For many, the time of strength training is dictated by the agenda. But what if you can choose that time? Is it better to train in the morning, in the afternoon or in the evening, looking purely at strength performance? A new meta-study (finally) brings clarity.
1. The average person is slightly stronger in the evening than in the morning. But it doesn’t matter for the choice of your training time.
2. After some time training in the morning, your body has adapted to that time. Your strength level in the morning has then become the same as that in the evening.
3. The ideal training time is therefore mainly a matter of personal preference (in which part of the day are you most energetic psychologically?), or what your agenda allows.
4. Always try to train at about the same time to ensure consistency in your progressive overload.
5. Also take food into account: make sure that you can eat at least one full meal in the hours after training and that you do not train too soon after a meal.
6. Exercising in the evening or late at night is not a problem, as long as it does not negatively affect your sleep. That also differs from person to person.
THE EARLY BIRD…
Half of our two-person editorial team trains early in the morning, before dawn. And it’s true: the early bird catches the worm. At the crack of dawn, the gym still offers plenty of space, populated by hordes of school students in the afternoons and whole troops of musclemen in the evenings, who rush like hungry wolves on every available piece of equipment.
In addition, early training also has ‘something’. It’s mostly the idea that you’ve already done something before 99 percent of the others have even gotten out of bed. Everything you do before 8 a.m. is, as it were, a little extra.
Finally, training early offers the advantage that you have all the time after work or school for family or friends, or just to relax.
The testosterone level is sometimes mentioned as an argument for training in the morning. It is true that, with a normal wake-sleep pattern, you have your biggest testosterone peak in the morning. That’s on average around 6 o’clock. And okay, maybe your testosterone and growth hormone levels are a bit higher throughout the morning than the rest of the day.
On the other hand, another hormone is most active in the morning, namely cortisol. Cortisol is also described as the ‘stress hormone’, which is not anabolic, but catabolic (muscle-depleting). These elevated cortisol levels nullify the effect of the elevated anabolic hormone levels and may even cause the balance to turn negative, which is why Australian scientists have already recommended training in the afternoon or evening [ i ] .
Your energy level is of course not great at dawn, after an entire night of fasting. A good breakfast and training an hour later therefore seems a must, but if you don’t have the time for that, eat at least some simple (‘fast’) carbohydrates immediately before training, for example two bananas. And make sure you get fast proteins immediately after training, for example in the form of a whey protein shake.
In the morning it is usually nice and quiet in the gym. Physiologically, however, this part of the day does not seem optimal for strength training: you may have less energy and your hormone levels are less favorable.
PEAKS IN THE EVENING?
The other half of our writing legion trains at night, relatively late, around 9:30. Just after the gunpowder fumes from the daily rush hours in the gym have cleared. Just after consuming the last cup of coffee. And a few hours after eating a hearty evening meal, after which the muscles have been able to fill themselves with glycogen and are at war strength. In short, peaking energy levels, although it should be noted that this concerns an outspoken evening person.
The disadvantage of the evening is that you should not plan your training too soon after dinner, but also not too close to sleep. For early risers this is often not an option, while for others the golden mean coincides with the evening peak in the gym, around eight o’clock. Exactly, the time when you can no longer see the dumbbell rack for the trees. Not handy if you follow a tightly programmed training, in which the sequence of exercises is one of the holy houses.
Although you avoid traffic jams after ten o’clock, you run into physiological disadvantages again. Your testosterone levels drop to their daily lows during the evening hours. They are at their lowest in the evening between ten and twelve. In addition, the night’s sleep beckons. Training late does not necessarily mean that you should count sheep, but train no later than one hour before you go to bed. This can be at the expense of your sleep efficiency [ vi ] . Also, be wary of caffeine-rich supplements, such as pre-workouts. In bed you should lie, not bounce.
Exercising in the evening comes with the right timing: not too soon after dinner and not too soon before bed. The biggest disadvantage is the often large crowds in the gym. But if you don’t train until after ten, your testosterone levels will be relatively low and you may endanger your sleep.
AT TEMPERATURE IN THE AFTERNOON
Is the afternoon perhaps the most ideal part of the day to train? Well, it’s usually relatively quiet in the gym until three or four o’clock. The testosterone/cortisol ratio is favorable and there is another physiological factor at play: your body temperature. The higher it is, the greater your strength and endurance [ ii ] . Also: the smaller the risk of injuries. In the evening around 6 o’clock a person’s body temperature is, on average, highest. An argument to train in the afternoon/evening.
You may perform better the higher your body temperature. Your body temperature is highest in the afternoon/evening.
WHAT DOES RESEARCH SAY?
So much for some logical pros and cons at different training times from us unsuspecting gym goers. But what do the real smart minds say about this?
Various studies have been carried out on this subject over the years, but until recently this did not seem to yield a consensus. Recently, however, a meta-study was published, in which muscle growth specialist Brad Schoenfeld, among others, participated [ iii ] .
WHAT THEY DID
The ‘meta’ means that several, already existing studies were analyzed in order to come to a conclusion. Which is nice: the scientists only analyzed studies in which training variables such as frequency and volume were equalised. After all, this is the only way to make a ‘fair’ comparison. Eleven studies were ultimately included in the analysis, although a relatively low number.
WHAT THEY FOUND
Schoenfeld and co conclude from these studies that the average person is slightly stronger in the evening than in the morning. Nevertheless, the time at which you train does not matter, as long as you always train around that time. Because as with many things, your body adapts:
(…) At baseline, the expression of strength in humans is greater in the evening than in the morning hours. But after a period of consistent training in the morning, strength levels, as observed in the morning, appear to become similar to those in the evening. [ iii ]
In other words, if you train for a while in the morning, your strength level will be the same as your strength level in the evening.
For example, it appears that the production of cortisol in the morning decreases the more often you train in the morning [ iv ] [ v ] . The physiological disadvantages that we have already encountered do not seem so great once the body has become accustomed to a certain situation. In other words: your internal clock, also called the circadian rhythm, is adjusted.
So in theory you can change from evening person to morning person (and vice versa), also when it comes to strength training. In practice, this is not always easy, because it requires a lot of discipline and perseverance.
ALWAYS TRAIN AROUND THE SAME TIME
Although in principle you should ‘just’ train at the time that suits you most or that you find most comfortable, you should always try to train around the same time. We ourselves have the experience that we are less strong if we once, exceptionally, at a completely different time. The researchers’ conclusion now makes it clear why: the body is not used to this and therefore may not be able to provide the most optimal physiological conditions.
According to the researchers, this science could also be interesting for competitive strength athletes. If you have a competition in a while and you know what time you have to start, it is best to start training around that time in the run-up to it. In this way you assure yourself of good “time-specific performance”.
Also based on the principle of progressive overload, it is best to always train around the same time. It is more difficult to make consistent progress and create overload if the physiological conditions in which you train are constantly changing.
In principle, most people are stronger in the evening than in the morning. But if you train at a certain time for a longer period of time, your body adapts: you become just as strong in the morning as in the evening.
But maybe we’re actually making it way too complicated. The best time to do strength training is mainly the time of the day when you are psychologically most energetic. In addition, your agenda must of course allow training and it is advisable to be able to eat at least one (protein-rich) meal in the hours after the training.
Also make sure that you don’t train too soon after a meal, as your body is already busy enough to process it one to two hours after a big meal. It is not without reason that many people experience some fatigue after a hearty meal, let alone that you are energetic enough for a full training.
The ideal training time is mainly determined by personal preference. In addition, take food into account: make sure that you can eat at least one full meal in the hours after training and that you do not train too soon after a meal.
The training time does not matter much for strength performance. It is mainly a matter of personal preference and agenda. Always try to train around the same time, so that your body can adjust its strength level accordingly.
- [ i ] http://www.ergogenics.org/natural-hormone-fluctuation-makes-strength-training-six-o’clock-evening-more effective-than-morning-early.html
- [ ii ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20560706
- [ iii ] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330259373_The_effects_of_time_of_day-specific_resistance_training_on_adaptations_in_skeletal_muscle_hypertrophy_and_muscle_strength_A_systematic_review_and_meta-analysis
- [ iv ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18075805
- [ v ] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18465466
- [ vi ] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-018-1015-0