Posted On 01 Oct 2018
People often ask 'When is the best time to do cardio?' This is an extremely popular subject that is asked time and time again in the world of fitness and cardio. In this article we will discuss when the best time to do cardio is and explain the pros and cons of each one.
Cardio without doubt is an important part of any training routine whether you're training for fitness or whether you're training for muscle and size. Cardio will strengthen your heart and lungs, help prevent a number of heart problems and diseases, strengthen your leg muscles and increase endurance levels.
Cardio can be performed at anytime of the day but which is really the most effective? When is the best time to do cardio? That's take a look at some of the options:
Best Time to do Cardio - First Thing in the Morning on an empty stomach?
The best time to do cardio is first thing in the morning on an empty stomach according to a lot of people. Gym trainers, Personal trainers and even some sports scientists will all tell you that the best time to do cardio is first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. The reasoning behind these claims is that when we wake up in the morning our bodies have gone a good 8 or so hours without food. This means that there are hardly any carbs left in our bodies to be burned/used as energy.
Carbohydrates are your bodies preferred energy source. If you start exercising, your body will be unable to burn carbs as energy as it simply hasn't got any. Research shows that since your primary source of energy is not available your body will tap straight into your fat stores and use this as energy instead.
Therefore the calories you burn during your cardio will be coming from fat instead of carbs. Due to this theory, many will tell you that the best time to do cardio for maximum fat loss is first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
There is of course another side to this argument and one which I feel holds a lot of truth. Performing cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach will not burn more body fat; instead it will burn off muscle. Here's the thing. You wake up in the morning after a good 8 or more hours without food. Your body is currently in a fasting state and does not have a satisfactory amount of energy.
What your body needs right now is something to eat so it can refuel itself. Instead of doing this you choose to put it through a rigorous cardio workout and expend energy that it doesn't really have. Two things to note here. When energy is not readily available and your body is forced to use an alternate source this doesn't necessary mean it will go straight to the fat. The chances are that it will target your muscle tissue and burn that as energy.
Now I'm pretty sure you don't want to be burning off muscle tissue when performing cardio, you want to be burning fat. The other point worth mentioning is that performing cardio first thing in the morning on an empty stomach will have a negative impact on your performance due to your low energy levels meaning poorer results are likely to be made. You are not going to get optimum results if your body is not properly prepared to perform cardio.
What I am saying above is that the best time to do cardio may well be first thing in the morning but you should not be doing it on an empty stomach. Performing cardio on an empty stomach will limit your performance and increase the chances of your body burning off muscle tissue as energy.
If you like to get your cardio out the way with in the morning then get up and eat something. Get some carbs and protein in you about 30-40 minutes before your cardio. This doesn't have to be a big meal just a healthy nutritious snack to get you through your cardio. You may then come back and have a proper breakfast.
Best Time to do Cardio - Right Before Weightlifting?
In my opinion the best time to do cardio is definitely NOT before a workout. If your main goal is to build muscle and strength then performing cardio before weightlifting should not be done. If your one of those performing cardio before your weightlifting routine then stop. You will likely see a huge difference in performance once you do. Going all out on cardio before you weightlifting routine will leave you feeling weak and tired.
Energy stores will be depleted and you will lack energy to lift heavy weights. Cardio will also cause protein synthesis to drop. Protein synthesis is your body's ability to build muscle. If your performing your weight lifting routine straight after your cardio the longer protein synthesis will be lowered. The longer it is lowered means the less time your body can spend repairing and building muscle.
You don't really want this if you're looking to build quality muscle mass. You may now be thinking well what if I perform cardio earlier on during the day and then perform my weight lifting routine an hour or two later, is this okay? The answer to this is yes but I still wouldn't recommend it. If you are set on doing this then you will need to take in adequate nutrition between cardio and weightlifting sessions to ensure your muscles get the valuable nutrients they need to begin the rebuilding and recovery process.
Energy stores will need to be replenished and protein synthesis will need to be elevated. Carbs and protein should therefore be consumed. Even if you follow these guidelines the chances are that your weights workout will still suffer and you may not be able to lift to your full potential.
Best Time to do Cardio - Right After Weightlifting?
Again I would advise against doing your cardio right after your weightlifting routine but if you have no other choice then this is far better than doing it before your weightlifting routine. The reason I say that is because when weight lifting your glycogen stores are not depleted as much as when you do cardio meaning you have a little more life and energy to exert. This will make your weight lifting workout more effective than if you did it straight after cardio but this is still far from ideal.
However, by performing your weight lifting routine first you can give everything you have into that one workout. What you can then do is perform your cardio later on during the day. At least 2 hours apart if you have the time. Within this time it is again important that you replenish energy stores and take in a nutritious meal consisting of carbs and protein. Fats can also be included if desired but make sure you get a good meal in to help your body get back to its original state.
Best Time to do Cardio - Later on in the evening/night?
Performing cardio later on in the day at night or early evening is fine as long as you have the motivation and energy to do it. A lot of people struggle with the fact that they finish work late and then have to get home and set out on a grueling 30 minute run. Many would rather get home and put their feet up, have something to eat and then head to bed.
If you struggle to fit cardio into your routine during the day and are not a morning person who can get up early and get their cardio completed and out the way with, then performing it in the evening or night is fine as long as you are motivated to do so. It can be far more tempting to skip late cardio sessions thanks to long and stressful days at work.
Chances are you will be less prone to doing this if you perform your cardio earlier on in the day such as morning or early afternoon if you have the chance to do so. One other slight downside of performing cardio later on in the day is that you don't experience the full effect of your increased metabolism. Your metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories.
After cardio your metabolism will be raised for hours afterwards allowing you to burn more calories throughout the day even at rest! If you perform cardio at night shortly before you go to bed you won't be getting the full benefit. The reason being is that your metabolism dramatically drops when you sleep making it less beneficial than if you had performed cardio earlier on in the morning. Morning cardio will raise your metabolism for the majority of the day giving you the full benefit of a raised metabolism.
Final conclusion on the best time to do cardio
The best time to do cardio is when you are energized and have your mind focused towards doing it. The important thing is to make sure you are actually doing it. If there is absolutely no way you can get around doing cardio before/after your workouts or late at night then don't worry too much about it. It is not ideal but you will still reap the many benefits that cardio can bring you.
To experience the most effective gains from cardio I would recommend you perform it in the morning after eating something and on a non weight training day. If you weight train Monday, Wednesday and Friday then try your best to fit in your cardio and running work on the other days you have free. This way you can expect maximum performance in both cardio and weight lifting. The only thing I would say is to watch out for your leg workouts.
If running a day before your leg workout leaves your legs extremely sore and tired only perform a light cardio session on this day. The same goes for the day after your leg workout. If your legs are sore and tired perform a light session of cardio or alternatively don't perform any at all. The best results are made when you have the most energy so bear this in mind.
Getting up early is not actually that bad once you get use to it. Get into the habit of getting up early for your cardio and you soon won't have a problem with it. Getting up early and performing your cardio will get it out the way with for the rest of the day, increase your body's metabolism throughout the day and help you burn more calories making early morning cardio one of the best times to do cardio.