A lot of things can tweak just how effective your workout is and there’s a ton of theories out there about the best way to make the most out of your gym time. One of the controversies that you might encounter in your fitness journey is in reference to the timing of your workout. Some contend that you should workout first thing in the morning, before eating while others say that it’s better to workout later in the day once everything else is done. So what’s the truth?
Unfortunately, it seems like the answer to this question is exceedingly complicated. There are, after all, many factors that have to be considered in this on-going debate.
The first thing we need to think about when scheduling our workouts is something called the “circadian rhythm.” This pattern is a daily hormonal cycle, directed by the hypothalamus gland, which controls a huge variety of biological functions. This process manipulates everything from your body temperature, nutrient metabolism and blood pressure. Specifically, it’s these changes in body temperature that are of interest to us in this discussion. As we’ve covered when talking about warm-ups, your body performs at its peak when your temperature is elevated. For most people, this happens between about 4 and 6 pm. According to the American Council on Exercise, studies have show that people who exercise in this window are stronger, having faster reactions and work more efficiently. This warmer-than-average window isn’t the same for everyone, though. To find out when you’re personal optimum time period is, record your internal temperature every few hours for 5 days. Once the pattern emerges, try to workout around 3 hours before or after you hit your highest temperature.
What if you reach this circadian peak at the most inconvenient time possible, when you’re supposed to be doing something other than exercising? With the hectic lives most people live, this is a distinct possibility, of course. You could also find that you’re just plain tired by that time of day. After all, it is in the evening or later afternoon for most people, and you may be completely beat from a full day of work and/or errands. What then? Even with the evidence regarding the benefits of timing your workouts with your circadian rhythm, most experts will have the same answer when asked about the best time of day to exercise: Whenever is best for you. The simple truth is that it’s better to workout at a time when you have the time and energy. This might be at 4am in my opinion this is the best time to workout while prime low glycemic range (low blood sugar) and fasting to dip into fat stores while taking advantage of the high catabolic (breakdown hormones). It really doesn’t matter as long as you get it done. It’s also worth noting – especially in the light of our knowledge of circadian rhythms – that if you’re training for an upcoming event, you should workout at the time of day when that event will take place. For example, most marathons get started pretty early in the day and if you aren’t naturally a morning person this could detract from your performance. Running at the same time of day that the race is being held, though, will help you to adapt.
Even with all the adaptability that is available to you in scheduling your workouts, it still may be hard for you to carve out the time. What then? Well, the American Heart Association does recommend at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity activity each week to maintain and improve your health. But here’s the trick: Numerous studies have shown that it doesn’t matter how you cut this time up. You could do it all at once in a single hard-core workout session or you could break it up into 30-minute long workouts 5 days per week. You could even slice it the time into smaller increments. The evidence says that three 10-minute long bouts of activity, spread throughout the day, have the same benefits as one 30-minute session.
So, when trying to decide when the best time to workout is, you really have to look at a variety of very personal factors. When are you most alert? When do you have the time? If you like to workout with other people, when are they available? If you’re more of a lone-wolf in the gym, when is it most empty?
Step back and look at your circumstances so that you can make the best decision for you.