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What Is the Best Time To Run: Morning, Evening, Or Afternoon?

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Best Time To Run

Late afternoon or early evening is the best rime to run as your BP, core body temperature, levels of certain hormones, joint flexibility, energy, and lung function all peak around this time and enhance your performance. The body is not primed for a morning run, but if you have health issues like high BP or depression, morning runs help more. Having said that, if you're comfortable with whatever time you run, stick to it. Don't upset your body's rhythm by changing the time.

You are no stranger to the fact that running has many benefits – shedding weight, reducing the risk of heart attacks, curing depression, and improving learning and memory, to name only a few. But all these benefits may depend on the time of the run. So what is the best time to run? Running in the morning is best to lower depression and hasten weight loss; evening runs help lower your night-time blood pressure; and running in the late afternoon or early evening helps you improve your form and build muscles. Also, while late afternoon is best for long-distance runs, early evening is best for sprints. Here’s a detailed look.

Run When Your Core Body Temperature Is Peaking

You glean the most out of your run when you go by your body clock or circadian rhythm (CR) – a 24-hour pattern in which you perform most of your biological functions. Your CR is controlled by a group of nerve cells in your brain (the suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN) and by external environmental factors like light and temperature.1

A high core body temperature improves your blood flow. The muscles get more nutrition, and the joints are better lubricated. As a result, you have better energy and endurance and low risk of injury.

Your circadian rhythm also governs your core body temperature, hormone levels, breathing capacity, reflex, strength, and energy stores. These factors, mainly your core body temperature, influence your run. The core body temperature peaks around 5 to 7 pm, starts dipping with sleep onset, and hits its lowest at 5 am, with a difference of 0.9 °C.23

This ensures that blood flow is smooth; muscles get enough oxygen and nutrients for a high-power performance as well as endurance; and the joints are lubricated by the synovial fluid. So a higher core body temperature helps both long-distance running and short sprints. But there are several other factors to consider too.

What Is The Best Time To Run?

Mike Tyson used to run at 4 am. But you could discount that as an exception. The common hours are early morning (6–7 am), late afternoon (3–5 pm), and evening (6–8 pm).

A 2014 statistics of 177 million runners across 30 countries shows that on weekdays, 32% people run between 5 and 8 in the evening. Only 18% run between 6 and 9 in the morning. On weekends, however, 8–11 am is the peak time.4

There are also enthusiasts who run during lunchtime and at night, but the number is low. Let’s take a look at each of these times and weigh the pros and cons.

If you have specific health issues to resolve, morning is the best time.

4 Reasons To Run In The Morning

Not many people prefer to run in the morning, but those who do cite several pros. Early morning ensures a cleaner and less-polluted environment. The roads are free from traffic, and in the absence of a harsh sun, the run is enjoyable. A morning exercise also gives them plenty of time for muscle recovery.

1. To Lose Weight And Eat Less

Weight watchers vouch for a morning run without breakfast as the body starts burning up fat in the absence of carbs and proteins to burn for energy.5

Run on an empty stomach to lose weight.

If you usually eat a high-fat, high-calorie diet, running in the empty stomach will prevent weight gain and improve your glucose tolerance.6

Thankfully, morning workout has been seen to reduce one’s motivation for eating through the day. It also keeps you more physically active.7 But that also means you need to eat a good breakfast right after. Are you eating these foods after a run?

2. To Build Muscles

If you want to build muscles, eat a protein-rich breakfast after the run.

Early morning is a good time if you want to build your muscles. Testosterone, the hormone for muscle growth, peaks between 5:30 and 8 am.8 But you need to eat a good breakfast if this is your motive. Otherwise, you’ll end up losing muscle mass.

3. To Lift Your Mood And Beat Depression

Most patients of depression complain they feel the worst in the morning. This is because levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, are the highest in the morning at around 8 am. Running can help with depression as it helps release mood-lifting hormones called endorphins. And this may show a more pronounced effect in the morning. But running at any other point of the day can also beat depression.

4. To Bring Down Your Blood Pressure

A study has shown that running in the morning (6–8 am) can bring down the systolic blood pressure (the first number in your BP reading) during the day in patients with hypertension. It also brings down the 24-hour BP in dippers – patients whose blood pressure naturally dips at night.9 This makes for a less drastic drop in night-time blood pressure.

If you have depression and high blood pressure, running in the morning can help. But a good warm-up is mandatory to avoid injuries or heart-related problems.

Another study on pre-hypertensive people proved that exercising at 7 am showed a 10% drop in blood pressure during the day and 25% during night. People who exercised at 7 in the morning also slept better than before.10

Cons: Injury And Heart Problems

If you are not used to getting up early, you shouldn’t force yourself into a morning marathon. In any case, the core body temperature remains low during morning, which means that your muscles are stiff, your power output is low,11 and you are more vulnerable to injuries. Both your oxygen intake and outflow are low, and this can affect your breathing capacity. Your blood pressure is also high. People are most vulnerable to heart attacks and strokes in the morning.12 But if you are a morning runner, follow this warm-up routine before you run.

5 Reasons To Run In The Late Afternoon Or Early Evening

Science would suggest that late afternoon is the best time to run or to perform any kind of exercise. This is because helpful factors like core body temperature, hormone levels, breathing capacity, and reflex, all peak in the late afternoon. Space your lunch and your run judiciously, say by a couple of hours at least. Go for a late afternoon run, 4 pm onward.

During late afternoon and early evening, your body has the optimum core temperature, breathing capacity, alertness, and energy store. All of these help you run better and longer.

Early evening, too, is as good a time as late afternoon. You have got the day’s work out of the way and your energy levels are good enough to endure a sprint. Your flexibility, muscle strength, and short-term high-power output (think sprinting) peak in early evening close to the daily maximum in your core body temperature.13

A higher core body temperature dilates the blood vessels, which ensures a better supply of nutrients and oxygen to the muscles. It also increases the speed of impulses from the nerves, which means you have increased alertness. This in turn improves the breakdown of glycogen and glucose to release more energy.14

1. To Build Muscles

Afternoon runs build muscles better than morning runs do if you practice resistance training.

While testosterone levels are higher in the morning, muscle building might be better during late afternoon. As you know, both testosterone and cortisol levels are high in the morning, but the muscle-building effects of testosterone are negated by the muscle-wasting effects of cortisol at that time.

In the afternoon, the ratio of testosterone and cortisol is optimum for protein synthesis for muscle growth in response to resistance training. That means you can build better muscles by running outdoors or on an incline during the afternoon.15

2. To Run Longer

If you are training for long-distance runs, run in the afternoon. You have more fuel and peak lung capacity16 to sustain a longer run in the afternoon than in the morning. Afternoon runs help build your endurance as well.

Schedule your strength training sessions for the afternoon to last longer.

3. To Avert Injuries

Your raised core body temperature and energy stores ensure that your muscle strength and flexibility are at their peak during late afternoon. Also, your epinephrine and norepinephrine levels peak during noon.17 These make your heart pump and prepare you for a good run. These hormones also lower your pain sensation and boost your mood.

4. To Fix A Broken Body Clock

If you work in late-night shifts or travel across time zones, your circadian rhythm may be disrupted. Your body clock will not work according to natural day/night patterns, disrupting your sleep cycle. This can make you a likely victim of diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases.

If your sleep cycle is out of whack, run in the early evening to bring it back to normal rhythm.

A study on mice with a disrupted circadian rhythm showed that exercise fixed this problem, and exercises in the middle of their night – which is equivalent to our afternoon – had stronger effect than those in the morning.

It is possible that running in the afternoon can help people, especially shift workers or the elderly, to regain their circadian rhythm.18

5. To Lower Blood Pressure

Evening too has some benefits. If you have high blood pressure, and it doesn’t go down at night like it should – that is, you are a non-dipper – exercise at 7 pm can reduce your systolic blood pressure at night. This benefit is seen more in non-dippers than in dippers.19 It’s also possible to lower diastolic blood pressure at night through evening exercise.20

Running In The Afternoon Is Risk-Free

The cons of afternoon runs have nothing to do with your body. It could be the soaring temperature outside or it could be your inability to carve out an hour from your busy schedule. But if you can make the time, make sure you are well-hydrated and get some warm-up before you get going.

Cons: Late Evening Run May Disturb Your Sleep

The one con an evening run has is that it might perk you up way too much to doze off. In that case, try pushing the run back by an hour. Also, take a shower soon after the run to cool down and make your body ready for sleep. The other deterrents include high levels of pollutants in the environment, a rapidly cooling weather – adjusting to which might be difficult – safety concerns, vision problem, and traffic issues. You could avoid these by going on an early evening run.

Run When It Suits You

We can come to the conclusion that if you have specific issues to resolve, like obesity or depression, morning running has more benefits to offer. If you are an athlete or someone intent on running longer, late afternoon and early evening are the best times for training as you are in your best shape at those points of the day.

Having said that, if you’ve been running at a fixed hour every day and are comfortable with it, that’s probably the best for you. Your body must have adjusted itself to that routine. But yes, it’s important that you fix an hour and not throw your body off kilter with runs at random times of the day.

References   [ + ]

1. Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet. National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
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4. Reese, Robert James, Dan Fuehrer, and Christine Fennessy. What Time of Day Do People Run? Runner’s World. 26 August 2014.
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18. Schroeder, Analyne M., Danny Truong, Dawn H. Loh, Maria C. Jordan, Kenneth P. Roos, and Christopher S. Colwell. “Voluntary scheduled exercise alters diurnal rhythms of behaviour, physiology and gene expression in wild‐type and vasoactive intestinal peptide‐deficient mice.” The Journal of physiology 590, no. 23 (2012): 6213-6226.
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