JDP Top Trainer and muscle building expert Jackson Hinch explains the best time of day to train to get optimal results.
People always swear they have found the perfect time to train. Maybe they hit a new personal best on Bench Press and decided it was due to training in the afternoon, or maybe they like the endorphin rush just before they shut themselves away for 8+ hours at work. Whatever their reasoning is, everyone has a preferred time to train. Is there any evidence to support these claims?
Your circadian rhythm would say that there is. Circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle revolving around your day the controls all the physiological processes of your body. Controlling things such as your sleep and waking patterns, bowel movements, hormone levels, metabolism and even it would seem athletic performance. In a perfect world, you would be able to train any time of day and any day of the week and line up your goals with your circadian rhythm.
Training for hypertrophy and body composition goals? Typically your body clock would tell you that training mid-morning (around 0900-1000) would be ideal for this. It’s at this time of morning that you are likely to have the highest levels of testosterone secretion, thus highest muscle building potential and aggression during your work out. Melatonin secretion has also well and truly stopped by this stage so any feeling of sleepiness will have left you ready for a big session!
Doing a high skill session for your chosen sport? The early afternoon training session will be your best friend. Coordination and reaction time peak around here. Your body has been awake and alert for a few hours while not long enough to drain it and head towards the mid-afternoon slump. Your nervous system takes time to wake up get things moving together the way they should, also the more daylight your eyes see, the more alert your brain becomes.
Have a marathon to run in a few short weeks time? Training in the late afternoon or early evening will lead to the best times you have ever run. Your cardiovascular system is at its most efficient at this time. While also having near enough the lowest Cortisol levels you will have all day so your body is at it’s least stressed and ready to perform.
Strength and Power your favorite ? Early evening should be your go to. Hydration levels are peaked from drinking fluids all day which have a massive impact on strength, muscle contraction and joint integrity. Your body temperature is also at an optimal level now which leads to better neural efficiency and much better blood flow to muscles allowing for more forceful contractions and thus bigger lifts!!
This is all assuming a perfect world though, so how relevant is it to the majority of gym goers?
The answer, not very. Unless you’re a pro athlete looking for the extra 1% that will make or break your world record performance then these training times will likely have little bearing for you. Not everyone sleeps at the same time of day or has the same quality of sleep. Not everyone works the same jobs or hours during the day. Not everyone eats breakfast at the same time or has the same amount of free time during the day. The list goes on and on as to why the rules don’t apply to everyone.
So if these rules don’t apply then what is the best time of day to train?
Any time. Realistically your body will adapt to whatever you throw at it, if you train in the morning since that’s the only time you can fit it in but you’re training for Powerlifting, then so be it. Training for Bodybuilding but can’t train till later at night after work, don’t stress you’ll still build muscle.
The most important part of the equation is to make the training happen. Doing four quality sessions a week consistently at an odd time will always be more productive than fitting in two sessions at the perfect time.
People will argue semantics all day, but when it comes time to get the work done they shy away. Consistency, effort, and planning will trump small details like time of day every time. Get the 98% right before you start worrying about the added 2%.