When Is The Best Time To Workout?

best time to workout

You’re either a morning person or an evening person.

But when is the best time to workout?

Take a look at this email from website member Jenny:

“Hey Russ,

I love training first thing in the morning, but if I’m busy and go later one of my friends always tells me that my workout is unproductive because hormone levels reach their peak in the morning – am I wasting my time training later in the day?”

Today, I’ll get stuck into this one for you.

The answer will differ depending upon who you ask, but there is one time of day which is scientifically proven to be the best time to workout as far as hormone levels are concerned – and it’s not what most people think.

when is the best time to exercise

Science Says The Best Time To Workout Is…

The best time to workout for lean muscle growth is 3-6 p.m.

This news may be surpising.

Most gym-goers are told that early morning is the best time to workout because this is when our testosterone levels are at their highest, making it the obvious choice for creating a better environment to build lean muscle tissue.

However, the muscle building process isn’t a “one trick pony”.

Indeed, several studies show we are stronger later in the day. (1, 2, 3)

Despite being a key player, testosterone works in conjunction with several other hormones to create the desired response from training.

One such hormone is cortisol.

when is the best time to workout

 

And what’s really important to optimize your response to training is not the level of testosterone in your body, but rather the net difference between the levels testosterone and cortisol.

Early in the day, our testosterone levels do indeed reach their highest point, but our cortisol levels are also spiked, meaning the ratio between the two isn’t as great as later in the day.

So despite our test levels being a little lower in the afternoon-to-evening, a greater net balance is created due to the fact that cortisol levels are vastly lower later in the day.

This means a workout between 3-6 p.m. will see us train in an environment which is better for building muscle than at any other point in the day.

Further still, studies show that the cortisol spike after an afternoon/evening session is considerably lower than a morning workout, while the testosterone spike following an afternoon/evening session is considerably higher, which is perfect for building fresh lean muscle. (3, 4)

best time to exercise

What Should You Do?

Let me make one thing very clear:

The differences in hormone levels – and any such differences in muscle growth – as a result of the time of day you train are not significant enough to consider cancelling your workout.

Training is always better than not training and no matter what time of day it is, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch.

So don’t listen to your friends in this situation.

On the whole, this strikes me as people who have a habit of needlessly over-complicating their routine. I’m guessing your friends are also the type of people who say “I can’t train because I’ve ran out of preworkout”..

Although the early evening represents a better environment – hormone-wise, at least – for building new lean muscle, your routine must be something which can fit your lifestyle easily.

After all, consistency in the gym is going to trump any other aspect of your program.

best time to workout

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References:

1. Lericollais, R, et al. “Time-of-day effects on fatigue during a sustained anaerobic test in well-trained cyclists.” Chronobiol Int. 2009 Dec;26(8):1622-35. doi: 10.3109/07420520903534492.
2. Deschenes M. R., et al. “Biorhythmic influences on functional capacity of human muscle and physiological responses.” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Sep;30(9):1399-407.
3. Deschenes, M. R., et al. “Aged men display blunted biorhythmic variation of muscle performance and physiological responses.” J App Physiol. 1 June 2002 Vol. 92 no. 6, 2319-2325 DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01116.2001
4. “Cortisol and Growth Hormone Responses to Exercise at Different Times of Day.” J Clin End Metab. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/jcem.86.6.7566

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