Image Of A Woman On A Wooden Dock Lacing Up Her Shoes In The Early Morning So That She Gets The Benefits Of Working Out In The Morning

Benefits of Working Out in the Morning

BY Phil White

Your schedule dictates when you can work out, but are you missing substantial performance benefits if you train in the evening instead of the morning?

College and pro athletes and members of the military often don’t have a choice when they train. But for everyone else, you can usually fit your workouts around your schedule to some extent. Whether you’re already an early bird exerciser or are considering switching up some of your later sessions, let’s look at the benefits of working out in the morning.

Morning Exercise Benefits

Improved Cognitive Function

Research conducted by Dr. John Ratey, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has shown that morning movement increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This potent protein prompts the growth, maturation, and development of new brain cells. 

During an episode of the Barbell Shrugged podcast, Ratey described it as “the queen of all brain growth factors” and stated that “BDNF increases dramatically when you exercise. And it does that because when you’re exercising, when you’re moving, you are using more brain cells than in any other activity.” In his book Spark, Ratey revealed that kids who worked out in the morning before class improved their test scores by 17%, increased their attendance, and stabilized their mood. The same benefits could cross over into your own workdays if you get an earlier start to your training.  

Better Heart Health

Most studies that compare exercising at different times of day are small and focused on a specific subset of individuals. But one large population study bucked that trend. Gali Albalak from Leiden University Medical Centre in Holland reviewed data from the UK Biobank on 86,657 adults aged 42 to 78 who were free of cardiovascular disease and wore a fitness tracker for a week. They were then tracked for six to eight years. Albalak found that people whose peak physical activity came between 8:00 and 11:00 AM had the lowest risks of cardiovascular disease and stroke. 

“It is well established that exercise is good for heart health, and our study now indicates that morning activity seems to be most beneficial,” she said in a European Society of Cardiology press release. As this was an observational study with many possible variables, it’s unclear why early activity proved to be most beneficial for participants’ heart health, but it is still a promising sign that morning workouts might offer some cardioprotective benefits. 

Increased Fat Loss

Researchers from the University of Tsukuba asked participants to exercise at several different times throughout the day. They concluded that only those who did hour-long sessions at 50% of their VO2 max in the morning before breakfast increased their 24-hour fat oxidation rate. 

The study also showed that the morning exercise group burned more fat than subjects who did the same workout in the afternoon or evening. This could be because they hadn’t topped up their glycogen stores by eating, and so switched to fat burning to supply their bodies with fuel. So if you’re looking to alter your body composition, getting a couple of morning workouts in per week might get you closer to your goals.

Elevate Two-a-Day Performance and Stimulate Testosterone Production

For a long time, the peak of the growth hormone testosterone was thought to be in the morning, which is why many lifters decided to hit the weights early. Though subsequent research has now suggested that night owls’ hormone cycles lead to a later spike than for early birds, there is still evidence that morning exercise stimulates testosterone release for all chronotypes. For example, a study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that athletes who lifted weights in the morning increased testosterone production for the rest of the day. 

Perhaps even more interestingly, participants who did an early gym session also improved their afternoon performance in a speed test, upper and lower body lifts, and jumping. Those who sprinted in the morning were faster in the afternoon but didn’t experience the other power and strength benefits. The authors concluded that “performing morning strength training is associated with improved physical performance in the afternoon.” So if you’re going to be doing two-a-days, schedule your strength and speed sessions for the AM and then do your run, ride, or swim later on. 

Train Your Body for Early Race Times

A Chronobiology International study of South African cyclists, runners, and Ironman triathletes investigated whether competitors preferred training in the morning or evening. Over 60% of them chose the former. Commenting on this and other papers for SimpliFaster, Craig Pickering wondered whether morning types gravitate toward sports that require early training, if early workouts caused their chronotype to shift, or a bit of both. 

While training as a sprinter at the University of Bath in the UK, Pickering noticed that “many elite runners and cyclists started their training very early. This likely benefits them because their competitions tend to occur earlier in the day. Marathon races, for example, often have an early start and a morning chronotype would be ideal in this scenario, as it matches with training and competition.” So if you’re looking to compete in morning races, you might do well to time at least some of your training sessions for when you might be due at the start line, particularly if you’re more of a night owl who typically feels sluggish in the morning. 

Training later in the day isn’t inferior to doing so earlier, and the key to consistent progress is showing up regularly whenever you choose to work out. But if you want to set a positive pattern for early racing, boost your mental performance, enhance your cardiovascular health, start a two-a-day strong, or reduce body fat, then morning training might be something you want to try.  


Cook, C.J. et al. (2013, May 23). Morning based strength training improves afternoon physical performance in rugby union players. Retrieved from

European Society of Cardiology. (2022, November 14). What is the best time of day to exercise for heart health? [Press release]. Retrieved from 

Iwayama, K. et al. (2015, October 30). Exercise Increases 24-h Fat Oxidation Only When It Is Performed Before Breakfast. Retrieved from

Kunorozva, L. et al. (2012, October). Chronotype and PERIOD3 variable number tandem repeat polymorphism in individual sports athletes. Retrieved from 

Larson, D. (Host). (2020, October 21). Why Strength Training Makes You Smarter and the Brain Protein Responsible for it All (No. 514) [Audio podcast episode]. In Barbell Shrugged. Retrieved from 

Pickering, C. (2018, July 26). What Time of Day Is Best for Training Athletes?. Retrieved from 

Ratey, J.J. (2013). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little, Brown Spark.

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About Phil White
Phil White is an Emmy-nominated writer and the co-author of The 17 Hour Fast with Dr. Frank Merritt, Waterman 2.0 with Kelly Starrettand Unplugged with Andy Galpin and Brian Mackenzie. Learn more at and follow Phil on Instagram @philwhitebooks.

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