What’s The Best Time Of Day To Exercise?

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When you are trying to establish a new workout routine, one of the most important questions to consider is, “What’s the best time of day to exercise?”

Should you work out in the morning or is exercise at night better for one reason or another? Are most people missing the mark altogether and we should be trying to exercise in the afternoon?

Interestingly, determining the best time of day to exercise isn’t as straightforward as you might think, as it depends on weighing the importance of the pros and cons of exercising in the morning with the pros and cons of exercising at night in the context of your own life.

In this article, we will discuss the various benefits and drawbacks of exercising at different times of the day to give you the information you need to settle the great debate yourself: What is the best time of day to exercise?

We will cover: 

  • Benefits of Exercising In the Morning
  • Drawbacks of Exercising In the Morning
  • Benefits of Exercising In the Afternoon
  • Drawbacks of Exercising In the Afternoon
  • Benefits of Exercising In the Evening
  • Drawbacks of Exercising In the Evening
  • What Is the Best Time of Day to Exercise?

Let’s get started!

A person running in the morning, the best time of day of exercise.

Benefits of Exercising In the Morning

There are several benefits to exercising in the morning and starting your day with a good workout. Some of the top benefits of working out in the morning include the following:

Exercising In the Morning Can Improve Consistency

When you exercise in the morning you get it out of the way early on in your day, which ensures you’ll actually have time for your workout.

When workouts are planned for the evening, there’s a greater chance that something can come up over the course of the day and derail your plans. 

We all know that life happens, but if there is very little on your schedule between your alarm going off and your sneakers getting put on for your run, bike ride, or exercise class, there’s a much higher chance that you’ll be able to stick with your fitness routine and get your workout in.

Consistency is the key to making progress with your fitness, and if you tend to find yourself making excuses not to work out, exercising in the morning can be the surest bet that you will adhere to your exercise plan.

A person walking on a path smiling.

Exercising In the Morning Can Help Control Your Appetite 

Many people are looking to lose weight or control their weight, and exercise can be a great means of doing so.

Not only does exercise burn calories, which helps you generate the caloric deficit you need to lose weight, but there’s also some evidence to suggest that exercising in the morning may help reduce your appetite the rest of the day.

If you’re not as ravenous, it becomes easier to control your caloric intake.

Another study also determined that exercising on an empty stomach before breakfast resulted in consuming fewer calories over the course of the day.

Exercising In the Morning Can Help You Burn More Fat

If you do your morning workout on an empty stomach, you can reap the benefits of fasted cardio.

Although there are also drawbacks of exercising without eating beforehand—and because of these drawbacks, fasted cardio isn’t a good practice for every day—fasted cardio increases the relative percentage of fat oxidation.

This means that a higher percentage of the calories you burn during the workout come from stored body fat.

Exercise is fueled by stored carbohydrates (glycogen) and fat. The higher the intensity, the greater the reliance on glycogen for energy. However, the body only has limited glycogen stores, which are somewhat depleted overnight when you’re sleeping and not eating.

Therefore, when you do fasted exercise, your body has to rely more heavily on oxidizing fat to spare the limited glycogen remaining.

In fact, some studies show you may burn up to 20% more fat when exercising on an empty stomach, and one small study found that exercising first thing in the morning on an empty stomach continued to increase fat oxidation over the next 24 hours. 

Remember, you don’t necessarily burn more calories exercising in the morning, but you burn a higher percentage of the calories you expend from stored fat.

A person running trail at sunup.

Exercising In the Morning Can Make You More Active

We all know that the more active we are throughout the day, the better.

In other words, just doing your single workout and then remaining sedentary for the rest of the day isn’t really the fast-track to optimal health.

There’s evidence to suggest that people who exercise in the morning tend to be more active throughout the day than people who exercise at night.

Perhaps knowing that your workout is already complete for the day allows you to feel like you have the freedom to be more active without having bank energy for your upcoming run or ride.

Exercising In the Morning May Help You Sleep Better

Given the prevalence of sleep issues, there have been several studies that have investigated the effects of exercise on sleep quality.

Studies suggest that exercising in the morning may improve the quality of your sleep more than getting your sweat session in before bed.

Exercise increases your body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, which can impact your body’s circadian rhythm and the amount of time spent in each stage of sleep.

A person stretching their arms to the sky.

Exercising In the Morning Can Improve Your Productivity

It’s common for people to feel more focused after a good workout, so exercising in the morning can be a good way to ensure you have a productive morning at work.

Evidence suggests that exercising in the morning can improve your attention, working memory, and executive function during the rest of the day. 

Exercising In the Morning Is a Great Start to the Day

When you exercise in the morning, you start your day with a healthy habit, or a “win.”

This can improve your mood, boost your confidence, and set you in a mental headspace where you want to make healthy choices the rest of your day.

Drawbacks of Exercising In the Morning 

Exercising in the morning has some drawbacks as well, including the following:

A person smiling and running.

Exercising In the Morning Can Reduce Your Performance

Particularly if you don’t have the time or appetite to eat before your workout, exercise in the morning may impair your performance.

Most research shows that fasted exercise reduces your athletic performance, impeding factors such as strength, time to exhaustion, and power.

Exercising In the Morning May Require Getting Up Early

Depending on your schedule with work and other responsibilities, exercising in the morning may require waking up early.

Not only does this potentially cut into the amount of sleep you are getting, but some people who aren’t “morning people” also feel groggy and irritable in the morning.

So, is the morning the best time of day to exercise for you?

Two people running on a path, smiling.

Benefits of Exercising In the Afternoon

Here are some of the benefits of exercising in the afternoon or midday:

Afternoon Exercise Breaks Up Your Day

Having your workout scheduled in the middle of the day is a great way to shift gears and feel rejuvenated for the second half of your day.

Afternoon Exercise Strikes a Happy Medium

Exercising in the afternoon can be seen as a happy medium between exercising in the morning and exercising in the evening.

In this way, you can get some of the practical and physical benefits of both without having the full severity of each drawback.

Drawbacks of Exercising In the Afternoon

The drawbacks of afternoon exercise include the following:

A person running at sunrise.

Afternoon Exercise Isn’t Practical for Most People

The primary drawback of exercising in the afternoon is that it’s just not practical for most people based on typical work schedules.

Group Exercise Classes Are Minimal

If you have a flexible schedule and the availability to exercise in the afternoon, another drawback is that there are usually limited offerings for group fitness classes.

Because most people are not available during the standard “work” hours, most gyms don’t bother offering classes during the afternoon.

While this isn’t an issue if you want to go for a run or lift weights on your own, those who do like the structure and camaraderie of a group fitness class will probably need to exercise in the morning or evening.

Now what do you think of the afternoon? Does that seem like the best time of day to exercise?

Benefits of Exercising In the Evening

Exercising in the evening has several appealing benefits:

A person running in the dark.

Evening Exercise Improves Performance

One study found that time to exhaustion while performing endurance exercise was 20% greater in the evening compared to the morning, meaning your body and mind might be able to handle longer workouts if you exercise in the evening.

Moreover, researchers noted that certain performance markers were also better during evening exercise compared with morning workouts.

For example, exercise in the evening was associated with a 4% higher maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 Max) and a 7% higher anaerobic capacity. 

Plus, muscles took up oxygen faster during evening exercise, enabling the anaerobic reserves to be used more sparingly. 

All this is to say that your body tends to perform better in evening workouts, allowing you to exercise longer and harder.

This, in turn, can lead to greater improvements in your fitness. A great reason why the evening may be the best time of day to exercise for you.

Evening Exercise Can Be More Social

Although far from an absolute rule, evening exercise tends to be more social.

There is often a greater number of exercise classes offered in the evening, enabling you to have the support and camaraderie of the group fitness class experience.

Additionally, friends or coworkers may meet up to run or do some other evening work out together after work, whereas in the morning, people tend to exercise on their own so that they can be more efficient with their time in order to get to work on time.

If you tend to enjoy companionship on your workouts for accountability and motivation, exercising in the evening may be the way to go.

A person running in the dark through a tunnlel.

Evening Exercise Allow You to De-Stress

The majority of people complain of work-related stress, and exercising at night after a day at the office or wherever you are employed can be a great way to blow off steam from the day, reduce tension, and get some good vibes going before bedtime.

Evening Exercise May Be Safer

If you feel stiff during your morning workouts, it’s not all in your head, and this is indeed one of the drawbacks of exercising in the morning.

According to research, muscles and joints are up to 20% more flexible in the evening and are consequently less prone to injury than they are during morning workouts. This is because body temperature is higher and circulation may be better.

Fueling for Evening Exercise Is Easier

One of the primary downsides to exercising in the morning is that it can be hard to properly fuel before your workouts, particularly if you are short on time or have a sensitive stomach.

In contrast, when you exercise in the evening, you have the entire day to consume plenty of nutritious fuel so that you feel energized (but not over full!) for your workouts.

This can result in better performance, higher motivation, increased strength and endurance, and enhanced recovery for evening exercise.

A person running at night on cobblestone.

Evening Exercise Doesn’t Require Getting Up Early

If you’re not a morning person, exercising in the evening can be a much more appealing option, allowing you to work with the needs of your body without forcing yourself to do something that just doesn’t feel good.

Drawbacks of Exercising In the Evening

Evening Exercise May Disrupt Your Sleep

Studies have been mixed about the impact of exercise on sleep quality when you work out in the evening. 

It seems to be that vigorous exercise, in particular, may disrupt sleep, whereas more moderate or gentle approaches to movement may enhance sleep.

However, because there are plenty of studies to suggest that you can exercise at night time and still get a good night’s sleep, you may just need to play around with your workout timing and see what works for you.

Consistency Can Be Hard With Exercise At Night 

One of the primary practical downsides to evening workouts is that it can be more difficult to establish consistency and actually get your workouts done.

Even with the best of intentions, things can come up over the course of the day that end up requiring your time, energy, or attention, relegating your planned exercise session to get nixed from the to-do list.

What have you decided? Is the evening the best time of day to exercise?

A person running on te road.

What Is the Best Time of Day to Exercise?

As can be seen, there are different pros and cons to exercising in the morning versus the evening.

Ultimately, there is no clear winner in terms of the best time of day to exercise for everyone. 

Rather, you have to look at the benefits and drawbacks of each, along with the logistics of your schedule, and pick the best time of day to exercise for you in your life.

If midday seems to be the best time of day to exercise for you, and you are able to sneak away on your lunch break, check out our guide on how to organize your lunch runs.

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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