In the last two decades as a fitness professional, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about health, wellness, working out, eating right, and everything in between. But one question is asked more frequently than any other: “Are morning workouts worth it?!”
Typically, my response is “It depends.” (I know, that’s totally frustrating, but stick with me.) See, here’s the thing: There’s no black and white answer. For every pro you find about exercising in the morning, there’s also a con. So, turning to the research and applying it to your life and situation should help illuminate the best choice, right? Let’s take a look at a few key findings to decide!
1. Sleep Study
An Appalachian State University study found that those who work out at 7 a.m. produce more Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and tend to fall asleep faster at night. But the same research found working out in the evening raises your body temperature and may promote sleep, much like a warm bath.
2. What About Hormones?
Your testosterone levels are nearly a third higher in the morning, which gives you lots of energy and enhances muscular development. Great! But, on the flip side, cortisol levels are approximately 75% higher in the morning and normalize by night. Cortisol is considered catabolic and breaks down muscle tissue, so you might have to work harder to build muscle the earlier you work out.
3. Crucial Calorie Burn
This factor gets talked about the most: Start earlier and burn more calories throughout the day. Ultimately, you get the calorie boost from your workout session out of the way and you’re more likely to be more active if you exercise first thing. And according to a British Journal of Nutrition study, you can burn up to 20% more fat if you do cardio first-thing. However, Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism research shows your anaerobic capacity is 7% higher at night. That means you may be able to exercise harder (or longer) and then burn more calories than during your average morning workout.
Of course, there’s more research I could share. But I assure you, there’s no clear-cut winner! Instead, I’ll give you a few more things to think about.
Why Morning Workouts Reign
Here are a few reasons morning workouts might be better:
- Early morning exercisers tend to be more consistent, as fewer distractions exist in the morning.
- There’s less chance of the workout getting cut short or not happening due to unexpected work, obligations, or appointments.
- Working out can clear your mind and set you up for a more productive day.
- Working out early can help set a healthful tone to your day, thus encouraging you to make smarter choices with food and daily activities.
Why Morning Workouts Are Worse
And here are a few reasons morning exercise might not be best!
- Sleep is an equal contributor to weight loss and fitness gains. When workouts cut into sleep, you could be doing your body a disservice.
- Whether real or manifested, people often feel exercise is easier at night. Not to mention, your physical performance peaks and injury rates are lowest between 3 and 6 p.m.
- Workouts may get cut short due to morning schedules. If you can’t push back your wake-up time or you keep hitting snooze, the shortened workouts over time might be more detrimental than fewer workouts per week.
- You have more time for happy hours and restaurant food if you don’t hit the gym after work. (OK, so this isn’t all bad—but working out at night a few days a week can keep you occupied and help you avoid excess calories that come with heading out with co-workers straight from work!)
The Best Time to Exercise
Bottom line: Science will support you whether you choose to set the alarm clock and head out the door early or if you knock out your workout closer to bedtime. What’s much more important is finding the option that will work for you longterm. The only way you can lose is if you don’t do it at all!