Although it's better to exercise than not, there are certain times when it's better to exercise if you're trying to burn fat and or build muscle. In a perfect world, you could exercise for 30 to 60 minutes first thing in the morning and control your caloric intake for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, things like making money and life get in the way of an ideal physical fitness routine. An important factor to remember is exercise increases your appetite 30 minutes after completion. Of course a workout is better than no workout for chronic disease prevention and heart health, but if you want to burn fat, lose weight, and/or build muscle, you must control your caloric intake in the hours following your workout.
Exercise when you will burn fat and build muscle.
When you wake up, glycogen levels are low so you will burn fat sooner into your session and testosterone levels are high so you will build more muscle according to Olympic swimmer and founder of Burn Fitness, Tom Williams, PhD. Of course, this is assuming you sleep during the night time hours. So, if you are able to exercise first thing after you wake up, this is step one.
Workout when you have time to complete your exercise.
If you have work in the morning and want to exercise beforehand, make sure you wake up early enough to exercise for 30 to 60 minutes. If you're in a rush, your workout won't be as effective. If you wake up late, maybe consider working out after work in order to complete your workout.
Workout when you can either eat within 30 minutes or sleep within a few hours after your workout.
Your appetite decreases in the 30 minutes following exercise and then increases, meaning you may eat more than you would had you not worked out and eaten within 30 minutes. So make sure to prep your meal or snack ahead of time so you can eat sooner than later to avoid over-compensating the calories you burn during your workout. The meal or snack should contain at least 7 grams of protein and at least 15 grams of carbohydrate. Protein is crucial to keep your stomach full for longer while carbohydrate prevents low blood sugar, helping you feel more satisfied in the hours following your workout. Because of the appetite increase 30 minutes after your workout, some may find it more effective to exercise at the end of their day and go to sleep shortly after; having ate a small meal, snack, or nothing at all.
If you have the option to experiment working out at different times during the day, do so to find out which routine is most effective for you. Morning, afternoon, evening, or night, exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, so find a time when you can exercise in a way that helps you reach your health goals.
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Jamie Yacoub, M.P.H., R.D. is a clinical dietitian with a Master's of Public Health in Nutrition, and expected Certified Diabetes Educator (C.D.E.) fall 2013. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in clinical nutrition from UC Davis after four years, during which time she participated in internships in several different nutrition environments including Kaiser Permanente and Women, Infants, & Children (W.I.C.). After graduating from UC Davis, she went on to study public health nutrition at Loma Linda University where she obtained her Master's of Public Health in Nutrition. Jamie completed the community nutrition portion of her dietetic internship as an intern for a Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition. She completed both the food service and clinical portions of her dietetic internship at a top 100 hospital in the nation, where she was hired as the only clinical dietitian shortly after. Jamie now works as an outpatient clinical dietitian and is an expert in Medical Nutrition Therapy (M.N.T.) using the Nutrition Care Process (N.C.P.) including past medical history and current laboratory values as a basis of nutrition assessment.