One of the age-old gym arguments is what’s better: morning or evening training sessions? I’m going to cut straight to the chase and say, after my research has been conducted, the answer is definitively: it depends.
Like most other things, there are factors at play that will influence the right answer for each unique situation. There is no wrong answer, it depends what works for you specifically. Everyone has a unique set of scheduling requirements, sleep patterns, and motivation levels at different times in the day. As long as your diet and sleep are balanced and complementary to your gym cycle, it doesn’t matter much when you train, as long as you train. However, you might have to alter your diet and sleep patterns a bit to accommodate the residual effects of the training timeslot you choose.
There are proven benefits to both morning and evening training. Since most of us don’t have the choice anyway when we train, this post will discuss the benefits and challenges of each. Work requirements could give you no leeway in the morning, or family commitments could dominate your evenings. No matter the life commitments, what’s important is to fit in regular exercise and maximize that exercise by having the right eating and recovery habits to suit your training schedule.
The benefits of training in the morning for most people is that it kick starts their day, gives them that spike of natural energy and gets exercise out of the way. Testosterone levels will be at their highest in the morning, fueling energy and potential for muscle gains so it’s definitely not going to be detrimental to wake up with the birds and get a session in before work. Another benefit of morning training is that studies have shown it’s easier for some people to fall asleep at night when they trained earlier in the day. It makes sense; since exercise will immediately boost energy and then it will fade later on, inducing sleep. However, a study has also shown that evening workouts raise the body’s internal temperature, which can also aid slumber.
Benefits to evening training seem to ring a little louder in the bodybuilding world. T-Nation published a summary of a Finnish study that took 42 healthy men and divided them into groups, two that trained in the morning hours and two that trained in the evening. Other factors in the study were whether the subjects did cardio training before strength training or vice versa. What they found was for the first 12 weeks, it mattered very little when they trained and in what order, but after 12 w
eeks it seemed to matter more, and more gains were seen in the evening training group.
It makes a lot of sense to train in the evening when you think about the optimal food intake pre-workout. Not many people have time to wake up early, eat a high-protein breakfast high in healthy fats, with enough time to digest before the gym, and then also plan for the proper post-workout consumption. As far as food prep and planning goes, it’s a lot easier to work out in the evening after the body has eaten and digested a proper breakfast and lunch and its metabolism is already working hard. When discussing when is best to train, food intake is the most important factor to consider. Our diet is essentially the dial for our energy, focus and motivation levels. Have you ever trained on an empty stomach? Don’t. You’ll feel weak, dizzy and lightheaded; the exact opposite of how you want to feel for a gym session. The best way to plan properly for your day, especially when you’re doing evening workouts, is to eat a high protein breakfast and lunch with low glycemic index foods like porridge, lentils, grainy bread, soy products and beans. If you can eat a high protein and healthy fat rich meal roughly 45 minutes before our workout, and have a high protein dinner post workout like chicken, turkey, white fish or beans with antioxidant-rich vegetables after your workout, you’re laughing. It can be difficult though for those who train late, when they finish up it’s well past a normal dinnertime. But it’s important not to skip the post-workout meal no matter how late it is, even just getting a light dose of protein will go a long way.
Another tick in the plus column for evening training is that, assuming you don’t have any super important plans afterwards, you can smash your workout with all the remaining energy you have for the day, eat a good meal, spend some nice time winding down and then crash hard, getting you to that ultimate recovery mode faster.
Some studies have shown it’s beneficial to do cardio training in the morning, as it can be a good boost of energy to start your day, and a study from the British Journal of Nutrition as per Men’s Health says doing cardio in the morning can burn up to 20% more fat than later in the day. Weight training in the evening makes more sense because you’re at your max strength in the later hours, once you have your wits about you and have eaten a couple good meals. So if you’re that keen, hit a spin class, (of-course Kayas is the best #plug) in the morning and a functional training session in the evening. Go on, then!
So the bottom line, once again, is: there is no definitive right or wrong answer. Training when you can is better than not training at all. Just make sure to eat properly, sleep properly, and enjoy your life! Balance is key.
Poliquin Group. (2012). Ten Nutrition Tips for When You Have To Train In The Evening. Retrieved from: http://main.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/884/Ten_Nutrition_Tips_for_When_You_Have_To_Train_In_T.aspx
Poliquin Group. (2016). Drink Coffee To Perform Better in the Morning: Greater Strength & Power. Retrieved from: http://main.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/1531/Drink_Coffee_To_Perform_Better_in_the_Morning_Grea.aspx