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!