Chris Judd: Is there a best time of day to work out?

Are you an exercise early bird, or a gym night owl? Chris Judd explores the ideal time for working out.

Chris Judd

Chris Judd

Chris Judd is a former AFL footballer and twice winner of the Brownlow Medal.

All articles

The question about when in the day is best to exercise comes up a lot, and it’s a hard one to answer. There’s some research on the topic, but equally, it’s going to depend on the kind of person you are. If you’re not a morning person, all the science in the world isn’t going to get you out of bed at 5am.

Identify your goal

The best time of day to work out also depends on what you’re training for. If you’re an elite athlete who’s performing at an Olympic level then, yes, you may benefit more from exercising at a specific time each day. But if you’re just an everyday person who wants to get healthier, it’s not going to be nearly as much of an issue.

Make your #onechange

Remember, consistency is one of the most important components of exercise. Set aside 30 minutes per day for movement in your schedule and challenge yourself to stick to it for one week.

Find your stride

It’s something that’s going to be dictated by your personal biorhythm. Ideally, you’d exercise at the time that you feel you’re at your best – whether that’s in the morning or later in the afternoon. Maybe getting up and running five kilometres will give you a sense of accomplishment that will carry you through the day. Or, maybe it’s something that you’ll tackle as a wind-down to work out any excess energy before you call it a day.

Personally, I always felt that the afternoon was the best time for me to work out, once everything was warmed up. I know that if you set me up with a time-trial first thing in the morning, my performance would be terrible. I also had an advantage because afternoon training suited my lifestyle. But I know that for a lot of people, that’s not going to be viable because of work and family commitments.

If I’m going to do anything later in the evening, I try and keep it to light activity – something like Pilates or weight training – rather than aerobic, high-intensity exercise. Otherwise, I’ll be too pumped up, and I won’t be able to sleep until midnight.

Stay consistent (and don’t skip the coffee)

One thing that I’ve found is that consistency is crucial to the formation of exercise habits. So whatever time of day you prefer to exercise, you’re best sticking with what feels right and shooting for that regularly.

If you’re going to get your exercise out of the way first thing in the morning, there’s a strong argument for drinking coffee before you head out of the door. It’s a trick that a lot of footballers use to utilise fat as an energy source more efficiently. When you wake, you’ve already fasted overnight. If you add some caffeine to the mix, your body relies less on glycogen as your blood glucose levels are low, and instead metabolises some of the fat stores.

A 2014 study showed that a group of 14 cyclists used more energy and burnt more fat during one hour’s worth of biking when given caffeine, compared to them doing the same exercise without caffeine. Not only that, but they actually considered the caffeinated exercise to be easier and more pleasant – even though they were working harder. That’s a pretty good reason to hit the kettle first thing in the morning.

How the time of day impacts our exercise, according to Kate Allott, National Fitness Manager at Anytime Fitness.

The time of day that you exercise can have an impact on the results you’ll see. Some research has shown that fasted training in the morning – meaning you’ve had dinner the night before, but prior to breakfast in the morning – is potentially effective for fat loss.

The science behind that is because the first fuel your body uses is stored glycogen (which comes from carbs). If that glycogen isn’t there for your body to use, your fat stores will be the next port of call.

In saying that, our bodies can store glycogen overnight. Plus, your body can also look to use muscle as fuel, and that’s not something we want because lean muscle is essential for everyday life.

Afternoon or evening tends to be when weightlifting or load-based training can be effective. That’s when your body has more fuel readily available. You’ve eaten food throughout the day and you have the energy to lift heavier weights and do more reps.

If you have issues with sleeping, nighttime exercise might cause you to struggle to wind down because your endorphins will be pumping. We know that sleep is vital to your cognitive ability, keeping your stress down, and seeing results in the gym. If that is an issue for you, then you’re better to keep your workouts to the morning.

It’s really going to come down to what works for you – because, realistically, you can achieve your goals training at any time of the day. Whatever time works for you is the best time. Remember, any workout is better than no workout.

Chris Judd

Former Australian Rules footballer Chris Judd is familiar with how to get your heart rate up and push yourself physically. Twice winner of the prestigious Brownlow Medal, Chris is an honoured sportsman and father to four children, Oscar, Billie, Tom and Darcy. The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional, tax or other advice. It does not take into account any individual’s personal situation or needs. You should consider obtaining professional advice from a financial adviser and/or tax specialist, or medical or health practitioner, in relation to your own circumstances and before acting on this information.