Should you exercise before or after work? Science weighs in

What's the best time to exercise? We look at the studies and weigh up the pros and cons of early vs late

Morning Workout
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Do you prefer to workout in the morning, or the evening? There's plenty of arguments about which ones confer the most benefits. Of course, the obvious answer is "whatever works for you", in that you should find the right workout to fit your schedule. 

Whether you prefer to do half an hour on the best exercise bike before work, or a nice long run or gym session at the end of the day, any workout you do is preferable to not doing one at all. However, there are recorded effects for both workouts on your body's hormonal responses and sleep patterns. 

One study, published this month by the German Research Center for Environmental Health (opens in new tab), has analysed the hundreds of different signals released in the body, with the aim of "developing more effective exercise therapies that are timed to the body clock". If your body clock is wired best to exercise at a particular time of day, these scientists are aiming to find the most effective exercise programme for you. 

This research has only been done on mice so far, but there's plenty of pre-existing research around whether morning or evening workouts are best for making the most of your very limited gym time. 

Night workout

(Image credit: Getty IMages)

Researchers from Northumbria University (opens in new tab) found that lacing up the best running shoes for men, or best running shoes for women, early in the morning could actually burn more fat than exercising the evening. Those who had exercised in a fasted state burned almost 20% more fat compared to those who had consumed breakfast before their workout. 

On the other hand, researchers (opens in new tab) conducting a small study in Texas found anaerobic capacity, which measures your short-duration explosive exercise capability, was up to 26% higher in the evening.  

However, none of these individual studies are quite conclusive yet. The bottom line, as we said, is to make sure the exercise you're doing fits into your busy schedule and you enjoy doing it, as that's the only way to get consistency – and consistency breeds results. 

Whether you're jumping on a treadmill before breakfast or you're going rock-climbing as a social activity with your colleagues after work, there's no need to worry about the minutiae like what time you exercise – just so long as you do it. The end result will always be a fitter you. 

Matt Evans
News Editor

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.