One of the most common questions serious gym goers try to answer is “when is the best time of day to do cardio?” The usual response is “in the morning”, as this is when it’s supposed to be best for burning fat. However, this might not necessarily be true for a few reasons. In fact, there might not really even be a best time of day to do cardio at all. The truth is it comes down to the individual.
It’s long been thought that if you want to burn the most fat, the best time of day to do cardio is first thing in the morning – preferably right after you get up. There are a few studies that sort of support this, including one published in the British Journal of Nutrition which found that cardio done on an empty stomach burned 20% more fat than cardio done when a meal has been consume prior.
While this might be true, there is a problem with this line of thinking (hence the “sort of” above). The fat loss benefits found in the aforementioned study weren’t because the cardio was done in the morning. They were found because the cardio was done in a fasted state after study participants hadn’t eaten for several hours. This means it was the empty stomach that was the deciding factor – not the time of day.
As a result, you could easily benefit from these same results no matter when you do your cardio, as long as it was in a fasted state. For instance, you could do your cardio on your lunch break, and as long as you didn’t eat breakfast or a morning snack, then you’d be fine.
Similarly, if you practice the type of intermittent fasting that doesn’t have you eating until night-time, cardio done in the early evening could still see comparable results. Taking all this into account, there might not really be a best time of day to do cardio. Instead, you should do it when you know you’ll have an empty stomach. It just so happens that in the morning is when most people are fasted as they’ve not eaten all night whilst sleeping.
Another reason morning isn’t always the best time of day to do cardio is that not everyone’s morning is at the same time. For instance, for the usual person who sleeps at night and works / goes to school during the day, 5:00-7:00am would be considered “morning”.
However, if you work at night and don’t get off until 6:00am, then 5:00-7:00am is actually more like your “evening” in that it’s at the end of your waking day. If you did cardio after you got off, presuming you had a normal diet schedule of 3 meals/day, your cardio results wouldn’t be any different than anyone else who stopped at the gym to do cardio on their way home from work. Whatever time the clock says it is wouldn’t make any difference.
While first thing in the morning (provided that you have a “normal” type schedule) might be considered the best time of day to do cardio, that doesn’t mean you’ll actually do it. If you’ve never been a “morning person”your whole life, and are perpetually hitting the snooze button, then forcing yourself to get up an extra 40-60 minutes earlier might not get you that far.
On the other hand, if doing cardio on your lunch break is something you can easily insert into your schedule, and do with regularity, then that’s what you should do. Sure, doing the cardio early might have burned more fat, but long-term consistency is always going to win out over short-term effectiveness.
This means if your lunchtime cardio session isn’t as “beneficial” as the early-morning routine, but you’re way more likely to stick to it a few times per week for the next several months, then that’s the one you should be doing. The midday workout might not burn as much fat in a single session, but the long-term adherence to the program will garner much better results in the long run.
In the end, there really isn’t a best time of day to do cardio. Studies show that doing cardio on an empty stomach can burn more fat, but what time it’s done during the day doesn’t really matter. Meanwhile, whenever you’re likely to be more consistent with your cardio – regardless of time or fasted state – is what’s really important. Find a time that you know you’ll actually do your cardio, then just do that.
Having said all this, the main benefit of cardio is to improve heart health and you’ll be able to push yourself harder without being in a fasted state. Unless you’re looking to burn fat quickly, it’s best to consider the long term benefits of cardio and lose weight gradually with a balanced diet and workout routine – here consistency is the key to success.
If you found this article helpful, read our write up on the best time of day to workout.