This post comes in response to a question we had from one of our readers. He asked “Why can I lift more when I train in the evening, as opposed to early morning training?” First of all, everyone is a little different in terms of what works for them and what they prefer. There is not always a wrong or right when it comes to training. Often the answer lies between what works and what allows you to be consistent. However, there may be some physiological reasons which could answer why someone may perform better later in the day than in the morning. Circadian rhythms which are often overlooked when it comes to health and performance science but they are very real. These are natural rhythms of life which we constantly are subject to. The seasons and solar cycle are two such examples which have a direct impact on our lifestyle and health. Our body has a natural flow of hormones and neurotransmitters which are directly influenced by our environment. When we sleep our body goes into standby mode allowing us to rest and recover. When we awake there is a cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters that prepare us to go about our daily business.
This all starts with the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) located within the hypothalmus a very active part of the brain, which is essentially the control centre for our endocrine system. The SCN is stimulated by sunlight through our eyes and triggers our start up switch on a daily basis. Other hormones such as cortisol, testosterone, and human growth hormone follow similar patterns stimulated and regulated by a number of other factors. The timing and magnitude of these chemical patterns will vary slightly from one individual to another. These rhythms can therefore dictate when we are primed for certain actions. One of these rhythms is our body temperature. We tend on a consistent basis to have a daily peak in the afternoon. This is provided we do not influence it through exercise etc. Increased body temperature optimises muscle contractile function and a range of other things that can improve our strength performance.
In addition to these natural rhythms we have lifestyle influences. We know that there are nutritional differences from morning to evening. When we wake, we are in a fasted state and usually the complete opposite in the evening. The ingestion of certain food types can dramatically alter mood state and energy levels. We also have decreased flexibility as a result of lying relatively stationary for a long period. Sleep inertia is also an influence. This is that sleepy, clumsy mood you feel when you awake in the morning and it takes time to recover from. These are all factors which not only impact performance but also mood and motivational state. These exclusive of other factors, can be significant.
Some people are relatively unaffected by these things, while others may feel them dramatically. We are creatures of habit and sometimes we simply become used to doing things in a certain way. When we break routine our mood can reflect it. Regardless of these factors an individual may feel more prepared to train in the morning and see no real difference to training in the evening. It all comes down to the individual. In terms of management of an athletes performance we should consider this issue and take it into consideration for planning. Training should ideally be scheduled at approximately the same time of day as competition. Over time the athlete will learn to manage themselves in such a way that they can perform optimally come competition time.
I hope I managed to answer the question sufficiently!