What's the Best Time of Day to Exercise?
While this may seem obvious, you should not lose sight of the fact that exercise is almost always preferable to no exercise. While being very technical can help make your fitness journey easier it can also work against you. Exercise and healthy eating will always trump all other advice.
Unless you're injured, sick or over trained, exercising is better than not exercising. Schedule your workout when you have the best chance of getting it done.
• When you FEEL your best
There are times during the day when you will have a slight physiological advantage if you work out during them but none of those trump the psychological edge you have if you feel like exercising. As simple as this sounds ‘effort equals results’ more than any other factor. This means that if you're a night owl, work out at night. Morning person, work out first thing. Anytime you're in the mood to really bring It will work because by far the biggest physiological changes happen to your body when you push yourself further than you've pushed yourself before.
The closer you get to putting in 100% effort the more you force your body into an adaptive state which is exactly where it needs to be in order for it to change.
• When your glycogen stores are FULL
Your body can push itself anaerobically longer and harder if you begin your workout with a full tank of muscle glycogen. This will let you lift more weight, jump higher, move faster and improve every important aspect of every workout that's not tied to recovery or aerobic efficiency.
Glycogen is mainly recharged by carbohydrates and is extinguished very quickly with exercise, brain activity and most other tasks. This means it fluctuates throughout the day and is always highest immediately after you digest a meal containing carbohydrates. So, depending on your eating habits your body is probably primed for peak exercise in the late morning, afternoon or early evening.
At night your body can store glycogen so that it's possible to wake up and train in the morning before you've eaten and still have enough energy to get through a workout. However, most of us especially when we're training hard and not eating a ton will burn through glycogen whilst recovering from the previous day's activities. The result is that those early morning workouts can lead to your body running out of glycogen. Essentially you lose the ability to push your anaerobic realm and you feel like you've hit a wall.
Hitting the wall is not one of those "good pain" times. When your body is out of glycogen it starts to break down muscle tissue and you quickly begin to offset the fitness gains you've made. It's inevitable that it will happen to you at some point. When it does, don't try and push through. Instead cut your losses and get on the recovery program by eating, resting and then re-evaluating your eating schedule and/or choice of workout times.
If exercising when your glycogen stores are low is the only time of day available you can fix the situation nutritionally. If it's first thing in the morning, eat half or a whole banana or drink half or a full serving of Recovery Shake before you start your workout. If that helps, try adding another serving of complex carbohydrates to your evening meal and then skip the banana. If it doesn't work (you'll know) it means you're on a nutritional edge and aren't eating enough calories to recover from your workout program. It's time to re-evaluate your daily calorie intake.
• In the MORNING on an empty stomach.
In the morning, before you've eaten, your body is forced to use its fat stores for energy and you can train your body to be efficient at doing this. Although, it's not nearly as effective as "burning glycogen" when it comes to losing body fat. And remember that easy workouts can have added benefits if done in the morning on an empty stomach.
• At NIGHT before bed.
Night time is last for a reason. Unless it is really the only time you will work out or the only time you feel the best you should probably avoid it.
Working out directly before bed can affect your sleep. Most people have a hard time getting to sleep after a workout because exercise can throw off your melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, among other things. This isn't ideal because sleep is very important for recovery. It's when your body naturally produces most of its own performance enhancing drugs in the form of hormones. Anything that hurts your ability to sleep should be eliminated if possible.
Exercise also utilises a lot of nutrients which are further depleted at night. If you're on a strict diet or trying to lose weight you run the risk by training and then not eating to recover from the workout prior to bed. If you're on a low calorie diet and plan to train hard at night you should follow your workout with at least a nutritional recovery strategy (Recovery Shake or equivalent), if not a small meal before going to sleep.
The bottom line is that everyone's body responds differently. We all need to exercise and most of us can eat better. In between are a lot of individual variables. When it comes to getting your best possible workout, psychology often trumps physiology. Exercise when you can and pay close attention to your performance. Then choose your preferred workout time based on your results. It's really that simple.