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When’s Really The Best Time To Work Out?

woman doing a split on the beach
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

Should you work out first thing in the morning or hit the gym when you’re off from work? And what about all the lunch-break classes every studio keeps popping on their schedules? Is there a best time to work out?

The answer is a mix of yes and no, and it depends on a lot of factors: your preference, schedule, organization skills, eating habits, sleeping routine, energy levels, willpower, goals you want to achieve, certain illnesses, and even genetics. So, let’s take a closer look at each one and see how they might contribute to finding the best time to get your sweat on.

What Do You Want?

Are you a morning person? If not, do you want to become one? If the answer is “no, I love sleep too much,” then you got your answer right there. See, if you hate the fact you have to stop snoozing the alarm button and actually dress up in workout clothes to then go for a run or take a cycling class, there isn’t a study or research that can prove working out in the morning will be the best time for you. Having a negative perspective and dreading your mornings isn’t going to make any of the exercises efficient. Your cortisol will be elevated more than it should, and even if you gave it a go, staying consistent would be really hard, if not impossible.

Remember, our bodies love consistency; it’s the only thing that keeps them balanced as by adapting to a specific routine or schedule, they know when to produce the right hormones and send signals of alertness, sleep, hunger, and satiety. That’s not to say you won’t change your mind and start craving movement first thing in the morning or loving the fact you get to let out some steam after work, but if there is a different time at which you’d prefer to work out, try that first. And keep doing it day after day; chances are, you’re going to love it.

Where Can You Fit it In Your Schedule?

Your best friend decided to work out in the morning because she heard good things about it, and your sister can’t stop raving about the noon cycling classes she swears changed her life. Of course, you want to do both, but realistically, does your schedule allow that? If you’re working an 8-5 job, you would have to set your alarm for an hour earlier than you normally do to join your friend, and use the lunch break to run to take the cycling class with your sister, shower, and get back to work. Do you think it’s possible? If it is, then, by all means, do both, but if you’re getting stressed just by thinking about it, you might want to take a moment to think it through.

Sacrificing your sleep is never a good idea, as you’re missing out on rest and recovery, and trying to fit a 45-min class + shower + traffic on the way there and back in a 1-hour lunch break window is really stressful and cutting it way too close. Analyze your current schedule and try to see where would be the best time to fit your workout in, as by doing so, you’ll be able to focus on your mind to body connection fully, and really get the most out of your workout.

What Are Your Eating Habits?

Do you prefer having a big, hearty breakfast to start your day on a good note, or are you more of a ’skip-the-breakfast-brunch-queen?’ If your answer is “breakfast is the most important part of the day,” fitting in a morning workout could be a bit tricky. You’ll either have to do it fasted (and the jury is still out on that) or wake up earlier to give your body a little bit more time to properly digest the food before you get your training mode on.

If brunch is your time to have a proper meal, an early morning workout might leave you hungry before you usually break your fast, and a 12 pm workout might be tough to save your energy for. On the other hand, if you enjoy having your dinner around 7 pm, you can definitely make those 5 pm classes count, but you might need to stay away from 8 pm Zumba Mondays.

Organizing your eating habits around your workouts depends on whether your work/life schedule allows it, as adaptation is what our bodies are meant to do, so implementing intermittent fasting or teaching yourself to have an early breakfast will sooner or later become your routine and your body will get used to it; if you stay consistent, that is.

woman stretching in runner's lunge
Karla Tafra / LifeSavvy

Is Your Sleeping Routine On Point?

Sleeping is the only time our bodies rest and recover, so making sure we get enough of it is crucial for our long-term health and longevity. Sacrificing the precious Zzzz minutes to get to that 6 am Bootcamp class isn’t really worth it if you can’t bring yourself to call it a night before noon. Running on 5 hours of sleep (or less) isn’t ideal as not only will your reactions be slow, body tired and fatigued, and you won’t be able to get anything beneficial from your workout, you’ll also be adding too much stress to your already sleep-deprived and stressed out body. You won’t have enough time to rest and recover before you do it all again. This will have severe repercussions on both your mechanical and cognitive functions, as you’re risking going into overdrive and merely burning out.

Prioritizing sleep is rule number one, and making sure you fit in your workouts should never trump it. If you’re so keen on getting to that early class, make it a conscious decision to be in bed by 10 pm, so you’re able to recuperate and reboot your whole system before starting a whole new day.

Do You Have a Certain Goal In Mind?

Everything mentioned above has to be in an even greater balance if you’re working towards something specific, and you’re not only trying to stay active and fit a workout into your current lifestyle. Training for a marathon, trying to hit that deadlift PR, or working on your handstand; they all require dedication, consistency, an organized schedule, established eating habits, quality rest and sleep, and a little bit of sacrifice in your preferences. Let’s face it; teaching yourself to go to bed early is the least you can do if you want to see progress and reach your goals.

But, What Does The Science Say?

Although there is some compelling evidence that says exercise before breakfast promotes fat burn and lowers blood pressure, there are also studies that show how evening workouts lower stress and how working out in the afternoon improves endurance. Even though there isn’t a consensus, there definitely are people who thrive off of morning workouts and those whose performance excels in the afternoon. Will the future bring more clarity and help us figure it out? We’re only left to sit and wait, but for the time being, let’s check with ourselves and work on exploring what works for us.

All in all, the answer to this question is a little bit more complicated than you’d think, but when trying to narrow it down, the only real truth is that the best time to work out for YOU is the one you can stick to while keeping every one of the above-mentioned aspects in balance.

Karla Tafra Karla Tafra
Karla is a certified yoga teacher, nutritionist, content creator and an overall wellness coach with over 10 years of international experience in teaching, writing, coaching, and helping others transform their lives. From Croatia to Spain and now, the US, she calls Seattle her new home where she lives and works with her husband. Read Full Bio »
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