As trainers, we are often asked when the best time to train is … Morning? Lunch time? Evening? The answer is quite simple yet complex at the same time. This, along with most other topics we talk about, is individualized. Each person has different goals, energy levels and schedules. What works best for one person won’t necessarily work for the next. However, chronobiology, the study of our internal clocks, can tell us a lot about the ideal time to train.
Many people wake up ready to take on the day. Energy and motivation early in the morning are not an issue for this type of person, considered a “lark”. On the other end of the spectrum are many who wake up tired, sluggish and need those three cups of coffee to even function in the morning. Considered “owls”, their energy picks up throughout the day and peaks around late afternoon/early evening. One is not better or worse than another, but identifying which you relate to more gives you the answer to the best time to train.
Your circadian rhythm dictates your energy levels throughout the day. However, our personal schedules can skew this in numerous directions. Someone who works first shift is going to have different energy levels throughout the day compared to someone who works third. Testosterone, cortisol, melatonin and other key nutrients are all released based on your internal clock. Sticking to a set schedule and waking up at the same time every day, whether you have anything to do that morning or not, can help your internal clock and sleep be more consistent.
Athletes training for size and performance have a slightly different answer to the question of the ideal time to train. Peak testosterone secretion happens between the hours of 9 am and 11 am. If muscle size and growth are your goal, this would be the prime time to get your workout in. If your goals involve speed, strength and power, research shows the best adaptations happen between 4 pm and 6 pm. Athletes can have greater success in their respected areas training during these windows.
So the answer for the majority of us is simple. Train when you have the most energy and motivation. You will train harder and more effectively than attempting to workout when “you’re just not feeling it.” These “forced” workouts can cause more harm than good, putting more stress on the body, training without focus and increasing risk of injury. If you are an athlete you may need to take a look into your specific goals to find the answer to the best time to train. However, one thing is concrete for both groups. Sleep is KEY for muscle growth, recovery and body composition. Without it we cannot make effective progress and there won’t be an ideal time to train as your body will not be able to produce the necessary hormones for muscle growth and fat loss. Get your sleep and stick to a schedule!