Best time to work out?
December 18, 2011 8:46 AM   Subscribe

When is the best time of day for an individual to exercise (i.e. early morning, midday or evening) and what factors make that specific time the best time?

Yes, the best answer would probably be "Whatever time works best for the individual". What I'm wondering though is there a specific time that is or tends to generally work better for humans beings and what is the scientific basis for it. Is it better to start the day with a calorie deficient or just work off calories at the end of the day or does it matter?
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There are some studies that show that exercising in the morning before breakfast is better for fat loss.
posted by sid at 8:53 AM on December 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I do believe there are also studies that demonstrate when people exercise in the early morning they are significantly more compliant and consistent with their exercise plan. I think this is just common sense--much to easy to defer/put off/ find excuses to not exercise later in the day.
posted by rmhsinc at 9:05 AM on December 18, 2011

According to a recent episode of Robb Wolf's podcast, it's probably around 3:00 - 4:00 in the afternoon. (More realistically, it's whenever you can find the time.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:09 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't know the best time, but I do know exercising too close to bed time is NOT the best time, as it gets your adrenalin going and makes it hard to get to sleep.
posted by 3FLryan at 9:52 AM on December 18, 2011

This isn't a scientific factor - but for me it's at lunch. I'm at work, I have an hour and no excuses. It's to easy to convince myself in the morning to skip it, and after work I'm just too tired from the day -- but at lunch, I have my gym bag packed up and it's only a block away from work.

The best time is the time that works for you. I think they're are studies on the positive effects of either a morning work out or an afternoon workout -- but it's only beneficial if you actually go.
posted by Danithegirl at 12:23 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

As others have said, metabolically it's best to get in some cardio in the morning, since that elevates your metabolic rate throughout the day.
posted by kavasa at 1:17 PM on December 18, 2011

Depends on what exercise, and what the primary goal of the exercise is. Cardio is going to be different from weight training. "Best time of the day" is a bit broad - there are more factors along the axis of timing, duration and level of exertion. Primary goal - for example, if the primary goal is blood sugar level control, then the timing is going to be centered around that, with meals determining the "when", though for example, the human body naturally has higher blood sugar levels first thing in the morning (in preparation for the challenges of the day from the time we were in the wild and compelled to hunt/search for our food).

For some reason I have had elevated glucose levels to around 90/95 mg/dL, and my hemo A1C at 5.5% (ref. range: 4.4% - 5.9%), conventionally seen as a borderline case (though the literature suggests glucose not higher than 82 mg/dL as optimal). The way I was able to get it down into that range (79 mg/dL), after a lot of experimentation, was to do (1) very high intensity weight lifting for (2) very brief duration: 5 minutes (3) just before and just after my meals. I experimented a lot, and that was the only thing that would work (annoying, as I keep my calories low, and exercise anyway, so my blood sugar should be stellar - but only the above regimen worked). Now, I do know that it's individual for many people - I've done a lot of reading while experimenting - so unfortunately there's no way to simply copy someone's schedule; what is involved, is unhappily, a lot of tests and needle pricks to find just the right schedule and form of exercise - this takes quite a bit of time (weeks or months, not days) and expense (strips), and pain (fingertip - ouch).
posted by VikingSword at 2:34 PM on December 18, 2011

If you are male, you will get better results from exercising at times when your testosterone naturally peaks. I think that is in the morning, but I'm not sure. (My husband looked into this once).

But honestly, I think the "best" time to exercise is whenever it is going to be most convenient for you most days, because you'll get better effects from building a regular routine you can stick to than from benefiting from slight physiological advantages, but skipping every second workout!
posted by lollusc at 4:03 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

(I want to officially issue a disclaimer now that I am not a professionally certified trainer or doctor or biologist so you should find some sources for what I'm saying to confirm. I mean, it's the internet for chrissakes.)

I will transmit two bits of information, one of which merely echoes what lollusc said about testosterone: it is at its highest in the morning, so you are better off exercising then. My current trainer has told me this more than once. He's a certified kettlebell trainer, for what it's worth. Not sure if that's recognized by any official medical organization though (no, seriously, probably not, so grain of salt and all that).

Two: I read somewhere (ding! again, buckets of salt) that the right kind of exercise (not cardio, but weight training/anaerobic exercise) later in the day, like late afternoon/evening, kicks up your metabolism again so you are burning at a higher rate longer in the day, so that is better for fat loss. Directly contradicts what sid wrote at the top though, or maybe not, I dunno.

But honestly, I think the "best" time to exercise is whenever it is going to be most convenient for you most days, because you'll get better effects from building a regular routine you can stick to than from benefiting from slight physiological advantages, but skipping every second workout!

That is really the most important point in the end, isn't it? Double thumbs-up to lollusc.
posted by dubitable at 6:47 AM on December 19, 2011

I have a vague recollection that in the hyper-obsessed fitness circles recently people have been combining intermittent fasting with early morning exercise and even caffeine, but I don't follow any of that personally (too complicated with the supplements and timing meals etc.). Might want to sniff around for studies about it though.

I know you're not exactly asking this, but for me personally earlier in the day is better for a few reasons. One, if I exercise too close to bedtime (say, any time after 5pm) I can't fall asleep easily, which jacks everything up. Two, getting it out of the way earlier in the day pumps me up the rest of the day, so I'm more likely to want to stay more active, which is a good thing. Three, it also tends to make it easier to eat better and feel good about it. Four, doing it right away makes it so I don't have time for the whole motivation slump, or time to come up with reasons I don't feel like doing it.

Aside from that, I time it so the recovery meal immediately after working out aligns with a meal time anyway (lunch usually), for overall sensible eating.
posted by ifjuly at 8:18 AM on December 19, 2011

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