You try to eat healthy, you guzzle down the recommended amount of water on the daily, and you monitor your workouts with a fitness tracker. While you may be doing everything you can to live a healthy, active lifestyle, there may just be a little more to it. In fact, many exercise enthusiasts wonder: Is there an optimum time of day to work out?
We know, we know—some days, it’s a miracle you even have the motivation to get on the Peloton, take that extra-long walk, or lift a weight at all. But is there a best time of day to exercise? Actually, yes—here’s what you should know.
When is the best time of day to work out?
First things first: The most convenient time for you to work out is probably the best time to work out, because we’re more likely to actually do it. But if you have a semi-flexible schedule, there is some science worth taking into account.
According to one 2010 study, our bodies reach their peak performance in the afternoon, between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. During this four-hour window, the body temperature is at its highest. Throughout the day, our body temperature fluctuates, but if you were to take advantage of your body temp at its peak, then you’ll also get your most effective workout in.
Even still, the “real” answer is that the best time of day to exercise is personal—especially because many of us are working during the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., so hitting the gym at that time isn’t exactly ideal.
“The truth is, it’s personal,” Melissa Kendter, U.S. trainer for Tone & Sculpt, tells Parade. “It comes down to what works best for each individual when considering your energy levels, motivation, lifestyle, and schedules.”
Is it better to work out in the morning or at night?
The answer to this question is a bit controversial, as there are pros and cons to both.
“Some people feel stronger and more energetic in the morning while others find that later in the day feels best for them and truthfully, the benefits of physical activity depend upon how consistent you are,” Kendter says. “The key is to do what works for you consistently, as we want to build long-term healthy habits. I always tell my clients to book their workout sessions ahead of time to get into a good routine.”
First and foremost, a morning workout may be the most beneficial for people actively trying to lose weight. This is because working out in the morning can kickstart your metabolism and also make you more likely to engage in sporadic activity throughout the day. You know what they say—the early bird catches the worm!
Alternatively, one of the benefits to working out in the evening is that our body temperature is at its highest, which can make for the best, most rewarding results. Another benefit is increased reaction time, meaning not only is our body temp at its peak but our concentration, focus, and endurance is, too. And because our blood pressure and heart rates are also at their lowest at this time, an afternoon workout could mean a decreased risk of injury.
How should you plan your meals around exercise?
Good question. Some people prefer to eat breakfast, then workout, while others feel better working out before eating a meal. But what does the science say?
“Food is fuel! Nutrition plays an important role in our overall health, wellbeing and energy levels, especially when it comes to exercise,” Kendter explains.
Then again, it also depends what you’re eating, not just when.
“Ideally fueling about one to two hours prior to exercise (depending on what you are doing) with fast digesting carbs such as a banana or toast is great,” Kendter adds. “You want to avoid slow-digesting foods such healthy proteins and fats and save that for your post workout nutrition. After a workout, it is ideal to rehydrate and refuel with whole macronutrients to replenish your muscles and body. Protein helps to repair and rebuild your muscles, so a great post workout meal would be something with protein such as chicken, a carb such as a sweet potato and healthy fats like avocado.”
Is it OK to work out before bed?
The main concern, of course, with working out before bed is that it could negatively impact your sleep. Some experts warn that vigorous exercise an hour before bed keeps our body temperature from being able to properly cool down, which results in a delayed sleep and even disrupts sleep quality.
However, the data shows that it really depends on the person. If you tend to wake up earlier, then working out before bed might not be for you. Alternatively, if you sleep later in the morning and go to bed later, too, exercising in the evening could work out fine for you. It all has to do with your body’s unique body temperature and circadian rhythm.
In fact, one study even exhibited some benefits to working out in the evening. According to the data, people who lifted weights in the PM had a better night’s sleep in terms of quality and even slept for a longer period of time than those who lifted weights in the AM.
So, what’s the takeaway? If the most convenient time of day for you to workout is a few hours before bedtime, then do it. There are many benefits to working out at this time and let’s be honest, not everyone’s work and life schedules mean they can be available to work out exclusively between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
If you do choose to work out before bed, try not to do it one hour before bedtime. Give your body enough time to decompress and cool down before hitting the sack. You may even notice a better quality snooze!
“The most important thing you can do is to really give this some honest consideration and figure out what time you are most likely to stick with the habit of working out,” Kendter adds. “Listen to your body, consider your schedule and lifestyle, and with a little trial and error you will find your own perfect workout time.”
Scandinavian Journal of Medicine in Science and Sports. “Different effects of heat exposure upon exercise performance in the morning and afternoon.”
Melissa Kendter, U.S. trainer for Tone & Sculpt
Harvard Health: “Does exercising at night affect sleep?“