The Best Time(s) of Day to Lift Weights & Exercise

The Best Time(s) of Day to Lift Weights & Exercise

The optimal time of day to lift weights and exercise will depend on you, your life, and your schedule. If you have a few different possible times you could lift weights or exercise, then this guide will help you choose the best one. Let’s take a look at early morning, the middle of the day, and the evening workout times, and find out the pros and cons of each one. The goal is to find the time when you have the best energy levels.

best workout times

I think the best times to work out are in the middle of the day. This article will explain why, by going into the pros and cons of each “workout time category”. If you don’t have those times free in your schedule, then you can read about the other options, early morning or evening.

Working Out in the Early Morning

Working out in the early morning, before eating, has its pros and cons. It is a bit of an extreme option, in some ways. It can be an unhealthy extreme, especially if you end up “burning the candle at both ends”, depending on caffeine, or cramming too much into the morning. Below is a pros and cons chart. After that, I will discuss each “pro” and “con” individually.

morning sunrise

Pros & Cons of working out in the early morning

Pros

Pros
  • Get your workout finished and have the rest of your day free
  • Sometimes you will have more focus, because the day hasn’t happened yet
  • Even if something comes up that day, you will already have done your workout, so you won’t miss it
  • Potential to burn body fat because you’re training in a fasted or semi-fasted state
  • Creates a “nutrient partitioning effect” for subsequent meals throughout the day
  • The fact that you exerted yourself physically so early in the morning can reduce stress or anxiety for the rest of the day
  • If you go to a gym, it might not be as busy there in early mornings

Cons

Cons
  • Working out too early can cut into your sleep, and “burning the candle at both ends” isn’t good
  • Working out in the fasted or semi-fasted state could actually cause your body to burn muscle, not just fat
  • You might have less energy in the morning, since you haven’t eaten recently
  • Using caffeine as a stimulant or appetite suppressant can lead to a crash later in the day, especially if you got up too early
  • It can put you in a rush to get to work afterward, and rushing isn’t healthy for you
  • Your body doesn’t get to gradually acclimate to the day if you go straight into an intense workout

Pros of Working Out Early in the Morning

  • You would get your workout finished and have the rest of your day free

This is definitely a good thing about morning workouts. Once you get that workout done, you can relax the rest of the day. For many people, their physical exercise is the hardest part of the day, or at least one of the more difficult parts. So, getting the workout done puts you in a position where you’ve already done one of your most difficult things. It can make the rest of the day seem easier. Plus, you don’t have that workout “hanging over your head”.

relief

  • Sometimes you will have more focus, because the day hasn’t happened yet

If you worked out in the afternoon or evening, then you’d have gone through the stresses of your day, and maybe you’d have less energy or focus by then. So working out in the morning lets you get the workout in, before the day accumulates in your mind. If something in the day brings you down, it won’t affect your workout, because you’ve already worked out. Of course, we could always carry the previous days with us, even if we workout in the mornings. But at least you will have slept on it.

Also, your mind might generally be “sharper” if you’re in the fasted state. This can vary from person to person. Digestion does take energy and having food in our system can slow us down. Sometimes people report having more focus when they’re fasting, but its really because they’re using caffeine as an appetite suppressant. Having food in your system might actually help you focus in some cases, so it’s something you can only know for yourself.

  • Even if something comes up that day, you will already have done your workout, so you won’t miss it

This point applies especially to folks who have trouble fitting in their workouts. Something else keeps coming up, and they end up missing the workout that day. I am not judging anyone, because I know we all have a lot going on in our lives. If you’re new to exercising, you might not really know how much you will enjoy it! And you might not be aware, first-hand, of the benefits. So, you let it go a little easier.

Honestly, being able to let go is a healthy quality, so that’s great! If you work out in the early morning then you will have already “made time” for it, so you won’t risk missing it later. It just depends how much of a priority exercise is to you, in your life. And everyone’s allowed to have different priorities.

  • Potential to burn body fat because you’re training in a fasted or semi-fasted state

There has been some mention of fasted or semi-fasted cardio or workouts burning more body fat. You haven’t consumed food for fuel recently, so you would use fat stores for energy. A lot of people do low-intensity steady state cardio in the fasted state, since it doesn’t have as much risk of burning muscle, due to lower cortisol. Lifting in the fasted state, or doing higher intensity exercise, could cause your body to burn muscle tissue for fuel. I will talk more about that later.

does morning workout burn fat

  • Creates a “nutrient partitioning effect” for subsequent meals throughout the day

“Nutrient partitioning” means that if you just exercised, then more of the nutrients you eat will have the chance to go towards building muscle tissue and replenishing muscle glycogen. That’s because there is increased circulation to the muscle tissues, and an increased stimulus for the body to build muscle during the post-workout times.

The “nutrient partitioning” effect is strongest right after your workout, so you can benefit from it at any time of day. But it kind of trails off, so if you exercise before breakfast, then meal 2 will still get you some nutrient partitioning, as well meal 3. The flip side of this is that you don’t get any pre-workout meal for fuel. That’s why mid-morning might be best… We will get to that soon!

  • The fact that you exerted yourself physically so early in the morning can reduce stress or anxiety for the rest of the day

When you haven’t done much physical activity, you could get more “antsy”, “squirrely” or in other words, anxious. This especially applies if you have a long commute where you’re sedentary in a car, bus or train, and then if you work in a sedentary job most of the day. You will get all this pent up physical energy that stays stuck inside, without an outlet. If you get that “out of your system” in the morning, you’ll feel better throughout the sedentary parts of your day.

  • If you go to a gym, it might not be as busy there in early mornings

The gym tends to be busier in the mid-morning until the early evening. During those times, you’d have to wait longer to gain access to the machines or weights you want the most. For example, most gyms only have one chest fly machine. Some have only one lat pulldown. So when it’s busier, you have to wait longer to use them, or compromise your workout in some way.

Of course, if you work out at home, none of that will affect you anyway. But, not everyone does, and that’s OK. The early morning tends to be a little quieter, so you could work out at your own pace and have much less wait time for equipment. For some people, that factor alone makes them work out in the early morning, despite any drawbacks. Some people need more space, and you can’t get as much space in a crowded gym. In the morning, some gyms haven’t even turned on the music yet! So for those who like a quiet gym, the early morning is very good.

when is the gym empty

Cons of Working Out Early in the Morning

  • Working out too early can cut into your sleep, and “burning the candle at both ends” isn’t good

Most people who get up early to add an activity into their lives, whether its meditation, journaling, working on an online business, or even exercise, sometimes try to “make that time” by getting up much earlier. They don’t always go to bed earlier, since they’re usually trying to do more activities in the evening, too. So they just set that alarm earlier, and get up to do their thing.

It is not easy to do, but some people have this strong will, where they can do it. (Some people also depend on caffeine for this, which is less healthy, and I will get into that a few points down.) Having a strong will can be a good thing, but not when it enables you to burn the candle at both ends. Eventually, you become depleted, and you burn out. It is inevitable because we have human bodies that need a full night’s sleep.

burning the candle at both ends

When you work out, you need your rest, so the body can heal and adapt. If you’re not resting then it simply won’t have time to adapt. The last few hours of sleep usually contain the richest REM sleep, so you don’t want to miss that. Dreaming might seem secondary to the strong-willed folks of the world, but actually dreaming is essential for brain processing and mental health.

So, if you’re going to try to utilize early morning workouts, only do so when you can go to bed earlier. Ideally, you would go to bed early enough that you wake up fully rested, without needing an alarm. If you “needed” an alarm to wake you up, it means you didn’t sleep enough.

  • Working out in the fasted or semi-fasted state could actually cause your body to burn muscle, not just fat

Without any fuel from recent meals, your body will seek something else to use as fuel. It could burn fat, but fat is considered more important for survival than excess muscle. So, your body might go for the muscle first! Especially with intense workouts, which produce more cortisol, your morning workouts could actually lead you into muscle loss.

Muscle is not easy to gain, even as a beginner. So you don’t want to risk muscle loss. To minimize this risk, and still be able to exercise in the morning, try having a shake with 25-50 grams of protein powder and some type of complex carbohydrates. This could be rice or oats thrown in a blender (maybe make it the night before) or a complex carb powder.

Simple carbs don’t take as long to prepare, and are in a liquid form more often, but they won’t give you steady energy. You’ll end up crashing mid-workout due to the insulin spike. Complex carbs might take you a little longer to eat, but as long as you get something in your system, it’s better than nothing. At least get the protein. If you’re going to do simple carbs then sip it gradually throughout your workout, not all at once beforehand.

If this is really a concern for you, working out between meals 1 and 2 might be better. But if you have to be at work by then, we’d have to look into later times, like late afternoon or early evening. Those have their pros and cons as well. So, there might not be a perfect time, and you’ll have to take the pros and cons of each.

  • You might have less energy in the morning, since you haven’t eaten recently

If you haven’t eaten recently, then you run into the issues described in the previous point. The same advice mentioned above applies for getting at least a little food in your system. But with this point, we’re talking more about energy levels. Some people really believe in intermittent fasting, and have the same strength whether they just ate or not. But other people will have a lower maximum strength output due to the lack of fuel in their tank.

food for workout energy

If you can’t generate your full strength levels at a given time, then that’s not the best time to work out. Your workout won’t be as effective and it will be harder to keep track of progress. So if you feel weak when training first thing in the morning, whether its from lack of sleep or lack of food, then try another time.

  • Using caffeine as a stimulant or appetite suppressant can lead to a crash later in the day, especially if you got up too early

Especially on an empty stomach, caffeine will really give you a rush. But the more of a rush you get, the harder you crash later. If you add in a morning workout, and increase your caffeine dosage to “help you” with that, you’ll build dependency and tolerance even sooner than with “regular” caffeine use.

It might seem cool that you got your workout over with, but you will be crashing later in the day. That’s just not healthy and it won’t really give you a good day. You might be high as a kite during that workout, and for the next few hours, but you’ll be feeling low later. To avoid this issue, if you work out in the mornings, learn to do it without caffeine. Being off caffeine will also help you see more clearly when you need rest. (Some people don’t want to know they’re tired, so they take more caffeine! But that’s not very healthy.)

  • It can put you in a rush to get to work afterward, and rushing isn’t healthy for you

If you work out in the morning, shower, eat something, use the restroom, get dressed, etc. then you might end up running short on time before work. It would lead you to a stressful commute. Starting the day with that much stress is not ideal. It can affect the rest of your day, causing as much of a crash as excessive caffeine use. So to avoid this issue, leave a broad margin of time for you to get ready and commute in the mornings.

This doesn’t apply if you make your own hours or if your hours don’t start as early.

  • Your body doesn’t get to gradually acclimate to the day if you go straight into an intense workout

When we just got finished sleeping, the body needs time to acclimate. We feel “groggy” and that “groggy” mode is actually how our nervous system eases us back into the day. When we go straight from bed to an intense workout, we skip that “groggy” phase. The adrenaline it requires to do that can lead to a crash later. This is one issue you can’t really get around with morning workouts, and it’s why I think working out a few hours after you’ve gotten up and had some food is much better than first thing in the morning.

  • Less time in the morning for other necessities 

When you’re eating a high protein diet with complex carbs, vegetables, fibers, healthy fats, and other good, whole food sources, there’s something you might have to do in the morning. It involves going to the bathroom and sitting down. Sometimes you will need to sit down for an extended period of time, while a bodily function takes place.

morning bathroom

Having regular bowel movements definitely takes priority over working out, if it comes down to it. You can’t just “hold it in” your whole workout. So if you need the bathroom, which is common in the mornings, give yourself time for that before working out.

If you cram so much into your morning, and you have limited hours before work, you might end up depriving yourself of the necessary bathroom time. Don’t limit your bathroom time in favor of other activities. Give yourself time for a full bathroom visit, even if it keeps you from cramming in other things into your time.

Working Out Mid-Day (3 to 9 hours after waking)

3 to 9 hours after waking is just an estimate for what you’d consider mid-day. I think this is one of the best times because you aren’t tired from the day yet, but you had enough time to take in some food for fuel, get ready, and ease into the day.

working out in the mid morning

Pros & Cons of working out in the mid morning

Pros

Pros
  • You will have had time to get some quality food in your system, to fuel your workout.
  • You’ll have been awake long enough for your nervous system to have a good output level.
  • You’ll have had time to use the bathroom and do other morning necessities.
  • You won’t be tired yet, like you would if you worked out much later.
  • Because you had time to gradually wake up, you won’t need to develop caffeine dependency.
  • You still get a good “nutrient partitioning” effect.
  • You still have the rest of the day ahead of you when you’re done exercising.

Cons

Cons
  • Might not fit into your schedule if you work a conventional 9-5 schedule, or have other things to do during the day.
  • Gym may be busier.

Pros of Working Out in the Middle of the Day

  • You will have had time to get some quality food in your system, to fuel your workout.

Like I said earlier, some people can work out without having eaten recently. However, I’ve found that either my max strength, my endurance, or both will droop if I haven’t eaten. If possible, you want to pick a time to work out when you’ll be at your best.

  • You’ll have been awake long enough for your nervous system to have a good output level.

When you’ve just woken up, you’ve been inactive for (ideally) 8 or more hours. That means going right into an intense workout is like going 0 to 60. It might not be good for your system, and not only that, it might keep you from having maximum CNS (central nervous system) output. However, once you’ve been up for a few hours, you will definitely be at your best natural energy levels.

full power

  • You’ll have had time to use the bathroom and do other morning necessities.

If you read the last section, about early morning workouts, you’ll know that the bathroom comes first. It’s a more basic need than the need to lift, in many ways, and you need to give yourself however much time you need in the bathroom. If you wait until you’ve been up a little while, you’ll have had plenty of time to use the bathroom.

  • You won’t be tired yet, like you would if you worked out much later.

When you work out in the middle of the day, you won’t have had the day wear you down mentally, physically or emotionally yet. As time goes on through the day, depending on your life circumstances, you can become drained. This is not true of all lifestyles. But if you feel drained later in the day, then working out earlier, like the mid-morning, will help you avoid that. Working out in the early morning has this benefit, too, but it also has more drawbacks. Where as when you work out mid-morning, or middle of the day, you get the benefits of an early workout, without the drawbacks of going too much to one extreme.

  • Because you had time to gradually wake up, you won’t need to develop caffeine dependency.

When you want to force yourself to work out at a time when you’re not fully awake yet, you’d use caffeine to kind of bypass that tiredness. That’s not healthy and it puts you out of touch with your natural energy.

natural energy

Instead of a caffeinated energy that is short-lived, you can have natural energy that is sustainable and balanced. Caffeine comes with all kinds of draw-backs, like headaches and crashes. But when you just honor your body’s own needs for rest, you suddenly have an all-natural energy source with no drawbacks. So giving yourself those few hours in the morning to “ease into the day” will benefit you through the entire day.

  • You still get a good “nutrient partitioning” effect.

Any time you work out, whether its morning, afternoon, or evening, you get that “post workout anabolic window” where the protein and carbs get sent to your muscle tissues more readily. But with a mid-day workout, you also get a little more nutrient partitioning with the next few meals, as it gradually tapers off. You will always have this unless you work out a few hours before bed, where you’d only have one post-workout meal, and not eat again until morning.

healthy food

  • You still have the rest of the day ahead of you when you’re done exercising.

To some people, this is a benefit. What it means is that you’d have gotten the physical energy “out of your system” so you’d get that natural “boost” for the rest of the day. You’d get to enjoy the benefits of having done your workout for the next 8 or more hours that you’re up. It also means in case anything else comes up, you already took care of your exercise needs.

working out in mid-morning

The rest of your day might not always consist of lounging in the pool with a nice cowboy hat on, but whatever your day brings, it will be good that you’ve worked out.

Cons of Working Out Mid-Day

  • Might not fit into your schedule if you work a conventional 9-5 schedule, or have other things to do during the day.

It’s true, mid-day might be an ideal time, but if your life doesn’t have room for it, then it’s not going to happen. So, you have to find the best time for your schedule. If mid-day isn’t possible, you’ll have to pick the next best time. At least with this article, you will know the pros and cons of whatever time you end up deciding on.

fitting working out into your schedule

  • Gym may be busier.

Because mid-day is such a good time to work out, and it’s also more natural than early morning, more people go at that time. You might have to wait for a machine or a weight, while someone else uses it. But on the flip side, your time won’t be as crammed if you go in the mid-morning, so you’ll have time to wait or take turns with someone else. You’ll have someone there who can spot you if needed. And you’ll get all the benefits of mid-morning workouts. So, the busier gym is not that much of a drawback.

Working Out in the Evening

The “evening” could be any time after 4 or 5 PM. For example, if your job hours are a standard 9 to 5, then working out after work would fall in the “evening” category. 4 or 5 PM isn’t too far into the evening, but once you get into working out at 7, 8 or 9 PM, that’s pretty close to bed time. Let’s look at the pros and cons of working out in the evening. Maybe it will be a good time for you, or maybe not.

Pros & Cons of Working Out in the Evening

[joomdev-wpc-pros]
  • It could be the only time you have available.
  • Could be a good stress reliever after your day.
  • Working out at the end of the day gives you something to look forward to.
  • You’ll have plenty of fuel in your system, from having eaten during the day.
  • Strength output is still decent, especially in the early evening.

[/joomdev-wpc-pros][joomdev-wpc-cons]

  • If you use caffeine pre-workout, it might not be good to have caffeine so much later in the day, especially close to bed time.
  • You’ve only got a few hours left in the day, so you won’t have as much post-workout nutrition as pre-workout nutrition.
  • Even working out without caffeine could make it harder to fall asleep. (But not for everyone.)
  • Gym is busy at this time, especially early evening.
  • Depending on your lifestyle, you might be too tired by the evening.

Pros of Evening Workouts

  • It could be the only time you have available.

If the early morning doesn’t work for you, and the middle of the day is when you go to work, then the evening is when you have the time left over for exercise. If that’s the case, then it’s the best possible time! Just try to make it as early in the evening as possible, closer to 4 or 5 PM if you can, rather than 6 PM or later. I advise that because working out too close to bed can interfere with your sleep, and you won’t get enough time for post-workout nutrition if you work out much later.

In order to be able to make your workout closer to 4 or 5 PM, instead of stopping home between work and the gym, just bring your gym stuff with you and visit a gym on the way home. That will save you the commute back and forth.

  • Could be a good stress reliever after your day.

While working out earlier in the day can give you a good “boost”, working out later can help you relax. After you’ve built up some stress from the day, exercising might be a great way to get some endorphins and feel better.

sunset

When you are sedentary for a lot of the day, you will get all this pent up physical energy. The gym is a great way to get out that physical energy.

  • Working out at the end of the day gives you something to look forward to.

This may not apply to everyone, but there are those of us who really enjoy our weight lifting and exercise. For some of us, it’s the highlight of our day! So, if you’re like that, then working out later in the day gives you some exciting plans. You can go over your workout in your mind here and there during the day, and mentally prepare.

  • You’ll have plenty of fuel in your system, from having eaten during the day.

As mentioned earlier, some people do well with Intermittent Fasting, so they would do a workout in the late afternoon or early evening in the fasted state, then have dinner after. But for those of us who need food for energy, then having had a few meals pre-workout will ensure we have as much fuel in our system as we need.

almonds just shown to represent healthy food

  • Strength output is still decent, especially in the early evening.

This one depends on your activity level during the day. If you had a sedentary day, then it will take a little time to warm up, but you will have energy to exercise once you get going. If you work during the day, in a more physically intensive occupation, then you might be tired out by the time the evening comes. You won’t have as much strength output, due to having expended energy on that physical labor. So, this one can vary from person to person.

Cons of Evening Workouts

  • If you use caffeine pre-workout, it might not be good to have caffeine so much later in the day, especially close to bed time.

There are a lot of pre-workout supplements that promise you a good workout. They have a big blend of ingredients, but the main one is caffeine. It’s such a simple substance, it doesn’t cost the manufacturer much, and it does tend to create an energy boost. Even if you don’t use a specific pre-workout supplement, you might have been advised to have a caffeinated beverage pre-workout.

In general, depending on caffeine for your workouts isn’t good, because the caffeine will eventually fail you. You’ll build a tolerance for the effects and you’ll need the caffeine just to feel “normal”. It won’t even really give you a boost any more.

But depending on caffeine for evening workouts has another disadvantage. That caffeine might interfere with your sleep. So, look out for that. The best way to avoid this problem is to stop using caffeine altogether, and regain your natural energy levels.

  • You’ve only got a few hours left in the day, so you won’t have as much post-workout nutrition as pre-workout nutrition.

When working out in the evening, you may have had plenty of pre-workout nutrition, and that’s great. But you don’t get as many post-workout meals. Maybe you only have dinner, and that’s it. Maybe you have a post-workout protein shake or meal replacement, and then dinner a bit later. Ideally, you would have some protein immediately post-workout with some healthy carbohydrates, then wait a little while, and have a typical dinner kind of meal.

Post-workout nutrition is important, because post-workout is when your body is in repair mode, adapting to the workout stimulus you just created. So you want to give your body plenty of nutritious foods, especially protein, carbs (if you eat carbs), healthy fats, electrolytes and everything you need.

  • Even working out without caffeine could make it harder to fall asleep. (But not for everyone.)

Like anything, this varies from person to person. Some people will be able to sleep after their workout. This is more true when you don’t use caffeine. However, exercising can sometimes give a natural energy boost which lasts a few hours. If that’s you, then make sure you finish your workout at least a few hours before bedtime. I’d say 3 hours at least, and finishing 4-5 hours before bedtime would be even better. Plus, that gives you plenty of time for post-workout nutrition.

can you work out before bed

This one also depends on your workout style. If you work out in a more intense way that winds you up, then that’s not good close to bed. The hours before bed are for winding down. But, if you have a workout style that is more calming to your system, then you can do that as close to bed as you want. It just depends if you’re winding up or winding down.

  • Gym is busy at this time, especially early evening.

This is the busiest time for many gyms, due to the prevalence of the 9 to 5 work schedules. The time between 5 and 7 PM tends to be busiest. But, if that’s the only time when you can fit in some exercise, then it’s okay. You can find ways to have a good workout, even in a busy gym.

Special Note – Best Workout Time for Intermittent Fasting

This one depends on your fasting times and your eating window. With a 16 hour fast and 8-hour eating window, you could have a pre workout meal at the start of your eating window, do your workout, and then finish exercising with about 4-5 hours left in the eating window. Then, give yourself post-workout nutrition during the rest of your eating window.

With anything less than an 8-hour eating window, like a 4 or 6 hour eating window, it’s probably best to work out in the fasted state, and then use your eating window as a big post-workout meal. That will give you maximum recovery and nutrient partitioning.

It’s not important exactly what time of day this happens, as long as you relate your workout time to the time of your eating window. You wouldn’t want to exercise hours before your eating window, because that’s a lot of post-workout time where you’re not giving your body what it needs to adapt. That could lead to even more muscle breakdown, instead of muscle building. You also wouldn’t want to exercise right after your eating window, because then you’d still be digesting, and you wouldn’t get any post-workout nutrition at all.

So, if you do Intermittent Fasting, have your workout at the start of your eating window or right before it.

Conclusion – Best Time of Day to Work Out

The best time of day to work out is the middle of the day, due to an ideal balance of pre- and post-workout nutrition, as well as good energy levels. However, if you can’t work out at that time, then you have to decide between the earlier morning or the evening. This article contains some guidance on how to make the most of whatever time you have. Make sure to be careful of caffeine dependence, especially when working out in the early morning or later evening.

Please write any questions or comments you have in the comments section. Thanks!

Leave a Comment