You may be just starting a new workout plan or questioning if switching up your routine would give you better results. Either way, there is a lot of back and forth in the athletic and scientific community around the best time of day to work out, and it may all come down to what your goals are. So, when is the best time? Spoiler alert: whichever time works for you to do it consistently.
According to research, human willpower and determination is the highest when you first wake up. This is why some recommend doing something difficult as your first task of the day. Additionally, when you work out, your body releases endorphins and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). You may know that endorphins create a happy feeling by blocking the sensation of pain, but less people tend to know what BDNF proteins do. BDFN proteins repair nerves in your brain which results in a clearer mind and helps you make positive decisions.
One of greatest things a morning workout can do is influence your decisions for the rest of the day. When you work out in the morning, you are more likely to make healthier decisions throughout the day. The idea that you don’t want to “ruin” all the good you did by making unhealthy choices can have a powerful ripple effect.
Working out in the morning also means that it’s done before the rest of your day even starts. We’ve all been there—we planned to work out right after work—maybe you even signed up for a class. But things come up, people need you, and you end up working late. Or you get to the end of the day and spending time with friends sounds like a lot more fun, so you skip your workout. When you take care of it in the morning, you can ensure that other things won’t come up and take priority, and you won’t have to worry about losing motivation after a long day.
Lastly, any workout can invigorate you with a boost of energy, setting you up for the day and possibly even cutting the need for caffeine.
Although psychologically a morning workout may set you up well for the day, your body may be more ready for a workout in the afternoon or evening. Research shows that strength and flexibility are greatest in the late afternoon and perceived exertion—how hard you feel your body is working—is lowest. Scientists believe this is partially because the body rises in temperature throughout the day due to your circadian rhythm. In other words, your body has been warming up all day and is ready to go, unlike right when you wake up. Because of this, your body is also the least likely to get injured.
You may also be able to run quicker or lift more weight in the afternoon or evening compared to the morning. There is something known as the morning performance gap—when the lack of being warmed up inhibits your ability to perform as well.
Lastly, one of the best psychological benefits of your afternoon workout is that it can help you overcome a mid-day slump and provide a second boost of energy for the day (you naturally have one in the morning). However, this same energy boost too late in the evening could make it harder to fall asleep.
In summary: work out whenever you can consistently.
Although your goals can help determine when to work out, the best time for you is whenever you have time to do it consistently. Research supports the idea that your body will adapt to whichever works for you, and you can expect greater improvements to happen at whichever time of day you train regularly. Of course, what ultimately matters is that you move your body, whenever you can.