If you’ve started running recently, you have most likely been faced with the difficult decision of when should you run in the day. Do you get up early before work and battle it out, or wait for the noon, afternoon, or evening when your body is naturally warmer, more flexed, and better prepared for the efforts? Well, there are advantages and disadvantages of each phase of the day and exercising in it. While your schedule is the most important factor here, there are certainly a few other things you need to consider.
Before you figure out when is the ideal time for you to run, you need to ask yourself one very important question…
What are your goals?
Generally, there are three main reasons one might go out for a run. Those are:
- Interval training or performance boost
- Performance maintenance
- Recovery runs in your rest days
In order to boost your performance, midday runs are the best. Your body’s physical potential is at its peak around noon since you aren’t really tired from your daily activities (yet) and your energy supplies are filled well. This is the time when you can push the hardest and expect the best results for high-performance goals.
If you want to maintain the current performance your body has, you can pretty much run at any given moment. Granted, those runs might be a bit more psychologically challenging in the morning but, once again, any time of the day will do the job if you just want to keep your current progress. Warming up is essential to these runs no matter the time and place.
In order to recover your body from previously hard runs or other intense workouts, I suggest working out or running in the evening. This is when your mind needs a little extra boost but your body will have its highest average temperature, meaning all the muscles and joints will be relaxed and ready for a slow run to reset your systems.
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While getting up earlier for a run can sometimes feel really (and I mean really…) hard, nothing beats the jolt of energy you get at the end of of a morning run. Apart from it being a great motivation and mood booster, it also sets your body up for a productive day. In other words, there are few better ways to start your day than a run in the chilly morning weather.
I am well-aware those can sometimes be almost impossible for people working on really early shifts or who have long commutes, but there is still the option of doing a morning run on your day off, just to reap some of the benefits. Speaking of benefits…
Morning run benefits
Running, in general, helps your body jump start its metabolism and raise the overall oxygen concentration in your cardiovascular system and surrounding tissues. The faster the metabolism gets going, the more calories you will burn throughout your day. The higher the oxygen concentrations in your blood, the faster you will breathe. This will allow you to really open up your lungs and get more training with fewer efforts.
Another advantage, especially for those who live in warmer climates, is that mornings are usually chill and misty, as opposed to the hot afternoons. Moreover, the air quality is the best in the early morning right before everyone starts going to work, especially in the big cities.
One of the most obvious drawbacks of morning runs is that you will have to get up an hour earlier. No matter what anyone tells you, nobody likes waking up earlier, especially on a weekday. Still, if you want to skip the morning coffee, a 30-60 minutes run is more than enough to do the job energy-wise. However, your muscles will be colder and tenser and you will need a longer warm-up period as opposed to running in other parts of the day.
One of the best ways to look at your body’s physiology early in the morning is to imagine that you are a car that has stayed in its garage overnight and now has to start up in the cold morning weather. The same way you don’t want to start off your car and redline it, you also don’t want to get up and start running immediately. Wake up slowly, stretch, drink 300-400 millilitres of water and then start your run slowly in order to give your muscles some time to warm up.
Pro Tip: Mix your mineral water with salt (preferably Himalayan pink salt) and half a squeezed lemon for a nutrient and mineral-rich drink at the start of your day.
Eating isn’t mandatory before the run, although something sweet might give your body a few extra calories to work with if the run is longer than usual. After you finish working out and go through your cool-down process, it will be a good time for your breakfast. Fat and protein-rich breakfasts are going to give your body the needed building blocks to recover from the run and will also keep your energy levels higher throughout the day without the sudden blood sugar spikes and drops carbohydrates lead to.
Running at Noon
Lunch-time runs are when you are at your peak performance capabilities. It is also when most people run, assuming they have the time for it. While running right after you’ve had your lunch can be strenuous, these runs are usually the ones that allow you to exercise at your highest efforts and improve your anaerobic performance. If you decide to run before you eat your lunch, though, you will reap all the benefits from those runs removing one of the biggest disadvantages. That is what I generally recommend as the post-run lunch can be great for the body and it will have the capacity to devote its full metabolic attention to that.
When aiming for that peak performance, you will need a good waterproof fitness tracker to give you your heart rate data. That will allow you to see in which HR zone you are currently training. For high-intensity workouts, I suggest sticking to Zones 3, 4, and 5, as that will increase your body’s anaerobic capabilities and will allow you to push yourself harder and harder as time goes on. Now, let’s check out some of the major benefits that noon runs give you…
Noon is the time of the day when you can train your speed, endurance, and anaerobic capabilities. No other run will see your body that well prepared to be pushed to its limits. While evening runs also offer a similar feeling of strength and readiness, it is inadvisable to go all-in a few hours before you go to bed and try to fall asleep.
Your body is usually also well-supplied with water and nutrients around lunch, especially if you had a late breakfast 3-4 hours prior to that. This will allow the physical strain from the workout to feel less intense and you will also recover better before the day ends.
Noon runs are also a good way to break the habit and take a short break from working if your work allows it. Exercising is shown to improve productivity, especially in the second half of your work day.
As I mentioned earlier, the major drawback of these runs is that running after you had your lunch can be hard and you will feel heavy. Moreover, your body will have most of its blood directed to your gastrointestinal tract and won’t be able to fully take care of the muscles’ metabolic needs.
Another disadvantage is that most people won’t have the time to workout during noon or even the afternoon mainly due to their jobs not allowing it. If you are working from home, however, this is by far your best option to push yourself hard.
Noon is also the warmest part of the day, meaning you will have to drink more fluids to not overheat and might even have to wear fewer clothes to allow your body to cool itself properly, which isn’t ideal for people who like to run with their hoodie.
After your workout is finished and you eat a good post-workout lunch, you might also experience a blood sugar spike and then drop which can make you sleepy later in the afternoon, especially if your workout was harder than normal.
Evening and Night Runs
If you are a night-person than you are probably also considering doing your runs during the night, or at best – in the evening. Late runs have a lot of advantages to them compared to running in other times of the day. They are also far easier on your muscles and joints since, on average, our body temperatures are at their highest in the afternoon and remain so in the early evening. While we generally cool down during the rest hours of the night, if your schedule is more night-oriented then you’d have your temperature peaks later in the evening, when it will be excellent to go for a run.
Now, I know you might be thinking that going for a run after a long day working or studying can feel like yet another task you have to go through in order to finish with your day. While that is partially correct, it also fails to acknowledge something – running will make you relax mentally and will improve your mood, no matter the type of day you just had.
This is why I recommend having a moderate run in the evening. Not only you aren’t at the peak of your powers by the time the evening comes, but you will also want to sleep in a few hours, meaning you don’t have to get too overexcited. Those runs are also great for full-body recovery and can allow your muscles to rest properly the night after a moderate jog. In other words, if you want to run in your rest days, do it in the evening.
If you decide to take a late recovery run, there are also some things you need to take into consideration:
- Don’t wear too many dark or black clothes as you will be hard to spot, especially if you run on the streets.
- Don’t push yourself too hard. Evening runs are meant to help you recover better, not take your performance to the next level.
- Wear reflective bands or other types of reflective clothing
- Don’t forget to properly cool-down after your run. That will help your body transition into its calm state needed for sleep later
Running in the evening is the best way to relax after a day full of tasks you had to go through. Endurance runs are the most recommended type of runs in the evening that will take you through a long session of self-reflection and slow-paced muscle oxygenation.
Another benefit is that you don’t have to have a long warm-up session similar to the one in the morning. Your body will still be at the end of its performance period so you can just briefly warm up and get to your desired pace right after that.
Another recently discovered benefit of evening and night runs is that they boost your night-time fat-burning metabolic rates.
As I mentioned, pushing yourself a tad too hard might result in you being restless in your sleep or worse – not being able to fall asleep. The energizing effect of an endurance run can play a major role in your evening energy dynamics, so make sure you schedule your rule at least a few hours before your usual bedtime.
So, when should you run? Depending on your goals, there are a lot of options and as many as 24 hours in the day to pick from. People who don’t struggle to wake up early would benefit greatly from a morning run, while night birds might like going on a long jog along with the sunset. As one great athlete once said, “Training in the morning is for your mind, while training in the afternoon is for your body”.