When it comes to exercise, the time of day can make all the difference. But is it better to be an early bird or a night owl? Let's take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Discover your ideal sweat time
Your workout plan isn't set in stone. It may change according to the weather, the time of year, your personal or professional responsibilities, or even just your mood. But consistency is key, so we want to know: When, exactly, is the best time to work out? We won't accept "whenever you'll do it" as an answer, so it's time to get scientific with the art of exercise—starting with some expert advice from Doctor of Physical Therapy, Francesca Petrey:
Evening workouts: The benefits
Improved performance: Research shows that most people function better, physically speaking, later in the day. The body gets warmer and testosterone levels are higher, which are both important factors for building muscle. According to Dr. Francesca, “This means that your body will physically be able to move easier in the evening due to increased overall joint mobility and tissue extensibility, including your muscles and lungs.” Exercising in the evening might also help to replace bad habits, such as snacking, drinking, or watching too much TV.
Convenience: For those who aren't early risers, evening workouts can be more convenient and require less of a lifestyle change. You can use your evening workouts to destress from the workday and boost your energy levels for the rest of the night.
See and be seen: Running at dusk can be an eye-opening experience, shedding a new light (literally) on those familiar local landmarks you've run past hundreds of times. With our Run Visible Collection, you'll become a landmark yourself, recognizable as a runner from up to 600 feet away. Depending on local conditions, this unique fluorescence can make nighttime runs as safe as any daytime workout.
Evening workouts: The drawbacks
Sleep interference: “Avoid high-intensity exercise before bed, as this raises cortisol and shifts your sleep/wake cycle,” explains Dr. Francesca. If you have to work out at night, remember this causes a shift in your circadian rhythm, so it’s likely your bedtime will be later and likewise your wake time should correlate to achieve enough sleep.”
Consistency problems: Exercising at night may not work for you simply because you are too tired after a long day. It may also interfere with responsibilities, making it challenging to maintain a consistent workout schedule.
Morning workouts: The benefits
Establishing a fitness routine: “When looking at morning exercise, it can be beneficial to allow for behaviour change and habit formation,” says Dr. Francesca. “It is the time of day where we have the fewest life restraints, social or work events, and other arising conflicts. Habit formation is a key to remaining consistent with anything, whether it is training for a marathon, weight loss, or building a strength routine. Consistently exercising at a specific time of day supports habit formation.”
Improved sleep cycle: Research suggests that a morning exercise habit can shift your circadian rhythm, making your body more alert in the morning and more tired in the evening. Morning exercise also seems to boost deep sleep more than evening exercise, helping you drift off into a peaceful slumber.
Fat burning: Exercising on an empty stomach ("fasted state") burns more fat than exercising after a meal ("fed state"). Working out after a light breakfast—oatmeal and a banana, for example—may help you blaze through calories more efficiently, and may also supercharge your metabolism for the rest of the day.
Productivity and mood boost: Morning workouts can make you more productive and improve your mood throughout the day, especially if you're able to mix up your routine and cover different types of running routes in good light. Exercise has also been shown to increase mental alertness and focus, making morning exercisers more efficient during the day.
Morning workouts: The drawbacks
Running on low fuel: Your physical performance is unlikely to be at its peak first thing in the morning, as Dr. Francesca explains: “We know that while we sleep, we are in a fasted state as we are not consuming food or water. When we wake up in the morning, our glycogen stores are at their lowest.” Rise too early and you may also interrupt deep sleep, making it more challenging for you to push yourself to your limits during your workout (and throughout the rest of the day).
Longer warm-up time: It takes longer to warm up in the morning, as your muscles and joints may be stiffer after sleep. A proper warm-up is crucial to avoid injury and prepare your body for exercise.
Circadian rhythm: Science to help you decide
Your body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, plays a significant role in determining the best time for you to work out. This 24-hour cycle influences various physiological processes, including sleep, alertness, body temperature, and hormone production. According to Dr. Francesca, “This cycle can affect the quality of the exercise in a negative way when disrupted. Having good sleep hygiene is the first step in regulation of a proper routine so you can perform at your best.”
In other words, understanding how your circadian rhythm affects your workout performance can help you make an informed decision about the ideal time to exercise.
Effect on mood, anxiety, and motivated behaviours: Your circadian rhythm influences your mood, anxiety levels, and motivation. This can have a significant impact on your workout routine, as these factors can affect your ability to stay consistent and push yourself during exercise.
The role hormones play: Hormones like melatonin and cortisol play a significant role in your circadian rhythm. Melatonin regulates sleep, while cortisol, the stress hormone, is associated with alertness and energy levels. Understanding how these hormones fluctuate throughout the day can help you identify the optimal workout time for you.
Short-term disruptions to circadian rhythm: Temporary disruptions to your circadian rhythm can cause memory loss, lack of energy, delayed injury healing, and problems with digestion. Morning exercisers should be extra careful with their sleeping routines, as disruptions can negatively affect performance early in the day.
Optimize your workout and performance
To balance out any drawbacks to morning or evening workouts, try these tips:
Proper warm-up: Regardless of the time of day, make sure you take the time to warm up properly. This will help prevent injury and ensure your body is prepared for the workout ahead.
Nutrition and hydration: Pay attention to your pre- and post-workout nutrition. Eating a balanced meal or snack before your workout can provide the necessary fuel, while post-workout nutrition helps with recovery.
Dress for success: Invest in the right gear to support an effective workout and minimize stress on your body. Running shoes like Ghost and Glycerin are designed to help you maximize your performance and feel energized at any time of day.
Listen to your body: It's essential to listen to your body and adjust your workout schedule accordingly. If you consistently feel sluggish or unmotivated during your chosen workout time, it might be worth trying a different time of day to see if it makes a difference.
Consistency: Regardless of whether you choose morning or evening workouts, the key to success is consistency—especially if you're just starting out. Stick to a schedule that works for you, and make your workouts a priority.
Establish a routine that fits your lifestyle
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether morning or evening workouts are better. The best time to work out ultimately depends on your individual preferences, schedule, and how your body responds to exercise at different times of the day. By considering your circadian rhythm and optimizing your workout and performance based on your preferences, you can discover the workout routine that best fits your lifestyle and fitness goals. In Dr. Francesca’s words:
Keep that spring in your step this season and embrace your Run Happy journey with Brooks Running!
Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.
Francesca Petrey is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. She has been practicing for 9 years and currently lives in Las Vegas with her husband and dog. Her hobbies include running, hiking, cooking, traveling, and living a healthy lifestyle. She has run 13 marathons, including the 2022 Boston Marathon, and qualified for the New York City Marathon in 2023.