When you’re juggling a million things at once, it can be hard to schedule a workout into your busy day. But whether you’re trying to get fit, gain strength or lose weight, it’s important that you intentionally set aside the time to work out, no matter how busy you may think you are.
If you’re one of those people who just gets to the gym whenever you can without much planning — some days you go in the evening, sometimes you go in the morning, etc. — you may want to rethink your strategy. Experts say there is a certain time of day when you burn the most fat and get the most out of your workout.
We’ve got good news for all your morning people out there: mornings are the best time of day to work out if you’re trying to get the most drastic physical results. For one, you’ll probably end up burning more calories when you work out first thing in the morning. You have more energy than if you have if you worked out at 7 p.m., so you’ll work harder and so more. Plus, whatever workout you do in the a.m. will rev up your metabolism for the day and help you burn more calories as you go about your normal routine. It will also put you in a fantastic mood (all those happy endorphins will course through your body) and encourage you to eat better and make healthier choices throughout the day.
But there’s another excellent reason why you should work out in the morning — before you have your breakfast, that is. When you wake up from a good night’s sleep, you probably find yourself feeling a little hungry. That’s because your body has been in a fasted state and you’ve been breaking down muscle glycogen and liver glycogen while you were sleeping. Because your body is in this depleted state when you wake up, you’ll likely end up burning fat as an energy source because you don’t have many carbohydrates in your system to use as fuel. You know what that means — fat loss! So as much as you want to reach for a protein bar or a bowl of oatmeal when you first wake up, do your best to save your breakfast until after you’ve completed your morning workout.
As for what workout you choose to do in the morning, keep this in mind. If you choose a steady-state cardio workout — for example, running or rowing at a steady pace for 30 minutes — you’ll burn a great deal of fat in your body rather than carbs. However, if you do a high-intensity workout that’s more HIIT or Tabata style, that will lead to a greater calorie burn. Both have great benefits, so choose whichever one sounds right for you.
Another reason morning workouts are so successful is because of your hormone levels when you wake up. Your testosterone levels are at their highest in the morning between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., and this is the hormone responsible for burning fat and building lean muscle. At the same time, your stress hormone cortisol is pretty low when you first wake up. You probably knew that already, though. Picture how stressed you are at 7 a.m. versus at 5 p.m. after you’ve just had a full day of work. And when you have less cortisol in the body, you have more energy to work out harder and make more gains in the gym. Finally, too much cortisol in the body actually leads to a decrease in lean muscle, so you want to take advantage of that time of day when cortisol levels are relatively low.
Although not everyone can make it to a morning workout depending on your schedule, it’s a good idea to make time for a session before you get to work. Rearrange however you need to, wake up earlier, and make it a priority to get to the gym.
However, if a morning workout just isn’t happening for you, try to achieve a fasted state before you get to your afternoon workout. That means you will likely have to practice intermittent fasting (where you fast for 16 hours of the day and only eat your meals in an 8-hour window) in order to have an empty stomach before you work out. For example, if you can only get to the gym around 1 or 2 p.m., perhaps skip breakfast and only eat your first meal after you’ve completed your workout. This will help you achieve that fasted state, which allows you to receive even more benefits from your workout.
More importantly than anything else, though, is the fact that you’re consistent. If you’re not training regularly, you won’t see gains at all. Choose a consistent workout schedule that will ensure you get your ass to the gym as often as possible. That’s when you’ll see the really transformative results.