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When is the best time to train in order to optimise results?

Are you going to be getting better results by training in the morning or the evening?

What’s your preference, to train first thing in the morning (referred to as the early bird) or to train later in the day/evening (sometimes known as the night owl).

If you ask either of these two types of people to train at the opposite time of the day, they would think you were mad and wonder why you would even consider it.

But who’s doing it right? The early birds up at the crack of dawn to beat the sun up or the night owls training in the evening after they have worked all day.

Why do some people prefer one to the other?

In this article I look at the science behind training in the morning vs training in the evening, if there is more benefit of one over the other and which will be getting you the best results?

Circadian rhythm

It all comes down to your body and its biological clock, this is also known as its circadian rhythm.

This is a cycle of physiological processes within the body that have a clear pattern from;

  • Brain wave activity
  • Hormone production
  • Cell regeneration
  • And other biological activities.

This has a major contribution on effectiveness of training time and not everyone is the same, so there is no one shoe fits all. Therefore, we are now going to look at a few other factors that can come into play…

Testosterone

It is widely agreed by scientists that testosterone (a muscle building hormone the body realises) is generally higher in the morning, although when tested after training, testosterone levels increased higher after training in the evening when compared to training in the morning.

Some of the benefits of testosterone are:

  • Increase in performance
  • Elevated mood
  • Confidence increase
  • Decrease in body fat
  • Improved mental focus
  • Help to improve muscle mass

Cortisol

A hormone we need to be aware of is called cortisol and this tends to be higher in the mornings too. Cortisol is a stress hormone released by the body commonly known as the fight or flight hormone.

This can be great hormone at the right time and has its role in the body but it’s not desired when training due to its catabolic nature, meaning it can break down muscle tissue.

When cortisol is compared relative to testosterone levels, testosterone has a higher difference between the evening compared to the morning.

Some of the negative effects of cortisol are:

Anxiety, depression, headaches

Digestive issues, high blood pressure, heart issues, weakened immune system

Muscle Fibres

Next we look at muscle fibre. A study shows that the first is known as type 2 (fast twitch muscle fibres) and are more responsive in the evening as opposed to the morning. These are the fibres required for weight training, as opposed to type 1 (slow twitch muscle fibres) which are said to be more responsive in the morning. (required for cardio).

But this is not conclusive with everyone. I personally think this links back to your own circadian rhythm.

Cognitive function

In some people their cognitive function is heightened in the morning, compared to others who require a coffee before they fully wake up and then become more alert as the day goes on. For me personally my cognitive skills improve a little later in the day and I connect with my body more when training later due to an improvement with my muscle mind connection

Energy/Glycogen/Amino acids

Multiple studies seem to agree that later day training (afternoon/evening) may be better for Hypertrophy (muscle growth) due to having consumed meals prior/ throughout the day.

Your energy level will be higher. The reason for this is an increase in your glycogen storage (energy that can be found in your muscles). Glycogen is our body’s main form of energy which is found in carbohydrates and used as fuel.

Another reason would be higher protein levels in the body (later in the day) with your 3 main amino acids which form the building blocks for hypertrophy. With these levels being higher they will help to reduce muscle protein breakdown during a workout.

Hydration

The next point would be that hydration levels will have increased later during the day with this being another factor to improving performance.

Sleep

Depending what time you train it can have an effect on your sleep quality, with sleep being another major contributing factor to hypertrophy. If you’re not allowing your body to recover properly from its training then you’re not going to be putting on the desired muscle mass, relative to all the hard work you are putting in.

If you get a bad night’s sleep it can have a negative effect on your workout if your training both in the am or pm.

But training late in the evening can reduce sleep quality with some people due to their adrenaline levels being increased (a hormone the body releases when training) as ideally your body wants to be in hormonal status prior to sleep.

Conclusion

Although there has been lots of research on this topic, sport science concludes that everyone is an individual and their circadian rhythm is their own and different hormones may peak at different times due to their unique self. This explains why some people jump out of bed in the morning and others find it a chore, yet come evening they are primed and ready to go.

I also understand that everyone has a different job and if yours is very physical you might be too tired and taxed later in the day. So, training prior to work maybe a good option for you. Using caffeine/stim/non-stim pre workout supplements ( but only if required) could aid you if you are not an earlier bird.

What I advise is that if you are training in the morning and not eating prior to your session, then have a larger meal in the evening so your body has enough fuel in the morning to perform optimally.

For those who train in the evening, you have the opportunity to eat the correct amount of food throughout the day in order to fuel your later workout.

To conclude everyone is completely unique and you need to know your own body clock and determine what training time is best suited to you.