Finding the time to lift weights isn’t easy. So, it’s only natural that you want to make that time as productive as possible. As well as producing exercises and following the ideal set and rep scheme, you want to train at the time of day that your body is best primed for action.
But what is that time?
There’s been an ongoing debate between advocates of early morning workouts and those of evening training. In this article, we look at all sides of the issue to come to a conclusion about what the best time of day to lift weights actually is.
Early Morning Weight Training
There are some obvious benefits to getting your workout done first thing in the morning. For a start, there are likely to be no distractions when you jump out of bed, grab your gym bag, and head out the door. Contrast that to trying to get to the gym later in the day when all sorts of obstacles are likely to interrupt your best-laid plans.
First thing in the morning, you should also be feeling refreshed physically and mentally. You’ve just had several hours for your muscles to recharge, and they’ll be primed to perform. Again, we can compare that to working out later in the day, when you are likely to be physically and mentally worn out by your day’s obligations.
Testosterone is the key hormone for fueling your training energy and promoting muscle growth.
Early in the morning, your testosterone levels reach their daily peak. Research shows that your early testosterone levels are a third higher than they are in the evening.
Enhanced Fat Burn
Working out early in the morning will also force the body to rely on fat rather than glycogen to fuel your training. This is especially the case when you don’t eat before your morning workout. If your last meal was your dinner the previous evening, your muscle cells will have low levels of glycogen, which is the body’s go-to energy source. In its absence, it will have to call on stored body fat to produce energy for the workout.
One study suggested that women may be able to burn up to twenty percent more body fat when working out on an empty stomach.
When you work out intensely, the body experiences what is known as the after-burn effect in the hours following the training session. The body needs to take in more oxygen which leads to a metabolism boost, increasing calorie burn. Studies show that this after-burn effect is more pronounced when you train early in the morning.
A final benefit of early morning workouts is that it sets you up for a great day ahead. When you emerge from the locker room after a challenging workout, all showered and fresh, you’ll have a myriad of feel-good endorphins rushing through your body, making you feel on top of the world.
There’s no denying that there are definite benefits to working out early in the morning. But there are also some pretty compelling science-backed reasons to hit the gym later in the day.
As the day progresses, your body temperature rises, peaking in the afternoon. This is when your muscle function and strength levels are optimized. In contrast, the body temperature is at its lowest first thing in the morning. This may require an extra period of warm-up time.
Research indicates that people who do their cardio training in the evening are able to train twenty percent longer than those who train in the morning.
The increased body temperature that you have later in the day also makes you more flexible.
Faster Reaction Time
Research shows that our reaction time is at its fastest in the evening. This becomes a factor when you are doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. In the evening, your blood pressure and heart rate will also be at their lowest.
What About Sleep Interruption?
Some people avoid working out in the late afternoon or evening because they think it will interrupt their sleep. However, research on this is inconclusive. While some studies suggest that an evening workout can hinder a person’s ability to get to sleep, others have shown the opposite. According to one study, people who did their weight training in the evening actually experienced better quality and quantity of sleep than those who worked out at 7 a.m.
With such mixed research, the only way to find out whether evening workouts will affect your sleep for better or worse is to try it for yourself. I recommend allowing yourself at least two hours between the time you drop the weights and the time your head hits the pillow to allow your body to unwind.
Ideally, you should fuel your workout with a whole food meal a couple of hours ahead of time. This meal should mix medium-release carbs with fast-acting protein. This will anabolically prime your muscles for maximum explosive energy and power. Thirty minutes before the workout, you can also have a protein drink that contains energy, muscle, and mood-enhancing ingredients.
When you train in the morning, it is virtually impossible to get in your pre-workout whole food meal. When it comes to a pre-workout meal, many people have great difficulty eating when they first get up. This may cause stomach upset, which is the last thing you want heading into your workout.
Some people find that they can more easily digest protein bars early in the morning. Check out our review of the best protein bars on today’s market.
It’s clear from our objective analysis of the scientific evidence that there are benefits to working out at either end of the day. If you are weight training for fat loss, you are probably better off training in the morning when your body is more likely to use fat to fuel the workout. For pure strength and muscle gains, though, the evening is probably the better option.
At the end of the day, the best time to train is the time that works for you. The weight lifting benefits that you will get from training at a specific time are not enough to make up for the consistency that results from training at the time you most enjoy and works best for your schedule.
*This post may contain affiliate links to the products and services that we talk about.