What is the best time of day to workout?

by Krissy Cela

The question of working out in the morning or evening has been asked, debated and discussed for several years now. Physicians, wellness coaches and fitness enthusiasts all have valid opinions and the majority will conclude that it comes down to your lifestyle. We are all on different walks of life, different schedules, demands and stresses. Therefore, it might be best to answer this question with another question: what works best for you and your lifestyle when trying to schedule a workout?

WebMD claims that there is no real evidence to suggest that exercise in the morning leads to a greater caloric burn. I begin with this because several individuals may think that the time of exercise has a greater or lesser impact on the effects exercise has on your body. Fat and weight loss has more to do with your food and nutrient intake than it does with exercise. However, exercise can have a major impact on your body composition, your physical and mental wellbeing. If you think about it, no matter what time you exercise, it will have a positive impact on your mobility, bone and joint health and mental health. That is the beauty of a workout: the phrase ‘you never regret a workout’ may be a cliche, but it is very true!

That being said, of course there are pros and cons to working out no matter what time of day you choose. The first thing to consider is your body clock (or the fancy term: the circadian cycle). We all probably feel like we are either early birds or night owls. These terms are used for many things, whether that be work, fun and of course, sleep! We underestimate the impact our sleep cycles and body clocks have on our wellbeing. According to sleep.org, there is very little we can do to completely change our circadian cycle; it is influenced by our hormones, exposure to light and even our age (hence teens can sleep for hours, but the elderly not so much). If we learn to read our body clock or the bodily cues which dictate our sleep schedules, we may find our performance during exercise is better, or we are more likely to have the motivation to exercise.

For example, if you naturally wake up early and feel alert, it might be the best time to workout and make a great start to your day. If you are someone who has more energy later in the day, then an evening or even an afternoon workout may be best for you. However, as much as we cannot fully change our body clocks, there are certain things we can do to reset it - and this is where we may speculate that the time of exercise has a positive impact on our wellbeing and performance.

- Our exposure to light tells our body it is time to wake up and start the day. Hence, a morning workout outdoors (whether that be a walk, jog or bootcamp) can be an ideal way to start your day.

- Our bodies need sleep to rest; therefore, one could argue that after a restful night’s sleep, our energy levels are at their best to perform well during exercise. However, this argument could also be made after an afternoon siesta, for example!

- If your body resists exercise in the morning and you find it easier to mentally and physically fit in a workout later in the day, then so be it! However, be mindful that exercise (just like food) increases your heart rate and releases positive endorphins which can lead to a bit of a ‘buzz’ before bed - and this can have a negative effect on establishing a good bedtime and sleep routine.
That’s the fancy stuff over and done with, now let’s think about the practicalities of exercise and our lifestyles. 

When to work out

The fact of the matter is, we need exercise to fit in around us, so below are a few things you can do or think about when making the decision of when to work out:

I just want to get it done: if you are someone who likes getting stuff out of the way in the morning to free up or wind down in the evening, then a morning workout is definitely best for you. A 15-30 minute workout at home or at the gym before work or college can set you up for the day. It’s a great way to start your morning, it will release all of the right energy and gives you a positive kick start that we all need before the day begins. Some research does suggest that those who workout in the morning, or make it a part of their morning routine are more likely to form a consistent habit when it comes to exercise.

I have a long morning commute: for the majority of us, work has a major impact on our daily routines. The thought of making time for a workout when you have a long commute and day ahead of you can cause unnecessary stress. Therefore, begin your day stress free, breathe, enjoy a relaxing morning (maybe even hit the snooze button a couple of times!), and fit in that workout at some point during the rest of your day. Sometimes, when you know work is behind you, you are more likely to feel motivated to work at the end of the day.

I work out at work: this is becoming an increasingly favourable option and a great way to beat the 1-3pm lull. Now, several workplaces have facilities to work out on site or there is a gym close by that you can visit during your lunch break. You can also work out with your colleagues, which can lead to a great team spirit! We wouldn’t advise exercising on a full tummy, so maybe save lunch for your post workout meal and eat a pre workout snack mid morning to get you ready!

The school run and the children: I have a great deal of respect for parents who manage to fit in an early morning workout. I mean, running around children is exercise in itself! However, some parents prefer to wake up before the kids and get a quick bit of exercise in (our 15 minute workouts on the Tone & Sculpt app are perfect for this), or perhaps it is something to fit in during naptime, after bedtime or, get the kids to join in after school too! We are in awe of parents who work out with children, and think if you can in that 15-30 minutes of exercise, you are one superhero!

The key thing to remember that yes, exercise does have an impact on energy levels and yes, it can affect your sleep cycles and body clocks, but ultimately, you work out when it works for you. There is no point trying to squeeze in a workout at the crack of dawn if you know you’ll hate doing it or there is no real way of fitting it in. Relax, do what works for you and remember you are doing this for you. Let the positive effects of exercise be your motivation as opposed to the time of day...and enjoy it!

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