Getting a workout in during the day is better than skipping it altogether, but have you ever wondered “when is the best time during the day to exercise?”

From my experience, I would say it depends.  I know that’s not that simple answer you are looking for, but hear me out.  The truth is that you probably can categorize yourself as a morning person, a night owl, or somewhere in between.  Based on this simple idea you can describe when you naturally have more energy and focus during the day, and when you seem to be more tired.  For instance, I am a major morning person.  In college I would wake up around 4 am and study organic chemistry in my apartment living room while my roommates were all asleep.  This began at first because that seemed to be the only time my apartment was silent, but I soon realized I had more focus at 4am than I did at 4 pm.

As I finished college and started my career as a teacher I continued to get up early and began exercising before school.  This has worked for me, but over the years I have learned that it doesn’t matter what time you work out at, so long as you follow these 3 basic rules.

Is The Morning The Best Time To Exercise?

Many people have heard that the best time to exercise is first thing in the morning.  But this in only partially true. Yes you will burn more calories from fat during the workout but this doesn’t necessarily translate to more fat being used for energy over a 24 hour period.  One reason for this is that your body’s cortisol levels will rise due to the stress of fasted workouts and will actually slow down the conversion of fats to carbohydrates so that they can be used for energy.

Secondly, your workout is going to suffer because your body lacks the fuel needed to push itself to the point of muscular failure.  I made this mistake for years by going to the gym and lifting weights on an empty stomach.  And as a result I found it difficult to build muscle.  However, since making this change and eating an hour before all workouts I am moving past the plateau that I had been stuck on.

Well, what about fasted cardio?  I’m sure you are wondering if that’s a good idea.  And going back to my point a few paragraphs ago, it’s going to stress out your body.  People getting ready for a fitness show might add it shortly before a contest, but it’s not something that done over an extended period of time.  Muscle burns 19X more calories than fat, so you want your body to preserve all the muscle it can.  You don’t want it being converted to carbohydrates by the liver so that it can be used to fuel your cells so you can run on a treadmill at 5am.  Instead, plan your workout around when you can get the fuel your body needs.

Exercise shouldn’t have a negative effect on your sleep.

Here is another example of what I used to do wrong.  I would work myself to death putting in long days and nights only to wake up and try to get to the gym on 4-5 hours of sleep. And it quickly caught up to me.  I found myself tired and constantly making bad food decisions after dinner.  So all that hard work I put in at 5am at the gym was neutralized by my snacking when I was too exhausted to think clearly.  And apparently I’m not the only person the experience this.  A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when people did not receive adequate sleep, late night snacking increased and they were more likely to choose high-carb snacks.

A better choice is to plan out your day and prioritize what needs to get done.  This way you can prioritize your day and figure out what can be put off until later.  Most of my clients complete simple 30 minute at home workouts.  If you are looking for at home workouts, here’s some ideas. This way there isn’t a lot of extra wasted time driving to and from the gym.  They can set their DVR for the Bachelor and committing to their fitness goals before sitting down to see who gets the rose this week.

How Long Should My Workouts Last?

Too often I hear of people spending 2-3 hours in the gym on a regular basis.  And what’s worse is that they are braining about it like it’s a badge of honor.  Exercise should be about quality as much as it’s about quantity and it should be physically demanding.  If you are spending more time checking out the Facebook status of your friends or taking 35 selfies until you get “just the right one”, then you are not really spending 2-3 hours exercising.  If this is the case, make it a point to get your workout in and then relax with social media while eating your post-workout meal.

But what if you are putting in 60 minutes of lifting and then 60-75 minutes of cardio?  If it’s 1-2 times a week you probably are ok, and may even see slightly faster results.  But if you are doing this daily than your body will begin to react negatively to it.  First off, your body will have a negative hormonal effect by overproducing cortisol (there’s that tricky hormone again).  Overtraining will also suppress your immune system.  And if you couple overtraining with too little sleep or poor nutrition than you are most likely going to be compounding the problem.  Finally, overtraining can lead to injury.  When the body is fatigued it begins to lose focus.  This is seen with athletes commonly when the majority of injuries occur near the end of games.  The same thing can happen in the gym and you are opening yourself up to increased risks by extending your workout time.

Final Thoughts.

There you have it.  It’s not so much what is the best time to workout as it is how are you preparing your body and then taking care of it to maximize your recovery.  If you have any questions or would like more information, please send me a message on Facebook or Instagram.


To your health,