When is the best time to go for a run? That question has been a topic of hot discussion among runners and fitness experts for decades. Some say early morning runs are the best, while others prefer to run in the afternoon or in the evening. So what’s the difference?
Rhythm and Flow
I don’t know about you, but I get a little crazy every time I wake up at 5am to go running. The sane half of me who still clings to sleep wants to punch the other half of me that wants to run. To hell with limiting beliefs! I’m just not a morning person, period. I take comfort in the fact that this is all in my head – literally.
Welcome to the world of the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus! This bad boy is a biological clock located in the hypothalamus, and it’s the boss of our circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are inbuilt body processes that occur over roughly 24 hours. According to Dr. Roberto Refinetti, author of Circadian Physiology, “practically every bodily function shows daily rhythmicity” so it’s best to work with your body’s natural rhythms to perform at an optimal level.
Body clock diagram typical of someone who rises early, eats
lunch around noon and goes to bed around 10pm.
Natural rhythms? Let me explain.
Despite all the runners out and about in the early morning, this is not the best time for your body to perform. At this hour, all your bodily functions are at their worst. Your body temperature is low, your muscles are stiff, lung function is poor and you’re likely starving because you just slept for 8 hours and had zero food intake.
This makes it harder to wake up early in the morning, and harder still to go for a run because your body is fighting it. It’s also a little risky if you’re prone to heart attacks and strokes, because studies have shown that ambulatory blood pressure is highest in the morning. That’s the reason why many people suffer heart attacks and strokes at this time.
Trying to fight this phenomenon is futile – you’ll never win. You can train your body and mind for morning runs, but don’t expect to be at your best.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run in the morning or that it’s inherently bad for you. If you’re fit and healthy, running in the morning has many benefits. Although you’re naturally better in the afternoon, your body can adjust to improve performance in the morning. Here are a few reasons to go running in the morning:
• If you’re training for a race, condition yourself to run in the morning because most races are held early in the day.
• Research suggests that morning exercisers are more consistent than their afternoon and evening counterparts because motivation comes easier in the morning.
• If you’re running to lose weight, the best time to do it is in the morning on an empty stomach. Fasted training has been proven to be beneficial for weight loss.
• You can jump start your metabolism by running in the morning and keep it revved up hours after your run by incorporating interval training.
• A 2011 study found that moderate morning exercise (30 minute walk) lowers blood pressure and improves sleep. You can incorporate early morning walking during non-training days.
• Morning runs are harder and can train you to be mentally tough.
Afternoon & Evening Delight
The human body reaches peak performance in the afternoon/early evening between 4pm and 7pm. This is when the body’s temperature is at its highest and muscles are warm and flexible. Environmental temperature is also at its most favourable performance-wise, which is why many records are broken in the afternoon/evening and athletic events are scheduled around this time.
Runners and other athletes who give afternoon/evening training a try report that they seem to be faster, stronger and can go on longer when compared to running in the early morning. The reason? Aside from the body and muscles being relaxed, lung power is 6% better in the afternoon than at any other time of day.
If you’re transitioning from morning runs to afternoon/evening runs, consider these factors before you make the switch.
• While you are mentally at your best in the morning and testosterone is highest by mid-morning, it seems to wane as the day goes by, making it harder to stay committed and motivated to run in the afternoon.
• The ever changing dynamics of the day and circumstances out of your control might require you to skip running altogether due to schedule conflicts.
• Daylight, mealtimes and social interaction can affect performance.
• The worst time to go running is at noon, because the lungs lose power during your lunch break. Toss in the fact that the sun will be at it’s highest position in the sky and you’re pretty much asking for trouble if you choose to run at lunchtime.
• Avoid running late in the evening if you’re one of those people who find it hard to wind down at night.
Listen to your body. If you’re not a morning person, don’t force yourself to wake up at 5 am just to run or you may feel miserable and hate the experience. Do what’s best for you, and stack the deck in your favour so you won’t miss a day.
Three things you should always keep in mind are:
1. Get enough ZZZ.
Sleep plays a major role on whether you can run effectively or not, especially in the morning. If you had a terrible night’s sleep, your running performance will be negatively effected regardless of the time of day. Performance may improve slightly when you run in the afternoon or at night, but you’ll be fighting your circadian rhythm and that can mess up your body clock.
2. Be Consistent.
Your body can and will adapt to any schedule if you give it enough time. Your abilities will improve simply by selecting the right time of day to do it. If you feel at your best at night, run at night. If you love the mornings, run in the morning. The time of day can influence how you feel about running, so choose a time of day and stick with it.
3. Have your cake and eat it too.
If you really can’t run in the morning, go running in the afternoon and only run in the morning when you’re training for a race. This way, you get the best of both worlds.
Personally, I don’t like waking up early in the morning, but when I start running, everything else melts away. Try running at different times of the day and take note of your performance. Once you find your sweet spot, you’ll come out a better runner.