What Is the Best Time of Day to Run?
Written By: SportsShoes
If you are a regular runner, it’s likely that you’ll have a favourite time of day to go running. Some of us are naturally early risers and swear by an early morning run to kick start the day ahead, others prefer to work off the stresses of the day by pounding the pavements in the late evening.
But is there a best time of day to run for optimal results? We take a look at pros and cons.
The psychological effects of morning running are huge. Getting your run in first thing is a massively positive way to start the day. Not only are you starting your day with exercise, motivating yourself to get out of bed and out of the door early builds mental strength and discipline. Running in the morning can often be an easier way to fit in your run too, before life commitments can get in the way.
In the summer especially, the cooler temperatures in the morning allows for a more comfortable run and the quieter roads and streets are easier to navigate. There’s also a body of evidence that suggests that running on an empty stomach (training in a “fasted state”) can help boost weight loss by teaching the body to burn fat more effectively.
All of that said, physiologically speaking, the mornings are not optimal for running. Our body temperature is low, our muscles are stiff and all this makes us more likely to pick up and injury unless we are warming up properly. Not only this but our lung function is poor early in the morning and when coupled with low glycogen levels, running will generally feel harder than later in the day.
Morning runs are best for:
- Weight loss
- Long, slow runs (with small pre-run snack for fuel when running long)
- A positive start to the day
- Getting your run in before life commitments get in the way
- Avoiding overheating on very hot days
More often than not, the lunchtime run is a matter of convenience, but fitting your run into your lunchbreak has some great benefits too. Lacing up our running shoes at midday gives us a mental break and time to properly switch off from the stresses of the morning. Research shows that those who return to their desks after physical activity over lunch feel more mentally alert and focused for the rest of the afternoon as well as feeling more able to cope with professional challenges and problem solving.
Restraints on time also tend to make lunchtime runs more efficient and focused and perhaps most importantly, leaves you your mornings and evenings free for time with family and other commitments.
Even at midday we still haven’t reached our peak physiological state for optimal running performance. You’ll still need to do a thorough warm up and running at this time will feel harder than in the evenings. In the summer this also means running during the hottest time of day, potentially leading to overheating and a reduction in performance (check out our guide on running in summer). There are also practical matters to consider like showering and re-fuelling post run as well making sure to bring all of your kit to work.
Lunchtime runs are best for:
- Getting some daylight running in winter
- Fitting in running alongside busy lifestyles
- Shorter, more focused runs
- Giving afternoons a mental boost
You’ve now reached your peak physical state for running. In the evening body temperature rises, our muscles are supple, lung function is at its best and we’re fuelled up and ready to go. Put simply, running in the evenings feels easier and that translates into optimum performance, especially for faster paced running. That makes the evenings better for key, higher intensity sessions like intervals and tempo runs. In the evenings there are also fewer time constraints and that means running as long or as hard as you want to. Running in the evenings is a great way to release stress and work out mental tensions or frustrations from your day too, promoting a calmer and more tranquil state of mind.
You’re in peak condition for running, but your battle here is a mental one. After a long day at work, we’re generally tired and ready to relax. Often the last thing we feel like doing is heading out for a run. Finding the motivation to run in the evenings can be tough and that can be compounded by family, work and other commitments that are more likely to present an obstacle to running in the evenings, which might mean you can’t fit a run in at all.
Further, if you run too late in the evening, elevated body temperature and metabolism can interfere with sleep, so it’s important not to run too close to bedtime.
Evening runs are best for:
- Optimum performance
- Fast paced sessions
- Reduced risk of injury
- Relieving stress
The Best Time of Day to Run
While running at different times of day has specific benefits and negatives, it’s important to recognise that the right time of day is whatever works best for you. Using these benefits can work as a guide, but the most important thing is that you do run. So, if morning sunrises are what motivates you to lace up those running shoes, run in the mornings and likewise if running at lunchtime or the evenings work best for you then run then. Consistent and regular running is what benefits our performance the most – whatever the time of day.