Morning exercise vs. afternoon exercise

We need to get 30 minutes of physical activity a day for good health or up to 60 minutes if we are trying to lose weight, but are there special benefits to exercising at different times of the day? Dietitian and Personal Trainer Vicky Bell fills us in.


Morning Exercise


Morning exercise has long been heralded as the secret to weight loss, however this may not be the case. In the morning, especially before breakfast, our energy stores are quite low and we don't have as much glucose available for our muscles to utilise. This is when our bodies take advantage of fat stores to power our muscles.

Sounds perfect, right? Maybe not.


Our bodies aren't particularly good at using fat as an energy source which means our muscles are a bit sluggish when they are firing on fat alone. This isn't such a big deal if you are going for a 30 minute walk but if you are planning to do anything more strenuous or for a longer period you will probably find it harder and your session will be less effective than if your body was better fuelled.


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Other benefits to a morning workout:

  • Once you have done your exercise in the morning, you are done for the day! If someone invites you out for the afternoon, or if you have an appointment, you can feel good knowing you've already done your 30 for the day.
  • Morning exercise is cool. With the Queensland summer on its way the mornings provide a great opportunity to exercise comfortably in more bearable weather.
  • Start the day in a great mood. Exercise is a natural mood enhancer so exercising first thing in the morning can help you start your day feeling great.


Vicky's advice:

Exercising in the morning makes for a great start to the day especially as the weather heats up. If you are planning to do strenuous exercise or exercising for 60 minutes or more it is a good idea to have a quick carbohydrate-based snack before you start. Something like a banana, a muesli bar or just a glass of milk will help you to exercise more efficiently for longer. This is especially important if you have diabetes.


Afternoon or Evening Exercise?


Some of us are just not morning people. So why pretend we are going to bounce out of bed at that early morning alarm and just accept exercising in the afternoon or evening is a more realistic option?


Exercising in the evening or afternoon is a great option for many people. Importantly, our bodies are better fuelled and more alert later in the day which means we are able to exercise more effectively and for longer. The main drawback with planning to exercise later in the day is we risk our exercise plans being interrupted by unexpected changes to our schedule like a late meeting or a sick child. We are also more likely to succumb to the "toos". Like it's too hot or too dark or I'm too tired.


Other benefits to exercising later in the day:

  • You can exercise the day away. Exercise is a great way to clear your head and lift your mood so is the perfect way to deal with the stress of a tough day.
  • Exercise can help you sleep. Exercise has been shown to improve sleep, so if you are having trouble getting to sleep at night an afternoon or early evening walk might make all the difference. Beware though, late night intensive exercise sometimes has the opposite effect.
  • You're more effective. Studies have shown most people exercise more effectively in the afternoon than the morning. This means while morning sessions might be more effective at burning fat, an afternoon session is likely to last longer and you are likely to work harder, which in the long term will result in more kilojoules being burnt, including kilojoules from fat.


From the expert:

Overall, it's not that important when you exercise it is just important you do it! While there are benefits and drawbacks for both morning and evening exercise, ultimately you need to find a routine that suits you and your lifestyle and stick to it. If you can't find time in the morning or evening to complete your full 30 to 60 minutes, try and find time throughout the day to incorporate some physical activity. This includes going for a walk during your lunch break or finding a more active way to commute to work.

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