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I work out at the gym and do weight training and cardio alternately. Like the general working population, I work from 9 am to 5 pm. And I am a software developer, so for the most part, I am seated at my desk.

I have been working out late in the evening (after 7PM) for the last 3 years. I am thinking of changing my work out time to morning(around 7AM). So I wanted to know what are the pros and cons of working out in the morning vs working out in the evening for people who have similar lifestyles like me?

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I think this question could garner interesting answers assuming a "normal" circadian rhythm. I suspect, for example, that the late workout could detract from sleep quality (cortisol, perhaps) –  Greg Apr 5 '13 at 15:11
    
@JohnP I thought this would be a general question. Because, most of the working population around the world work from 9 to 5. And if they work out, either do it before work or after. There are, exceptions, of course. I have edited my question. –  mridula Apr 5 '13 at 16:13
    
Much better with the rewording. It's still going to be somewhat dependent on the person, but can be answered now. I would edit it one more time to include what time you normally (naturally) wake up, and what time you normally fall asleep. –  JohnP Apr 5 '13 at 16:32

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Just a forewarning I am not a dietitian or a personal trainer but I played football for 16 years, including 4 at PLU and have taken 2 classes on exercise and diet, as well as read numerous resources given to me by the training and coaching staffs at PLU, along with personal research; and have switched off between early workouts (pre-6am) and late workouts (post-6pm) for extended periods of time over those 16 years. Now I am a web developer and have a good ol' 9-5. All of the sources I have come across have had very similar research on the topic and I will try to summarize and extrapolate for you, as well as indicate which is which.

Attempted Summary of Research:
When you are asleep your body goes into a hibernation like state, due to the low demand and long period of not consuming calories, thus your metabolism is greatly decreased. It does not naturally start up again until you have eaten, a sign to your body that it is ok to start burning the normal amount of calories because you have finally consumed some. This means that you will be more sluggish and underperforming your potential until you have "restarted" your metabolism with a meal.

When you workout you are adding a greater demand on your body's consumption of calories, for obvious reasons ranging from heart rate to O2 production/consumption to muscular calorie consumption, thus your metabolism is greatly increased, and it takes as long as a couple of hours after your workout for it to drop down to your resting rate. That is why you may have heard that you can get away with eating anything after your workout, your metabolism is burning in overdrive directly afterwards.

It is pretty obvious that proper hydration is vitally important to physical exercise to insure your body has a reserve of water to consume while exercising. Water is used in the body's natural cooling mechanisms, sweat for instance, your lungs consume water in the process of putting O2 into the bloodstream, which you are highly increasing the demand for when exercising, and water is consumed by the muscles during exercise (for instance; Creatine is an essential nutrient for skeletal muscle and brain function that can be found in many meat food sources, from salmon to steak, as well as created from a mixture of amino acids when not dietarily sufficiently supplied. Creatine is responsible for converting an energy source used in aerobic exercise (ADP) into its anaerobic cousin (ATP). In this process a lot of water is consumed. Which is why you may have heard of athletes who supplemented creatine and wound up with heat stroke and other injuries, they were not properly compensating their increased consumption of water).

Attempted Extrapolation of Research and Experience:
In order to properly workout in the morning you will need to go to bed earlier, insuring the proper amount of sleep, be hydrated when you do go to bed, and eat a small breakfast and drink a couple of large glasses of water right after you wake up, the earlier the better, to make sure you are hydrated and have your metabolism started with enough energy to get through your workout. Then after the workout you will have to eat a big meal and drink more water to help with the recovery of the workout, similar to what you probably do after your evening workouts now.

What I have noticed with working out in the morning is that it takes some getting use to. Not only is there a little more planning involved (going to bed earlier, hydrating before bed, getting a meal in before the workout and afterwards) but when you start, it will make you more tired during the day until your body gets use to it. I've noticed this lasting from 1-3 weeks, depending on how often you workout (the more often, the faster you acclimate to it but the worse it is at the beginning).

All that said, I love morning workouts, once you get use to them. When you are properly fed and hydrated before hand and have gotten past the acclimation period, you will feel more energy and most likely more joyful during the day, particularly in the mornings, due to the increased metabolism right afterwards and the endorphins released during your exercise. And the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a good workout is increased when it is early in the morning, probably due to the increased difficulty of getting up early. Also coming home from work and not having to get a workout in because you have already done it is a great feeling. All in all I would say that it is a good idea to give morning workouts the ol' college try. After a month of 2 you may discover that it is less fulfilling than it is difficult and then you will get your answer, but if you have a similar experience that I have, you will notice an increase in mood, energy, accomplishment, and satisfaction (after a week or 2 on the energy and possibly mood).

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Hi @mcdonasm, nice answer! Given you mention you're summarising research, would you happen to have any links to include in your answer? –  Ivo Flipse Apr 9 '13 at 20:13
    
Unfortunately my research has come in the form of textbooks and handouts that I don't have anymore, and years of very gradual research which I don't have any documentation for. Like I said it was mostly from experience. But I can find some to put up real quick which can support some of my claims. This is a good source that I just found for the statements about creatine. myfit.ca/foods_high_in_creatine.asp I will add more to this comment or additional comments when I find them. –  mcdonasm Apr 9 '13 at 21:13
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Considering the complexity of metabolism, it is difficult to find a scientific source that isn't focused on just a single component, be it glucose or lipid regulation or thermogenesis. Metabolism as I have mentioned above, and how it is referred to by the general public, non-biologists/nutritionists, is an abstraction. A lot of the sources I am pulling from for the metabolism part above were simplified abstractions by the Nutrition Department at PLU. But here is a less than ideal source to get someone started livestrong.com/article/… –  mcdonasm Apr 9 '13 at 22:00
    
Here is a source for the importance of hydration, though it is very dense and the findings can be found in many different places, explained much simpler journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2007/02000/… –  mcdonasm Apr 9 '13 at 22:09
    
Thank you very much for the insights! Another thing I observed is that when I worked out at 7pm I felt happy and energized, like you do after any workout. Then when I get home, I can't sleep soon because I am feeling very energetic. So then I would sleep late, and then I can't get up early the next day. And when I get up I am very groggy and cranky. Now that I have started working out in the morning, I feel very energetic right from the morning to evening. And when it is time to sleep, I just have to get in bed and I am out within minutes. –  mridula Apr 10 '13 at 6:16

Can you tell us something about your workout routine? Does your workout routine involves heavy weight lifting and intense interval training or do you run a few miles or do yoga exercises?

The reason why I ask is because I think there's a big difference in heavy intense workouts or workouts with lower intensity.

An absolute pro in morning workouts is that your metabolism is getting an early boost which is great for fatburning purposes.

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Heared that it seemed to be difficult for women to exercise without eating before. So for men it should be okay after getting used to (body feels stressed because of the requirements to have a bit more energy stored, but leading to improvement for the next times).

And for women it would be okay if they eat a yoghurt or anything else small (and wait 60-120 minutes if the exercise may shake the stomach) - I thought so, but I cannot find any appropriate source for that!

Update Found those resources:

http://ajpregu.physiology.org/content/296/2/R233.short (Effects of exercise on energy-regulating hormones and appetite in men and women)

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/15/phys-ed-the-benefits-of-exercising-before-breakfast/ (Phys Ed: The Benefits of Exercising Before Breakfast)

So, to summarize it, it seems to be recommended for men to exercise before eating, since it helps men to have a bit less appetite (and maybe this is the reason for not gaining that much body fat)

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Good answer, but it would be even better if you would elaborate it further with supporting links. –  Freakyuser Apr 10 '13 at 16:25
    
I was just searching for 30 minutes, but without good results. I cannot prove the things, so maybe it was just a rumor. I only found something saying that exercise before breakfast is more efficient (because less appetite for men) and another study that says that some of the exercise less appetite changes do not happen for women. So some exercise imrpovement studies may see it as th conclusion, that it is good for men, maybe good for women. Or lets better say that women still need to watch a bit more what they eat –  Amegon Apr 10 '13 at 17:07

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