Among the many weighty decisions we make daily, perhaps none alters the course of the day like deciding when to work out. The timing of your reps can impact your sleep schedule, stress levels, and even your gains. Hit the gym too early, and you risk feeling sluggish from a lack of sleep; go for a run too late, and you’ve missed seeing actual daylight. It’s tempting to just be happy you’re working out at all. But before you do that, consider the potential benefits and pitfalls of what time you work out.
Morning Sweat is Best—As Long as You’re Getting Enough Sleep
Studies show a.m. workouts tend to offer the greatest benefits. Not only are you less likely to be interrupted by life in the hours immediately post-slumber, exercising in a fasted or semi-fasted state burns the most fat. You’re going to be burning some of your stored energy, versus if you wait until later in the day. Research also shows morning exercise can curb food cravings throughout the day.
There’s a Case for Afternoon Exercise
Not all circadian rhythms are alike and you may not be naturally predisposed toward rising and grinding. If you’re cutting into your sleep so you can squeeze in a pre-work run. You are likely to struggle with morning exercise performance and have depleted energy levels for the rest of the day. And you’re not getting the most out of your workout if you’re sluggish and exhausted.
For night owls, there’s nothing wrong with sleeping in a bit and hitting the gym in the afternoon. In fact, exercising between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. is just as effective at shifting your circadian rhythm forward as working out at 6 a.m.
Late Workouts are Not as Bad as You May have Heard
The long-held belief that night time workouts make it harder to fall asleep is but a myth. So if an evening trip to the gym is the most conducive to your schedule, consider squats a viable component of your wind-down routine.
One thing that is proven to disrupt sleep, though, is eating a lot. If you’re accustomed to crushing a healthy serving of protein after you exercise, this could be a problem. Larsen suggests eating a larger meal before your workout and a smaller one post-exercise so as to not disrupt your sleep with a full stomach.