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time to train

When’s the best time to train?

POSTED Wednesday 7 November 2018

Our recent Fit Focus Forum saw our experts talk all things Time – and in this post we review the topic Tom (our Physiologist) discussed about how different types of training can be most effective at certain points in the day.

Our bodies’ response to certain types of exercise throughout the day is dictated by the circadian rhythm – the culmination of your ‘biological clocks’. This means that during a 24-hour period, your alertness, core and muscle temperatures, metabolism and hormone levels (such as testosterone and cortisol) will fluctuate. This fluctuation is affected by daylight, eating habits, genes and exercise.

When is the best time to do certain types of training?

Your body will have a better response to different types of training at certain times during the day. To lift under fatigue you need to be well fuelled and alert, and you don’t need to lift particularly heavy weights, so muscle temperature and testosterone levels can be lower. For example, if you are looking to increase muscle size a training day could be:

  • upper weights in the morning
  • lower weights in the evening

To lift heavy you need to be well fuelled, alert, have a high muscle temperature and have higher testosterone going into the session in order to increase weights lifted. So, if you are looking to increase muscle strength, it is best to:

  • train hypertrophic (muscle growth) weights early in the morning
  • train strength weights late in the afternoon or early evening

If you want to target fat loss from cardio, the ideal sessions are:

  • fasted bike early in the morning
  • an intense circuit before an evening meal

If you are targeting general fitness from cardio, the ideal sessions are:

  • weights with a coffee early morning
  • an intense circuit in the early evening

Intense or light cardio can be done at any time of day, as muscle temperature and hormone levels do not factor too much. It is important to bear in mind though that intense cardio requires higher fuel stores.

What are good solutions for when you have to train at non-ideal times…?

If you have to lift early in the morning, there are several options that will help you perform better.

  • Have a coffee or other stimulant to spike alertness and metabolism
  • Make sure you warm up your spine, get a gym instructor to help you with this. More susceptible to spinal injury first thing in the morning due to fluid movement
  • Use pump up music to get you in the mood, it will help raise testosterone.

If you need to train late (which isn’t ideal as it will disrupt your sleep pattern):

  • Try to minimise this disruption through avoiding coffee or pre-work out before the session.

If you try to do fasted cardio later in the day:

  • Try and do it at the longest period away from eating
  • If you do eat, try minimal carb intake, and instead focus on fats and protein-based meals
  • Having a meal that’s high in fibre will help make you feel fuller for longer.

One thing to consider is that everyone is different; some people are early birds, and some are night-owls – see Elise and George’s blog post here to find out more about when the optimum workout time is depending on your circadian rhythm.

In order to change from one rhythm to another you need to adjust your eating times, workout times and waking/sleeping times. For regular training, it is important to keep a consistent body clock, as infrequent wake-up times can lead to unwanted weight-gain and illness.


You can keep up with Tom on Twitter, and keep an eye out for our next edition of Fit Focus Forum!


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