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Optimizing Your Workout Based on Different Times of Day

In another article, I wrote about the two most important factors for getting results from your training:

  1. Consistency

  1. Working Hard

Notice both are numbered "1" because neither matters any if the other isn't present. Due to the demands of life, sometimes we are forced to work out at times normally reserved for lunches, Netflix shows, or that little thing called sleep. For years, I was a member of the unofficial "5AM crew" at my local YMCA, then when I had 24/7 access at two other gyms, a member of the 4 AM crew. Such is life, and I'm glad to say that I survived that season and now call myself an afternoon lifter who gets much better sleep, although a return may be imminent if any more kids come along. In any case, you should understand that training at 5 AM is a different animal than training at 5PM, but both can yield the results you are looking for. The following is a guide for your training based on different times of day:


Early Morning Workouts (5 AM)

Benefits:

Man squatting in a squat rack
According to my phone, this squat took place at 4:52 AM
  • Increased Alertness: Morning workouts can boost alertness and mental clarity throughout the day.

  • Consistency: Fewer distractions early in the morning make it easier to maintain a regular workout routine.

  • Diet Boost?:  As an anecdote, I always found it easier to diet if I hit a good morning workout. It sets the tone for the day, as you've already completed one task for your health. I also felt like I could go for longer without food after a good lift.

Tips to Prepare:

  1. Get Enough Sleep: As always, aim for 7-9 hours of sleep. The reality is, if you've decided to lift at 5AM, it might meaning cutting your sleep short. Maximize your sleep by cutting out screens early and not eating in the 2-3 hours before bed.

  2. Hydration: Drink water as soon as you wake up to rehydrate your body after sleep.

  3. Light Snack: Have a small, easily digestible snack like a banana or yogurt with a protein shake upon waking to fuel your workout.

  4. Warm-up: It is much more important in the morning that you warm-up properly. Your body is not as ready or full of food as it is in the later sessions, so take an extra five minutes to get this right.

  5. Caffeine: This is one instance I always favored pre-workout drinks over coffee. The can be pounded down (unlike lava-hot coffee) and give you the kick in the pants you need in the morning.


Mid-Morning (10 AM) to Noon Workouts

Benefits:

  • Body Temperature Peak: Body temperature typically peaks around this time, enhancing muscle flexibility and strength.

  • Energy Boost: Exercise can provide a natural energy boost and mental clarity to carry you through the day.

  • Convenient Break: Mid-morning workouts can serve as a refreshing break in your workday routine, if your luck enough to have that flexibility in your schedule

Tips to Prepare:

  1. Light Breakfast: Have a balanced breakfast with carbohydrates and protein 1-2 hours before your workout.

  2. Stay Hydrated: Continue to drink water leading up to your workout to maintain hydration levels.

  3. Pre-Workout Snack: If needed, consume a small snack like a granola bar or piece of fruit 30 minutes before exercising for extra fuel.

  4. Moderate Warm-up: Perform a brief warm-up to prepare your body without overheating.

  5. Lunch: Having a healthy lunch prepared to maximize the results from this workout is a good idea to keep your momentum rolling throughout your day.

Early Afternoon (1 PM) to Late Afternoon (3 PM) Workouts

Benefits:

  • Optimal Muscle Function: Muscles are warmed up and flexible from daily activity, and you've likely had two meals already, so you have sufficient fuel.

  • Increased alertness: Energy levels are typically stable, allowing for sustained exercise performance.

  • Mood Enhancement: Exercise can combat midday fatigue and improve mood, boosting productivity for the remainder of the day.

man squatting in half rack in his garage
Squatting at 4:02 PM

Tips to Prepare:

  1. Lunch Timing: Schedule your workout at least 1-2 hours after a light lunch to avoid discomfort during exercise. If you're going to train on your lunch hour, try having a small snack around 11:15-11:30 to prepare for this workout. If this is the case, I like to take a carb and protein heavy lunch (like pasta with some meat in it, or a thick sandwich) and split it in half as a pre- and post-workout meal.

  2. Hydration: Drink water throughout the morning to stay hydrated before your afternoon workout.

  3. Caffeine: Be wary of your caffeine intake for this workout. For those that are more sensitive to caffeine, ingesting it after noon can impact your ability to sleep if you're trying to get to bed at 10 pm. This is a case-by-case and timing dependent problem, so pay attention to how you feel at night if you choose to drink caffeine before this workout. Sleep is critical so don't overdo your caffeine intake.

Evening Workouts (7 PM to 10 PM)

Benefits:

  • Stress Relief: Evening workouts can help unwind and release tension accumulated throughout the day.

  • Quality Sleep:  Moderate exercise in the evening can promote better sleep quality for some individuals. (More on this below)

Tips to Prepare:

  1. Eat a Balanced Dinner: Have a balanced meal with complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and vegetables 2-3 hours before your workout.

  2. Time Management: Plan your day to ensure you have enough time for a workout without feeling rushed before your gym closes. (Bonus points if you've built a home gym and you don't have to care about that sort of thing)

  3. Intensity Control: One scary things about training at night is you can over stimulate your body before bedtime, causing you not to sleep well. Play around with the intensity of your workout to see how this affects you.

  4. Caffeine: Oftentimes, late workouts are hard to get started because of the fatigue that's been accumulated throughout the day. In spite of this, you avoid caffeine before this workout. It will negatively impact your sleep and prevent your recovery, meaning you don't get the results you want. Once you've gotten through that first set, your body will get going and you'll feel less sluggish.


General Tips for Any Time of Day:

  1. Stay Hydrated: Drink water throughout the day to maintain hydration levels, especially before and after workouts.

  2. Nutrition: Fuel your body with balanced meals and snacks to support energy levels and muscle recovery. Track your intake

  3. Consistency: Establish a consistent workout schedule to build momentum and achieve long-term fitness goals.

  4. Rest and Recovery: Allow adequate time for rest days and prioritize sleep to optimize muscle repair and overall well-being.

  5. Community: Even if you train alone, having an accountability partner or coach can improve your results.

  6. Push yourself: Learn new things and try to grow in multiple ways.


You may recognize these as the six "Iron Habits" that I preach about routinely. That's because they are applicable to your fitness goals no matter the time of day or situation. Whether you prefer early morning workouts, midday sessions, or evening exercise, adapting your routine to fit your schedule and lifestyle ensures sustainable progress and overall well-being.

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