Following the theme of yesterday's post, during dinner a couple days ago, a friend of mine asked me a question that she wanted answered in a blog post. I didn't want to rush an answer, though we talked about it briefly at the table. Rather, I wanted to carefully read some actual science-y papers on the subject before writing anything that seems like it could be taken as advice . . . so here we go.
The Question: When is the best time to work out? In the morning, at night, or even in the afternoon?
This is a pretty tough question to answer, to be honest. But I want to approach it based on a pros and cons list, just to put it in perspective because I don't think there is a right or wrong answer.
- Consistency: I feel that if you can get into a morning routine, there are not a whole lot of things that come up to disrupt you or make it so you can't get your workout in.
- Gets it out of the way: Along with consistency, getting your workout done for the day early is really a big benefit all day long. It makes you feel great knowing your good to go and usually wakes up your body, energizing it for the day!
- Revs up your body: No matter what, I guarantee you wont skip breakfast after a good workout in the morning. This is a great way to get on a normal eating schedule, which should make you not as hungry (a.k.a. likely to scarf something you'll regret) at 11:00 a.m.
- Racing: This is something that I've been thinking about a lot lately. Most road races are in the early morning, and if you aren't used to running at this time of day it can really throw you off your game. If you're a racer or thinking about getting into road races, there is a huge benefit to being used to waking up early and going for a run.
- The snooze button: If you are like me, mornings are tough. On cold, damp, dreary days I find it extremely difficult to get up early. Although if you get in a good routine, this is avoidable. It just that getting into that routine can be a nightmare.
- Not as social: It is tough to get in a social workout, like a run with a friend, because everyone has different routines in the morning. Some people do really well in a group setting, so this isn't an issue, but for others this could be an issue.
- Avoid the afternoon slump: Exercising around lunchtime is a great way to spend your afternoon, and it's probably the time of day your body would get the most out of the workout, getting it amped up to finish out the (work)day.
- In between meals: You'll be nice and hungry for lunch or dinner (depending at what point in the afternoon you choose to work out) and you'll feel like you've really earned it! You'll be less likely to graze during your down time before your workout, knowing that you have to be ready to go out there and put up some mileage (see one of the cons of nighttime running).
- Social: If you can get some coworkers or friends who have similar schedules together, you can make a regular outing of it. It also makes you all more accountable if you have it penned in every weekday or every Saturday afternoon that you'll be going out with such-and-such group of friends.
- Inconvenience: Most people can't work out during the day, whether due to work schedules, limited lunch breaks, lack of a nearby gym or safe running trail, what have you. So this is not a possible option for many.
- Time commitment: It is easy to have quite a lot of other things to do during the day, so I could see working out getting pushed to the side in favor of working through a lunch break, hitting up the grocery store when it's not mobbed with people, scheduling all those appointments during the one hour a day you have to yourself, and so on. Working out in the afternoon can be quite the adjustment for a lot of people.
- Relieves stress: It feels great to get in a good workout after a long, stressful day. You can feel the annoyances just melt away as your are cruising down the street. There is something very peaceful about just going out and running in the evening air.
- Removes guilt: Knowing if you have been bad or good with food all day makes knowing how hard you should push yourself during your workouts. If I know that I've eaten bad foods all day, you bet your butt I will make double effort on my runs that night.
- Gets rid of extra energy: Along the same lines as relieving stress, it's great to run early enough so that by the time bedtime hits, you're ready for it. Having extra pent-up energy at the end of the day stinks when you have no way to release it. Also, Ellie and I have found that it works great for Audrey, who needs about an hour of good exercise every day. By the time six o'clock hits, she has tons of energy, we have tons of energy, and everybody get tuckered out by a nice evening jog through Buffalo.
- Social: It is easier to schedule an evening run with a friend or make it part of your social, hanging-out time.
- Stuff comes up: If you are like Ellie and me, you have random stuff come up all the time. Be it a quick dinner with a friend or a random other thing we need to do, it is easy to put your workout on the back burner in order to get other things done.
- Other stuff comes up: If you're like Ellie last night, you can relate to this one. You eat dinner (which happens to be more acidic than usual) and you wait what you felt was long enough before hitting the pavement. Once you get into a groove, you start to feel a pinch in your side. The pinch grows into a nauseous feeling until you have to cut your workout short in order to keep dinner where it belongs. No fun for anyone.
- Safety: While night runs are great and the air is usually nice and cool, running in the dark can be a safety hazard. Whether it's visibility (don't wear all black!) or security (don't run toward obvious drug deals, unlit paths, or vans with no windows), it's important to take the necessary precautions of wearing reflective/bright clothing, running with a friend or dog, or finding a better time to work out.
- Revs you up: Working out actually boosts your energy (as we read was a benefit for morning runs), and if you wait too late at night, you'll have trouble getting to sleep. This can actually counter the benefits of the workout by not giving you restful sleep.
As you can see, these are just a few pros and cons for these options. At the end of the day, you should pick a workout time that works best for you. If you're undecided or unsure, dabble in each, maybe trying one at a time for a while so you can get a feel for it and how it works with your lifestyle. I think each has its value, and I honestly think that a combination of all three could be the best option. Some days it is great to go out on the town and socialize with friends, so consider getting your workouts in early. But other days it is kind of nice to actually workout with friends, so the evening is the way to go. And on weekends, you can take some time in the middle of a lazy day to go outside or to the gym. Either way, whatever works for you is what works.
I'm curious as to what you guys think other pros and cons are. Whatcha think? Let me know!