When is the best time to run? If you’re new to running and trying to decide where to fit this new hobby (maybe even passion?) into your daily schedule, you’ll want to get the most out of your run.
For different people, it’s normal to feel better or worse during different times of the day. If you’re a morning person, you probably find it hard to function once you’ve clocked out for the day.
Similarly, night owls might feel like a bus just rolled over them in the morning.
But don’t let your identity of “morning person” or “night person” automatically define your preferred running time. Many people who used to hate getting up early found that running is just the thing to boost their mood and get them up and functioning for the day.
Running in the Morning Vs. Night: Factors to Consider
You’re probably wondering if one is better: morning or night? The fact is, people vary so widely in the ways their bodies function and their work and life schedules that there is no one size fits all answer.
But we can help you narrow down some important factors to decide the best time of day to run.
[If you’re looking for a quick answer, skip to the bottom of the article for the Best Time of Day to Run cheat sheet. ]
Think about Your Schedule
If you have kids, you’ll know that they tend to demand attention all through the evening. Unless you have a partner that can hold down the fort while you’re running, you might be safer doing an early morning run when they wake up.
If you work a traditional 9-5, your running schedule will be more flexible – you’ll just have to take into account your additional activities (meeting up with friends or other commitments).
You may already know that a healthy diet – well-balanced between proteins, complex carbohydrates, and plentiful fruits and vegetables – is crucial to getting the best results from your running.
But even what you eat before and after your run will affect that run directly.
Nick, aUESCA Ultra Running Coach and founder of Illness to Ultra, emphasizes that typical breakfast foods make for better run fuel than say, a heavy, meaty dinner.
“The most important factor in timing your run is the food you eat around that time. For that reason, I prefer to run early in the day. That way I can have a light breakfast (a banana and nut butter, or sweet potato), and then head out for my morning run to prepare me for the day.”
If You Are Running to Compete
Your ultimate goals for running will make an impact on your best times to run during the day.
JJ Santana, pro running coach and 2019 Olympic trials qualifier, recommends planning your run times around your actual race.
“If you are planning to compete in a race, especially a longer event like a marathon, the best time to run is at the start time of your upcoming event. Practically speaking, if the race you plan to compete in starts at 6:00 am, the best time of day for you to run will be 6:00 am.
Make sure your ‘race pace’ specific workouts are done as close to the start time of your event as you can. The goal is to get your body as adapted to race day as possible. If all of your workouts are consistently done at 6:00 am week after week after week, your body will instinctively know that 6:00 am is go time!”
He also recommends taking the opportunity to time how long you need in the morning to get ready for your run and recover from your run before you actually get on with your day.
This will help you avoid running late to work, and it will help you on your race day. You’ll able to show up calm and ready to go instead of rushed and stressed out.
If You Are Running for Fitness
Running for fitness allows more flexibility in your run times. Since you’re not actually obligated to start or finish your run at a certain time, you get to pick what works best for you.
Santana also points out, “Because of circadian rhythms, getting up and exercising with the sun is just naturally better for us than getting out late at night in the dark, especially after a full workday has drained much of our energy.”
The key here is to make sure you stay consistent; otherwise, you’ll end up pushing your runs back with the excuse, I’ll do it tomorrow. And then tomorrow never comes! To get lasting fitness results from running, you have to incorporate it consistently into your weekly routine.
If You Are Running for Pleasure
When you run simply because you enjoy it, your worries about a schedule or timeline are much more relaxed. Just keep in mind that to get the most enjoyment out of running, there should be a sense of achievement at continually reaching new goals.
So even if you’re running just for fun, be sure to set goals and be consistent about meeting them. I promise – you’ll have more fun that way.
Pros of Running in the Morning, Afternoon, or Night
Each one has its benefits and drawbacks. Here, we’ll focus on the benefits and let you choose for yourself.
- Starting the day with exercise gives you a morning boost and improves your mood and concentration throughout the day.
- Less excuses: the only thing that could keep you from running in the morning is your desire for more sleep.
- You can beat the heat: in summer weather, this can be a game-changer for your hot weather run.
- The streets are quieter: Enjoy fewer gas fumes from cars and less people to trip over on the running trail.
- Undo accumulated postural and tissue stresses: If you’re sitting at a desk all day, this will make a big difference in the remainder of your day as you finish up work.
- Improves focus for the second half of the day: Some people start with a morning jolt and then lag after lunch. Running during your lunch break is a great way to combat this.
- You won’t get caught in the dark: Getting caught in the dark without proper lights or reflective gear is nothing to joke about – if you’re cutting it close, it’s better to start earlier.
- Perfect chance to unwind: Running at night helps to ease accumulated stress throughout the day.
- You can hydrate throughout the day: Especially in hot weather, starting your run with plenty of hydration is essential. We always recommend taking water breaks throughout the run, but starting out that way makes a difference.
- You don’t have to rush: Typically at night, you don’t have to worry about getting to work on time or dropping kids off at school. You get to run longer.
Additional Night Pro: Your Body Temperature is Lower
Your body temperature peaks in the afternoon, then lowers in the evening. This is when your body is most receptive to exercise.
Joshua Lafond, NASM personal trainer and founder at Healthy Gym Habits, explains this further.
“Studies have found that as you wake up, your body goes into ‘heat gain’ mode. This basically means that the body is beginning to raise its core heat by pulling blood from its extremities.
In contrast, during the evenings the body is in ‘heat loss’ mode, pushing blood into its extremities to lose heat. This all may seem quite complicated; however, I always tell my clients this because it’s key to better understanding how different times of day can affect their running.
In the evening during heat loss mode, the muscles are already primed, ready to perform, and able to expel heat more effectively. This is important since the brain has been shown to limit the body’s performance in hotter temperatures or when it cannot expel heat fast enough.
Just by working out in the evening, a person may be able to improve their running performance. Now for most of my clients, the minimal positive effects this has might not be important enough for them to change their running schedule. Nevertheless, I think they should know all the benefits before making the decision for themselves!”
When is the Best Time to Run: Cheat Sheet
Use this cheat sheet to answer the question, “When is the best time to run?”
Do you typically have obligations in the evenings?
If yes, run in the morning.
Do you have trouble staying productive at work in the afternoons?
If yes, run in the afternoon.
Are you usually exhausted and ready to collapse after work?
If yes, run in the morning.
Do you have stressful obligations in the mornings (e.g. school runs or early work times)?
If yes, run at night.
Are you training heavily for a marathon?
If yes, it’s best to run in the morning but the most important thing is to find a plan you can stick to.
If you don’t have one yet, download our free marathon training plan and use the customizable feature to choose the best time of day to run.