Whilst some people feel they can train at their best first thing in the morning, others can’t think of anything worse and prefer to tackle the gym in the evening. But whilst it is largely personal preference and is obviously subject to a person’s work and social schedule, here we analyse how your body responds to training in the morning compared to training in the evening so you can decide when’s best for you.
Researchers at the Department of Kinesiology in Williamsburg, USA set out to determine when the best time to train was based on how your muscles performed. They took 10 healthy, untrained men and made them perform a series of strength tests at 8:00am, 12.00pm, 4.00pm, and 8.00pm. What they found was that the body and muscles performed better in the evening, but only in the exercises that required faster movements.
They concluded this was because the activation of fast twitch muscle fibers (the muscle fibers the are needed during heavy or quick movements such as sprinting or a squat) performed much better when the body temperature was higher, which they found tends to be higher in the evenings compared to the mornings.
Aside from how the muscles perform, the next thing to consider is how your hormones respond based on the different times of the day, specifically the hormones testosterone (one of the most anabolic, muscle-building hormones within the body) and cortisol (the stress hormone that’s been shown to break down muscle and also increase fat storage). What experts have found is that although resting testosterone levels are higher in the morning, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that testosterone actually rose more in the evening in response to training compared to in the morning.
Furthermore according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, cortisol levels are also lower in the evening compared to in the morning and the cortisol response to exercise is lower in the early evening (7.00pm) compared with the morning (7.00am.) So what does this mean for your training? Well basically your testosterone-cortisol ratio is better in the evening compared to in the morning, meaning hormonally you’re better able to burn fat and build muscle if you train in the evening.
The last thing to consider is that despite all of the research, studies and expert advice it’s important to note that everyone is different and everyone has different sleeping patterns and this has a lot to do with your ‘chronotype’ which is essentially an attribute of human beings that reflects what time of the day their physical functions such as hormone levels, (like testosterone and cortisol) body temperature and cognitive functioning are active and at their peak.
This explains why some people can wake up in the morning no problem and then go to the gym, whereas others can’t think of anything worse and have to slowly get out of bed and start their day gently. So although most of the research seems to support the idea of training in the evening it really is personal preference and you have to be aware of your own biological make up and ensure your training fits around it.