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

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Best Time To Run

Go for a late-afternoon or early-evening run when your BP, core body temperature, levels of certain hormones, joint flexibility, energy, and lung function hit a peak. These enhance your performance. The body is not primed for a morning run, but if you have health issues like a high BP or severe morning blues, morning runs help more. If you're comfortable with whatever time you run, don't upset your body's rhythm by changing it.

We are certain you have no doubt about why you should run. The benefits are many, from reducing weight and the risk of cardiovascular diseases to alleviating depression to improving learning and memory and alleviating depression. But do you know what the best time to run is? If you are running with a particular aim, does the time of running improve your chances? Let’s find out.

Running And Circadian Rhythm

There’s a science behind running, and it says that you glean the most out of your run when you go by your body clock or, to put in scientific terms, circadian rhythm. If you usually follow a routine, think of how you feel hungry, sleepy, or most energetic at certain fixed times every day. This is your circadian rhythm (CR) – a 24-hour pattern in which you perform most of your biological functions, whether physical, mental, or behavioral. It is controlled by a group of nerve cells in your brain – the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) – and by external environmental factors like light and temperature.1

Circadian rhythm also controls factors that help you run better and gain maximum benefits, the chief one being core body temperature.

Core Body Temperature

Usually, core body temperature (CBD) peaks around 5 to 7 pm, starts dipping with sleep onset, and hits its minimum early morning at 5 am with a difference of 0.9 °C.23

Though 0.9 °C seems a meager rise, it can make all the difference in your performance. This is because a higher core body temperature ensures that blood flow is smooth and muscles get enough oxygen and nutrients for a high-power performance as well as endurance. That takes care of both long-distance running and short sprints. A higher core body temperature also makes the joints release the lubricating synovial fluid that makes movement easier.

Other factors include energy, strength, blood pressure, levels of hormones, oxygen intake and outflow, and alertness.

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 pm–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 as opposed to the 18% that 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.

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.

To Lose Weight And Eat Less

Weight watchers vouch for a morning run without breakfast as, in the absence of carbs and proteins to burn for energy, the body starts burning up fat.5 If you eat a high-fat, high-calorie diet, running in the empty stomach will prevent weight gain and improve your glucose tolerance.6 But, 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?

Go for a morning run if you want to lose weight or build muscles. But always do some stretches and warm-up exercises to reduce muscle stiffness and avoid injuries.

To Build Muscles

Early morning is a good time if you want to build your muscles because 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. Here’s what you can eat.

To Lift Your Mood And Beat Depression

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

To Bring Down Your Blood Pressure

A study has shown that running in the morning (6-8 am) brought down the systolic blood pressure (the first number in your BP reading that measures the pressure in your blood vessel when your heart pumps blood) during the day in patients with hypertension. It also brings down the 24-hour BP in dippers – that is patients whose blood pressure naturally dipped at night.9

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, 25% during night, and improvement in sleep in people who exercised at 7 in the morning.10

Running In The Morning Has Risks

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 expiration 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, a good warm-up is a must.

Afternoon

Science would suggest that late afternoon is the best time to run or to perform any kind of exercise because of the circadian peaks in everything that assists a good run. If you can space your lunch and your run judiciously, say by a couple of hours at least, a late afternoon run, 4 pm onward, is the best time for you in terms of endurance, strength, and reaction time. This is because of optimum core body temperature and hormone levels.

To Build Muscles

While testosterone levels are higher in the morning, muscle building might be better during late afternoon. This is because in the morning, the high testosterone levels are foiled by high cortisol levels. In the afternoon, the ratio of testosterone and cortisol is optimum for protein synthesis muscle growth in response to resistance training. What that means is you can build better muscles by running outdoors or on an incline during the afternoon.13

To Run Longer

You have more fuel and peak lung capacity14 to sustain a longer run in the afternoon than in the morning. So afternoons are better for building your endurance as well.

Your body is at its efficient best during late afternoon in terms of your endurance, reflex, strength, alertness, and breathing. Schedule your strength training sessions for the afternoon.

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, as your epinephrine and norepinephrine levels peak during noon.15 These make your heart pump and prepare you for a good run. Moreover, these hormones lower your pain sensation and boost your mood.

To Fix A Broken Circadian Rhythm

A disrupted circadian doesn’t cause just sleep disturbances. It also makes you a more likely victim of diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases, to name a few. A study on mice with a disrupted circadian rhythm showed that exercise fixed this problem, and exercises in the middle of the night – which is equivalent to our afternoon – had stronger effect than those in the morning. It is possible that exercising in the afternoon can help people, especially shift workers or the elderly, to regain their circadian rhythm.16

Running In The Afternoon Is Risk-Free

The cons of afternoon 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.

Evening

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 body temperature.17 The higher temperature also dilates the blood vessels and increases nerve conduction velocity, ensuring a better supply of nutrients and oxygen to the muscles and increased alertness. This in turn improves the breakdown of glycogen and glucose (in processes called glycogenolysis and glycolysis) to release more energy.18

Early evening is just as good a time for running as late afternoon as your body is naturally geared for its best performance. Late evening runs may help hypertensive patients but can also make sleeping difficult.

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 more than in dippers.19 It’s also possible to lower diastolic blood pressure at night too through evening exercise.20

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 better, 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 day.

References   [ + ]

1. Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet. National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
2. Kräuchi, Kurt. “How is the circadian rhythm of core body temperature regulated?.” Clinical Autonomic Research 12, no. 3 (2002): 147-149.
3. Constantini, Naama W., and Anthony C. Hackney, eds. Endocrinology of physical activity and sport. New York: Humana Press, 2013.
4. Reese, Robert James, Dan Fuehrer, and Christine Fennessy. What Time of Day Do People Run? Runner’s World. 26 August 2014.
5. Bachman, Jessica L., Ronald W. Deitrick, and Angela R. Hillman. “Exercising in the Fasted State Reduced 24-Hour Energy Intake in Active Male Adults.” Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism 2016 (2016).
6. Van Proeyen, Karen, Karolina Szlufcik, Henri Nielens, Koen Pelgrim, Louise Deldicque, Matthijs Hesselink, Paul P. Van Veldhoven, and Peter Hespel. “Training in the fasted state improves glucose tolerance during fat‐rich diet.” The Journal of physiology 588, no. 21 (2010): 4289-4302.
7. Hanlon, Bliss, Michael J. Larson, Bruce W. Bailey, and James D. Lecheminant. “Neural response to pictures of food after exercise in normal-weight and obese women.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 44, no. 10 (2012): 1864-1870.
8. Brambilla, Donald J., Alvin M. Matsumoto, Andre B. Araujo, and John B. McKinlay. “The effect of diurnal variation on clinical measurement of serum testosterone and other sex hormone levels in men.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 94, no. 3 (2009): 907-913.
9, 19. Park, S., C. A. Jastremski, and J. P. Wallace. “Time of day for exercise on blood pressure reduction in dipping and nondipping hypertension.” Journal of human hypertension 19, no. 8 (2005): 597-605.
10. Early morning exercise is best for reducing blood pressure and improving sleep. Appalachian State University.
11. West, Daniel J., Christian J. Cook, Martyn C. Beaven, and Liam P. Kilduff. “The influence of the time of day on core temperature and lower body power output in elite rugby union sevens players.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28, no. 6 (2014): 1524-1528.
12. Morris, Christopher J., Jessica N. Yang, and Frank AJL Scheer. “The impact of the circadian timing system on cardiovascular and metabolic function.” Progress in brain research 199 (2012): 337.
13. Hayes, Lawrence D., Gordon F. Bickerstaff, and Julien S. Baker. “Interactions of cortisol, testosterone, and resistance training: influence of circadian rhythms.” Chronobiology international 27, no. 4 (2010): 675-705.
14. Medarov, Boris I., Valentin A. Pavlov, and Leonard Rossoff. “Diurnal variations in human pulmonary function.” Int J Clin Exp Med 1, no. 3 (2008): 267-273.
15. Garrett, William E., and Donald T. Kirkendall, eds. Exercise and sport science. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
16. 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.
17. Atkinson, Greg, and Thomas Reilly. “Circadian variation in sports performance.” Sports medicine 21, no. 4 (1996): 292-312.
18. Fernandes, Alan Lins, João Paulo Lopes-Silva, Rômulo Bertuzzi, Dulce Elena Casarini, Danielle Yuri Arita, David John Bishop, and Adriano Eduardo Lima-Silva. “Effect of time of day on performance, hormonal and metabolic response during a 1000-M cycling time trial.” PloS one 9, no. 10 (2014): e109954.
20. Fairbrother, Kimberly, Ben Cartner, Jessica R. Alley, Chelsea D. Curry, David L. Dickinson, David M. Morris, and Scott R. Collier. “Effects of exercise timing on sleep architecture and nocturnal blood pressure in prehypertensives.” Vascular health and risk management 10 (2014): 691.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.