By Kirsty Welsh
When it comes to working out, there are two types of people: morning vs evening workout fans.
You might be a morning person who loves nothing more than starting the day with an early session – and you’re often the envy of many evening gym-goers. Alternatively, you fit into the night owl category if you like to de-stress by working out after a busy day.
Celebrity fitness trainer and nutrition coach Nathalie Hayward says that whichever category you naturally fall into, you can swap your hours around.
‘If you struggle to get motivated at a particular time of day, try booking into a class so you have accountability as well as something to look forward to. You could also rope a friend into working out with you – it’s always fun to have a workout buddy, virtually or in the studio.’
Whatever time of day you prefer to work out, we’ve put together a handy guide to choosing the best time of the day to exercise for you - and the difference your exercise schedule can make when it comes to weight loss, fitness and all-round wellbeing.
Morning workouts: Pros
- Burns fat more effectively
Nathalie expands: ‘The idea of working out in a “fasted state” is that the body will burn fat for fuel over its preferred energy source, glucose, as there will be less glucose circulating in your blood if you have completely digested your last meal – usually four to six hours after eating.’
- Increases energy levels
For an added adrenaline boost, get your workout fix in early. ‘As a general rule of thumb, your energy levels will be increased post-workout,’ says Nathalie. ‘Exercise ferries nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, giving you a physical boost as well as increasing mental clarity and focus.’
If this isn’t your experience of morning workouts, then things to consider are how well you have slept and how intense the session was. ‘If you find you are feeling more fatigued than energized throughout the day, you could try a different form of exercise, such as a reformer Pilates class instead of spin, which would be less taxing on the adrenal system,’ Nathalie advises.
- More likely to build routine
‘Those who train in the morning tend to be more consistent with their training schedule, as they are more likely to get up and just do it,’ explains Nathalie.
‘It’s also a great way to feel good about yourself as you can tick something off your list before you’ve even sat down at your desk.’
She adds: ‘The best trick to remain consistent with your routine, whether you work out in the morning or evening, is to schedule workouts a week ahead of time. That way you have them in your diary and it holds you accountable.’
- Cardio is best completed early
Love running, spin sessions or a sweaty HIIT workout? Nathalie explains why cardio is best first thing.
‘Studies have shown that high-intensity training and cardio are best completed earlier on in the day as this type of training increases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, more so than other forms of exercise.’
These hormones can make you feel very alert, she says, hence it is better to stimulate production in the morning rather than the evening.
Morning workouts: Cons
- Muscles are more prone to injuries in the morning
Warming up your body prior to any workout is key, but especially so when you exercise first thing.
Nathalie says: ‘You do need to spend a little more time warming up in the morning, as you wouldn’t have moved much throughout the night while you were sleeping.
'You should always begin any workout with some dynamic mobility and muscle activation. This will fire up the body and prevent injury, as well as prepping your muscles for the session ahead.’
The right footwear also plays a part in helping to avoid injury. Our pick of the best workout shoes are suitable for activities such as CrossFit and HIIT sessions. Alternatively if you're a runner, take a look at our guides to the best running shoes for women and the best running shoes for men.
- You need to balance energy demands
‘If you turn up the intensity or start lifting weights where the energy demand is higher, you can start burning muscle as your body pulls apart amino acids to preserve critical blood glucose,’ warns Nathalie.
‘Burning muscle can increase stress levels on the body and produce a big spike in cortisol, a stress hormone, which in turn can kick your body into fat storage mode. To make the most of your morning workout for fat burning, I recommend a small amount of yogurt, or some nuts or seeds and a few berries prior to training to stoke the metabolic fire.’
- Not suited to night owls
Sleep is vital for good health, so it follows that forcing yourself out of bed when you haven’t gotten enough rest could do more harm than good. So if you are a regular Netflix binge-watcher in the evening, try to resist and opt for an early night once in a while.
‘Routine and consistency are key!’ says Nathalie. ‘The best way to get motivated is to get up and get dressed in your workout kit straight away. It will set your mood and you’ll be ready to go.’ If you fancy some new kit to help you along, check out our pick of the best workout.
Evening workouts: Pros
- Muscles are more flexible
‘Flexibility is enhanced when muscles are warm,’ Nathalie shares. ‘Stretching in the morning can feel a little difficult as muscles have been stationary. Stretching in the evening feels easier, plus it’s great for encouraging relaxation.’
She adds: ‘Evening is a good time to hold stretches for longer, such as in yin yoga, whereas dynamic stretching is more appropriate in the morning.’
- Best time to do yoga, Pilates and weight training
Evenings are the best time to lay out your best yoga mat or adjustable dumbbells, according to Nathalie. Following on from the point above, she shares: ‘Doing something restorative in the evening, such as yoga, Pilates or a gentle strength training session, is hugely beneficial as it doesn’t tax your adrenal system and can help you to relax on a deeper level by calming the mind as well as the body.’
- Effective in relieving stress
If you’ve had one of those days, exercise is an instant stress-buster, as Nathalie explains. ‘Exercise is a fantastic way to reduce stress and anxiety. However, if you are feeling stressed, it is more advantageous to do an activity that doesn’t further tax your adrenal system.’
Evening workouts: Cons
- Disturbed sleep
Ever wondered why you sometimes lie in bed awake for hours on end, unable to switch off? You may want to reconsider your evening workout timings.
‘Working out in the evening can disrupt your sleep as you release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which makes you feel alert,’ Nathalie notes.
‘If the only time you can fit in a workout is late in the evening, then make sure your bedtime routine is on point, as sleep is profound for recovery, cognitive function and fat loss, as well as reduction in stress and anxiety.’
Want to get on track of your sleep habits? The best fitness trackers provide useful sleep monitoring data.
- You have less energy
‘We often have a second wave of alertness in the evening, which can give the sensation of having more physical energy,’ says Nathalie. ‘However, you expend energy going about daily tasks such as work and may not have as much energy for a workout as you would in the morning. Performance is always better in a morning workout session.’
Morning vs evening workouts: final thoughts
It’s easy to see why some people prefer a morning workout, especially with that added adrenaline hit. It slots nicely into a schedule routine before work and gives a sense of achieving something before the day even starts – although squeezing a workout in first thing can be tiresome when the mornings are darker, and can also cause you to reach for more coffee.
Evening workouts, on the other hand, are a great way to relieve stress after a busy day without having to stick an alarm clock on – but the struggle to try and sleep after a gruelling fitness routine can be challenging.
So here are benefits to both, and there’s definitely a balance to be struck. Try setting your alarm for morning cardio workouts and schedule in some yoga, Pilates or weights sessions in the evening. Give this a go for a week and see how it affects your sleep patterns in the evening and overall energy levels throughout the day.
Get Fit for 2021 with Fit&Well
As the sun rises on a brand new year, Fit&Well is here to help put last year behind you and make 2021 your happiest, healthiest yet. Here at fitandwell.com, we’ll be bringing you a wealth of workouts, diet plans and expert advice throughout January to help kick-start your health and fitness goals.
Kirsty is an accomplished journalist specialising in the wellness industry. She has previously written for titles including Grazia, Popsugar, Metro.co.uk, Elle UK and the Sunday Telegraph. You’ll find her running around Windsor Great Park at 6am most mornings (before her toddler, Clementine Lilac, wakes up), followed by a virtual barre class with the team at Psycle London – where that barre burn is just so addictive. Kirsty loves to stock up on new activewear; because, let’s face it, you can never have too many pairs of sculpting leggings. She's always keen to try/endure the latest workouts to come to London. Kirsty also enjoys rustling up nutritious family meals and indulging in her newfound hobby: flower pressing.
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