Best Time to Work Out: Timing Is Everything
â€œHow much should I be eating?"
â€œWhat's the best time to work out?"
â€œWhy does it hurt so much?"
I've been a trainer almost as long as I've been training myself, which is over a decade, and these are the three most common questions I hear. In my tenure in the industry, I've worked with countless competitors, soccer moms, and fitness enthusiasts, and no matter what level of athleticism they are at, the same question comes up.
â€œWhen's the best time to work out?"
There are two answers. The first one is practical and easy: Whenever works for you. Whenever you can. Sounds simple, but it's true. If the only time of day you CAN train is 6 a.m., before work, then it doesn't matter how many scientific studies you read that tell you 8 p.m. is prime performance time. It's just not going to happen. So instead of getting discouraged and not making it to the gym ever, continue to go at 6 a.m. Because going at the â€œwrong time" is still better than not going at all. If your trainer is only available at 8 p.m., but your energy is already drained after a full day of work, and your session is sluggish and useless, then stop forcing it to happen! Wake up a little early, and get it in. Just like the opposite scenario above, go to the gym when you know you'll get the best workout FOR YOU, not for anyone else.
What Science Says
Best time to work out for performance & strength:
Late afternoon/evening - before it gets too dark.
In the afternoon, your pain tolerance is highest, your adrenaline rises, and your coordination, strength, lung stamina, and flexibility are all at their greatest. If this isn't the ultimate recipe for a strength plateau-busting workout, then I don't know what is. It's the perfect storm of your body working in your favor to help you get better, stronger, and faster. With your pain threshold low, and your strength potential high, it's easy to break some limits and personal records.
Best time to work out for weight loss:
The reason morning is ideal for training for fat loss or fat storage prevention is two-fold: First, your brain and memory are sharper in the morning. Mental alertness is high during the late morning, so it's the best time to do a group exercise class, circuit, or utilize advanced training techniques that require your full attention. The heightened awareness from mental focus could also enhance the mind-muscle connection, which is a practice that has been proven to help with any goal achievement.
Second, from a physiological point of view, testosterone and growth hormones are at their peak in the morning based on biological rhythms. Testosterone and GH are KEY for muscle building, rebuilding damaged muscle after training, and boosting fat loss hormones. With that said, GH production is related to the amount of sleep you get; so this one really only applies if you're getting enough shuteye at night to reap the benefits. Working out in the morning will also help boost your metabolism and burn more calories throughout the rest of the day.
The takeaway here is that the best time to work out is whenever you're going to make the time do it. No matter when you train, as long as you are training, you're going to reap the benefits. However, there are certain times that are better than others depending on your goals. So if you can afford to be flexible with your schedule, then try to move some things around, and make time work in your favor.
Photo credit: Stevan Fane
Best Time to Work Out: Timing Is Everything has been generously written by Jaime Filer, Online Editor-In-Chief of Muscle Insider, Canada's #1 Muscle Magazine. Love Jaime's inspiring and energetic voice as much as we do? Read more of her work on the 6 Pack blog, including How To Crossfit Meal Prep With Jaime Filer, The Best Ways to Tone Your Body In-Between Competitions, and 5 Serious Workout Mistakes You're Making, as well as her own Fitness Transformation.
For more on the best time to work out, check out Is It Better To Work Out In The Morning Or At Night?