Some like to awake with meditation, others to a steaming brew of caffeine – I personally love nothing better than to awake to an hour of endorphin-adrenaline rush from a session of heavy lifting and cardio ; they give me just the kick in the pants (literally) to go about my work and social life. Take that away from me and well, the lethargy inevitably paves way for crankiness. Even if I try to clock in some body-mind time in the gym post work, the sluggishness doesn’t recede. I may not be a ‘morning person’ but I am most definitely a ‘morning WORKOUT one’.
Yet there are several who couldn’t fathom foregoing the snooze button on their alarms to catch some morning sweat, instead opting for a “sundowner sweat”. Through a two-part edition I explore what is the ideal time for a workout…
The biggest environmental cue our bodies recognize and react to, is light. The regulation of our bodily systems based on time of day is referred to as our circadian rhythm. Your hormonal milieu, gene expression and core body temperature have a circadian rhythm. Hormones like Cortisol and Testosterone peak in the morning (some debate exists about the latter) and these could influence the gains or lack of it, if you workout then.
Going by purely core body temperate, a morning workout is unfavorable as we’re the coldest (my mood sure is) at dawn, growing warmer towards dusk. A cold body leaves muscles stiff, inefficient, and susceptible to sprains, whereas higher body temperatures leave muscles more flexible. Body temperature typically increases throughout the day, so muscle strength and endurance may peak in the late afternoon, when body temperature is highest.
But that is not to dismiss the pros of morning workouts, which include an all-day boost to Serotonin levels (the happy hormone), maximum benefits of EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) that simply put burns more calories throughout the day and promotes better sleep and cardiovascular health at night.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research tracked blood pressure levels and sleep patterns in participants between the ages of 40 and 60 and the results indicated that all of the participants who exercised at 7 a.m. experienced an overall 10 percent reduction in blood pressure and a 25 percent drop in blood pressure at night. Morning workouts also helped the volunteers sleep longer and deeper. The more deep the sleep, the more Growth hormone is secreted overnight and the body recuperates better.
Cortisol is the ‘stressy’ hormone i.e. anything that puts the body and brain under stress triggers a release of Cortisol. It in turn promotes fat storage and muscle breakdown. This INCLUDES exercise which is one main reason why too much emphasis shouldn’t be put on syncing your workouts with Cortisol levels. But going by plain and simple physiology, best to sweat when you’re Cortisol is down and that is usually in the evenings.
Testosterone too, hits a high upon awaking and for both genders alike is a promoter of fat burning and protein synthesis a.k.a. muscle building. Combining the hormonal factors of Cortisol and Testosterone based on their levels in the blood would place an ideal time to workout somewhere in the afternoon where the decline in Cortisol helps the Testosterone to provide better results per sweat droplet.
The greatest factor, which favors opting for an afternoon workout is pain tolerance, which peaks in these hours. These hours have the best potential for breaking plateaus by employing muscle-shocking techniques because pain threshold is highest and the limits of the body might be able to be pushed further than usual. Strength, endurance and muscle flexibility are higher in the afternoon too, thereby decreasing the likelihood of injuries. Further, reaction time is likely to be quicker, while heart rate and blood pressure are low. Based on this, intense workouts such as weight training or hard cardio are ideal and the results tend to be improved performance and increased power.
Barring declined mental focus (work most likely sapped and lapped it all up) in the evenings, this is when your body is rearing to go. Co-ordination, stamina, core body temperature, flexibility and strength and cardiovascular functioning are all top-notch. Hit the gym! The very same 2011 study in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found there are greater gains in muscle size when trainers workout during the evening hours. The researchers found that participants gained size and strength, but the evening group gained an average of 3.5 percent more, compared to 2.7 percent more in the morning group.
But how late can one push the fitness slot? After all exercise does raise body temperature and increases hormone activity, which could interfere with sleep and we know that sleep is vital for growth and repair to promote fitness levels. The research on this aspect is inadequate currently but going by circadian rhythm, approximately (and on average) around 9pm the body begins producing additional melatonin to signal ‘sleep time’. Logically, I personally wouldn’t force my physiology to produce the ‘conflict-or’ , Cortisol. Also important to remember that after an evening workout, nutrition must be adequate and optimum so as not to leave the body yearning for fuel-repair as it sleeps.
Scientifically speaking, it appears that workouts best be done between 2 and 8pm assuming there exists regular sleep-wake cycles and sufficient nutrition. But just to complicate matters, our bodies have adapted to possess a phenomenon termed ‘Temporal Specificity’ in which muscular strength adapts to be at its strongest at the time of the day the training occurred. So if you’re consistently training in the evening, it will improve your muscle strength in the evening and the same holds true for mornings. ‘Muscle Memory’ if you will. So when should we train (insane)?
To be continued…
Juggling many roles from physician to writer to pilates instructor to Marketing-PR executive, Dr. Daamini is constantly pushed and inspired to get creative on how to encompass a Retreat into her daily life.