What Time of Day should I Workout?

Does it matter what Time you Workout?

If you work a 9-5, have family commitments and additional life stresses, then I don’t think it matters when you workout. It just matters that you do workout.

If your goals are strength or powerlifting specific, then timing matters more. Speaking from personal experience, the more meals you get in you the better you perform. First thing in the morning, jittering on caffeine or pre-workout, your body is not fuelled or hydrated enough to lift heavy weights.

The below guides should better help you understand when to workout and what to eat depending on your goals:

1. How to Bulk for Beginners

2. How to Cut for Beginners

A white coffee cup with begin written on it
Begin your day with a big cup of jitters

Waking up at 6:00am, clawing your socks and shorts on while chugging a potentially lethal amount of stimulant isn’t a good time to try and deadlift 5(5) at 85% of your 1RM. It’s not going to happen.

I am very happy performing volume-based workouts in the am, but if I have a strength session programmed, then I’ll wait for the evening. No amount of caffeine can replace quality food and the mental preparation time gives you.

This guide to hypertrophy should help demystify the difference between strength training and volume based workouts.

If your goals are more generally health and fitness related then you shouldn’t worry too much about what the best time is to workout. If you have time in the morning and would rather have the evening off, then drag yourself out of bed and get it done in the morning.

If you’re more of an evening person and have the luxury of time, then do it in the evening.

As Nike would say, ‘just do it.’

Is it better to Workout at Night or in the Morning?

For me having a regular exercise routine helps me sleep and improves my cognitive functionality. I see things more clearly, I’m less distracted and consistency is vital for success.

In saying that, it doesn’t matter whether you workout in the morning or evening. Or lunchtime. Or at elevenses. Whatever works for you works for you. Fasted cardio is a myth in terms of increasing weightloss (which we’ll discuss later), but if you prefer to do cardio on an empty stomach then do so.

Man running up steps in a blue beanie hat
Early morning cardio isn’t for the faint of heart

Whatever method allows you to perform at your best is the best option. Period.

Now Read: Is Whey Protein worth it?

But getting up early to workout has it’s benefits:

Morning Workout Evening Workout
Increased metabolic rate Lift heavier weight
Free time after work Reduction of cortisol*
Reduced blood pressure Stress relief
Improved sleep cycles Higher intensity

*Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is released in response to stress and low blood glucose concentration. It can also increase muscle wastage as it breaks down proteins if elevated for a significant period of time. 

Best time to Workout for Weightloss?

I’m sure you have come fasted cardio as a concept and wondered how effective it is. From personal experience I have never seen any physical differences to performing cardio on an empty stomach or after some sustenance.

I cycle around 45 minutes to work 3 times a week on an empty stomach and I have never felt like eating before or after makes a difference. The only reason I don’t eat beforehand is that anything before 8am is too early to eat. But let’s look at the data…

This particular study included 96 participants (over the course of 5 separate studies) and was designed to demonstrate whether eating before or after exercise was more beneficial for body composition.

It’s difficult to form any absolute conclusions as there aren’t many studies to draw on, but there was almost 0 difference in the reduction of body fat between those who ate a high protein meal and those who trained fasted.

Almost every available study follows the same pattern. Training fasted has no additional benefits for weight loss when calories and protein intake are equal. 

Should I workout Before or After I eat?

Based on the above it’s whatever you feel most comfortable with. If it’s a weekday and you’re training in the morning before work, you might be better off eating a slightly larger meal in the evening and exercising ‘fasted.’

Which in itself is a myth. If you’ve eaten at 8pm and are working out at 6:30am, you’ll still have energy from last nights meal.

If you prefer training unfasted, the simplest solution is to have a snack in morning before you workout. Some fast acting carbs like a banana or cereal bar tend to be ideal. If I workout in the morning, then my day of eating typically looks something like the below:

Time Food Calories
6:30 Coffee or Pre-workout 5kcal
9:00 Protein Shake + Cereal 60P | 70C | 10F
11:00 Fruit 0P | 25C | 0F
12:30 Chicken Sausages, Avocado, Rice & Vegetables 50P | 60C | 20F
15:30 Greek Yoghurt, Dark Chocolate, Fruit & Peanut Butter 35P | 40C | 15F
19:00 Chicken Fajitas 40P | 75C | 25F
20:30 Chocolate Treat 5P | 30C |8F

Protein: 190g (760kcal)

Carbs: 300g (1200kcal)

Fat: 80g (720kcal)

I’d love to tell you I eat more of my carbs around my workout but I don’t. Nor do I meal prep every meal or eat the same thing every day. I eat intuitively (ish) and roughly track macros with a maintenance of just under 3000kcal.

Beautiful sealed jar meal prep
The meal prep we all wish we did

I don’t intermittent fast because I don’t need to. I do employ carb backloading more on the weekends so the damage I do is somewhat offset and so I can enjoy myself without stressing out too much.

I personally don’t feel the need to eat before I workout in the morning because if I have a strength session I’ll always do it in the evening. Let your body warmup and get proper nutrition if you’re going to perform heavy compound movements.

Now Read: How to Increase your Deadlift

How many times a Day should I workout to Lose Weight?

Once. Twice if you’re a maniac. I’m sure you all see crossfit ‘athletes’ working out 5 times a day, but you’re not an athlete. You work a normal job and have real world responsibilities, so don’t force yourself to workout every spare second you get.

Working out once a day if you employ resistance training with progressive overload i.e. increasing in intensity or volume over time. Progressive overload continues to promote positive adaptations in your body and the more muscle you gain the more calories you burn.

You’ll see various figures online for how many additional calories a lb of muscle burns, up to as high as 50 calories per lb of muscle gained according to some fitness blogs. But the truth is (unfortunately) more like 6 – 10 calories burned per lb of muscle.

But this is at rest, so it’s not all bad.

But the point is you don’t need to workout more than once a day to lose weight. Resistance training is a long-term solution to weight loss. Weights, a calorie controlled diet and consistent cardio is the ideal solution for a sustainable, enjoyable lifestyle.

Best time of the day to do a HIIT or Cardio workout?

So let’s break it down into aerobic and resistance training.

Aerobic Training

This authors of one 2013 study (hobson et al) observed that the aerobic endurance capacity of men (during 65% V02 max cycling) was significantly greater in the morning.

But a contradicting study found that an evening exercise training group had a greater work capacity after 5 weeks of HIIT than the morning group.

So clearly this is a personal preference. I prefer cardio in the morning as it’s so effective at clearing my thoughts and helping me sleep.

Resistance Training

Various studies have noted that morning resistance training yields more anaerobic benefits than evening workouts.

Chtourou et al noted muscle performance (based on 1RM squat jump and Wingate tests) was significantly higher for those who performed the exercise in the morning.

But there have been several contradicting studies that show quite the opposite. This 2013 study showed that grip strength, peak power and peak torque were higher in the evening session.

From personal experience, you will definitely be able to lift more weight in the evening. But you may find it harder to motivate yourself to do so.

Best time of day to Workout for Muscle Gain?

So muscle gain is a combination of:

Volume + Intensity + Frequency + Time Under Tension

Volume is highlighted as it is the key factor. Increasing volume over time is the only way to continually gain size and / or strength. The rest are all secondary factors.

So whatever allows you to drive more volume in the long-term is ideal.

In terms of intensity, evening workouts allow you to reach a higher % of your 1RM. But morning workouts are equally effective if you can drive equivalent volume. If you find yourself 5-10% weaker in the morning, then just slightly increase the number of reps to make up for it.

Now Read: How to Increase your Bench Press

Best time of the day to workout to help you Sleep?

From personal experience the later you workout, the harder it can be to sleep. Your adrenaline will be much higher and your blood flow and core temperature will be elevated.

If sleep is your core concern then I find morning exercise much more effective. Pretty simply, being up earlier means you need to go to bed earlier.

But this is totally individual. Powerlifting workouts are mentally fatiguing because they require such preparation. HIIT workouts or cardio sessions are a tried and tested method to raise endorphin levels and clear the mind.

Man sleeping on bench in the sun
Got to get your z’s in wherever you can

Now Read: How to Increase your Squat

So how much time should I workout in a day?

An impossible question to answer, but I’ll do my best.

There are a number of factors to take into account:

  • How much time do you have available? How long is your commute and how long is your working day? Do you even have to work? You bastard.
  • How high up is it on your list of priorities? Do you have a young family? Is work more important? There are always additional factors to consider, but you should always be able to make some time available for it.
  • What are your goals? Are you training for something specifically? If you have a goal in mind (a marathon, a powerlifting competition, sporting improvements) then naturally you should be training for longer than the average person. But depending on your type of training, up to 2 hours 3-5 days a week is more than enough.
  • Or just to lose weight? Tracking your calories is more effective for weight loss. More exercise isn’t necessarily beneficial for weight loss. Any more than an hour and you’re wasting time.
  • How easy is it for you to do? i.e. Do you have to drive for 30 minutes to get to the gym or is it on your way home?

There’s no definitive guide, but don’t be afraid to push it to the limits. try new workouts – HIIT, resistance of endurance focused and find out what your body can take. The only way to increase your MRV (Maximum Recoverable Volume) is to continually test the limits and push your body further before taking a deload.

But for intermediate level powerlifters, more than 5-6 hours a week is too much IMO.

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