Is There Really a Best Time to Work Out?

Jodi Helmer
by Jodi Helmer
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Is There Really a Best Time to Work Out?

If you’re a real perfectionist, timing matters. However, if you’re just trying to make a good habit stick, it’s less about worrying about what time you’re doing something and more about just doing it. For example, exercise — there’s really no bad time to work out.

Just 23% of Americans get enough exercise, according to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so squeezing in 30 minutes on the treadmill at 5 a.m. or signing up for a recreational soccer league that takes the field at 8 p.m. is much better than not exercising at all.

However, if you’re really looking to optimize a cardio workout, some times are better than others, according to science — and the same holds true for other activities like weighing yourself and buying running shoes.

Here are the best times for four common health and fitness routines:


Schedule cardio workouts first thing in the morning. Studies show morning exercisers burn more fat and consume fewer calories than those who exercise later in the day. You may sleep better, too. Research published in the journal Vascular Health and Risk Management found that those who worked out at 7 a.m. fell asleep faster, woke up less often during the night and logged more time in deep sleep than those who did cardio at 1 p.m. or 7 p.m.

Researcher Scott R. Collier, PhD, a professor at Appalachian State University, believes morning exercise helps clear stress hormones and lowers blood pressure, enabling better sleep. But Collier is quick to note, “Exercise is great, so make sure to keep it up no matter what time of day!”


When it comes to weigh-ins, morning rules. Step on the scale before breakfast to get the most accurate weight. One study found those who weighed themselves daily lost significantly more weight than those who stepped on the scale less often; a second study showed daily weigh-ins helped with long-term weight loss.


Short of avoiding a big meal before a workout or undoing a great cardio session with a pint of ice cream, meal timing might not matter for most exercisers. In fact, 2017 research showed no difference in muscle strength or body composition between men who consumed protein pre- and post-workout.

But researcher Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, director of the Human Performance Lab at CUNY Lehman College notes there might be a small benefit to bodybuilders consuming protein after their workouts; endurance athletes doing more than one training session per day could benefit from consuming carbohydrates in the hour after their workouts.

“There is an anabolic window after a workout when your body is ready to suck up nutrients to maximize your response [to exercise],” he says. “The evidence is far from clear but there is no downside and a potential upside so I recommend [it].”


Your feet are smallest in the morning but swell as the day goes on, so shopping when the mall opens might mean those new kicks are too tight when you lace them up for an evening run.

“The most likely consequence of trying on athletic shoes at an inappropriate time of day is incorrect fit,” says Alex Kor, DPM, MS, podiatrist for the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association.

Most people should try on shoes after 4 p.m. but athletes should get fitted around the same time their training and events take place, Kor advises. In other words, avid runners who show up at the starting line first thing in the morning should shop for shoes in the morning, but basketball players with night games should wait until late afternoon.


Although timing can have an impact, don’t skip a workout, ignore a hunger pang, steer clear of the scale or put off buying new shoes until the timing is just right. Sometimes there is no time like the present.

About the Author

Jodi Helmer
Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer writes about health and wellness for publications like WebMD, AARP, Shape, Woman’s Day, Arthritis Today and Costco Connection among others. She often comes up with the best story ideas while hiking with her rescue dogs. You can read Jodi’s work or follow her on Twitter @helmerjodi.


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