Time of Day Impacts Exercise and Athletic Performance, Study Finds


New research out of the UK’s University of Birmingham points to whether or not an athlete will perform best actually depends on the time of the day the physical activity occurs. Exercise, it seems, is not worth jumping out of bed for at the crack of dawn.

According to the study, published in the recent issue of the journal Current Biology, a body’s internal clock—circadian rhythms—can strongly dictate the quality of one’s performance ability.

The researchers divided a small group of athletes into categories based on when they typically woke: “early risers tended to wake up, on average, around 7 a.m. on weekdays and 7:30 on weekends; intermediate risers got up about 8 on weekdays and 9:10 on weekends; and the late risers awoke about 9:30 on weekdays and 11 on weekends,” the New York Times reported.

“The early risers had their peak performances at midday, the intermediate group did best in the afternoon and the late risers did best in the evening. Everyone did the worst at 7 a.m.”

Of course, not all of us have the luxury of working out when it’s best for our internal clocks, and professional athletes have no say in competition start times at all. But according to the Times, circadian clocks can be reset over time, particularly if preparing for a race or sporting event that occurs outside of an athlete’s ideal time frame.

Intuitively, most athletes know which time of day they feel their strongest and most agile, and it may not be off the mark from the study’s findings. It seems that a good six hours or so after waking is the ideal time for a workout. So if you’re training for a marathon that’s starting at 8 am, the earlier you wake and train, the better.

The study’s results could also be good news for athletes who often rely on stimulants and even illegal performance-enhancing drugs to gain an edge in competitions; simply readjusting one’s internal clock may have significant benefits in training and performance.

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