What is the best time to workout during the day? The jury may still be out. Photograph courtesy of Flickr user Abdullah AL-Naser.
Here in Washington, we’re busy people. For many of us, a typical day could include waking up around 6 AM, working a 9 to 5 (or 7 or 8) job, then meeting friends for dinner, or attending a work event, or helping the kids finish that science project … you get the idea.
So with such crazy schedules, how are we supposed to fit in a workout at the ideal time of the day—and is there even such a thing? While the official verdict is still out on the best time of day to exercise, local health and life coach Sara Oliveri says what’s most important is just making sure you get in a workout, no matter when it happens.
“Any time is the best time,” she says. “If for some reason you can’t work out when it’s ideal, it’s still not a good idea to skip a workout entirely.”
However, with a little testing and commitment, local trainer Doug Murphy says it is possible to find a time that best works for each individual.
“Everybody is different,” he says, so listen to your body and experiment to see what suits your lifestyle and preferences best.
Read on to find out which time of day might be best for you to work out.
When Morning Is Best
There is some research out there that indicates morning exercise is the most beneficial, says Oliveri. First, it speeds up our metabolism, allowing our bodies to break down food more efficiently throughout the day. In fact, a study published the Journal of Physiology found that exercising before eating breakfast may help stave off weight gain better than if you eat first. It can also energize us and help get our minds on the right track for the rest of the day.
It’s also great for those who desire consistency, says Murphy. “Especially in the DC area, where a lot of people have high-stress, high-power jobs, exercise just has to be in the early morning.” Otherwise they’re usually too exhausted to do anything after the workday.
However, all the perks of a morning workout go out the window if you aren’t getting enough sleep, Oliveri warns. “It’s clear that if you’ve had eight to nine hours of sleep and you’ve eaten well the day before, you’ll have more energy right in the morning than after eight hours at work,” she says. “The problem is, we usually don’t get eight hours of sleep.” In that case, try for a midday workout. That way, you don’t spend what little energy you have before you even head to work.
When Midday Is Best
If you need a grande latte from Starbucks to get your morning started, both Murphy and Oliveri say a midday workout is probably the best option. Bonus: It’s great for preventing that mid-afternoon crash so many of us suffer from around 2 or 3.
One issue, says Oliveri, is that most people don’t have a flexible lunch hour to squeeze in a workout. If you can’t take an hour break to head to the gym and save time to clean up afterward, a midday workout is probably not the best idea. But if you have a gym at work and can cut travel time, “then a lunchtime workout is an excellent idea,” Oliveri says.
However, meals should be taken into consideration, adds Murphy. Be sure you’re fully hydrated and have some food in your system before exercising, but save the full lunch for after the workout. “You need to pick a time when you’ve had time to digest, so all that food won’t weigh you down,” he says.
When After Work Is Best
It’s really up to an individual’s schedule, but if you work odd hours and are a night owl, then exercising around 5 or 6—7 PM at the latest—could work in your favor. “For some people, cardiovascular interval training really wears them out, and they can go home and right to bed,” Murphy says.
Then again, high-intensity training right before bedtime isn’t always a good idea. It can easily cause an adrenaline rush that prevents people from falling asleep. If after 8 is your only open window, try a low-intensity exercise like yoga. “It’s a perfect late workout because it helps your body relax, and that naturally leads to sleep,” Murphy says.