Think about the last few years of training: If you are like most people, you have probably trained at different times of day for different periods. For example, you might have dabbled with early morning training at some point, you might have tried exercise late in the evening, and you might have tested half a dozen other times of the day. One question that probably lingers in your mind is, "Is there a best time of day to train and, if so, when is it?"
As it turns out, several factors go into answering this question. Let us take a look at them.
What is the best time of day to train
At first glance, the timing of our workouts does not matter. But when we take a more in-depth look, the best time of day to train is deeply rooted in basic human physiology. You see, within 24 hours, we experience varying energy levels, cognition, athletic performance, motivation, alertness, and more. You have probably noticed that you tend to be slower and more sluggish in the morning, and you gradually pick up and feel more energetic and alert in the late afternoon or evening.
Everything we experience is at least somewhat related to the body's internal clock - the circadian rhythm. Two factors affect our performance more than any other: core body temperature and hormonal secretion.
Our core body temperature follows a 24-hour pattern. Specifically, it tends to be lower at night and in the morning as we wake up and progressively climb as the day progresses. For optimal physical performance, research suggests that we need a slightly elevated core body temperature, which helps with muscle elasticity, enzymes that produce energy, and more. In other words, the late afternoon seems to be a better time for training, as far as core body temperature is concerned. But what about the other thing?
Hormonal secretion refers to the synthesis (and ratio) of two hormones: testosterone and cortisol. According to research, the best time to train is when our T/C ratio is high. Much like core body temperature, cortisol and testosterone also follow a 24-hour pattern. Testosterone tends to peak in the early morning and progressively decline throughout the day. Cortisol is similar: it peaks as we get up and gradually goes down after that. According to research, the best time to train, as far as the T/C ratio is concerned, is also the late afternoon.
So, if you have a regular sleep-wake cycle (going to bed around 10-11 pm and waking up around 6-8 am), training in the late afternoon or evening might be the best time for optimal performance. Still, things are not as cut-and-dry as we might imagine because theory and practice do not always work in harmony.
One factor matter more than any other
We could talk about the theoretical best time of day to train a lot. The human body is a complicated piece of biological machinery, and many things go into the whole equation.
What matters more than anything else is what time of day allows you to adhere to your training plan. In theory, training in the later afternoon appears to be best for people with a regular sleep-wake cycle. But would that time of day be right for you if things continuously pop up, you feel exhausted from work, or some other life-related issue prevents you from training productively or making it to the gym?
If you often find yourself training poorly due to exhaustion or things pop up and prevent you from going to the gym, you will not progress optimally.
Also, if you are incredibly busy and you can not always train at the same time each day, do not worry too much about it. Get your workout in whenever you can, and do your best to remain consistent. If that is in the morning, a mere hour after you wake up, do it. It is infinitely better to train whenever you can than to avoid training altogether. It is still better to train during a time that is less ideal than not training at all #NeverSkipAWorkout.