Is there a “best” time of the day to run?

Seorise, a reader asks a common question about times of day to run.
At the moment I live in Brasil and the weather hot so i run in the evening… around 6:30 or 7:00. A question i would like to ask about that is what’s the best time for running? Maybe its just a personal thing (i.e when you have the time is best) but as for hormones or the like, at what time does the body have the most energy or drive. I hear lots of things but not sure as to which is correct. For example I hear its better to run in the morning because your body will continue to burn calories; but if that leaves me hungry all day then it’s not really of benefit to me. And then there is the argument of evening is better because you have all your glucose stored up and can run better for longer, but then I find that after a run i am restless for a few hours and have trouble sleeping. So what really is the best time to run? In Africa ( I don’t want to sound like a “spinster” talking about past runs but…) i would run at mid-day in the blistering heat and found that best. Is it really just a matter of when you have time then that’s the best or is there a “scientific best” time to run? Again thanks in advance. Seoirse

First and foremost the best time to run is the time that works for you as an individual. Consistency in training day-to-day is more important the the time of day. So, before I go into any further discussion, that has to be the overriding determinant. Morning, noon or night, getting your workout in is more important than force-fitting a specific time because someone said it was “better.”

There are individual differences with runners. As you allude to, there are “morning” (or midday or afternoon) people who have most of their physical (and mental) energy at that time of day. Whether that is due to genetics, psychological predispositions or biorhythms is up for debate and in reality doesn’t matter. The point is to capitalize on your own uniqueness.

Some people love getting their days started with a good run. Others will dread facing a cold (or hot) morning straight out of bed. Some of us are left with little other choices so whether we like it or not is irrelevant. We either cope or make it one more excuse not to run. (By the way it’s one of the excuses listed in my new book coming out in Dec/Jan – “Coach, I didn’t run because…” – yes this is an early promo for the book.)

Scientifically, the issue becomes a bit more complex. For instance, hydration and nutrition timing are important for glycogen levels. Low glycogen levels will affect the physical workout efforts as well as mental attitudes towards them. Just ask someone with low blood sugars (especially dramatic with a diabetic) if they feel like working out and what kind of mood they are in!

You mention hormones. They do fluctuate and of course with women this means that depending on their cycle running may be better at certain times of the day which may vary at different times of the month.

Hunger is an interesting point you make. Some runners can run just fine while hungry and others feel wiped out if they do. Some runners get more hungry after runs and others’ appetites are decreased. This is a case once again of knowing yourself. Generally I find very hard (i.e. racing, intervals or hill repeats) runs decrease my appetite for awhile afterward. Time your runs so that you will not over-eat. Time your run so that you have had time to get some nutrition (and fluids) in you. But, for all practical purposes, whether you run in the morning or evening, you’ll burn the same amount of calories given the same course and effort/pace.

Here are a couple side points on the issue of nutrition and early morning running. Your body has not taken in calories for perhaps ten hours or more when you awake in the morning. So, you may need to think about timing runs so that you have sufficient energy stores. And a separate and perhaps relevant point is that if you eat within about two and a half hours of going to bed; hormone releases affect insulin and so the use/storage of calories are also affected. Now, I have only read about this in relation to diets and body composition issues (it increases body fat) but it is a nutrition intake issue that may affect early morning energy too (not sure if that would be positively or negatively though). I think that is a point for individual experimentation.

For runners who have tendonitis issues it is often easier to run later in the day. Tendonitis can be more painful or have more movement limitations upon waking or through the mornings. So, allowing the body to naturally “wake up” and loosen up over the day in order to be able to run without (or with less) discomfort is usually better.

Generally, working out later in the evening can have two opposite effects. With wide individual variation… generally an intense workout will leave people’s bodies a bit “hyped” up and leave them too antsy to relax and get to sleep. On the other hand, a longer steady run or modest workout generally leaves people feeling more relaxed and may actually enhance sleep. As an aside, for me personally – when I do any kind of weight workout it leaves me very relaxed whereas running of any kind will keep me awake.

I am curious what other readers experience and encourage their comments and experiences. After more than 35 years of running and studying this stuff and listening to runners, it would be very difficult for someone to convince me that there is a particular universal “best” time to run. So, just get out and do it!

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About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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21 Responses to Is there a “best” time of the day to run?

  1. saya says:

    my experience :
    i’ve been a night runner for the past one year..
    then, due to safety reason, i’ve switched the time to morning..
    and sometimes when i’m bit busy, i ran during noon..
    conclusion :
    morning :
    – feels great the whole day
    – a bit sluggish (have to make sure to eat something to avoid this)
    – have difficulty waking up sometimes
    afternoon :
    – can avoid afternoon energy slump
    – need more water due to the heat and can’t run the desired pace
    – limited time to run
    night :
    – a good d-stress tool after work
    – may need to skip this workout due to work
    – late dinner & late sleeping time

    i found out that actually there is no preferred time for me to run, as long as i get it done, i am already happy about it.
    getting started is difficult, like waking up too early in the morning or sleeping too late, but once it is rolling, it won’t be a big problem.
    keep running =)

  2. Justine says:

    Usually I run in the morning simply because it is the easiest way to *consistently* get my mileage in for the day. If I begin to tamper too much with when I run, I find I don’t run as often. If I sleep longer I may run for less time, but I do at least run.

    On hunger: after a long run or hard, shorter run I find myself not at all hungry, and then a few hours later famished. I have started to have a glass of milk before I go to bed on those days, because I was having trouble with my growling stomach waking me up out of a dead sleep in the middle of the night. Is this common? Is the glass of milk a good idea? I have no idea, but I hate fumbling around the kitchen for a banana at 2am.

  3. Dean Hebert says:

    Justine,
    I do similar re: dealing with hunger @ night. I need to be sure I either snack or eat a hearty meal to hold me.

    The research that was quoted was with college students. Those who ate their meals late in the evening versus consuming their calories during the day ended up not gaining weight but gaining fat. This was with no change in calorie intake. They discussed the affect of hormones released after eating that inhibit insulin from working. The physiologist I spoke with was clear that “any calories” consumed within 2-2.5 hours of sleep may have that effect.

    Since the study did not investigate amount or types of calories I am not sure if a glass of milk has a similar affect or not.

    I think on a practical side… if you’re weight is steady, your body fat content is steady, and it helps you sleep… just do it.

  4. Justine says:

    Thanks for the response., I appreciate it.

    I am usually finished with dinner by 6:30, and I rarely snack at night. I wonder about the glass of milk because I would like to lose 5 pounds. My weight is steady, in fact sometimes it feels too steady 🙂 I recently completed a half ironman triathlon, a huge training commitment for me and my weight, oh that held steady.

    But, on the practical side, I end up with the glass of milk because I need my sleep. Still, I’d like the weight gone and I wonder if it would help to tough it out without the milk for a few months.

  5. Seoirse says:

    Hi again, Just a note on Justines comment.
    I cant see why one glass of milk every night would make you gain weight if you run on a regular basis! There are lots of studys to show that milk can make people lose weight, alothugh I dont know how true the findings are. If it was me I would look at other diet habbits… or… maybe… that just your body type.

  6. Dean Hebert says:

    Not sure about that research either. But, I tend to agree… a glass of milk is really very few calories in the scope of a day. Odds are that if you really need to shed 5 pounds it will come from somewhere else within your diet. 5 pounds is a small amount and most likely will not affect athletic performance to any substantial degree (perhaps and only perhaps – some of course – but it is not that simple of an issue).

    Having a steady weight is a VERY fortunate thing. On the other hand if it is an issue of clothes fitting etc. and not a performance issue… it’s another thing entirely.

    I would recommend instead, focus on improving (which does not necessarily mean MORE workouts) your training versus focusing on a few pounds.

  7. Danyah says:

    You mentioned that with tendonitis it might be better to run during later in the day. For me, I prefer to run in the early morning. I am by nature a morning person, so getting up at 5:30 AM for a quick 3-4 mile run is no big deal. But I tend to find that when I am on my feet at work all day long my tendons tend to get fatigued by 4:00 PM – too much for an afternoon run.

  8. Dean Hebert says:

    Great comment… it is absolutely so individual! You have to know when and how it feels best… then go with it! Definitely being on your feet all day will adversely affect tendons. Thanks

  9. Seoirse says:

    Can I ask (might be obvious) how much water is enough?? I know I can drink too little (although I dont… about 2.5 – 3 ltrs) but can I drink too much??? I know that if I drink before a run I will be crippled with cramps and it might depend on body mass or just the person but in the scale of the day can one person drink too much water? Thanks in advanced.
    Seoirse

  10. Dean Hebert says:

    Good question.. I’ll address that in a new post. I’ve had a number of this kind of question along the way.

  11. Woods says:

    My issue with early morning vs other times of day is that my max HR within an hour or two of waking up in the morning is significantly lower than later in the day–on the order of 178 vs 198–and the difference carries through at lower levels of exertion as well. Also, and I guess not surprisingly, I just can’t run as quickly on those morning runs. On a recent early morning run I struggled to run my 250m speed work at even close to the pace of my 1km intervals run in the afternoon a few days earlier, and this is typical of my experience over several years.

    This always leaves me wondering what I’m getting out of the morning runs.

  12. Dean Hebert says:

    Interesting and one more example of why HR training is extremely unreliable in training. You may not “feel” like you can run your workouts in the mornings and that indeed is important to know about yourself. It underscores the underlying emphasis on this whole thread in fact that individual variability and knowing yourself is key to optimizing “work out time.”

    Max HR is a reasonably stationary figure and won’t vary by 20 beats during a day for an individual. Max HR is also unrelated to how you are feeling – though in your case they may coincide it is not cause and effect. Resting HR is almost invariably lower upon waking versus later in the day.

  13. nomobama says:

    For me, I like running later at night, usually no earlier than 8:30, but as late as 10:00pm for a start time. I live in a gated community, so I am not so concerned about crime. I’ve tried running in the morning and in the afternoon, but I seem to dehydrate much quicker with the sun hitting me, and it makes it a little harder for me to breathe. I find it easier to breathe at night. I live in central Florida, so on nights when the temperatures are supposed to be below 50 degrees, I choose not to run because I don’t like to run when it is too cool,
    or I’ll run during the daylight hours, but even on days like this, the sun zaps me of energy. I definitely run better at night. For me, outdoor temperature is important, too. Running at night also doesn’t seem to affect my sleep.

  14. Mark says:

    I am not sure what is the best day is to run. I just know that mornings and evenings are cooler then during 3pm-4pm. I would be quite blessed if someone would explain to me if it is smart or not to run gradually into the heat? I was running in some heat and my body told me 1.5 mi was all i could push.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Mark,
      There are pros and cons to running in the heat. You can run faster and longer when it’s cooler. But, if you will be racing when it’s hot… you have to be ready for heat. The only way to do that is running in the heat. Stay hydrated all day long AND run some days in the heat and some not. Gradually increase both intensity and duration in the heat BUT use caution. You will never be able to replicate performances (training or racing) in the heat that you can do when it’s more moderately temped. It will take 2-3 weeks to fully acclimate to the heat. After that, even though it will still FEEL hot (like to everyone else) you will be able to both mentally and physically handle it better than someone who doesn’t train in the heat.

  15. Hassan Toosy says:

    hi i totally agree with you!1 as for me. its ideal to run in the evening, from 6.30 to 7.30pm,,,, i can also run in the morning but thats something hard to get use to… i stopped running altogather for months thinking of running in the morning and some how i couldnt manage to get up early or i couldnt just got use to the running morning routine …. but normally in the evening there is less oxygen in the air and its becomes really challenging to run for longer minutes when you know this ultimate fact of the oxygen ratio radical decline in the abssence of sun light

  16. Meg says:

    Three years later, and this post is still amazing. I personally find the same results as mentioned in the post: running in the morning helps give me energy, and weight training at night to relax me and get ready for bed. Working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, it really came out of convenience. I always ran before class in college, and it carried over to before work. After work, I hit the gym for my weights (thank you, 24 hour gyms!), and start winding down for the night.

    I find that I too need a snack at night, but that’s when I do my protein shake… with milk.

  17. Pingback: Morning, Noon or night? | A Time To Run

  18. Jennifer says:

    I used to run at night, but stopped doing that due to safety reasons. So I’m trying to see about running earlier during the day. I haven’t run(except for short bursts or running in place)like outside for two miles in a while and just got back into it two days ago. I struggle with sleep at night so the morning might never work for me. I think afternoon or early evening long before it’s dark I should run. The thing is what I noticed is after I ran the other day I seem to be restless or distractable or antsy and scatterbrained after the first time running again. I didn’t go home right away I went shopping for groceries so that’s probably where the scatterbrained part came from prior to that I went home earlier that day before I got to running because work was too stressful that day. Is this just pent up nervous energy finally getting out? Sometimes I feel a bit irritable too a little while after so that’s why I’m wondering. Could it be dehydration or hormonal changes too? I noticed that not until maybe an hour or more after running am I hungry afterward. I don’t have an appetite right after. Thanks for the article though, it’s very helpful.

    • Dean Hebert says:

      Jennifer,
      If your runs are about 2 miles I doubt that there would be any negative affect from your run on attentional issues. It is also very unusual for relatively short workouts to decrease appetite. But everyone is different. It sounds like you might have other things going on.

      • Jennifer says:

        Oh no I actually experience a decrease in appetite after long runs, never in short runs, sorry I should have mentioned that, heheh. I seem to be getting attuned again anyway, I guess the person needs to run a long distance with a moderate pace at least two two days to experience the healing from running, and be used to it, which is what I’m seeing with myself. Thanks for the input.

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