When is the best time to train? Well, it depends on your goals. If performance or hypertrophy are what you’re after, there really doesn’t need to be that much difference in training one-time vs another- workload over time will be more important than anything else.
However, working out in the morning can be more beneficial for those looking to burn body fat, especially when training on an empty stomach, in a fasted state. The body’s hormonal composition will be far more favourable to burning body fat in this situation than at pretty much any other time.
However, if you don’t- or can’t- train in the morning, don’t worry. There is also a lot to be gained from training later on and, as we will see, the benefits to training in general are far more profound compared to training at any specific time.
Morning training vs evening training
A lot of people will find it easier to work out in the morning. You’re fresher and you know that, once you’ve got it out the way, you won’t have to think about it anymore. In the evening, these people may feel tired or unmotivated, especially in the winter when it gets dark early and they don’t want to leave the house to attend the gym or any fitness classes.
You will have elevated levels of cortisol and human growth hormone early in the morning, both of which are key to metabolism. If you’re in a fasted state, you will also have far less glycogen in your body, meaning that you will be far likelier to burn through the body’s energy reserves (fat). This can also be done to approve such training purposes in regards to other focuses
There may be a slightly repressive effect on your appetite to be gained from early morning exercise, which should lead to fewer hunger pangs throughout the day and thus diminished caloric intake. In addition, it’s thought than earlier morning training can lead to more energy, better mental health and greater productivity through the day, as stress levels are reduced, and endorphin levels and circulation raised.
The morning is a little early for some people and they know that, with a day’s worth of eating and a few cups of coffee behind them, they will get a better workout later on. For some, training is even a reward at the end of the day- get work and obligations out of the way, and just relax into a bit of me-time at the gym. Indeed, it can be something of a stress-relief: after a full day of running about, working and dealing with whatever needs dealing with, you can settle into the weights room and let of some steam before turning in.
In addition, you will have a higher body temperature towards the late afternoon- early evening, which is when your muscles will be warm and better primed to work. In part because of this, you will find your muscular strength and endurance peaking around this time.
It’s also often more sociable to train in the early evening rather than at the crack of dawn. Most people make the most of their gym memberships after work, not before. You will therefore be likelier to find more workout buddies and a bit more of a buzz in the gym of whatever fitness classes you attend later in the day.
Bear in mind the style of training you’re taking part in, as well. If you’re looking to kick-start the day with a furious bike ride or a few rounds with the punch bag, great. If you’re looking to start with relaxing yoga… you may end up just falling asleep again. The reverse is true- relaxing yoga is great before bed but taking a load of pre-workout caffeine supplements and hitting a deadlift PR might keep you up all night. Pick the time of day that best suits you and your training.
So, there are solid reasons for training both in the morning and evening- both psychological and physiological. It’s therefore up to you to decide. If you have a weight loss goal and want some early morning cardio, you’re onto a winner. If you want to pack on muscle and find it easier to train in the evening, it’s also good.
What does this all mean, then? Is there a definitive answer as to when to train?
Yes, and no. Yes: there are the above advantages to both, so use these to decide which time is best for you. No: forgetting the acute reactions your body has to exercise (hormonal responses and so forth), simply training will, no matter the type or time, will have profound, non-acute, long-term benefits.
You will be in a lower risk bracket for pretty much every chronic disease going; you will have a better state of mental health, with more energy in general; you will likely live longer, in less pain, with greater comfort, agility and agency. These are arguably the biggest benefits to be gained from living an active life. None of them depend in any way upon whether you train in the morning or evening.