What  s the Best Time of Day to Exercise?

Whatís your favorite time of day to exercise? If you prefer to get it over with before breakfast, you may reap particularly big rewards: A study reveals that people who work out before they eat in the morning seem to get more benefits than people who exercise after breakfast. The key seems to be exercising while the body is in a fasting state, or one in which you havenít eaten for several hours. Researchers believe this increases the bodyís fat burning properties.

Timing Makes a Difference

In the study, published in The Journal of Physiology, researchers studied three groups of men, who followed high-fat and high-calorie diets for a 6-week period. The first group didnít exercise, while the second group exercised after eating breakfast. The third group did pre-breakfast workouts. At the end of the study, the non-exercisers had gained an average of 6 pounds and had increased insulin resistance (a condition in which the cells become immune to the insulin hormone, putting the body at risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other serious issues), while participants in the group that exercised after eating gained about three pounds each, and developed insulin resistance issues. The group that exercised prior to eating didnít seem to gain much weightóand they maintained healthy insulin levels.

The Science Behind the Benefits

Why would the timing of your workout matter? Well, when you work out before breakfast, "your body is in a fasted state, so you will be using the energy stored in your body rather than the energy provided by the food you have eaten throughout the day," explains fitness expert Janette Janero, co-founder of the Naked Formula, Inc. in Miami.

But Janero stresses that pre-breakfast workouts arenít for everyone, nor do they have to be: "If you limit yourself to thinking you can only work out in the mornings, yet you know deep inside that you are not a 'morning person,' then youíre never going to truly make [exercise] a part of your lifestyle," she says. Furthermore, some exercises are actually more effective when performed later in the day: "If your goal is to build strength and muscle mass, youíre better off saving resistance type of exercises for the afternoon. Youíre able to lift heavier in the afternoon and evenings than you are first thing in the morning."

Consistency Is Key

Because some of your ability (and will) to workout depends depend on your schedule, Janero says that rather than focusing so much on exercising at a certain time of day, you should find some types of exercises you enjoy, and develop (and maintain) a routine: "Youíll get the best results on whichever plan you can stick to consistently. If you're unable to make a habit of eating right and exercising, you will not be consistent enough to see results."

She says the best way to make exercise a regular part of your day, regardless of timing, is to start with small steps. For instance, "Tell yourself youíll perform 10 minutes of high-intensity interval training. This could be something as simple as jumping jacks, burpees [a squat-plank-squat-jump combination], and running in-place for intervals of 20 seconds of intense work, and 10-second rest periods. Soon those 10 minutes will turn into 15 minutes, and then into 20 minutes and so on." As your intensity and time commitment builds, so will the benefits.

Simple Options to Try

If you donít want to commit to joining a gym, Janero says there are plenty of strength training exercises beginners can perform at home: "Squats, push-ups, side push-ups, one-legged deadlifts [a move that engages the hamstrings and involves balancing on one leg and bending forward at the hips while slightly lifting your other leg backwards], planks [holding a horizontal push-up position for 20 or more seconds], and pike planks [planks in which you rest your weight on your elbows, then use abdominal muscles to raise your hips toward the ceiling], are all challenging exercises that use only your body weight for resistance. It takes small and consistent steps to change your direction. Keep it simple and you will keep moving forward," she stresses.

Janero also suggests speaking to the human resources department at your workplace about any on-site fitness classes. You may also want to find out if your workplace offers any wellness incentives, such as contributions towards a gym membership.

Balancing Diet and Exercise

In addition to working out (before or after breakfast), a healthy diet is also important, Janero says: "Keep your body fat percentage in check by watching what you eat and participating in cardio [aerobic] exercise." In addition, "Maintain healthy muscle tone by stimulating your body through resistance training. The right balance of a proper diet, cardio exercises, and resistance training will create a balanced body composition of fat and lean muscles."

Janette Janero reviewed this article.


Janette Janero, fitness expert. Email correspondence with author, Feb. 27, 2015.

K. Van Proeyen, K. Szlufcik, H. Nielens, K. Pelgrim, L. Deldicque, M. Hesselink, PP. Van Veldhoven, P. Hespel. "Training in the Fasted State Improves Glucose Tolerance During Fat-Rich Diet." The Journal of Physiology 2010 588, Pt 21: 4289-302. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2010.196493.