They say the early bird always gets the worm, but in the case of workouts, that isn’t necessarily true.
People always try to pin down the answer to when the best time to work out is, whether it’s at the crack of dawn or after a long workday. But the answer is that there is no right answer.
While research supports both morning and evening workouts, your best bet is to pick a routine that aligns with your long-term fitness goals, as well as something you can stick with. For example, a morning workout requires a nutritious dinner, a more rigorous warmup, and lots of sleep, while evening exercises require you to fuel right throughout the day, and to make sure parties or other social events don’t interfere with your gym date. If you feel like you’d fit into one category more than the other, then that’s most likely the better option for you.
Elite Daily spoke with three experts to understand the differences between working out in the morning and at night: Dominick Gauthier, scientific advisor to ASYSTEM, a subscription-based system of supplements and skincare designed to optimize the human body inside and out; Gideon Akande, personal trainer and Shadowbox Chicago instructor; and Gerren Liles, Hyperwear athlete and Equinox master trainer. All agree that there are benefits to working out in the morning and working out at night, but when it comes to highlighting those differences, it all depends on the individual.
Here are the pros of morning workouts:
1. You get it out of the way in the morning.
After a long workday, sometimes all you want to do is curl up on your couch and watch Netflix. Other times, maybe you’d rather take a nice, warm bath to wash away the stress of the day. And what about those times when you want to partake in an unexpected post-work outing with your colleagues or friends? In any of those instances, a morning workout would be ideal.
“A lot of things in life demand our attention now, such as work, family, and social responsibilities; it’s too easy to deprioritize training as the day picks up,” says Gauthier. “It takes more mental energy to meet the goal of training as distractions mount.”
Akande echoes Gauthier’s sentiments, saying, “Oftentimes, dinner plans/family emergencies/life happens as the day progresses and may derail your opportunity to exercise. Getting [a workout] in early diminishes the chances of those situations taking hold of your fitness goals.”
2. It can be better for your health.
Your overall health can be improved by an early fitness routine. Akande says that “morning workouts rev up the metabolism and jumpstart your body’s internal furnace to burn stronger all day.”
Liles agrees, noting that “endorphins released from [a] workout can set a positive tone to your day.”
In a previous interview with Elite Daily, personal trainer Erik Bowitz said you don’t have to be strict with your morning workout to make it worth it. According to Bowitz, 30 minutes is a good time to aim for because it “allows an appropriate amount of time to stretch, to warm up, to do 20 minutes of cardio or a workout circuit, and cool down. However, you can increase your heart rate via thermogenisis (aka the production of heat) for up to an hour after a workout, so the actual workout duration can vary greatly depending on intensity.”
3. Your body is prepared.
Sleep is the optimal time for your body to recuperate and recover. That means it repairs used muscles and converts your food into energy (glucose) for the following day. So when you wake up, your body is fresh and prepared for a workout. As long as you slept long and well enough, that is.
Gauthier, who has coached multiple Olympic champions, suggests “listen[ing] to your body and don’t be afraid to sleep through the alarm when optimal performance is required or when rest is going to pay off more than training on a particular day. That is not being lazy, it’s being purposeful.”
If you don’t listen to your body and try to “push through,” he warns, “You might feel awake, but you can’t enter an optimal zone for performance if your body is depleted, especially long term.”
Caleb Backe, a personal trainer and health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, previously told Elite Daily that he believes in morning workouts because it affects your mental well-being in a positive way. “As far as the mind-body connection is concerned, some amount of physical activity is almost essential for good mental health,” he said. “Moving your body helps to regulate processes of all kinds, and releases chemicals which help homeostasis and proper maintenance.”
4. And think of the workout classes.
These are arguably the two worst things that could happen when you’re ready to work out at the gym: 1. all the exercise machines are taken, or 2. the classes are full. You’re less likely to run into either of these issues in the mornings.
“Evening classes are often more packed,” Akande says. “Give yourself some room and a better instructor-to-attendee ratio by sweating early.”
Plus, think of the other attendees in your early classes. Liles says, “You’ll be surrounded by like-minded, driven people who can inspire your day.”
5. Early birds are more consistent.
According to Gauthier, consistency is key. “There is no doubt that the morning workouts are the way to go to ensure consistency,” he says. “Training the body and mind for performance is about building positive habits and consistently showing up for your training is the first part of that.”
In a 2007 interview with WebMD, Cedric Bryant, Ph.D, chief science officer with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, said, “Research suggests in terms of performing a consistent exercise habit, individuals who exercise in the morning tend to do better. The thinking is that they get their exercise in before other time pressures interfere.”
In a study titled, “Relationship of Consistency in Timing of Exercise Performance and Exercise Levels Among Successful Weight Loss Maintainers,” led by Dale Bond, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Brown Alpert Medical School, he surveyed 375 adults who had solid exercise routines (minimum two days a week). Nearly half of the group (47.8 percent) worked out in the early morning, while the remaining 52.2 percent exercised in the late morning, afternoon, or evening.
Here are the pros of late afternoon/evening workouts:
1. You’ll have a more relaxed morning.
In addition to sleeping in, you won’t have to rush to pack a gym bag, post-workout snack, lunch, and a change of clothes. Akande says, “Evening workouts allow you to get a proper jumpstart on your morning,” which can include anything from “clearing out your inbox” to “returning phone calls.” Heck, even eating a full breakfast can be on the menu.
You’ll also be able to take your time in the shower, instead of a quick, 30-second scrub at the gym.
2. You’re already fueled and warmed up.
While your body may be refueled in the morning, your body may also be better prepared for a workout later in the day. Think about it: In the morning, your body is nowhere near stretched out because you’ve been laying horizontally for hours; BUT by the time the evening rolls around, you’ve at least somewhat stretched out your limbs by walking around all day.
Moreover, you’re already fueled up since you likely ate lunch, along with some snacks, which is the perfect energy you need for a workout after work. To put it simply, Liles says, “You’re more alert.”
3. It’s a good outlet to blow off steam.
After a long and rough day at the office or class, a light or intense workout can have a big effect on de-stressing when you’re trying to unwind and relax. Gauthier says, “While pushing through the zone of discomfort during intense workouts can take a lot of mental power, it is hugely satisfying and takes your fitness to the next level.”
This can also help you build “the confidence that you can meet the challenges you set for yourself in all areas of life,” he adds.
4. The potential friendships are also a factor.
Though many people think of working out as an individual experience, there are plenty of people who love to experience the social aspect of going to the gym. If you’re a member of the latter group, then after-work exercises may be the way to go for you.
“There’s more potential for the workout to be a social experience,” says Liles, because there are usually more gym-goers in attendance at the end of the day rather than at the start.
5. One word: Hygiene.
In a lot of cases, gyms don’t have a shower, which doesn’t always bode well for people who go to work after exercising. To avoid heading into the office sweaty and/or with bad body odor, Akande suggests “saving your workout for later in the day.”
So pick your optimal time, and get sweating. Whether that’s getting your blood pumping soon after you wake up, or opting for a post-work workout session so you can sleep in a little longer, there’s only one person who knows which routine is the better fit — and that’s you.
Additional reporting by Kaitlin Cubria.
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