As a fitness coach, one of the questions I get most frequently from my clients is, “What is the best time to do my workouts? Is it okay if I do it when…” Many people who start a new fitness routine have never really made fitness a priority, and they feel like complete beginners, newbies who are probably missing some vital steps along the way. This fear can make it really hard to stick to your new program. You get thinking “Well, if I can’t do it right, why bother?” This is where having a fitness coach can be the most useful.
So, what do you think? IS there a “best time of day” to do a workout? I’ve always had my own answers to this, but I’ve decided to do a bit of research to see if my advice was correct. I’ve narrowed it down to five times of the day that are best for completing a workout.
1. Workout when you can and will do it.
This should be a major spoiler for you. The very best time of day to complete your workout is the time of day that you are willing to do it. If I were to tell you that working out at 8 a.m. was the only time you would achieve maximum results, but you have to be to work by 7 a.m., what would you do? Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’d quit. Some people would be able to move past advice such as that, but most would take that as “I’ve failed before I even started” and never really try.
Seriously, a workout is a workout. If you put in that program and push play, or go to the gym, and you give it 100%, your body will thank you. It isn’t going to scold you for picking the wrong time of day. Look at your schedule. When are you most likely to be able to dedicate a portion of your day to a workout? Set aside the time, put it in your schedule, and just do it. Give it your all, or as Tony Horton says, “Bring it!” You can’t go wrong if you do this consistently.
2. Workout when you feel the best.
It’s really hard to “Bring It” if you’re trying to workout when you feel crummy. For some people, mornings are just no good. My husband wakes up feeling queasy and struggles to put his full effort into an early morning workout. I, on the other hand, wake up feeling hungry, and if I can just eat a quick banana I feel pretty amazing if I workout in the morning. You would think that knowledge would help me get out of bed easier. 😉
Moral of the story? You’ve got to pick a time of day that not only fits your schedule, but that fits your physiological wellness. You can’t workout at 9 p.m. if you’re half asleep and too busy yawning to catch your breath.
3. Workout when your glycogen stores are full.
Okay, first question: What is glycogen? Glycogen is the main form of carbohydrate storage used by our bodies, and it is broken down to be used as energy. When your glycogen stores are low, your energy is low and you’ll really struggle to complete a workout. It is used up quickly by exercise, brain activity, and pretty much anything else you do in your day. It’s replenished mainly with carbohydrates (duh), so your glycogen stores are highest right after a meal.
Have you ever been pushing hard with a fitness routine, really watching your food intake, and just busting butt to get some good results when things seem to come to a screeching halt? You hit a wall and suddenly you’re not able to give your workout the full effort any longer and you just feel lousy? In the nutrition world, we call that “the bonk”, and it’s caused by depleted glycogen stores. This is one reason why carb-free diets are discouraged, especially if you are completing a fitness routine. Your body needs those stores to balance blood sugar levels and keep energy high.
So, while your body can sometimes story glycogen through the night and have it ready to use for a morning workout, more often than not your body is going to need some help if you plan to workout in the morning without a meal. We like to use the Results & Recovery formula to help in times like this, but this can also help you to realize that other times of day (right after dinner? during your lunch?) can be successful workout times as well.
4. In the morning on an empty stomach
Um, wait. Didn’t we just say that the glycogen stores are too low to do this? Yes, and no. It will vary for everyone, and some people will have more of those stores available in the morning than others. The biggest benefit of this workout time, and probably the reason many people assume it’s the ideal time to workout, is that when your stomach is empty your body puts all that energy into burning fat. Sounds pretty awesome, right? But here’s a little spoiler for you: burning glycogen is more effective at losing body fat than burning fat. Whoops.
So wait. I’m not telling you working on an empty stomach is bad. But I’m not telling you it’s good either. You’ve got to know what you’re doing and listen to your body. Many recommend a lighter workout in the morning hours to help your body cope with the lack of glycogen stores, and it can actually help kickstart your metabolism for the day. But doing very intense cardio workouts (Insanity, TurboFire) in the morning on an empty stomach can cause you to “bonk,” which completely halts all progress. So if first thing in the morning is your ideal time to workout, be sure to listen to your body, choose a lighter workout, and consider grabbing something like Results and Recovery to help boost your energy stores.
5. At night before you go to bed.
This tends to be a very common time of day for people to complete a workout, especially when they are doing a home workout program. After the chaos of a day of work, errands, kids, etc, you finally have a few minutes to yourself to get it done. You might have guessed already that this is not optimal. Working out before bed can interrupt your sleep, which is absolutely necessary for proper recovery during a fitness routine. Exercise also uses up a lot of the vitamins and other nutrients you consume during the day. More of those nutrients are burned while you sleep, and since most of us doing a fitness program are also on a reduced calorie intake, we run the risk of depleting our stores and causing our body to shut down the metabolic process. Not really what you’re looking for, right?
But, since we have to workout whenever we can, even if that means the evenings right before bed, consider using Results and Recovery or having a small meal after your evening workout to avoid depleting the stores of nutrients overnight.
Moral of the story?
Yep, you guessed it. There is no best time of day to workout. You have to find the time that works best for you and your schedule. The important thing is to understand how your body works and what it needs so you can counteract the cons of a particular time of day and benefit from the pros.
So tell us…what time of day do you usually get your exercise in?