TIME — When is the most productive time of the day to work out and should it be before or after a meal?

When is the best time to workout and how should our daily meals fit into all that?

Many of you will work out first thing in the morning; before showering (obviously), after brushing your teeth (obviously) but before eating anything. But is that an effective way to do things and what happens if we work out last thing at night after a heavy dinner?

There will be an entirely different group of readers who don’t have the luxury to work out at a specific time of the day, especially if there are multiple family and work commitments to deal with, meaning workouts come only if and when there’s enough time in the week.

But let’s suppose you do have the freedom to schedule your day and the time at which exercise can take priority.

“In the early morning hours, you have a hormonal profile that would predispose you to better metabolism of fat,” says Professor Anthony Hackney, of the department of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. In other words, he adds in an interview with Time, working out in the morning, especially on an empty stomach, is the best way to burn stored fat, making it ideal for weight loss.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that a morning session promotes better focus, mood and energy for the rest of the day.

On the other hand, that feeling of lethargy or light-headedness you get in those pre-breakfast workouts is due to low blood sugar. Without the requisite energy, you may not be able to run as far, perform as many sets or stay in the gym for as long as you’d like. You may be challenging your body in a way that makes you hardy and potentially slimmer, but you’re not working as well as of you’d scoffed down an energy boost beforehand.

So, particularly if you’re targeting a long and arduous routine, a post-lunch workout could also be the way to go.

“Any time you eat, your blood sugar levels rise,” Hackney says. “Sugar in the form of blood glucose…is one of the things we need if we’re trying to work at a higher intensity.” In other words the performance boost you’ll get from eating before exercise, means you’ll have a better quality session. It stands to reason then, that if your workout comes in the form of a competitive tennis game that you’d really like to win, chomping down some fuel beforehand will be a smart move. 

So what about those night-owl workouts? A study in the Journal of Physiology  found that exercising between 7 pm and 10 pm delays the body clock, translating to later bedtimes. Hackney isn’t necessarily convinced though. 

“Evidence suggests that, as long as you’re not exercising, showering and then [immediately] jumping in bed to go to sleep, it doesn’t interfere with your sleep pattern at all,” he said. A stress-relieving activity like yoga may even help you sleep better if it’s done at night, he added.

The bottom line is there’s really no bad time to exercise. Mornings are certainly best for fat loss, but take care to avoid that light-headedness that could lead to accidents. Coffee can enhance both physical and cognitive performance. Bananas are also popular energy boosts and pack in the nutrients, despite being high on the sugar side (around 12g and 23g of carbs overall).

Finally, just because we all hate getting out of bed in the morning, it’s worth noting that it might be easier to find workout buddies, later in the day. Did you know that most Gym Pods can take 3 pax now?
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