Morning, noon or night – which will it be when you exercise? Of course, the time that you work out will be dictated by your schedule, but if you could choose, is there one time that’s best? Experts say yes, but that time largely depends on you.
The effect of circadian rhythms on exercise
For years, researchers have tried to link the body’s circadian rhythms with exercise to determine what time of day you’ll burn the most fat. Circadian rhythms are the body’s daily cycles that regulate body temperature, metabolism, and blood pressure.
According to a handout distributed by the American Council on Exercise, “It is the influence of circadian rhythms on body temperature that seems to yield the most control over the quality of a workout.”
In other words, when your body temperature is high, your workout will be more effective than if you exercise when your body temperature is low. Generally, your body temperature dips to its lowest point about one to three hours before you wake up. It reaches its peak late in the afternoon.
Thus, it would be safe to assume that your workouts will be more effective in the late afternoon. After all, by then, your muscles are warm, your strength is at an all-time high, and your resting heart rate and blood pressure are low.
Yet Douglas Brooks, M.S., an exercise physiologist based in northern California and an international authority on exercise, warns people against paying strict attention to circadian rhythms. “The best time to exercise is when you can get it done,” he says. “So place exercise in your schedule when you won’t miss the session or schedule it out of your day, and forget about the nuances related to the body’s natural rhythms.”
When should you exercise?
In determining when you will exercise, ask yourself two questions. First, what does your schedule look like? Are you too busy in the late afternoon or evening to exercise? Will mornings work better for you? Or will you have to alternate between morning and late afternoon or evening workouts?
Second, when do you feel your best? Do you have trouble getting revved up in the morning? If you’re not a morning person,you might perform better at the end of the day when you’re wide awake. Or are you usually dragging by the end of the day? If so, exercise may be the last thing on your mind. Because you’re exhausted, you may not exercise to your fullest potential. You might also risk injury if you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing. Maybe, though, you function better in the morning when you feel more alive and most importantly, more willing to exercise.
Best yet, after exercising in the morning, you still have the whole day in front of you and you have that much more energy to tackle the day’s activities.
Ironically, morning exercisers have one big advantage over late-day exercisers: There’s a good chance they’ll make exercise a daily habit. In fact, studies have shown that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick with their exercise programs. After all, morning exercisers don’t have to contend with scheduling problems that often occur later in the day. They’ve allotted time to exercise, and for most people, there aren’t many other distractions to prevent them from exercising in the morning.
This advantage is important for someone starting an exercise program. If you’re new to exercise, consider committing to mornings to increase your adherence to your new routine.
There is one exception to choosing a time that suits you best. If you’re training for an athletic event like a marathon or a century, exercise at the time the event will take place. For example, if a cycling century starts at 8 a.m., get used to cycling at that time, especially if you’re used to working out later in the day. This will help your body adjust to the demands of the event.
Whatever time you choose, follow these suggestions to make your workouts more effective and fun.
For morning exercisers:
Lay your clothing out the night before. When your alarm rings, you’ll be able to leap into action without having to gather shoes and clothes.
Set two different alarms. If the snooze button tempts you, set two different alarms, one by your bed and the other across the room.
Buddy up. Exercise is always more fun with a partner so why not add this motivation to your morning workouts? If you’re ever tempted to miss your workout, your buddy will keep you going.
For late afternoon to evening exercisers:
Set your exercise time and stick with it. Don’t let late-day distractions tempt you to neglect your exercise program. Try planning your exercise schedule on Sunday night before your week begins. If you have to make small adjustments, that’s okay, but try not to stray too far away from your goals.
Be careful of outdoor elements. If you’re exercising outdoors, pay attention to the soaring temperatures and high humidity of summer. Your body will drag in the hot weather. You’ll also need to make certain you’re well hydrated in hot weather; drink more water than usual if you’ve been sipping on coffee or caffeinated soft drinks all day. Finally, watch for traffic, especially if you’re exercising around rush hour.