It's 5:00am and your alarm blares, beckoning you out of bed for your morning run. As you sip a glass of orange juice with eyes barely open, you're wondering why you chose to run in the mornings rather than evenings! Or maybe it's 6:00pm and you're just getting off of work, and the thought of going home, changing into workout gear, and heading back out for a run is the last thing your exhausted body (and brain) wants to do, and you wonder if you would do better running in the mornings instead. But which is better for you anyway? To run in the morning when you're struggling to gather energy or in the evening when you feel depleted?
The morning vs evening running debate is far from new and there are people who strongly advocate for either, but it's best to understand the many factors that go along with each option to make the best decision for yourself – here's whether you should go running in the morning or in the evening:
What kind of running are you doing?
The first thing to consider is why you are running. If you run at low to moderate intensity to improve general health, lose weight or train for long distance races where it's important to be consistent, then a morning running schedule may be better suited to you. Many people find it easier to adhere to an exercise regimen when they schedule it first thing in the morning. Evening workouts may be easier to neglect and make excuses for, especially after a long, tiring day, but regardless of which is easier to keep up, consistency is key if your goal is weight loss or improved cardiovascular fitness. Choose the time of day that you're more likely to stick with.
On the flip side, if you're running for time, speed or training to improve sprint, agility, or other high-intensity work, an evening workout schedule may be more beneficial. Several studies have shown that muscle power, reaction time, and aerobic capacity are somewhat higher in the evening compared to the morning. It may be because of a difference in metabolic energy systems being used, like higher core body temperature, and how you're fueled. If athletic performance is what you're training for, you might find better outcomes in the evening.
Does running on an empty stomach burn more calories?
Evening running has an advantage over a morning run because you've had much of the day to hydrate and eat at least two meals and perhaps a couple of snacks. Your body has carbohydrates stored to immediately fuel a workout. In the morning, your body has fasted overnight, and even if you eat or drink something light before your morning run (which you should do!), it may not be enough to fuel your entire workout depending on how long you go for. Once you've used most of your carbohydrate stores, your body can switch to a greater proportion of fat, but metabolizing fat for energy is slower than carbohydrate, and as a result, you would likely get tired sooner or be forced to run slower.
Some people report feeling better running in the morning on an empty stomach. If you're not used to it, eating or drinking shortly before a run may cause stomach ache during the workout. Some also believe running on empty 'kick starts' the metabolism to burn more fat the rest of the day, which they believe will aid weight loss. However, because using stored fat for energy is comparatively slower, you may not be running your best if you've used up most of your carbohydrate stores. You'll actually burn fewer calories during your run, and you'll likely reach the point of fatigue much faster than if you ate or drank something small beforehand!
Studies also suggest that EPOC, post-exercise oxygen consumption (the higher metabolism that follows exercise compared to rest), is significantly less if you run in a fasted state vs a fueled state. In other words, the metabolic boost you get after your run is lower and burns fewer calories if you run on an empty stomach than if you eat or drink something before you run.
You can train your stomach to handle a small, easily digestible snack or carbohydrate-based beverage before a run, but it takes time and consistency for your body to adjust. You may have to wake up a little earlier to eat or drink something light (with at least 15-30 grams of easily digested carbohydrates) and allow time for digestion before your morning run, but the metabolic benefits of doing so are far greater than trying to go for a run on an empty stomach.
How running can get rid of stress and anxiety
For some, morning runs can pump up the energy for the rest of the day and make them feel more awake – it might even be just as good as a cup of coffee to help them be alert. Then there are those who rely on running as a welcome stress reliever at the end of a long day, and might be just what you need to re-center and re-focus before the next working day. Running can be a kind of meditation for you, allowing the mind and body to decompress. Make sure to notice how you feel during and after your run.
When is the best time of day to go for a run?
Exercising late in the day can affect the sleep cycle, either positively or negatively. Some people find it harder to get to sleep when they run in the evenings because of the adrenaline and endorphin boost, whereas others don't notice a difference at all. While on the other hand, some find that an evening run can actually help them go to sleep better than a morning run, whereas others feel that morning runs help them tire more easily at night. The response seems to be very individualized and may require some trial and error to find out how your body responds.
Just as exercise can affect your sleep cycles, the body's circadian rhythms (which are dictated by the rise and fall of various hormones throughout the day) can also affect how well you run at certain times of the day. An interesting study by Facer-Childs classified test subjects into three different groups: early (early risers), intermediate, and late (night owls). They found that the early risers performed their best in cardiovascular endurance tests around noon, the intermediate group peaked around 4:00pm and the night owls around 7:30pm. Therefore it may be beneficial to schedule your runs on whether you’re an early riser or a night owl!
For some, morning vs evening running is not so much a choice but rather what family or work obligations may allow. The good news is that even if you have to run at a less-than-ideal time, your body does an excellent job at adapting to a schedule – as long as you're consistent. This is especially important if you run races or marathons or are training for a specific sport. If your races are typically in the morning, you should run in the morning so your body learns to be its most efficient at that time. Similarly, if you run track and field or play in sports that are late afternoon or evening, you may want to schedule your runs around the same time of day so your body can adapt.
What to wear when running in the morning vs evening
In terms of safety, some experts propose you are less prone to injury in the evening since your body temperature is higher and the joints and connective tissue are looser than when you've recently rolled out of bed. Also, tripping hazards or falling on uneven surfaces may be greater after sunset. With more cars on the road in the evening than in the morning, be sure to stay safe by wearing light-colored reflective clothing and even consider carrying a small flashlight.
If you prefer to run in the morning, a longer, more thorough warm-up can help reduce the risk of injury. Extended warm-ups help improve oxygen delivery since blood vessels tend to be more constricted in the mornings – wearing compression socks can help support circulation.
Listen to your body to know when you should go running
As you can see, there are many factors to consider in deciding whether you should go running in the morning or in the evening. Everyone is different – lifestyle, schedule, family, work, climate, neighborhood conditions, safety, and individual preferences vary person to person. It may take some time to figure out and require some trial and error. Once you have it worked out, you'll be more likely to stick with your routine and get the most out of your runs!
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