By Emma Stessman
Does the early bird always get the worm when it comes to maximizing the benefits of working out? Or are there reasons to consider channeling your inner night owl by spending evenings at the gym?
Christi Marraccini is an instructor and the director of fitness at innovative live streaming fitness platform NEO U, and her answer is pretty typical when you ask the experts: It depends.
Marraccini says there isn’t one perfect time to schedule in a sweat session––it varies from person to person, depending mostly on your schedule and preferences. The thing that does matter when it comes to developing an effective routine, however, is to pick a time of day stick with it.
“When it comes to picking a morning or evening workout, it’s best for your body and your workout schedule to stick with one,” Marraccini says. While that may be tricky to manage, she explains, consistency generally leads to better results.
Ready to choose your perfect workout time, however early or late? Here are some of the factors Marraccini suggests you consider before clocking in for cardio.
Morning vs. Evening Workouts: 4 Factors to Consider
1. Your energy levels during the day
Think of an early morning workout as equivalent to your first cup of coffee.“You get an energy boost, it kickstarts your metabolism, it wakes you up, and it gets you going for the day,” says Marraccini. So, when you head into work, you’ll likely feel super energized and productive
As the day goes on, however, that energy might start to drain––and if you can’t add a midday nap to your calendar (if you can, we’re jealous), you might find yourself in need of a serious caffeine boost later in the day. “You might crash,” Marraccini says. “I think morning workouts are definitely catered to people that can be out of the office by four or five o’clock because you’re asking a lot from your body.”
On the flip side, working out in the evening will give you that same energy boost, which is great if you have extra work to do or tasks to accomplish around the house, but not so much if you’re planning on crawling straight into bed. In fact, according to one study, an early morning workout leads to better quality sleep than exercising in the afternoon or at night.
So, think about the timing of your workday and how good of a sleeper you are in considering this component.
2. If you prefer to work out on an empty stomach
The research on whether it’s better to work out on a full or empty stomach is somewhat of a mixed bag, so this is really about experimenting and finding what works best for your body.
“There are people who say, ‘Oh, I have to work out in the morning, I can’t have anything in my stomach when I work out, because it feels too heavy’ or there are people who are like ‘No I can’t do morning workouts because I need that fuel,’” Marraccini says. “It’s very case by case.”
3. How your workout affects your mindset
One of the best things about an early a.m. workout is that you can check a major to-do off your list before the day has even really started. “You’ve already done something; you already feel accomplished,” Marraccini says. “Doing something for yourself right from the start of your day and then having it carry through for the rest––whether you’re at work or on vacation––it makes you feel better about yourself right from the start.”
However, if you have a particularly stressful job, or you spend most days chasing your kids around (which is a workout in itself), you might need that end-of-the-day stress relief that comes from a good sweat.
“There are days where I’m like, ‘okay, morning workout because I want to get it done, and then evening workout because I just need to push my body and get out all my frustrations,’” she says.
4. Your performance
Here’s the kicker: research shows that people tend to perform better in anaerobic activities, like running or weight training, later in the day. It’s mostly due to the fact that your body’s core temperature peaks in the early evening.
But if you can commit to being a regular morning exerciser, there’s no need to switch up your schedule. By repeatedly working out in the morning (AKA establishing that routine, Marraccini was talking about), you can adapt your body’s performance ability to be the same or even greater than it would be later in the day.
The bottom line: the best time for a workout is whenever you can fit it into your crazy schedule. And if you need to skip a morning or evening (because of those back-to-back meetings), don’t stress. “There’s huge pressure when it comes to having to get your workout in, but if you give yourself that extra sleep, extra time, or extra rest, it may be more beneficial than trying to fit in your workout,” Marraccini says. “There’s always the next day.”