Whether you want to lose fat, increase physical strength, build muscle mass or just want to improve your overall health, you have to put together a strict diet plan and a scheduled workout routine. However; besides this tight schedule you have to be at your best, both physically and mentally in order to move the most weight. But here arises a question, when are we at our best? Well, some people think that working out at the crack of dawn can be an invigorating start to your day; others claim that doing exercise in the afternoon will make you stronger and more muscular. While everyone has their own opinion, let’s break down the science and find out the optimal time for training.
Our body has an internal control system called the circadian clock or rhythm that controls the normal physiological processes (metabolism, temperature, sleep/wake pattern, blood pressure, behavioural changes, etc.). Multiple factors (e.g. food, light/dark cycle, exercise, etc.) act collectively on the circadian system to make it active, responsive and adapted towards the environment. Circadian rhythm mainly controls these systems through regulation of temperature and hormonal level and activation of the nervous system that tends to peak at certain times while being low at others.
You require an optimal core body temperature (temperature of the central organs) to perform your best in the gym, i.e. slightly higher than 37 C (normal body temperature). Hypothalamus (also an important constituent of circadian system) is a part of the brain that controls and regulates the body temperature. Core temperature is at its low during the night and in the early morning due to no/low functioning of the hypothalamus, while tends to reach its maximum in the evening. According to research in “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise”, most records are made and broken in the early evening.
Hormones are the major regulator of body metabolism and variations in their circulatory level has a direct influence on muscular activity and physical strength.
- Growth hormone – as the name suggested, is required for the normal growth of muscles and bones. It is released in pulses during the night, i.e. when we are sleeping and its secretion doesn’t depend on the time of the day. Getting a sound 8-10 hour sleep will certainly help.
- Testosterone – more commonly known as “male hormone” is a potent masculine anabolic hormone responsible for the increase in muscular mass and strength. The same hormone is present in steroids as well. In contrast to growth hormone, testosterone levels in most cases are recorded highest in the morning that gradually drops throughout the day. Exercise at any time also increases testosterone levels.
- Cortisol – often releases in stress conditions is a hormone with a bad reputation as it causes the breakdown of proteins. Cortisol levels peaks in the first two hours after you wake up and like testosterone gradually decreases as the day advances.
Many studies show that afternoon or early evening might be the most beneficial and productive time because of the optimal nerve conduction velocity, peak in the core body temperature and a decrease in the cortisol levels. Although the circadian rhythm depends largely on your existing schedule; however training at this particular time of the day may provide the enhanced muscle strength and greatest force.