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Best Time of Day to Exercise – When is it?

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Everybody has their own ideas and beliefs about when is the best time of day to exercise. Some people like to get up and get it done first thing in the morning and others prefer to exercise late in the afternoon or evening.

The time that people choose to exercise is usually determined by time constraints and when it is most convenient for them, but others get to choose based on when they believe they perform best and acquire the greatest results.

Despite this, for lots of us it can be a huge challenge to exercise successfully in the morning.  We can experience feelings of perceived weakness, low energy and poor motivation in comparison to exercise sessions taken later in the day – but why is this and what could be the root cause?

This article has been inspired by an interesting discussion on twitter about the best time of day to exercise with regards to low performance during morning exercise sessions compared to higher performance sessions in the evening.

There can be many reasons for such a negative early morning exercise experience. Let’s investigate some potential causes and make a claim for the best time of day to exercise:

– Here’s what the science might suggest:

Body Clock, Body Function and Body Routine

As human beings we absolutely love routine and we are very much creatures of habit.  If we do something consistently over long periods of time we get used to this and it becomes our preferred way of functioning – even if it is not necessarily the best way of doing or achieving something.

We can also apply this to exercise, and if we workout in the late afternoon or evenings in a consistent manner we will become accustomed to this method and time of exercise participation.

This means that if we workout at any other time of the day, early morning for example, it will interfere with that consistency and your body will not be used to functioning in the way you are demanding it to at that particular time of the day.

This can potentially translate into a feeling of low energy and decreased performance i.e. weakness, lack of pace, etc.

So if our routine involves that we exercise consistently in the evening, we will perform and feel more energetic in the evening than we do in the morning.

If we changed it up and exercised consistently in the morning we would feel more energetic and perform better in the mornings than the evenings.

It’s applying something consistently that allows our body to adapt to something and respond accordingly.

The body will always need time to adjust to something new.

Body and Muscle Temperature

When performing exercise that involves explosive and quick paced movements we activate our fast twitch muscle fibres to successfully perform these movements (as opposed to slow twitch muscle fibres that take care of slower exercise movements).

To experience an enhanced performance and functionality of fast twitch muscle fibres they require higher body temperatures, which are most often experienced late afternoon and evening – hence for most people the feeling of more energy and increased performance (stronger, faster, etc) at this later time of the day when exercising.

Flexibility and Warm Up

Flexibility is lower in the morning than in the evenings as muscles and joints are at a lower temperature.

You have been lying down all night relaxing so when you wake your muscular system, joints and ligaments are very relaxed.

This means that in the morning specific movements and stretch limits are restricted – directly affecting exercise performance in terms of speed, strength and power.

– Other low performance factors and solutions for improvement:

Mental and Motivation Status

Even if your body is capable of performing well in the morning it’s also a matter of your brain agreeing too – both need to work together as one rather than separately.

If you have one bad exercise session in the morning and you compare that to how good you feel in the evenings when you exercise you will most likely accept poor performance as standard for all your following morning sessions, leading your mentality to defeat before the exercise even starts.

Taking a more positive outlook to exercising at the times we are unaccustomed to can make a huge difference to how we approach the exercise and how we feel during it.  Believe you will do well and it can translate into a solid exercise performance – difficult to do, but certainly possible to achieve.

Hydration Status

We are most dehydrated in the mornings when we wake up.  Being dehydrated can really play havoc on our ability to function and perform specific tasks – including exercise.

You can solve this potential problem by drinking a large glass of water every morning when you wake up (approx 500 ml).

Test your hydration level by checking your urine colour when visiting the toilet; if it is dark yellow in appearance you are dehydrated.  You want your urine to be as clear in colour as possible to represent a hydrated state (lemonade colour).

Sleep Quality and Quantity

Our energy levels should naturally be higher in the morning unless sleep pattern and quality has been affected.

Less than six hours sleep a night can cause you serious body functionality and energy issues.

Six hours a night could be enough for some people but seven hours minimum is usually best in terms of achieving adequate rest.

Be careful not to oversleep or you can experience deep feelings of tiredness, any more than 8-9 hours is likely to present these problems.

Make sure you sleep in the dark too.  The darker the room is the better sleep you will achieve due the release of the hormone Melatonin, which promotes sleep quality.  Melatonin is light sensitive, meaning any false light (street lights, gadgets, and lamps) will inhibit its presence – so shut it out and turn them off.

Wake Up and Rise Time

If you get up out of bed moments before you head out of the door to exercise you can be pretty sure your performance will be below par.

Aim to get up at least 90 minutes before your workouts to allow your body to wake up and prepare for the stressful events ahead – especially if you are not naturally a morning person.

We need to activate our body’s natural body clock by getting plenty of bright light, so spend as little time as possible in the dark once you wake.  Let your body know it’s a new day and it should respond accordingly.

Nutritional Strategy

To improve exercise performance it is advisable to obtain a relevant snack at least 60 minutes before you begin the exercise session to top up your blood sugar and energy levels.

A good solution for this would be a small banana and 2 cups of frozen mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants, strawberries) blended with some water for a chilled ice drink (banana and drink separately).

This will ensure any vitamin or mineral deficiencies can be addressed.

Final Thoughts

Despite several possible invariables that can directly affect morning exercise performance the best time of day to exercise is the time of day that works for you.

It is important to realise that if we consistently exercise at a particular time of day, our bodies will adapt to that time and it will be that time when we can expect to experience the highest level of performance.

There are still a number of strategies that can be put into place to help improve the performance at those times we are less accustomed to exercise.

Accepting that we cannot always be on top form every single exercise session will help you to remove any negative thoughts about the entire situation, and this can really help you to push on and improve yourself greatly in the future.

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