Experts Settle the Debate: Is It Better to Work Out in the Morning or at Night?

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I don’t know what’s worse: the alarm blaring at 5 a.m., filling me with workout dread, or the anxiety that tends to creep in at the end of the day after I’ve failed to squeeze in some exercise. I love working out, but sometimes it’s so hard to find that sweet spot in the day to get it done. Plus, there’s a lot of debate about what time of day is most effective. Do I have to work out first thing in the morning, like so many fitness enthusiasts suggest, or is it OK to get it done during that burst of energy I get in the evenings? I went straight to the experts to find out, and their answers may surprise you.

Experts Settle the Debate: Is It Better to Work Out in the Morning or at Night?
© Getty / Luis Alvarez Experts Settle the Debate: Is It Better to Work Out in the Morning or at Night?

Is It Better to Work Out in the Morning or at Night?

Despite what you may have heard, there isn’t one time that’s best for people to work out. It all depends on your preferences and habits.

“There aren’t enough studies to show whether working out in the morning versus the night results in greater weight loss or health improvements,” Morgan Rees, an ACE-certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and health coach in Los Angeles, told POPSUGAR. “Some people work out in the morning because their schedule only allows that time to work out. Others work out in the morning because they genuinely love being active in the morning. I have always enjoyed working out in the evening because I have the most energy in the afternoon and early evening.”

Sarah Pelc Graca, an NASM-certified personal trainer and founder of Strong with Sarah, agreed that there is no ideal window for working out. “The number of calories burned from the exact same workout will remain the same whether you work out at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m.,” Pelc Graca said.

However, morning and evening workouts do have unique benefits that may influence you to choose one over the other. “Some research has suggested that people who exercise in the morning tend to have better habits of establishing exercise as a routine,” Pelc Graca told POPSUGAR. Rees added that working out triggers the release of endorphins, which can help you feel more alert and prepared for the day. Plus, getting your workout in early may help you feel more settled in the evenings, which can improve your sleep and energy levels.

There are other physical benefits, too. Jess Rose McDowell, an ACSM-certified trainer in sports medicine and cycling, and founder of Kinetic Sweat, explained that working out in the morning gives you more opportunity to continue to burn active calories throughout the day, and to properly fuel your body to build muscle mass. On the other hand, working out at night gives your body ample time to recover and more opportunity for muscle development overnight. It may even improve your sleep, McDowell added, in part because it allows you to release stress that’s built up throughout the day.

In fact, if you tend to feel less anxious or more tired after a workout, Rees suggests exercising at night. “When the body expends energy in excess at night, it can relax the mind prior to sleep allowing for deeper rest,” Rees explained.

Do You Need to Work Out at the Same Time Every Day?

The trainers agreed that it’s OK to work out at any time, on any given day, if that’s what you need to do to fit it in your schedule. However, they do recommend planning ahead, in order to be as consistent as possible and head off any anxiety about when you’ll get it done.

“It’s best to choose a time when you’re feeling the most energized and ready to take on a workout. This is a personal decision that will look different for everyone,” Pelc Graca said. No matter your goals, “what’s most important is that you find the time of day to exercise when you’ll feel your best, be motivated to complete your workout, and that fits nicely into your daily routine so you can remain consistent.”

Pelc Graca suggests working out one day in the morning and the next at night, then seeing how you feel and which timeframe better suits your needs and schedule. “This will determine what time of day you should be working out,” Pelc Graca said, though she noted that if you can’t stick to your normal routine one day, it’s fine to switch things up.

It’s also OK to miss a workout if you’re just not feeling it that day or have other things weighing on you. “Listen to your body and mind,” McDowell explained. “If you’re on the verge of burnout, do not work out. Rest and recovery are key to experiencing the physical and mental progress you’re investing your time in.” However, she does encourage people to get moving at least 15 to 20 minutes a day, whether that’s getting in a workout, going for a walk, doing something else outside, or just stretching. “As you continue to show up for yourself through physical activity, it’s more likely you’ll continue and start experiencing results that will drive you to want more,” McDowell said.

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