss in obese men, and the results were quite promising. There is, however, a catch. While exercising in the morning was shown to encourage weight loss, there's one tiny detail that affects how many pounds you end up shedding: whether you exercise before or after having breakfast. The study found that those who exercised on an empty stomach lost twice the amount of weight as those who didn't. Why is that? According to the researchers, it's simply because your body has lower insulin levels after your overnight fast. This results in the body relying on its fat reserves to power your workout. Pretty neat.

Weight loss aside, the study concluded that exercising before having breakfast has a very positive effect on your overall health and can even promote your body's ability to respond to insulin. It's a win-win all around. Do these findings apply to women, though? Yes, according to a small study published in the Journal of Clinical Obesity, the same benefits were observed in women. Hooray!

Morning workouts could help you stay more alert during the day

There's nothing worse than that mid-day slump, right? As it turns out, exercising in the morning might help prevent that annoying grogginess that tends to creep up on us during the day. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Physiology, exercising as early as 7 a.m. may cause a shift in your body's circadian rhythm, which will help you feel alert and energetic during the day and tired earlier in the evenings. This means you'll easily get enough Zs to feel awake for the next morning's workout. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that an early morning sweat session can help you have a more productive day as well. The research showed that morning workouts promoted visual learning as well as people's attention, and made decision-making less challenging.

You'll also be on an endorphin high during the day, which will even help you feel happier, as J. Kip Matthews, Ph.D. told Well+Good. You might also find that you feel more awake during a morning workout. A study found that people naturally have higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the mornings. This can be beneficial for kickstarting that sweat sesh and finishing it in style.

Doing a morning workout could encourage healthy eating habits for the rest of the day

Those late afternoon cravings can be a real pain when you're trying to eat healthier. If you find yourself reaching for sugary snacks in the afternoon, morning workouts might curb those cravings and help you reach your healthy eating goals.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Obesity found that doing cardio (either moderate or high intensity) first thing in the morning could actually keep people from overeating the rest of the day, which, if weight loss is one of your goals, is a great benefit. Additionally, a study published in the Journal of Asian Medicine that compared the satiety levels of women who worked out in the morning versus the evening found that morning workouts promoted greater levels of satiety during the day.

Research published in the International Journal of Obesity looked at the effect of exercise on the eating habits of college students. None of the participants were required to change their eating habits or patterns — they simply had to follow a workout program. The study found that students who followed the exercise program made healthier food choices. This study didn't require participants to exercise at a specific time of day, but since making healthier food choices is a byproduct of exercise, it makes sense that doing it first thing in the morning will encourage healthy eating habits throughout the rest of the day.

Morning workouts could be helpful in managing high blood pressure

If you have hypertension or simply want to prevent it, working out in the morning is definitely a great way to help your heart out, so to speak.

It's no secret that exercise is great for conditions like high blood pressure, and studies have found that working out in the morning might be best to combat hypertension. A 2014 study published in Vascular Health and Risk Management looked at how blood pressure changed depending on the time of day people exercised. It found that around 7 a.m. is the sweet spot, with the most positive changes in blood pressure being observed around that time.

A study conducted by the American Heart Association found that something as simple as a 30-minute morning walk could positively impact blood pressure for the rest of the day. It also concluded that taking regular breaks from sitting during the workday can enhance the benefits of a morning workout, especially when participants took 3-minute breaks every 30 minutes. Researchers advised that regular exercise combined with frequent breaks from sitting could prevent people from developing high blood pressure in the first place. So, set that alarm clock for early morning and make sure you don't stay chained to your desk all day to maximize the benefits of your morning workout and keep your heart health in top shape.

Morning workouts might make it easier to turn exercise into a habit

Doing your workouts first thing in the morning might actually make it easier for you to stick to them and make them part of your daily routine. 

When asked to give advice on how to stick to a fitness routine, NASM-certified trainer Jericho McMatthews, who is famous for her morning workouts on Beachbody, told FitVine that her secret to working out consistently is getting it over with before her day starts. Research backs this up. A study published in Obesity found that 47.8 percent of participants who stuck to their fitness regime exercised in the morning. 

A 2012 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that people who work out first thing in the morning tend to be more active during the rest of the day as well (via Healthline). Talk about a magical side effect! The study looked at participants' physical activity after they went for a 45-minute walk in the mornings and found that they were significantly more physically active during the day.

You might have more energy to do an afternoon workout

If you're not a morning person, chances are you usually end up moving your workouts to the afternoon. While morning workouts are popular, afternoon workouts can be just as beneficial. For one, you might actually find that you have more energy and don't sleepwalk your way through various burpees and squats.

It so happens that your body's temperature has a lot to do with how you experience your workout session. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that our body temperature peaks between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. (via Sweat). Exercising during these times means that your body will be more than ready for a challenging workout, which makes it a very effective time of day to get that workout in and feel great while you're doing it.

An additional study published in the Journal of Physiology found that scheduling your workout between the times of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. will leave you feeling reenergized for the rest of the day and can even improve your focus (via Byrdie). Say goodbye to the mid-day slump! Completing a workout during your lunch hour will be even more effective than drinking copious amounts of coffee.

Your performance might be better during an afternoon or evening workout

If excellent performance in your workouts is something that gives you an extra high along with all the endorphins, an afternoon workout might be just what you need. If you love high-intensity interval training (HIIT), you'll most likely find that your reaction time is quicker in the afternoon or evening than in the morning, one study published in Digital Commons shows.

Your body's capacity for exercise also increases later in the day. By the time evening rolls around, your body is in top shape to take on a tough workout, a study published in Cell Metabolism found. This is because you use less oxygen to exercise in the evening than early in the morning, which means your body can go for longer before you start feeling tired. Because your body's temperature rises in the evening, your neuromuscular function increases, which means you'll have an easier time establishing that famous mind-body connection. This will help you to reap some extra benefits from your sweat session.

Along with those benefits, you might also find that you can lift heavier weights in the evening and have more endurance. Other studies found that this is a byproduct of hormone fluctuations, your circadian rhythm, and your metabolism, which can actually end up getting an extra boost when you exercise in the evenings as opposed to opting for a morning workout (via Cell Metabolism).

Evening workouts could lead to bigger muscle gains

If your main goal is to build muscle and endurance, evening workouts might help you get there a little faster. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that those who exercise in the evening and combine endurance and strength training saw significant gains in muscle mass that surpassed that of those who work out in the mornings. However, the study also showed that these muscle gains only occurred when participants trained in the evenings for more than 12 weeks, which means that, while evening workouts can help you on your journey to building muscle, consistency is key.

Another study found that those who work out in the evening can "exercise 20% harder and longer in the evening versus morning hours," as Verywell Fit reported. Heather Webb, who is a kinesiologist at Texas A&M University told Self that the reason why night owls tend to tone up faster is that the human body tends to have higher testosterone levels in the evenings, which gives muscle growth a nice boost. When we exercise in the morning, however, we naturally have higher levels of cortisol, which, surprisingly, actually stunts muscle growth. Who knew?

Evening workouts pose less of an injury risk

Almost every single workout you'll ever do will pose some kind of risk for injury, but the good news is that if you warm up, and perhaps opt for that afternoon or evening workout, you might actually lower that risk significantly.

In an article physical therapist and personal trainer Ryan Belmore wrote for Precision Performance Physical Therapy, he explained why your risk for injury decreases as the day progresses, and it's mostly because of your body's core temperature. Belmore warned that since performance tends to be a little weaker early in the day due to a lower core body temperature, people can try to push themselves harder than they should, which can result in injury.

Additionally, a study published in the Spine Journal found that lumbar discs and ligaments are at their most flexible late in the afternoon. More flexibility means a lower risk of injury. Avoiding injury is definitely a great reason to sleep in in the mornings and schedule that sweat session for the afternoon or evening.

What time of day is actually the best?

Which is best for you — an early workout or one later in the day? Well, it comes down to personal preference and your goals. NASM certified personal trainer Tatiana Lampa told Well+Good that the greatest benefit of morning exercise is that people are less likely to skip it. On the other hand, Beachbody trainer Jericho McMattews loves a morning workout (via FitVine).

Nevertheless, a study published in the Obesity Journal found that consistency is all that really matters in the end, regardless of the time of day people choose to do their workouts. Additionally, Patrick Schrauwen, a professor of nutrition and movement sciences at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, told The New York Times, "I believe that doing exercise is better than not doing exercise, irrespective of timing." Whether you're an early bird or a night owl, you will reap various benefits regardless.