When is the best time of the day to workout?

When should you hit the weights?

Does it even matter?

I heard training in the morning is suboptimal because of elevated cortisol.

Let me explain a bit of the science first…

Multiple physiological functions, such as the sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, hormone secretion, and locomotor activity, as well as intracellular processes such as mitochondrial metabolism, protein expression, enzyme activity and cell regeneration are temporally coordinated into rhythms coinciding with the 24-h solar cycle (R).
Such rhythms principally function to support “predictive homeostasis” by increasing metabolic capacity and select self-defense mechanisms, in anticipation of periods of increased demand. The ability to synchronize an endogenous rhythm with an environmental time cue provides a biological advantage when performing daily activities.

With that said, if you train at a certain time consistently, your body will start to anticipate it, adapt to it, and you’ll be at your strongest and best at that time.

What about cortisol and all that?
From this study (R):

“Timing of resistance training regimen in the evening appears to augment some markers of hypertrophic potential, with elevated IGFBP-3, suppressed cortisol and a superior cellular environment.”

Testosterone and cortisol are highest in the morning and both decline during the day which theoretically would make evening training better due to lower cortisol. However, research shows that consistently training in the morning can actually decrease circulating cortisol levels over time (R).

Real-time evidence shows that strength and hypertrophy gains in the morning vs the evening are similar over 3 months (R, R). Longer-term studies are needed to show if there is a difference over 1 year, but I doubt there is because what matters is consistency and putting in the hard work.

Something to take into consideration is the difference in body temperature between the morning and the evening. Most peoples’ temperatures are lower in the mornings and so is their power output. And both increase throughout the day (R). Increasing temps artificially, by doing a good warmup or wearing a thermal jacket will increase core temperature and increase power output (R). However, increasing temps too much will cause fatigue to set in more rapidly. So warm up good before working out, but don’t train in a puddle of your own sweat if you want to get stronger (R).

As a side note, adding some sodium bicarbonate into your regiment can be a good idea as it reduces fatigue when training in heat or when body temps get too high (R).

Interestingly, reducing your temperature in the evening also causes a reduction in performance. One more thing I’ll say about body temperature is that the reason why people’s temperatures are low in the morning is because of a slow metabolism and suboptimal thyroid function. Either they’re training too hard, consuming too little calories and/or carbs, don’t eat healthily, stressing too much, etc., and all of that lowers the metabolism. If you have a good metabolism, you’ll wake up with a body temperature at around 37 degrees Celsius, which will just increase further after your first meal.

Also, everyone is different when it comes to when they perform best in the gym.
This study (R) found that some people swam better in the morning and others in the evening and when they were to switch times, both groups’ performance suffered.
These results suggest that intra-individual variation in athletic performance and effort with time of day is associated with circadian phenotype and PER3 genotype (a circadian clock gene).

The moral of the story is, train when you feel most energetic and motivated. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I want to do is go train. If you don’t feel energetic or motivated at any time of the day, train first thing in the morning and do it consistently to get in that pattern. Follow that up with a healthy, nutrient-dense meal plan to reap maximal benefits.

Two more fun facts about morning training:

  • Morning exercise appears to improve satiety for the rest of the day (R).
  • People that train at 7AM spend more time in deep sleep than people that train at 1PM (R).

If you need some motivation to train again or need some individualized tweaking done to your program to supercharge your results, fill out the form below and I’ll personalize your training program for you or design a whole new training program specifically for your needs.

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