When should I train is a common question I receive.
Last Post, I went through two of four things to consider, in order to find the best time of day for your workouts.
It’s important to remember not to overthink this too much, especially at the expense of not exercising.
A fair chunk of this will be experimenting to find what works for you.
This is the individualization process, that a coach may be valuable in helping you discover.
I touched a bit on body temperature in the last post and it’s impact on productivity, focus, attention and performance.
There are also some hormones at work here, but typically your circadian rhythm is your 24 hour regulatory core temperature and hormone cycle.
It makes you sleepy at certain times of day, focused and alert at other times of day, governs when you go to bed and when you wake up naturally.
If you’re a night owl, you’re often skewed to the later aspect of the following markers, and if you’re a lark you may be skewed to the earlier aspect of the following markers:
I) Body’s core temperature is lowest at about 5 AM — about 2-3 hours prior to most people’s natural tendency to wake from sleep, and often the deepest part of your sleep cycles.
II) Body’s highest core temperature occurs at about 8 PM — about 2-3 hours prior to most people’s natural tendency to go to bed.
**As exercise energizes you though, and you may want to get to sleep at 10 or 11, people who exercise too late in the day, often experience difficulty falling asleep, due to the adrenaline they get from their workouts. I typically advise people not to train later than 7 PM, particularly if they have trouble sleeping already.
III) Your body temperature will take a dip, hitting the bottom in the early afternoon, usually between noon and 2 PM — coincidence that a lot of warm climate cultures take a break in the mid-afternoon for a nap? I think not…as a side note, naps can rejuvenate you at this time of day significantly.
*Since physical work, tends to require less focus than mental knowledge work anyway. This time of day may not maximize performance at the gym, but it can turn a rather unproductive time at work into a more productive use of time, that will energize you for the last part of your day at work and for your return home to deal with the chaos of your household.
IV) Your body temperature gradually increases from the time you wake, until about 11 AM or noon, when it starts to gradually decline towards that early afternoon dip. This makes 10-11 AM a great time to workout.
Optimizing muscle mass and athletic performance it seems ideal to train in late afternoon, as most world records appear to be broken in late afternoon/early evening.
4) Nutrition & Eating Cycle
I could write an entire article on the timing of eating, and it’s relative importance or unimportance, (Does Meal Frequency Matter?) but here is a quick and final gist in the individualization process:
A) You can workout in a fasted state if you’re comfortable, not everyone is, and often I feel my workouts are zapped if I workout too early in the morning with no food in my stomach.
I find a lot of this to be based on the individual.
Keep in mind though, that I have conditioned myself to eat a large meal almost immediately upon waking.
There is some research to suggest that you will experience a little more fat-loss working out in a fasted state, but probably at a decrease in performance and the percentage difference is very small.
I personally doubt it’s worth exploring, but assuming you can only train early in the morning and don’t have enough time to get some liquid calories in…well I guess fasted is the way you’re going to go.
Generally I consider anything longer than about 5 hours, approaching a fasted state, but the biggest fast you do daily is sleeping, which can make exercising first thing in the morning difficult for some, even for larks.
B) If you have less than an hour, consume something small and preferably liquid, like a protein shake, or even a BCAA drink or other low calorie liquid option.
Liquids digest more quickly, but these two options won’t give you a sugar rush and consequent crash like some energy drinks, or other liquid options — like gatorade or powerade, which add calories above and beyond what is needed for people looking to shed weight, but might be fine for people not concerned with that and are training for more than 90 minutes.
You could also consume something small, a fistful of almonds or whole grains (even a slice of toast) with a cup of veggies or fruit.
C) If you have 1-2 hours, consume something roughly 200-400 calories.
Ideally (if weight loss is the objective) it’s something that consists of 15-20 grams of lean protein, and a fist size of veggies or two, with a small amount of healthy fat.
D) If you have 2-3 hours or more, consume something roughly 400-600 calories, or what most people would consider a full meal.
Again, lean protein (20-40 grams this time, a fist or two of veggies, maybe 1/2 an avocado or a little bit of coconut milk/oil and/or some kind of starchy carbohydrate option if that’s you.
Generally speaking people who train more can tolerate more carbohydrates in their diet, if you don’t train that often or have higher level skills then you might be reducing them to some extent.
I think in an ideal situation you have an opportunity to eat a full regular meal a couple of hours before you train (eat at noon, train at 2:30 kind of thing), but life often gets in the way.
This of course, is all dependent upon your eating cycle and gender though too. Women should eat obviously eat less overall, men slightly more on those scales above.
Many people these days are encouraged to eat 4-6 small meals in the day. I don’t think you have to, provided the quality of the food you consume is relatively high. See the linked to article above.
In fact, having eaten that way for many years, I found any deviance from my eating schedule and I felt really lethargic and unproductive. If I changed a workout time, those workouts would often be terrible in terms of performance and how I felt.
My situation might not be yours though, I would often have to squeeze workouts in between clients, and more specifically client cancellations.
That’s not to say you will feel the same way, but you really have to manipulate your diet to find what works for you and your lifestyle, in the same way that you have to manipulate your workout times (schedule them!) to suit your lifestyle.
- Figure out if you suited to early rising and take advantage of that trait if you are. If you’re a night owl, explore some other options.
- Figure out your occupational hazards. Discuss your exercise ambitions with your employer, and/or take note of what other people do at work. Is there something that fits in your work schedule? Perfect, take that morning/afternoon exercise break with a short lunch, or that extended lunch break when the gym is less busy.
- Tap into a time of day that suits your Circadian Rhythm. Typically 3 hours after waking is a great time to exercise (usually 10-11 AM) if you can, and for many others utilizing the slower hours of the afternoon can revitalize the rest of your day (usually 2-4 PM), it’s just hard to train at both of those times for most folks.
- Consider your nutritional patterns. If you’re a lark, can you exercise on an empty stomach, or should you wait for your big breakfast to digest? Are you capable of eating 2-3 hours before you workout? Do you find yourself sluggish at certain times of day due to food intake and could you make any changes?
For me, I almost always work out in early afternoon or late morning. What about you? Leave a comment…