Building muscle takes time, energy, and dedication, and your diet must be on point, too. Even then, unless you are very genetically blessed, increasing muscle size is a slow and laborious process.
Most people are lucky if they gain a pound of muscle per month.
Because of this, it makes sense to try and make your workouts as effective and efficient as possible. Supplements like creatine and pre-workout can help, and following a hypertrophy-specific training program is obviously a must.
There may also be an optimal time to work out for muscle growth. We investigate how your workout time may affect your muscle-building gains.
Early Morning Workouts for Muscle Growth
Many exercisers like to start their day with a workout, and numerous famous bodybuilders favor morning training, including the Austrian Oak Arnold Schwarzenegger, who still prefers his workouts bright and early.
Training early in the morning offers several advantages and benefits, including:
- You make training your priority, getting it done before other tasks can disrupt your day.
- Gyms are often quieter first thing in the morning.
- It takes less time to get to the gym as the roads are not as busy.
- Some people feel more energetic early in the morning.
- Early-morning exercisers tend to be more consistent.
- Morning workouts leave you free to enjoy the rest of your day.
- There are more opportunities for post-workout meals.
- You can still train later in the day if you miss your morning workout.
However, there are downsides to early morning workouts, too:
- It may take you longer to warm up.
- You may not feel as strong or energetic.
- Blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels may be lower than usual.
- Serum testosterone levels tend to be lower first thing in the morning (1).
- A good-sized pre-workout meal may be impractical.
- Some exercisers are not “morning people” and are reluctant to get up early.
- You’ll need to go to bed early to ensure that you get sufficient sleep.
- Developing an early-morning workout habit is not always easy.
But what does the science say about early morning training for muscle building? The answer is not clear-cut, as you can make gains no matter what time of day you train.
That said, some studies suggest that early morning workouts may not be ideal for strength and hypertrophy gains. For example, a 2016 study from Finland determined that strength and endurance training produced better results when performed in the evening and not in the morning (2).
This result was mirrored by an earlier study that found muscle strength and power tended to be lower during early morning workouts (3). However, that same study also suggested that ingesting caffeine could mitigate many of the downsides of early morning training.
Working Out Later in The Day for Muscle Growth
Not a morning person? That’s okay! Many people find the idea of training shortly after waking a nauseating prospect. They’re too sleepy, stiff, and tired to get a good workout. The good news is that there are plenty of benefits to working out later in the day:
- Most people feel warmer and more awake.
- Strength/power levels tend to be marginally higher (4).
- You’ll have eaten several pre-workout meals.
- You won’t feel rushed to complete your workout before heading to work or school.
- You can go home and relax once your workout is finished.
- Your evening meal will also be your post-workout meal.
- Gyms tend to more vibrant and energized later in the day.
Of course, there are disadvantages to training later in the day, too:
- You may feel tired after a day at school or work.
- The gym will be busier, which may disrupt your workout.
- The tasks of the day may delay or even prevent you from working out.
- There are fewer opportunities to catch up on missed workouts.
- Fewer opportunities for post-workout meals.
- Training at night can disrupt your sleep.
- Training in the evening may mean saying “no” to social engagements.
- There are more demands on your time, so you may be more tempted to skip your evening workout, e.g., family dinners, date nights, etc.
Unsurprisingly, the same studies that suggest early morning workouts are less favorable for building muscle and strength also support training later in the day. Most studies recommend a training window of 4 to 8PM.
AM vs. PM Workouts for Muscle Growth
So, while some studies do support PM vs. AM training for muscle growth, evidence also supports morning training. Go to any gym at 6 AM, and you’ll see people who have achieved outstanding results by working out early.
And don’t forget actor Mark Wahlberg and his famous 4 AM workouts! Despite being in his 50s, Wahlberg is in amazing shape and does all of his training at the “wrong” time.
So why do some people get on so well with early morning workouts while others cannot lift a weight before 4 PM?
It’s probably because of something called your chronotype, which is the scientific term for whether you are a morning or an evening person. In fact, studies suggest that some people are genetically programmed to respond well to morning workouts (5). Conversely, some people come awake later in the day and are better suited to PM workouts.
So, if early morning workouts ARE less effective than training later in the day, any differences are marginal. In fact, a 2019 meta-analysis comparing the results of 11 training time studies revealed no discernable difference between morning and evening workouts (6).
In all likelihood, the best time to train for muscle growth is the time that suits you. If early morning workouts feel good and fit your schedule, then stick with them. In contrast, if you come alive later in the day and feel stronger in the afternoon and early evening, then that is the time to train.
How do you know if you are an AM or PM person? Try working out at different times of the day and see which you prefer!
However, it’s worth noting that you can acclimate yourself to working out at almost any time of the day (7). It’ll take a few weeks, but you can turn an evening workout habit into a morning one or vice versa. It seems that your chronotype is not set in stone, and it is actually a trainable characteristic.
So, if you are forced to train at a time that doesn’t feel natural, stick with it, and you’ll eventually get used to it. Any decline in performance will gradually vanish, and the time of day won’t affect your training results.
Best Time to Work Out – FAQs
Do you have questions about the best time to work out for muscle growth? That’s okay because we’ve got the answers!
1. So, what IS the best time to work out for muscle growth?
While some studies indicate that training later in the day is better for muscle growth, others suggest that workout timing doesn’t really matter. Instead, it’s more of a personal choice and depends on whether you are a morning person or an evening person, which is called your chronotype.
If you are the sort of person who wakes up feeling full of energy and ready for action, you will probably do well with AM workouts. But, if you feel sluggish in the morning and it takes you several hours to feel your best, PM workouts will probably suit you better.
However, it’s worth noting that you can train yourself to become a morning or evening person simply by pushing yourself through workouts at the “wrong” time. Gradually, you’ll get used to training at a different time of day.
So, ultimately, the best time of day to work out for muscle growth is a) when you feel best and b) whenever you can train reliably and consistently. The so-called right time could be the wrong time if you cannot stick to it.
2. What should I eat before an early morning workout?
One of the main benefits of training later in the day is you can eat several times before you hit the gym. This ensures your muscle glycogen levels are maxed out, so you can train as hard and as long as you want to.
Unless you get up several hours before your workout, this is not possible with early morning workouts.
One way around this is to consume your pre-training meal the night before. Just make sure you eat a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and you’ll be good to go.
You can then top up your energy with a fast-acting snack shortly after rising, such as a sports drink, energy bar, or energy gel. Alternatively, a small bowl of breakfast cereal or a ripe banana will suffice.
You can also ingest some caffeine which, studies suggest, can boost your energy during early-morning workouts (3) and may even reset your circadian rhythm, helping you to become more of a morning person.
3. Do early morning workouts burn more fat?
Studies suggest you may burn more fat when you do cardio on an empty stomach, i.e., fasted (8). However, if training on empty reduces your workout duration or intensity, this benefit is lost.
That said, strength training uses more glycogen than fat, so lifting weights while fasted probably won’t help you burn more fat. In fact, it could impair your performance, making your workout less effective for building muscle and strength.
By all means, give fasted strength training a try, but if you are serious about building muscle, you’ll probably have a better workout with some fuel in the tank.
4. Are early morning workouts safe?
Early morning workouts are perfectly safe, provided you take a few small precautions. For example, after sleeping for the night, your spine is slightly elongated and relaxed. As such, you should warm up thoroughly before loading it, i.e., doing heavy squats or deadlifts.
Also, your blood glucose may be a little lower than usual, which could lead to symptoms of mild hypoglycemia, e.g., feeling weak, dizzy, or nauseous. You could also be slightly dehydrated. These problems can be avoided by drinking plenty of water before and during your workout and having a fast-acting high-carb snack before you hit the gym.
If you are unused to early morning workouts, ease yourself in by reducing exercise intensity and duration for your first few training sessions. You can work harder and longer as your body gets used to your new routine.
5. Is working out at different times on different days okay?
While a consistent workout schedule is usually easier to maintain, it is not always possible. For example, working rotating shifts, family commitments, or school projects may mean you have to train early some days and later on others.
If this is the case, you’ll have to roll with the punches and make the best of your situation. However, you should avoid doing an intense training session one night and another tough workout the following morning. This might be too much to recover from, especially if you are sleep-deprived.
Ultimately, even a less-than-perfect training schedule will work if you stick to it and is preferable to missing workouts.
Many exercisers are guilty of majoring in the minors. In other words, they spend too much time worrying about barely relevant details while ignoring the big picture. Some spend so long comparing and researching their workout and diet options that they don’t have any time left to go to the gym!
So, while some studies may suggest that training later in the day can improve your hypertrophic results, the benefits are marginal. Interestingly, other studies even indicate that there is no difference between AM and PM training.
With that in mind, you should stop worrying about the benefits and drawbacks of AM vs. PM training and work out at the time that suits you. For some, morning workouts are best, while others will prefer to train later in the day.
What matters most is that you work out hard and often. After all, that’s what builds bigger, stronger muscles.
- Crawford ED, Poage W, Nyhuis A, Price DA, Dowsett SA, Gelwicks S, Muram D. Measurement of testosterone: how important is a morning blood draw? Curr Med Res Opin. 2015;31(10):1911-4. doi: 10.1185/03007995.2015.1082994. Epub 2015 Sep 11. PMID: 26360789. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26360789/
- Küüsmaa M, Schumann M, Sedliak M, Kraemer WJ, Newton RU, Malinen JP, Nyman K, Häkkinen A, Häkkinen K. Effects of morning versus evening combined strength and endurance training on physical performance, muscle hypertrophy, and serum hormone concentrations. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016 Dec;41(12):1285-1294. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2016-0271. PMID: 27863207. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27863207/
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- Mirizio GG, Nunes RSM, Vargas DA, Foster C, Vieira E. Time-of-Day Effects on Short-Duration Maximal Exercise Performance. Sci Rep. 2020 Jun 11;10(1):9485. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-66342-w. PMID: 32528038; PMCID: PMC7289891. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32528038/
- Vitale JA, Weydahl A. Chronotype, Physical Activity, and Sport Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. 2017 Sep;47(9):1859-1868. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0741-z. PMID: 28493061. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28493061/
- Grgic J et al. The effects of time of day-specific resistance training on adaptations in skeletal muscle hypertrophy and muscle strength: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Chronobiol Int. 2019 Apr;36(4):449-460. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30704301/
- Pengelly M, Elsworthy N, Guy J, Scanlan A, Lastella M. Player Chronotype Does Not Affect In-Game Performance during the Evening (>18:00 h) in Professional Male Basketball Players. Clocks Sleep. 2021 Nov 29;3(4):615-623. doi: 10.3390/clockssleep3040044. PMID: 34940023; PMCID: PMC8700237. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8700237/
- Aird TP, Davies RW, Carson BP. Effects of fasted vs. fed-state exercise on performance and post-exercise metabolism: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2018 May;28(5):1476-1493. doi: 10.1111/sms.13054. Epub 2018 Feb 23. PMID: 29315892. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29315892/