Is it better to workout in the morning?
We love working out in the morning. You wake up, brush your teeth, put your shoes on and next thing you know you’re in a sweaty spin class getting a morning high. But are they better than midday or evening workouts?
The short answer: no.
The long answer: let’s get into it.
Are workouts better in the morning? Better meaning they provide some sort of physiological, mental, structural or other benefit over workouts held at other times during the day.
Physiological benefits of morning workouts
A study published in the journal Obesity in 2015 examined whether morning workouts were superior for fat loss. The researchers found that in a group of participants, the individuals who worked out before 12 noon lost more weight than those who worked out later in the day, the exercise was controlled to 600 calories.
Another recent study published in October 2019 found that exercising first thing in the morning before breakfast could accelerate fat loss. This is because it calls for metabolic efficiency of lipid utilization and insulin, meaning your body is using its fat stores for energy.
But if you’re trying to gain muscle, morning workouts may not be better. A study published in the Applied Physiology and Nutrition Metabolism journal found that individuals who worked out in the evening saw greater muscle gain during a trial than those who did the same workout in the morning.
This may have been due to increased energy levels and nutrient availability, because if a morning exerciser drinks coffee prior to their workout they make the same muscle gains as an evening exerciser, as shown in a 2012 study.
Mental benefits of morning workouts
Most of the physiological benefits of morning workouts are in part due to the mental benefits. For example, the aforementioned study published in Obesity that found that morning workouts were superior for fat loss, was most likely due to behavior change rather than real any physiological mechanism.
The morning exercisers were more likely to continue their health streak throughout the day, resulting in less calories consumed and higher non-exercise activity thermogenesis than the evening exercisers. When you workout first thing in the morning, you set the tone for the day: productive, healthy, active. The endorphin boost carries you through the day, helping you make healthier choices, even if you don’t realize it.
Research shows that morning exercises are more consistent. A study found that the majority of people with consistent exercise routines and a healthy body weight were morning exercisers.
A 2019 study also found that morning workouts improve cognitive performance including attention span, decision making and mood.
Structural benefits of morning workouts
If you want to affect long term change towards a healthier life, you need to start implementing - and sticking to - some new healthy habits. The most effective healthy habit is regular exercise. So how can you make exercise a habit?
Habits are formed by repeating the task consistently, so that you can do it on autopilot, and not doing it feels weird and wrong. One of the most effective ways to create a habit is to have rituals and routines surrounding it, one of these being the time of day you workout. If you decide that at 7am every day you wake up and go straight to the gym, and you do this for six or more weeks, waking up at 7am and not going to the gym would feel like you’re missing something. So that daily 7am workout? It's getting ingrained in your psyche as one of the pillars of your productive morning routine. Over time, this results in a healthy, active body.
When you wake up in the morning and immediately workout, you’re setting the tone for the day. Rather than waiting for the end of the day for your tiredness to build up and your excuses to start coming, you’re getting up and going.
This is perhaps why research shows that morning exercises are more consistent. A study found that the majority of people with consistent exercise routines and a healthy body weight were morning exercisers. When you start the day healthily, you set the tone for the day: productive, healthy, active. The endorphin boost carries you through the day, helping you make healthier choices, even if you don’t realize it.
So morning workouts are better?
To be clear, it’s not better to workout in the morning or night, because this depends on your preference and time availability. If you wake up at 5am for work already, waking up earlier than this would be counterproductive. What matters most is that you consistently go and workout. However, if you are someone who struggles to be consistent with your workouts or you're really focused on optimizing fat loss - morning workouts can be preferential.
Sometimes waiting until the end of the day to workout can be a bad idea as you have time to dread it, ruminate on it, think up excuses and make poor dietary choices that all contribute to you deciding that ‘actually, I deserve a night off, I’m just going to skip it’. If this speaks to you, maybe evening workouts aren’t the best idea for you.
So to conclude: morning workouts aren’t better than evening workouts. What matters most is that you do it. But the caveat to this: if you often end up skipping your evening workouts, or you’re just starting off exercising and want to create a habit, try morning workouts to boost your motivation and the likelihood of staying consistent
Even if it’s just a 30 minute workout done in your living room, working out in the morning will set the right mindset for a healthier you.