Exercise Tip of the Week: Peak performance: Best time of day to exercise
The body’s metabolism, the rate at which we burn calories, changes from one end of the day to the other. It is at its lowest while we sleep, gets progressively higher as the day goes on and spikes when we exercise. After hitting the gym, this high rate continues on for some time after we’ve crawled off the treadmill.
As a result, those who are looking to burn weight can benefit from pulling on the jogging runners first thing in the morning – it kick-starts our metabolism meaning we use up more calories over the course of our waking day.
Experts also advise that exercising in the morning works better for those who suffer from insomnia. “Your body needs to get ready for sleep,” says Dr Sally White, dean and professor in the College of Education at Lehigh University. “You want your heart rate and body temperature in a rest zone. It starts the body getting into a habit of sleep. Both exercise and eating raise your heart rate and temperature. That's not conducive to sleeping.”
Meanwhile, those who struggle to make it to the gym on a regular basis might also benefit from working out in the morning. “Research suggests in terms of performing a consistent exercise habit, individuals who exercise in the morning tend to do better,” says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego.
Not everyone is training with the primary intention of burning calories so the morning loses this advantage over evening exercise. Furthermore, the body can take time to properly warm up, particularly when you get beyond your 20s. The body is at its most inflexible – in terms of its muscles, joints and circulatory system – first thing in the morning.
Not only does this make you more susceptible to injury, but it can also mean depleted performance when set against what you might achieve in the evening when your body has had a chance to get fully into gear.
Another advantage evening training has over morning exercise is that many people who kick off at the crack of dawn exercise on an empty stomach. After eight hours in the hay your body is in dire need of sustenance. So, unless you’re willing to get up at 5am to eat, wait the recommended one hour before exercising and then fit in your training session before work, the evening is your best bet if you’re going for peak performance.
It’s also worth remembering that it’s a good idea to eat as soon after you exercise as possible – so the morning option means fitting in two meals and a training session before you get your working day underway.
There may well be truth in the concept that those who exercise before the day gets a chance to throw a spanner in the works of your good intentions, but studies have also shown that people who exercise in groups or who take part in team sports are far more likely to stick to a pattern of training. Good luck talking your mates into a 6am five-a-side.