Ask a trainer: The bottom line on the best time of day to exercise

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Is there really a best time of day to sweat?

Are you one of those cranky morning exercisers that reluctantly drags yourself to the gym or do you bound out of bed ready to charge the health club doors at 5 a.m.? We’ve heard morning workouts are best because it jump starts your metabolism and gets your workout behind you before the day gets in the way, but is morning exercise really best? To find out, we called on Illinois-based fitness expert Angie Miller, founder of, to give us the muscle on the best time of day to get fit.

Meet the expert:

Angie Miller is a personal trainer and fitness instructor certified through NASM, AFAA, and ACE. She is also a Kettlebell Concepts, Mad Dogg Athletics Spinning, YogaFit, and EFI Sports Medicine Gravity Group Instructor who teaches classes in Elgin and Huntley, Illinois. Miller is also the creator of the highly acclaimed exercise DVD’s “Core & Strength Fusion,” “Kettlebell Bootcamp,” and her recent release, “Angie Miller’s Crave Results.” She is also one of the fitness dynamos in the Top Trainers Workout DVD Set, an ACE and AFAA Continuing Education Provider, AFAA Certification Specialist, BOSU Master Trainer, Kettlebell Concepts Senior Instructor, and workshop provider at professional conventions worldwide. In short, she rocks!

Q&A with fitness expert Angie Miller

SheKnows: We’ve heard that you burn more fat by working out in the morning on an empty stomach. What’s your take?

Angie Miller: It’s true that when you wake up in the morning your body hasn’t had fuel for a number of hours. This puts it in fasting mode and increases the use of fat for energy because glycogen (energy) stores are depleted. However, it also slows metabolism, and the best way to jump start your metabolism in the morning is to fuel your body. Working out requires energy, and if your energy stores are depleted you won’t have the fuel needed to push yourself harder for longer periods of time. Thus you won’t burn as many calories or fat. For best results, fuel your body before you work out in the morning to boost your metabolism, burn calories more efficiently, and in turn you’ll burn more fat.

SheKnows: Understanding we should workout with a small meal in our system, what are the benefits of exercising in the morning?

Angie Miller: Research supports that morning exercisers are more consistent and more likely to stick to a routine than late day exercisers. This may be partly due to the fact that morning exercisers get their workout in before their day gets too hectic. Work conflicts, errands, and schedule changes can arise throughout the day and no matter how well intentioned you are, it’s often your workout that gets sacrificed. If you have a demanding job, a busy social life, or kids’ schedules that require you to be everywhere but at the gym, it may be easier to be consistent in the morning. Another benefit of a morning workout is that exercise is proven to increase mental acuity and reduce anxiety. What better way to start out the day then with a sharp mind, a clear head, and the opportunity to “work through” any anxiety you may have about the day ahead? Best of all, morning exercise gives you a positive start to your day, revs up your metabolism, and is reported to help you sleep better at night.

SheKnows: If we can’t swing a morning workout, what are the benefits of late-afternoon workouts?

Angie Miller: Our body temperature is lowest about one to three hours before we wake up in the morning, whereas in the late afternoon it reaches its peak. Due to the increase in body temperature, some studies show that our muscles are stronger and we have more endurance in the late afternoon, therefore we can perform better and experience greater benefits. Research also supports that we are more awake and alert at this time, plus our muscles are warmer and more responsive, therefore we are less likely to get injured. If you’re looking for a good night’s sleep, studies show that vigorous exercise in the late afternoon might help get you there. Since exercise increases our body temperature above normal and it takes a few hours for it to come back down, by the time you get ready for bed the decrease in temperature initiates sleep onset. For those who can’t imagine swapping their bedroom slippers for a pair of running shoes first thing in the morning, changing out of their business clothes after a stressful day at work might be the perfect answer.

SheKnows: Is it true that evening workouts can actually hinder quality sleep at night?

Angie Miller: It’s true that while exercise in general can improve our quality of sleep, exercising too late in the evening may actually have the opposite effect. According to the National Sleep Foundation, working out too close to bedtime can lead to poor night’s sleep. It can stimulate your brain and body, making it harder for you to shut down. When it comes to diet and exercise, poor sleep patterns can then wreak havoc on our weight. When we don’t get enough sleep, the hormones that control our appetite are negatively impacted, making us more susceptible to crave foods that are high in sugar and fat. These foods provide a “quick fix,” then make us feel tired and sluggish, and ultimately lead to weight gain. Experts recommend working out at least three hours before you go to bed to give your body proper time to cool down, since cooler body temperatures are associated with sleep onset.

SheKnows: Since some of us can’t fit in a solid 60-minute or even 30-minute workout, are we missing out on fitness benefits by breaking our workout time into smaller chunks through the day?

Angie Miller: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. How you accumulate those minutes depends on your schedule, your goals, and your exercise level. You can exercise at moderate-intensity for 30 to 60 minutes, five days per week, or you can perform intermittent bouts of exercise throughout the day that last at least 10 minutes in duration. Considering that one of the top reasons people cite for not exercising is lack of time, smaller bouts of activity may be a more viable alternative. Also, if you’re new to exercise, shorter sessions can be more tolerable and you give the opportunity to work your way up as your body grows stronger. Best of all, research supports that smaller bouts of exercise accumulated throughout the day provide many of the same benefits as one continuous bout when it comes to aerobic fitness and even weight loss. A 10-minute brisk walk in the morning, 10 minutes of simple weight bearing exercise at lunch, and a more vigorous jog, or possibly a yoga inspired stretch in the afternoon could be the way to a healthier mind and body and the start to a lifestyle of health and wellness.

SheKnows: What is your bottom line answer on the best time of day to workout?

Angie Miller: I tell my clients that the best time of day to work out is when it fits their schedule, when they can be most consistent, and when they feel their best. Forcing yourself to workout against your internal time clock, or at a time that isn’t convenient, will impact how you feel when you’re exercising and require a lot more effort. Ultimately, there is no reliable evidence to support that you burn calories more efficiently at a certain time of day, so rather than focusing on the “right” time, make the time right. If you’re new to exercise and haven’t found what works best, there is some evidence to support that our circadian rhythm, the 24 hour cycle that our body follows, known as our body clock, influences body temperature and thus determines the quality of our workout. The idea being that when your body temperature is highest the workout will be most productive. However, according to research, even though circadian rhythms are inborn, we can reset them according to our environmental needs by training our body to adapt. Bottom line, exercise at any time of day is better than no exercise at all. The key to success is finding what works, establishing a routine, and sticking to it.

SheKnows: We agree but have trouble “sticking to it,” please help! What are some of your top tips to adhere to our workout schedules and reach our fitness goals?

Angie Miller: I always tell my clients that we can outsource a lot of unpleasant tasks in our lives, from house cleaning to computer repairs, but we can’t outsource our workouts. Like relationships and raising kids, fitness is something that requires time, commitment, and hard work. Rather than worry about the “best” time to work out, or the best workout to burn the most calories, just do something that you enjoy, at a time that is convenient. Schedule your exercise the way you schedule your appointments, and have a plan. How many days a week, for how long, where you will exercise, and what you will do. Once it’s on the calendar you are more likely to see it through than if you were to “play it by ear” each day. You will also be more consistent, and more inclined to make exercise a part of your lifestyle. That’s when you begin to see results and realize that exercise isn’t a burden or a chore, it’s something you do to feel good and get results.

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