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Morning vs. evening runs: which are better?

Some of us prefer getting up with the sun and some of us would rather log our miles at the end of the day, but is one actually better than the other?

In the world of running, there are two types of people: early risers who are hitting the streets before the sun comes up, and evening runners who prefer to save their miles for after work. Of course, there are others, like those who enjoy a mid-day lunch run and shift workers who like to go out mid-morning or mid-afternoon, but for the majority of nine-to-fivers, morning and evening are their only two options. But is one better than the other? You’ll likely get a different answer depending on who you ask, but we’re here to settle the debate once and for all.

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The case for the morning run

Running in the morning offers a lot of benefits. Aside from getting the opportunity to catch a good sunrise, running in the early hours is a great way to boost your mood and keep you happy for the rest of the day. Cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone, is at its highest levels first thing in the morning, which is why people who struggle with depression or anxiety feel the worst at this time of day. Running can help counteract that, making you feel cheerier as you go about the rest of your day.

Getting your run in early also means there’s less of a chance that something could get in the way of it later. No matter what happens during the day — whether you end up having to work late or a friend invites you over for dinner — your run is already in the books and will be unaffected. Additionally, the streets in the morning tend to be quieter, and many morning runners love the peace and tranquility of that time of day.

Finally, testosterone levels peak in the morning and then gradually drop throughout the day. For this reason, running in the morning is a great way to build muscle. If you’re including some strength training in your weekly plan, the morning is also a great time to get those workouts in, too.

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The case against the morning run

Running in the morning isn’t all sunrises and tweeting birds. There are some drawbacks, and most of them have to do with how well your body functions that early in the day. Running in the morning puts you at a greater risk for injury because your muscles are stiffer and colder after having been at rest all night. This means that if you do run in the morning, it’s important to do a proper warm-up and to start slow to allow your body to ease into the run.

The early morning also isn’t a great time to put in hard workouts, because you are likely not fuelled properly for that run after fasting for eight to ten hours while you slept. Without enough calories (aka energy) in your system, you likely won’t be able to run as fast or as long, so it’s best to save your hard efforts for a time when you can at least have one good meal a few hours before your workout.

The case for the evening run

Many runners find that they can run faster or longer in the evening, despite putting in the same level of effort as they do in the morning. This is because by the time the evening rolls around, you’ve likely eaten a couple of meals and so you have more energy available to fuel your run. This is also when your body temperature peaks, and since you’ve been moving around during the day your muscles are warmer and more ready to work out. Not only does this mean runner will feel easier, but it will also lower your risk for injury.

Of course, the most obvious argument for running in the evening is not having to get up early, and hey — sunsets are pretty nice, too.

The case against the evening run

Motivating yourself for an evening run is just as difficult as a morning run, but for a slightly different reason. Most of us hit our mental peak in the morning, which then slowly dwindles throughout the day, and we often feel sluggish or tired by the end of our workday. Those two factors combined make it easy to give in and skip our run. Of course, there is also a greater possibility that something could come up during the day that forces you to miss your evening run, which could make it difficult to stick to a consistent schedule. Most of the time, however, if you can push yourself to lace up your shoes, you’ll be surprised at how good you feel once you actually start running.

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There are also more environmental factors to contend with in the latter part of the day, like increased traffic (and therefore decreased air quality), hotter temperatures in the summer months and a lack of light when the sun goes down early during the winter. If you go out running at this time, it is important to be prepared for whatever elements you may have to deal with so you can run safely.

Finally, while running in the evening may not force you to get up early, it could disrupt your sleep if you leave it too late. Sleep is a very important part of recovery, so if you’re finding that your sleep quality is worse after you run in the evening, you may want to try finding an earlier time to run.

The bottom line

When it comes down to it, the best time of day to run depends on you and your schedule. If starting your day with a run makes you feel energized and happy and helps you to stay consistent with your training, then by all means continue. Just make sure that you’re warming up properly and going to bed early so you’re not missing out on sleep. If getting up before the sun sounds like torture to you, then the evening run is the better option. If you can, avoid heavily trafficked areas so you aren’t breathing in so many fumes, and make sure you’re well-prepared for the environmental conditions you might encounter on your run.

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