Is Your Workout At Your Peak Time?

We all have that preferred time of day to hit the gym. Whether it’s before work at the ungodly mutant-o’clock in the morning, or the lull of the after work-happy-hour. For some, it’s that midday lunch break and others, it’s a midnight lift after the graveyard shift. Everyone has their preferred time of day, and some places have friendly battles over which time of day is better. I’m here to start putting that argument to rest. Do you get a better workout in the morning or the evening?

So, let’s start with the base of all things daytime: circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the biological response through the 24 hour period- simplified, it’s your day. Let’s start with this: humans are not nocturnal. We don’t thrive better in the middle of the night. However, we are creatures of habit, so if you work that night shift, keep on working it and keep on getting in with your midnight, but most importantly make sure you’re sleeping. You can’t perform if you don’t sleep.

So, in this sense, why aren’t we a nocturnal? Well, we kind of just developed and evolved that way, according to the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. On a VERY basic and SHORT lesson, night time has low light which calms us, lowers blood pressure and drops the cortisol levels to allow us to feel safe enough to sleep. And why is a full night of good quality sleep important? Sleep goes in cycles, with a full night of good quality sleep, you’ll have about 3-5 cycles of REM and non-REM sleep. During REM, your brain is active and working on all the important memories from your day, during non-REM, your body is working on repairs from wear and tear on your hormones, heart, brain, etc.

WHEW! So, if you’re getting plenty of good quality sleep, workout during your odd hours and have at it!

For all those who are working that day shift, the question I get the most. Is it better to work out in the morning, midday, or in the evening. So…

…here we go.

There are many parts to this dilemma. Let’s start with biology, but more specifically, your endocrine system. The endocrine system is where your hormones come from. Every gland that makes a hormone is part of that very system. The hormone that we’re going to focus on today (which will also be the subject of my next blog) is cortisol! Cortisol is your natural stress hormone. Yes, your stress hormone. Sometimes, you don’t even notice it, but it still courses through those veins of yours, waking up your body.

Cortisol naturally hits its highest levels when you are first waking up in the wee hours of the morning. Arguably for most, 3AM-6AM. This, again, is a natural occurring phenomenon with your body’s biology. Some will say that this is the very best time to work out because your activity will help bring those levels back down without letting it affect other parts of your body.

Think of it like this: back when we were hunters and gatherers, we used that biological rhythm to wake up early and go get food. We needed to do this to survive. It was our body telling us that we NEED to survive and to get up and get moving. It gave us the adrenaline to get our asses up and hop to and survive.

However, this is not the only time that cortisol peaks! As you can imagine, it peaks at least two more times during the day. I’ll give you a hint, it’s when you’re hungry for those meals, again. That’s right. Even though the amount declines, cortisol peaks again just before lunch and once more before dinner, which also provides excellent times to have at it!

But why do we have more energy toward the end of our day versus at the beginning if we have more cortisol to metabolically burn at the start? Okay, so hang in there.

Don’t forget here that just because you wake up naturally from full amounts of sleep means you’re ready to run at it. Even though you can definitely train yourself to be that early morning riser with energy to run a 10K at 7:00 in the morning, most people don’t start hitting that stride until later in the day! So, where does this come from?

Well, according to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, A study that lasted about 20 years used many different groups of people to figure out exactly when most people got the best results. They did, in fact, notice a pattern. When looking at the charts and graphs, you notice that the performance follows through with the time of day, which also affects the temperature. The effect that the sun has can affect two different parts to this. The first part is, remember, we gain energy from light, and two, we move better when our bodies are warm. However, there were still groups, that when training regularly at different points of the day, still performed better at those times that they typically trained because of the habits they had created.

There’s a lesson with that, as well. If you’re training for a race, competition, meet, etc. , it’s a great idea to train at the time of day that it will be happening. It’s, again, all about creating a natural habit for your body to perform.

SO, in a bit of a summary here:
Each time of day has its benefits to consistently working out. If your schedule is not so consistent, it’s okay because exercise and training at a different time of day is better than not training at all, but don’t forget that sleep and a good (active) rest day. Without sleep, your body can’t perform well and may cause more damage than no training with sleep. Everyone can be a winner at their own time of day.

That "6 Pack Ab" Blast Won't Give you 6 Pack Abs

... or maybe it will. Who knows, exactly? Well, science does. 

You see it everywhere. You're on instagram, searching through the #fitspo to find a reason to get off the couch after your long day of work (it's okay because I've been there myself). Suddenly, one of those eye-rolling sponsored posts shows up. He insists that he has the proven workout to shred the fat off your belly and gives you all the proof you want to hear on why his program works over all others. Next thing you know, you're subscribing for the ultimate package. A whopping 75% discount for your purchase?! Only $5 a month?! You NEED this and ALL of his books for that extra $20!! Who cares? You're gonna be smokin' hot in 4 weeks!! Those haters can back off!

First workout completed. You're feeling great. Just 10 minutes and you're sweating and panting and beginning to stretch. Ready to plan "Week 1 Day 2" and put your protein powder to work. Day 2, you're still feeling good. The fit virus caught you. Sweat your cojones off and purchase that smartwatch with the heart rate monitor. Suddenly, Day 3 rolls around and you're pumped. You've looked at the latest posts from your fitsperation Instagrammers, sporting that new, shiny watch and are ready to go. Eat your heart out #TransformationTuesday! Your 10 minute session goes by and you look down at your watch to see... ...98 calories? You've blasted your abs for 30 minutes this week. They're on fire. It physically hurts to laugh. You're already a quarter done with these workouts! Why are you not seeing or feeling any difference in your waist?!

Well, there are a few reasons for this, but the biggest myth of this is that spot reduction is not effective through exercise! I fell for this one ALL THE TIME! I was the prime target for these ads. I spend goodness-knows amount of time and money trying to to reduce my waistline. There have been several studies done to debunk this myth. One, for instance, in the 1970's involved tennis players using just their dominant arm. By the end of the trial period, they noticed that the fat percentage in both arms remained the same, although the strength and muscle size were different. 

Another study in the 80's at the University of Massachusetts had 13 male subjects perform 5,000 sit-ups over the course of 27 days. They noticed the fat reduction occurred similarly across the whole body versus just the abdominal area. 

There are some reasons that this occurs, but to break it down as simply as possible:
Subcutaneous fat (the fat that you find yourself poking at like I constantly do) exists as triglycerides, resting on top of muscle as stored energy. When your body needs to exert more energy, it breaks down the triglycerides to be absorbed into the bloodstream and delivered to the muscles to help build and repair. 

The best ways to overcome these trouble spots are to maintain a moderate workout routine 3-5 days per week and just eat cleaner, whole foods and allow for a calorie deficit. Talk to a licensed nutritionist if you need someone to help you build a meal plan. Definitely talk to your doctor before jumping on the stationary bike to make sure your heart and body are healthy enough to start a vigorous training program or to start a little lighter and work your way into it. Also, another thing, full body workouts are much more effective than targeting one spot. Talk to a personal trainer that seems like a good fit for you and see if they can come up with a safe and effective workout regimen for you to get the results you want!

Best of luck reaching those goals, warriors!