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Morning vs. Night: Which is the Optimal Time to Exercise?

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

In the world of fitness, there’s no rivalry as contentious as the one between those who engage in physical activity at the crack of dawn and those who observe the sunset while they perspire. However, do the early risers actually achieve better results? Or do the night time exercisers have the correct approach?

To settle the debate once and for all, Jillian Michaels, a fitness expert and creator of The Fitness App, and W. Chris Winter, a neurologist and author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep is Broken and How to Fix It, share their wisdom. Below, they outline the advantages of each before presenting their verdict (their educated opinion) on whether it’s preferable to work out in the morning or exercise at night.

Advantages of Engaging in Morning Workouts

You’ve likely heard of all the advantages of waking up before the sun. Well, if it’s for a morning exercise routine, that list of benefits is even lengthier.

1. It’s simpler to maintain consistency with morning workouts.

How consistent you are with your fitness journey depends on a combination of tenacity and time. However, generally speaking, it’s easier to stay on track with a fitness regimen first thing in the morning.

Think about it: Many things can come up throughout your day that derail your plans for an evening workout, whether it’s errands, additional work, family responsibilities, or impromptu social engagements. If your usual workout falls during happy hour, chances are you’ll choose a drink over your fitness more than once. Unless you’re consuming alcohol at 5 a.m. (yikes!), happy hour won’t align with your sunrise sweat session. Exercising in the morning means you’ll already have crossed it off your to-do list for the day and won’t need to worry about any conflicts or temptations later on.

2. Alcohol is less likely to disrupt morning workouts.

Speaking of alcohol, were you aware that it can interfere with your fitness objectives? When consumed immediately after a workout, alcohol hinders your body’s ability to repair and recover from exercise, as explained by Paul Hokemeyer, an NYC-based addictions psychologist. If you don’t properly recover from your workout, you won’t fully reap all the potential benefits.

The good news for morning exercisers is that enough time usually elapses after your workout, so having a drink after work won’t significantly affect your recovery or progress — or, at least not as much as it would if you worked out at night and immediately went to happy hour or had a glass of wine.

3. Morning exercise may enhance your concentration for the remainder of the day.

“Research indicates that engaging in physical activity at the start of your day can potentially enhance your focus for the duration of the day,” states Michaels. According to a study published in the 2019 edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, participants who engaged in morning exercise reported improved cognitive abilities throughout the day compared to those who exercised only after a full day of sedentary behavior. The study found that engaging in moderate morning exercise led to an increase in levels of serum brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (a crucial molecule for memory and learning), as well as working memory (the temporary storage and utilization of information).

4. Morning exercise may aid in weight loss.

Undoubtedly, there are numerous advantages to exercise that are unrelated to shedding pounds. However, if your goal involves weight loss, here’s an interesting fact: “Several studies have demonstrated that individuals who engage in physical activity before noon have the potential to lose more weight,” reveals Michaels.

For instance, a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Obesity discovered that overweight, physically inactive adults who exercised in the morning, five days a week for a period of 10 months, experienced greater weight loss compared to those who followed the exact same exercise routine (!) but worked out in the evening.

“The mechanisms behind this phenomenon are not fully understood, but the theory suggests that morning exercisers establish a positive mindset towards their health, resulting in healthier eating habits for the rest of the day,” clarifies Michaels. It makes logical sense!

5. Engaging in morning exercise is less likely to disrupt your sleep pattern.

Integrating exercise into your daily schedule at any time of the day can improve your sleep, especially if you have had a sedentary lifestyle, according to Dr. Winter. “When you exercise, your body releases a chemical called benzene, which aids in sleep.”

However, there’s an important aspect to consider when exercising at night: completing your workout too close to bedtime can potentially disrupt your ability to fall asleep. This is because exercise can trigger a surge of hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline) that may leave you feeling energized, explains Dr. Winter.

Cold season.

If your sole choice is to exercise at night or before retiring for the night, “you must counteract that chemical response to unwind and prepare for sleep,” he suggests. (By engaging in a thorough cooldown, practicing meditation, or practicing yoga, for instance.) However, if you work out in the morning, you can simply embrace that exhilarating feeling from exercise instead of having to find methods to counteract it in order to fall asleep faster, he states.

The Advantages of Exercising in the Evening

In the realm of fitness, early morning enthusiasts are not the sole victors. Exercising at night also boasts its own benefits.

1. You might be more attentive and invigorated in the evening.

Feel like you’re sleepwalking on the treadmill when you exercise in the morning? It’s not just a figment of your imagination. When you’re lacking in sleep, your physical performance, coordination, and endurance deteriorate, which can make morning workouts feel more arduous and increase the risk of injury. And of course, injuries will ultimately prevent you from being able to exercise.

Not to mention, if you work out in the morning, you have to contemplate the whole “should I eat before my workout?” dilemma. (Spoiler: It’s acceptable if you prefer not to eat beforehand, but you may not perform at your peak since your body doesn’t have readily available fuel to power your muscles.)

Meanwhile, if you exercise at night, you’ll have had the entire day to nourish your body with sustenance (and caffeine!) and cultivate the level of alertness and energy required to excel in your workout.

2. You can release pent-up energy by exercising at night.

“When I train in the evening, it helps me release some of the accumulated stress from the day,” says Michaels. This is completely logical considering that exercise is a highly effective stress-reliever.

Having an outlet (may we suggest exploring boxing?) at the end of the day can provide a healthy means of releasing those daily pressures. And if you work from home, it can also be beneficial to have an activity like a workout to signal the end of your workday and signify the transition into your personal time.

3. You can establish a consistent exercise routine.

  • Your twilight exercise may be enhanced or prolonged.

Research indicates that you might experience lengthier and more robust workout sessions later in the day compared to the morning,” states Michaels. One study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, for instance, discovered that individuals demonstrated superior exercise performance during the early evenings. Why? Because their fundamental body temperature was already elevated after a day of productive labor, work, work, work, work, work, as opposed to the morning, when the fundamental body temperature is at its minimum level of the entire day. (That being said, the researchers remark that raising your fundamental body temperature — and then giving it your all at the gym — is as simple as engaging in an energetic warm-up.)

4. You’ll most likely have a greater number of sources of responsibility for an evening workout.

It’s simpler to discover a friend who is willing to meet you for a 5 p.m. workout versus a 5 a.m. class — and responsibility is a crucial factor in adhering to your workout plans.

Additionally, it is less probable that you or your exercise partner will hit the snooze button on your alarm or unintentionally oversleep for a workout. (Hey, it happens to the finest among us!)

So Which Is Superior, Morning or Evening Workouts?

While the aforementioned points may lead you to question your own routines, fortunately, the answer is quite straightforward: “There is no correct or incorrect time to exercise,” states Michaels. “Exercising whenever your schedule permits is the optimal time to work out.”

That said, if you have the luxury of training at any time you desire, she suggests employing a trial and error approach while “being attentive to how training at various times of the day affects you.”

As you do so, Michaels proposes asking yourself:

  • Are you fired up and prepared to conquer after that morning cup of coffee? Or, do I find you have greater vitality in the evenings?
  • Does exercising in the morning make you feel focused and empowered to tackle the rest of your day? Or, does it leave you feeling fatigued for the remainder of the day?
  • Does your workout time influence your sleep quality? When do you sleep better or worse?

The Optimal Time of Day to Work Out Is the Same Time

Once you discover the best time of day for your workouts, stick to it, agree both Michaels and Dr. Winter.

“Training at the same time of day is ideal,” states Michaels. “It contributes to incorporating fitness into your routine, making it simpler to establish working out as a wholesome habit,” she says. Research in the journal, Obesity, supports this notion.

If you exercise at the same time of day consistently, your body can predict when it will experience physical exertion, thereby adjusting your biochemistry to provide you with more energy and strength at that specific time of day.

If, for instance, you consistently engage in a jog at the identical time in the morning, Dr. Winter asserts that over a few weeks you can anticipate your body to begin instinctively rousing you just prior to your morning jog alert would activate. Similarly, if you consistently exercise after your 9-5 obligations, your body will be aware to experience a surge of energy around the time you close your laptop each evening. The body is remarkably intelligent, isn’t it?

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