Diet Blog

The best time of day to exercise

Thursday, 19 August 2010

There is a lot of debate around whether it is better to exercise in the morning, the afternoon or at night. Choosing the best time of day to work out for you means you can burn the maximum number of calories to lose weight and get the most efficiency from your fitness plan.

The simple answer is that there are pros and cons to exercising at each time of day, and it will depend largely on your body, lifestyle and natural rhythms.

The natural rhythms of the body

The human body follows a sleep and wake cycle called circadian rhythms. This 24-hour cycle regulates all our essential functions, including metabolism, alertness, body temperature and blood pressure. Studies have suggested that although we are born with a natural circadian rhythm, they can be altered and reset based on our behaviors and environmental cues. So if, for example, you consistently exercise in the morning, over time your body will adapt to this rhythm and learn to be ready to exercise at that time of day.

Each individual person has different natural rhythms. You might naturally be a morning person, and have no trouble getting up early to exercise. Others wake up slowly and get more energy at the end of the day. If your rhythms are clear, follow those. It will be much easier to exercise when you feel the strongest, and you’ll be more willing and able to develop a routine you can stick to.

But sometimes you’ll need to rearrange your natural rhythms. With work, family and other commitments, we can’t always exercise at the time when we naturally feel like it the most. So if the only time you can fit in exercise is when you least feel up to it, the solution is to push yourself through the first few hard sessions and stick to a routine until your body adjusts its rhythms. It might be hard at first, but the body will adapt and you’ll soon find it more rewarding.

Morning exercise: pros and cons

The benefits of working out in the morning is that it gets your metabolism revved up for the rest of the day, helping you to burn more calories even when you’re sitting down at the office. Also, if your glycogen stores are depleted from exercise, your body is forced to burn fat for energy.

Exercising early on can also produce endorphins that wake you up and help you to feel more positive, possibly improving energy levels and mental alertness for the day ahead. And in many cases, it can ‘create time’ for exercise by forcing you to get up earlier.

But there are also some negatives. If you are not naturally a morning person, forming a habit can be a long and difficult process. You may also be working out with less than optimal energy levels, and if your muscles are cold and stiff early on in the day you might be at greater risk of energy. It’s also a good idea to eat something first- exercising before eating can mean that muscles is used as a fuel source as well as fat.

Afternoon exercise- pros and cons

Some research suggests that the afternoon is actually the ideal time to exercise, as (contrary to what we might think!) this is when we have the most energy and strength from a physiological perspective.

Exercising in the afternoon can help to maximise our performance, as the muscles are in their peak condition and the body is at an ideal temperature. It can also reduce the risk of injury because the muscles are sufficiently warmed up.

The biggest benefit is that it can give you a chance to wind down and release all the pent-up stress that has been building throughout the day. It can also help you to eat less- both at lunchtime and at dinner.

The downfalls of afternoon exercise is that gyms are usually at their busiest time from 5 to 7pm, so it might be hard to get a treadmill or exercise bike or whatever machine you prefer. Gyms often impose 20 minute time limits during these peak periods as well, so you might not be able to get a full workout. It is also more likely that other commitments and distractions will come up in the afternoon that will stop you from exercising.

Evening exercise- pros and cons

Working out in the evening can be a great way to release stress and turn off the brain after a day of constant mental stimulation. There is some research to suggest that it can also help you to feel more relaxed and tired, helping you to sleep better. By this time of day, your muscles will be warm and flexible, and often it feels easier to work out harder and faster because the perceived exertion is at its lowest late in the day.

There are some practical positives as well- gyms tend to be less crowded, so you’ll have free reign of the equipment, and there are less likely to be distractions or other commitments interfering with your routine.

However, for some people, exercising at night might be too stimulating and actually make it harder to get to sleep. Working out in the evening also means you’re not taking advantage of the ‘afterburn’ effect of exercise, because as soon as you go to sleep your metabolism drops.

Finding the right time for you

Whichever time you choose, the important thing is to keep it consistent. If you work out at the same time each day, your body clock or circadian rhythms will eventually adjust, so that you’ll be energised and ready to go.

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