It’s often said that the best time to do something is early in the morning, before the day gets too busy. But, this isn’t always the case with exercise. It depends on how we want to define “best.” The best time for running may surprise you.
There is a saying in the fitness industry that goes like this, “The best program is the one you can stick to.” I agree.
That said, our bodies have times when they naturally run better than others. Optimal windows that allow us to be a little faster, stronger, and exhaust slower than others. In this article, we discuss each aspect of the best time for running: the psychological and the physiological.
Here we go.
When Is The Best Time for Running?
Most people fall into two broad camps relative to working out: AM or PM. As the majority of the population has to work (unfortunately!) the options are fairly limited on when people can get to the gym. You either go in the early morning before work (AM) or late afternoon after work (PM).
The PM team could be split into two groups. The late afternoon group being right after work and group preferring an evening run sometime after dinner or before bed. In this article, we’re going to group them together as one.
The Early Morning Run
Ahh… the early morning run. Rolling out of bed at 4am to subject your poor body to another beating as you glide down the local pavement. This timeslot is not for everyone, but it is very effective for some people. Everyone knows about the 4am crowd at the gym – they are among the most dedicated among us.
Let’s discuss the all the benefits and disadvantages of morning exercise.
The Benefits of Running in the Morning
Many people with a busy schedule swear by their morning exercise as the “only way they get through the day.”
But, is running in the morning optimal?
Metabolic Benefits of AM Runs
One benefit the morning runner has is exercise jump-starts our metabolism. Getting moving shortly after waking up helps our body start to burn calories more efficiently and can increase calorie burn throughout the day by as much as 10%.
This is, in part, due to the fact that our body temperature is lower in the morning. As we start to warm up and move around, our muscles begin to use more energy (calories) to maintain their optimal temperature for performance.
One study found that running in the morning can also help to regulate our appetite hormones better and actually increase feelings of satiety (you feel full) throughout the day. This means that we are less likely to overeat later in the day which can be a great help on a weight loss routine.
The Psychological Benefits of Running in the Morning
Running in the morning has several psychological benefits. The most obvious being that you get your workout done and out of the way in the early hours. This is a big one for many people as the day can quickly get away from us and, before we know it, it’s 8 pm and we haven’t even thought about working out.
Morning Runners Have Some Advantages With Adherence
It’s commonly believed that a morning workout is easier to stick to over the long term. There is something about getting up and getting the workout out of the way early that promotes consistency in a training program.
This does mean, of course, that you need to fall asleep early enough at night to wake up to that alarm clock in the morning.
Many runners, especially the night owls, may find this challenging. That said, it isn’t the end of the world if you’re more into sleeping in than waking up with the roosters.
Another commonly side-effect of training in the morning is having better mental clarity and feeling more awake throughout the day. Say goodbye to that afternoon slump that hit’s like a truck after lunch.
All of this said, there are some drawbacks to getting your run in first thing in the morning.
The Drawbacks of Running In The Morning
The main downside to running in the morning is that our bodies are not quite ready to go. We’ve been asleep for 6-8 hours and our muscles are still in repair mode from the day before.
Risk of Injury
This can lead to some increased risk of injury as our muscles and connective tissues may not be as strong or pliable as they would be later in the day. Common problems are Achilles tendonitis, Morton’s Neuroma, and various knee and ligament issues.
In addition, our blood sugar levels, energy stores, and core body temperature are all very low in the morning. Not to mention we wake up essentially in a state of dehydration. These factors can cause running performance to suffer, albeit slightly.
In addition to the above, hormones are off in the morning as well. Cortisol levels are at an all-time high and testosterone levels are at an all-time low for the day. This is the opposite of what you want when looking to build muscle and get into shape.
Sleep is another when analyzing the best time for running. A morning run is great, but not if it interferes with sleep. When people are sleep deprived a lot of bad things happen. Hunger increases, the body holds onto fat and tries to get rid of muscle, and cognitive function tanks.
As sleep quality plummets our daily schedule gets more complicated. Human beings all have a circadian rhythm the body wants to stay within and it’s important to understand that while choosing between running in the morning or at night.
What About A Late Afternoon or Evening Run?
Body temperature peaks around 6 pm, making evening workouts more ideal in terms of muscle performance. Our bodies are also fueled up and ready to go.
As we head into the late afternoon and evening our energy levels start to pick up and we become more alert. This is due to a combination of things like increased blood flow, rising body temperature, and the release of hormones like cortisol.
Our joints and muscles are also more supple in the evening as we’ve been moving around all day and our connective tissues are warm. This helps reduce the risk of injury tremendously.
All of these things make running in the late afternoon or early evening an attractive option for many people.
There are, however, some drawbacks to working out later in the day.
The Drawbacks of Running at Night
One of the main drawbacks is that it can be harder to get to sleep after a late workout. The body’s internal temperature is still elevated and cortisol levels are still higher than they should be before bed.
This combination can make it difficult to fall asleep, which leads to less restorative sleep and all the negative side effects that come along with it.
Another thing to consider is that most of us are more tired in the evening after a long day. It can be hard to muster up the motivation to get out there and put in the work. This may vary from person to person dependent on the type of job or other activities throughout the day, but it is worth noting.
But if you can push through the fatigue, evening runs do have some benefits.
The Best Time of Day to Run to Lose Weight
When it comes to losing weight, there is no one best time of day to run. In fact, the best time to run for weight loss may vary from person to person.
Some people may find that they are best able to stick to their running routine in the morning, before work. This is because they tend to be more motivated and have more energy in the morning.
Others may find that they are best able to stick to their running routine in the evening, after work. This is because they tend to be less tired in the evening and have more time to dedicate to their running routine.
Early Evening Run vs An Earlier Time? The Final Verdict
The best time of day for running to lose weight is ultimately the time of day that you are best able to stick to your running routine. If you can stick to your running routine, you will be more likely to see results.
Start slow and stay consistent with your physical activity and your weight, blood pressure, heart health, and various other bodily functions will thank you. An evening run will do just as well as afternoon runs or morning runs.