Early morning or late night running – Which is best for you?

Written by Kevin Jones

If you’re a runner, you probably see your training programme as a personal thing, and it should be. After all, you don’t run for anyone but yourself. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself asking certain questions about your own running regimen. For example, runners want to get the most benefit for their running “buck”, so to speak. While they enjoy their workouts, they also want to get as much as they can out of every mile. This leaves many avid runners asking the same question: When is the best time of day for a run? Is it better to go first thing in the morning, or later on at night?

While experienced runners and experts alike may prefer one time of day to the other, there is actually evidence to support the pros and cons of both. The time you choose to run is — of course — entirely up to you. Your choice may depend on your schedule, along with which benefits you think are most important to you.

The Early Riser

Both runners and non-runners often admire those 5am warriors, who are out getting their miles in before most of us have even gotten out of bed. An exhilarating run is definitely a great way to start your day, but some evidence shows your body might not be ready for such heavy exertion so early in the morning. Some of the reasons cited are:

– Lower body temperature: Having just woken up from a long rest means that it takes a bit longer for muscles to get warmed up, which may increase your chances of injury. To mitigate this risk, warm up slowly and take your time getting started.

– Less sleep: Some studies show that people who get up earlier don’t necessarily go to bed earlier. And as you know, insufficient sleep can put a damper on your attitude and brain power. If you’re getting up to go running before work, go to bed earlier to make up the difference. It just makes sense, doesn’t it?

– Nutritional shortage: Unless you raided the refrigerator in the middle of the night, your body hasn’t been fed in quite a while. Not everyone wants to run on a full stomach, but it might be a good idea to eat a little something for energy, such as a banana and/or yogurt, before you go out.

These drawbacks may be outweighed by the benefits of an early morning run. For example:

+ A great kick-starter: Running first thing in the morning is a great way to kick-start your metabolism for many hours after your workout. Plus, there’s nothing like some early-morning exertion to set your mood for the rest of the day.

+ Mental focus: Many runners report an increased ability to focus on work or other tasks after a morning run. Maybe it’s the extra oxygen you’ve fed your mind and body with, or maybe it’s down to the attitude. Either way, it works for a lot of people.

+ Getting it done: Running inspires a great sense of accomplishment any time of day, but especially if you can get it in before other things get in the way. This may help you be more consistent. And hey, running before work leaves your nights free for leisure. Who couldn’t use more of that?

The Night Owl

You’ve seen them; those stalwart late-night  runners who put in a full day at work, have dinner, and probably take care of some household chores — then go running. Maybe you wonder why they aren’t too tired. Like anything else, running late at night has its pros and cons.

– Consistency: One of the cons to running at night is that life can get in the way. Things have a way of popping up and preventing you from getting out on a consistent basis. And after a long day of work, are you sure you’ll feel like running?

– Social life: One of the things that can get in the way of your nighttime run is your social life. Or is it the other way around? If you’re going to run at night, be sure you’re willing to give up going out with friends or doing other things you might want to do after work.

– Being too pumped: Running at night affects everyone differently. For some, they may be too pumped up after a run to get to bed at a decent hour. Their metabolism simply might be too high. For others, nighttime running depletes their stored energy enough that it prepares them for a good night’s sleep. The only way to find out which applies to you is to give it a try.

Along with the possible negatives, there are also a lot of potential benefits to a late-night run. For instance:

+ Time on your side: Many runners feel too rushed in the morning to complete a satisfactory run. Some feel like they can’t get in as many miles, because they’re afraid of being late for work. Running at night leaves a lot of people more relaxed and ready to enjoy the experience.

+ You’re already warm: Well, sort of. You’ve hopefully been active for at least part of the day, so your muscles are already somewhat pliable. This means you likely won’t need as much time to get warm before you start running. It could save you a little time and make injury less likely.

+ Keep munchies at bay: If you go running at night, you’ll avoid sitting on the couch and likely reaching for a bag of chips to keep you company. You could argue that this is a win-win, since you get great exercise and eat less junk.

Some general advice

Running has been shown to increase positive mood and levels of happiness, so it’s good for you! No matter when you decide to run, keep safety in mind. Wear proper clothing, give yourself ample warm-up time, and stick with areas where you feel secure. And should you have any questions or concerns about your workout regimen and how it affects your health, talk to your doctor.

Kevin Jones is a writer and fitness consultant. He has helped hundreds of people become more fit through his individualized programs. Kevin’s writing clients have included ICON Fitness for NordicTrack, among others. You can follow Kevin Jones on Twitter.