Among the long list of preferences and best practices runners love to argue about, none divides them more than whether running in the morning is better (or worse) for you than running at night. Morning runners staunchly believe it’s best to get out there first thing in the morning, before the day gets too busy to find the time. Those who run in the afternoon or evening, however, believe it’s the perfect way to let go of all the stress that’s built up over the course of the day.
Beyond personal preferences, though, what does the science say — should you lace up your running shoes at dawn(ish) or dusk(ish)?
According to Nicholas Rizzo, fitness research director for running shoe review site RunRepeat.com, the answer mostly depends on your reasons for running. “With our bodies being cold, stiff and lacking fuel from your ovenight fast, running in the morning is certainly not ideal if your primary concern is performance,” Rizzo explains. Speed aside, though, it does often kickstart your body’s natural energy levels — better than sluggishly chugging coffee might.
Another pro: “Research suggests morning runners outperform those who run at other times in regards to their ability to fall asleep and quality of sleep,” Rizzo says. So if you’ve had trouble sleeping, it’s worth trying out a morning run, especially since quality sleep is critical for recovery and improving your performance.
Of course, the potential benefits of a better sleep can all be for naught if you’re up all night in anticipation of having to get up early to run six miles. In that case, running in the afternoon could be better, particularly if your primary goal is weight loss. “Taking just 100 steps directly after your last meal of the day improves your metabolism and insulin resistance,” Rizzo explains. While morning runners espouse the benefits of hitting the road “rungry,” there’s no physiological benefits of doing so. “Saving your run for after dinner or your meal with the largest amount of carbohydrates could prove to be very helpful in your weight-loss efforts.”
But just as running in the morning increases blood flow and energy, a late-day run can do the same, which, obviously, makes it harder to fall asleep.
So what have we learned here?
Clearly, both run times have their pros and cons, which is why researchers ultimately leave it up to the individual. In fact, a 2016 study suggests it might wholly depend on whether you’re a morning person or not. What matters most then is that you simply “develop a long-lasting habit where you consistently run at the same time,” Rizzo concludes. “Even if running at one time was technically ‘better’ than another, the benefits cannot compare to running on a consistent basis.”