What is the Best Time of Day to Exercise for Weight Loss?

What is the Best Time of Day to Exercise for Weight Loss? This has been a topic of debate among fitness enthusiasts and experts alike. I’ve even gone back and forth, and back again with what I see as “ideal.”

Some swear by early morning workouts, while others prefer afternoon or evening sessions. In this article, I’ll help you explore the impact of exercise timing on weight loss and delve into the benefits of morning, afternoon, and evening workouts.

We’ll also touch on the science behind exercise and weight loss, factors influencing exercise timing, and the best strategies for different times of day. So, let’s dive in and find out the best time of day to exercise for weight loss.

Comparison of Benefits for the Best Time of Day to Exercise for Weight Loss

The following table summarizes the benefits of exercising at different times of the day—morning, afternoon, and evening—specifically for weight loss, based on the factors you’ve specified: fat oxidation, sleep quality, metabolic effects, exercise performance, and appetite control.

I go deeper into the differences between morning, afternoon, and evening exercise for weight loss in the rest of the article.

Time of DayFat OxidationSleep QualityMetabolic EffectsExercise PerformanceAppetite Control
MorningMay help the body burn fat instead of carbohydrates due to fasting state.Can improve sleep cycle and establish a routine.Boosts metabolism and may lead to greater decreases in fat and carbohydrate intake.Physical performance may not be at peak due to lower body temperature.May reduce appetite throughout the day, leading to lower calorie intake.
AfternoonEnhanced fat oxidation in men during evening exercise, which can be similar to afternoon.Not directly linked, but exercise can help regulate overall sleep patterns.May improve insulin sensitivity and body composition.Physical performance and muscle strength tend to peak in the afternoon.
EveningIncreased fat oxidation and decreased fatigue, suggesting improved weight loss efficiency.Can enhance sleep quality, crucial for weight management.Moderated the effects of a high-fat diet, showing improved metabolic responses.Performance, efficiency, and muscle strength may be higher in the evening.

Benefits of Morning Exercise for Weight Loss

The benefits of morning exercise for weight loss depend on various factors, including individual physiology, lifestyle, and adherence to exercise routines. Here’s a detailed look at the benefits and considerations based on the available research.

Consistent Morning Exercise and Weight Management

A review suggests that morning exercisers may offer benefits for individuals with obesity in terms of exercise adherence and weight management. Research indicates support for pathways such as improved physiological processes involved in body weight regulation and sleep.

Morning exercise may lead to greater decreases in fat and carbohydrate intake, and there’s a trend toward lower total calorie intake in the morning exercise group.

Additionally, findings from studies suggest a dose-response relationship between the proportion of exercise sessions completed in the morning and weight loss, indicating that morning exercise relates to more favorable weight management outcomes.1

Energy Balance and Exercise Timing

A pilot study on the effect of morning versus evening exercise on energy balance found that reductions in weight and fat mass were modest and similar between the morning and evening exercise groups.

This suggests that while the timing of exercise may affect energy balance regulation and non-exercise behaviors such as sleep, both morning and evening exercise can result in weight loss when not accompanied by dietary modifications.

However, the study acknowledges the need for larger-scale randomized trials to examine the effects more comprehensively.2 Interestingly, some speculate that weight loss will be greater when people exercise on an empty stomach, but research doesn’t support this idea.

Metabolic and Hormonal Considerations

Morning exercise might offer specific metabolic and hormonal advantages. For instance, testosterone levels are highest in the morning, which promotes muscle growth.

Since muscle tissue burns more calories at rest compared to fat tissue, increased muscle mass can contribute to a higher resting metabolic rate. This hormonal aspect suggests that morning exercise could potentially enhance weight loss efforts by improving the body’s muscle-to-fat ratio.3

Appetite Control and Exercise Timing

The timing of exercise might also play a role in appetite control and subsequent energy intake. Although evidence remains limited, exercising during the morning, particularly close to lunch, might have a better impact on overall energy balance through reduced subsequent energy intake without leading to compensatory intakes at the following meals.

This suggests that morning exercise could potentially help in managing calorie intake more effectively, which is crucial for weight loss.4

The Case for Afternoon Workouts

The benefits of afternoon exercise for weight loss are supported by some scientific studies, which suggest that the timing of exercise can influence metabolic responses and potentially enhance the effectiveness of weight loss efforts.

Enhanced Fat Oxidation and Decreased Fatigue

One study found that in men, evening exercise, which can be considered similar to afternoon exercise, increased fat oxidation and decreased fatigue. This suggests that exercising later in the day may be more effective for burning fat, which is a key component of weight loss.5

Superior Metabolic Effects

A study published in “Physiological Reports” indicated that afternoon exercise is more optimal than morning exercise to improve insulin sensitivity, body composition, and exercise performance in metabolically compromised individuals.

The study found a more pronounced decline in fat mass and a superior effect on basal hepatic glucose output when exercise was performed in the afternoon.

These findings suggest that the timing of exercise may amplify the beneficial health effects of exercise training, particularly for those at risk for or diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.6

Circadian Rhythm and Physical Performance

Research has shown that exercise performance, efficiency, and muscle strength display profound circadian variations, peaking in the afternoon. This implies that exercising in the afternoon, when muscle is primed to meet the energy demand of contraction, might trigger greater benefits. This could be relevant for weight loss as improved physical performance may lead to more effective and potentially longer workouts.

The Benefits of Evening Exercise for Weight Loss

Evening exercise may offer several benefits for weight loss, according to scientific studies. Here are some of the potential advantages:

Enhanced Fat Oxidation

It has been suggested that oxygen consumption is lower in the evening, which could improve performance and potentially lead to faster weight loss.

Decreased Fatigue

Evening exercise might result in greater decreases in fat mass compared to morning exercise, as some studies have found that exercising later in the day increases fat oxidation and decreases fatigue.7

Metabolic Health

A study on metabolic health found that evening exercise moderated the undesirable health effects of a high-fat diet, showing lower cholesterol levels and improved metabolic responses compared to morning workouts. This suggests that evening workouts might have particular advantages for metabolic health, which is closely related to weight management.8

Circadian Rhythm and Performance

Exercise performance, efficiency, and muscle strength have circadian variations, often peaking in the afternoon and evening. This could mean that workouts later in the day, when muscles are primed for energy demand, might be more effective and lead to more efficient weight loss efforts.

Sleep Quality

Evening exercise can enhance sleep quality, which is crucial for weight management. Good sleep is associated with better metabolism and appetite control, which can aid in weight loss.

Conclusion: What is the best time of day to exercise for weight loss?

The best time of day for exercise is highly individual and can vary based on different factors, such as circadian rhythm, lifestyle, and personal preferences. While research provides helpful insights, it’s crucial to recognize that the best workout time can differ from person to person based on their unique needs and circumstances.

Studies have shown that even variables like age, chronotype (whether an individual is naturally more of a morning or evening person), and genetic factors can influence an individual’s optimal exercise time.9

For example, a clinical trial led by researchers at McGill University found that the benefits of physical activity, such as fat loss and improved metabolic health, were influenced by individual differences.

The study analyzed 375 adults with different activity levels, body weight, college degrees, and sleep duration, finding that there was no one-size-fits-all exercise time for weight loss. The findings indicated that the best exercise time depends on multiple factors, including personal preferences, availability, and the ability to adhere to an exercise routine.

It is essential to choose an exercise time that aligns with your circadian rhythm, allows for consistency, and fits into your daily schedule. The best time of day to exercise is the time that you are more likely to enjoy, commit to, and maintain in the long run.10

Remember, consistency is key when it comes to achieving weight loss goals. So, whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, make sure to prioritize regular exercise and make it a part of your daily routine.

  1. Teo, W., Newton, M. J., & McGuigan, M. R. (2011). Circadian rhythms in exercise performance: implications for hormonal and muscular adaptation. Journal of sports science & medicine10(4), 600–606. ↩︎
  2. Wolff CA, Esser KA. Exercise Timing and Circadian Rhythms. Curr Opin Physiol. 2019;10:64-69. doi:10.1016/j.cophys.2019.04.020 ↩︎
  3. Seo, D. Y., Lee, S., Kim, N., Ko, K. S., Rhee, B. D., Park, B. J., & Han, J. (2013). Morning and evening exercise. Integrative medicine research2(4), 139–144. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.imr.2013.10.003 ↩︎
  4. Douglas, C. M., Hesketh, S. J., & Esser, K. A. (2021). Time of Day and Muscle Strength: A Circadian Output?. Physiology (Bethesda, Md.)36(1), 44–51. https://doi.org/10.1152/physiol.00030.2020 ↩︎
  5. Schumacher, L. M., Thomas, J. G., Raynor, H. A., Rhodes, R. E., & Bond, D. S. (2020). Consistent Morning Exercise May Be Beneficial for Individuals With Obesity. Exercise and sport sciences reviews48(4), 201–208. https://doi.org/10.1249/JES.0000000000000226 ↩︎
  6. Creasy, S. A., Wayland, L., Panter, S. L., Purcell, S. A., Rosenberg, R., Willis, E. A., Shiferaw, B., Grau, L., Breit, M. J., Bessesen, D. H., Melanson, E. L., & Catenacci, V. A. (2022). Effect of Morning and Evening Exercise on Energy Balance: A Pilot Study. Nutrients14(4), 816. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14040816 ↩︎
  7. Bireline, A. (n.d.). Morning Exercise Benefits: Increased Metabolism and More? Retrieved February 22, 2024, from https://www.nifs.org/blog/morning-exercise-benefits-increased-metabolism-and-more
  8. Fillon A, Mathieu ME, Boirie Y, Thivel D. Appetite control and exercise: Does the timing of exercise play a role?. Physiol Behav. 2020;218:112733. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.112733 ↩︎
  9. Afternoon Exercise May Offer Longevity Benefits. (2023, February 27). EverydayHealth.Com. https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/scheduling-your-workouts-in-the-afternoon-may-yield-the-most-benefits-for-longevity/
  10. Mancilla, R., Brouwers, B., Schrauwen-Hinderling, V. B., Hesselink, M. K. C., Hoeks, J., & Schrauwen, P. (2021). Exercise training elicits superior metabolic effects when performed in the afternoon compared to morning in metabolically compromised humans. Physiological reports8(24), e14669. https://doi.org/10.14814/phy2.14669 ↩︎
  11. Creasy, S. A., Wayland, L., Panter, S. L., Purcell, S. A., Rosenberg, R., Willis, E. A., Shiferaw, B., Grau, L., Breit, M. J., Bessesen, D. H., Melanson, E. L., & Catenacci, V. A. (2022). Effect of Morning and Evening Exercise on Energy Balance: A Pilot Study. Nutrients14(4), 816. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14040816 ↩︎
  12. The Best Time of Day to Exercise for Metabolic Health—The New York Times. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2024, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/26/well/move/exercise-time-day-metabolic-health.html
  13. Thomas, J. M., Kern, P. A., Bush, H. M., McQuerry, K. J., Black, W. S., Clasey, J. L., & Pendergast, J. S. (2020). Circadian rhythm phase shifts caused by timed exercise vary with chronotype. JCI insight5(3), e134270. https://doi.org/10.1172/jci.insight.134270 ↩︎
  14. Brooker PG, Gomersall SR, King NA, Leveritt MD. The efficacy of morning versus evening exercise for weight loss: A randomized controlled trial. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2023; 31(1): 83-95. doi:10.1002/oby.23605