Updated 16 November 2015

What's the best time of day to exercise?

Are you a night-owl exerciser or an early-bird? And does it make a difference what time of the day you exercise? According to the experts it depends on what your goal is.


Are you a night-owl exerciser or an early-bird? And does it make a difference what time of the day you exercise? According to the experts it depends on what your goal is.

Catherine Viljoen a registered biokineticist with Virgin Active, says “The answer to what the best time of day for exercise will depend greatly upon your individual exercise goals and commitment.”

Some research suggests that some of us may be naturally predisposed morning people, while others reach their energy peak later in the day, but the jury is still out as to whether results from exercising at a specific time of the day differ though research in this field is expanding.

All in all Viljoen says the best exercise regime is the one that can be maintained, so if it means that you’ll enjoy your workout more and be able to commit to a plan if you choose a particular time of day to exercise then stick with that.

Exercising in the morning

Many people believe that in order to burn more kilojoules and lose weight you should exercise in the morning before breakfast, but Viljoen says this remains a controversial topic. 

“The argument in favour of fasted early morning aerobic exercise suggests that when you work-out in the morning, your metabolism stays elevated for a period of time after the workout is over. It also refers to lower stores of glycogen, insulin and glucose in the body upon waking after an overnight fast, which supposedly kicks your body into “fat-burning mode”. The reality is, after fasting for about 12 hours your blood-sugar levels are very low and this will influence how much exercise you can do, how well your brain works and how tired you will feel during the rest of the day.

“While we’re not suggesting a full English breakfast, it would be wise to enjoy a light snack before your morning exercise session to up your blood-sugar levels and activate your brain. You will definitely still gain the kilojoule-burning effects of the workout.”

The best exercises for the early-bird

Viljoen recommends walking as an early-morning exercise because of its low impact nature and since it also incorporates natural movement and stretching, lending itself to being a relatively safe option for the early morning.

She also recommends yoga and stretch classes as they allow you to stretch your muscles for the day ahead and allow for more invigorating workout later in the day.

However, she points out that there is no reason why you cannot do a strength training session, although it is recommended that you do this at a low intensity.  

Exercising in the afternoon/evening

If you prefer to hit the gym after work however, there is research to suggest that the optimal time to exercise is when your body temperature is at its highest, which for most of us is between 4pm and 5pm. As a result, strength and endurance training is generally better performed during the afternoon and injuries are also less likely to occur at this time.

However, Vilojoen says that while afternoon exercise might be optimal from a physiological standpoint, studies show that morning exercisers are more likely to stick to their routine than people who work out in the afternoon.

“This can be attributed partly to the fact that people are more prone to fatigue and find excuses not to exercise at the end of the working day.”

The best exercises to do in the afternoon/evening

Most people appear to prefer strength training sessions in the afternoon or evening rather than in the early morning, says Viljoen. Similarly, co-ordination and reaction time have also been found to be at the best in the afternoon compared to early mornings. But she warns that if you exercise too close to bedtime, you could battle to fall asleep so she advises you  avoid high intensity exercise at least two to three hours before bedtime.

Reference: Catherine Viljoen a registered biokineticist with Virgin Active
Image: iStock


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