Researchers Determine the Best Time of Day to Exercise


There has always been a great debate about the best time to workout. Many say that the mornings are best, citing better energy and healthier choices.

While this does ring true, science has now shown that afternoon and early evening may be the better choice for athletic performance.

Credit: Concept 2 Model D, CC BY 2.0

According to a new study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, the late afternoon is the optimal time for exercise. Particularly for high intensity exercise, the researchers found that athletic performance was at its peak later in the day. Strength and flexibility were at the greatest levels, and rate of perceived exertion was at its lowest level, compared with early morning or late night workouts.

This research confirms prior studies which state that the late afternoon exercisers showed better performance in their workouts.

The reason for this peak in performance during this specific time can be attributed to a few different things, according to different sources. Some say that it is due to an increase in body temperature, as the body heats up later in the day. Warmer muscles lead to greater flexibility, which can assist in athletic performance. This can be caused by the body’s natural circadian rhythms, reaching the warmest point in body temperature during the late afternoon.

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However, it is not all bad news for early morning exercisers. The researchers also found that while the late afternoon may be the peak time naturally, consistently exercising in the morning can result in similar performance at that time. Athletes who train every morning at the same time can equal the performance of athletes who train in the afternoon, despite being at a different stage of circadian rhythm.

This is helpful for training purposes if an athlete is preparing for a certain event or challenge. By training at the time at which the event is going to take place, they can condition their body to perform at its best. However, the inverse is true as well. By training only in the late afternoon, athletes widened the morning performance gap, resulting in poorer performance at that time.

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There are perks to morning workouts as well, including getting better sleep at night. Another study showed that 45 minutes of moderate exercise first thing in the morning helped to curb appetite later in the day. This may lead to more research into the benefit of different exercises at different times of the day, since moderate exercise can be done in the morning and high intensity exercise is best saved for the afternoon.

While the time of day may affect a person’s performance during exercise, it is not something about which the everyday fitness enthusiast should fret. The key takeaway from this study is that consistency is the most important aspect of fitness, and that training at the same time every day will increase performance.