The benefits of exercise are well-known — better physical health, mental health, and overall wellbeing. But with our busy schedules, finding time to fit in a workout can be hard.
As you’re trying to fit a bout of exercise onto your calendar, you may wonder, “What time of day should I work out? Does it matter?”
Exercising at any time is almost always better than not exercising at all. But different times of day can offer different benefits.
So what time is best for your workout? It depends on your goals.
For Fat-Burning and Weight Loss
If you aim to burn some fat and lose more weight, your best bet may be to work out first thing in the morning, before you eat breakfast.
When you exercise after eating a meal, your body will use the carbohydrate sugars from your food to fuel your physical activity. And while your body is running on carbs, it’ll store any recent dietary fat in your tissues instead of burning it for energy.
But after a night of sleeping (and not eating), your glycogen (stored sugars) levels are low, and your body can burn stored fat to energize you.
Morning exercises can also make you more active throughout the day and make better choices about what you eat.
For Optimum Performance
If you’re trying to maximize your performance — maybe you’re competing or trying to beat your personal best time — working out in the afternoon or evening may be better.
Your internal body temperature and environmental temperature are highest in the late afternoon and early evening (typically between 2-6 pm). With this increase in temperature comes an increase in muscle contractility, force, power, and performance.
For Increased Alertness
Physical activity can stimulate your mood and mind, making you feel more alert and alive.
If you struggle to stay alert, awake and focused throughout the day, a midday workout may give you the mental boost you need, especially if you’ve been sitting still for a while.
Adding a short walk or a quick bit of moderately intense body movement to your day can increase blood flow to your brain, which may then help you make better decisions, learn new information more easily, and be more productive overall.
For Reduced Chance of Injury
If you need to be extra careful to avoid injury, work out in the afternoon or evening.
After moving around all day, your muscles are warmed up and more elastic in the late afternoon than in the morning, which reduces the chance of pulling a muscle or straining something.
But as long as you begin with a gradual warmup, you can exercise safely at any time of day.
For Better Sleep
If you have trouble sleeping, working out in the evening may not be the best idea.
Intense workouts at night can be overly stimulating, making it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. More strenuous exercises are better in the mornings.
When it’s nearer to bedtime, and you want to do something active, stick to a gentler exercise like yoga or stretching, which can help you relax without revving up your energy levels.
There is not one single perfect time of day that is best for everyone. The best time for you is the one that you can stick to regularly.