Timing is everything — and yet, it might feel like there are hardly enough hours in the day to get things done. But what if you could find out the best time to work out for weight loss? Or the best time to sleep? As it turns out, there’s science behind the benefits of perfect timing, and they might be easier to achieve than you think. Here’s how to time-hack your exercise, sleep and eating habits to get the most out of your busy schedule and maximize your weight loss efforts.
First, start with your circadian rhythms
Your natural circadian rhythms influence many of your body’s functions over a 24-hour period, including when you fall asleep and wake up, your eating habits, your digestion and more.1 Your rhythms are primarily affected by light and darkness, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.1
For example, when the sun sets in the evening, your body naturally winds down in preparation for sleep. When the sun rises, you’re likely more active. This is just one way your body responds to daylight and darkness — and how your circadian rhythms influence your sleep-wake cycle.
Your exercising, sleeping and eating patterns could all help to support your weight loss, but to find the ideal time to do each one, research suggests that working with your natural rhythms could help.
Want to learn more about circadian rhythms? We’ve got you covered.
The best time to work out for weight loss
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash
If you prefer morning workouts:
They could support weight loss. Overweight adults who walked or jogged on a treadmill consistently in the mornings (between 7 and 11:59 a.m.) lost significantly more weight than those who exercised later in the day (between 12 and 7:00 p.m.), according to one study.2 Plus, a large number of “early exercisers” lost more than 5% of their weight, the study found.
Exercising before breakfast may work for you. A small study of overweight men found that those who exercised before eating breakfast burned double the amount of fat than the group that worked out after breakfast.3-4 While the researchers reported that both groups of men lost a similar amount of weight, those who ate after working out gained an extra benefit: an improved insulin response, which may be linked to a lowered risk of diabetes and heart disease.
According to the researchers, participants’ fat-burning boost came from fasting overnight, which led to lower levels of insulin (a blood sugar-regulating hormone) in the morning and allowed more fat to be used as fuel instead of blood sugar.
Pro tip: If you choose to work out before breakfast, be sure to drink plenty of water before and after physical activity.
Exercising after breakfast isn’t bad, either. A separate study found that a low- to moderate-intensity workout right after breakfast promoted healthy blood sugar control.5 Another small study suggested that eating breakfast may prepare your body to process carbohydrates later in the day.6-7 In the study, men who ate breakfast before working out increased the rate they digested and metabolized the carbohydrates they ate.
But whether you like to work out before or after a meal, don’t skip out on the most important meal of the day: breakfast!
If you prefer evening workouts:
A nighttime workout could help increase muscle. One study found that men who did a combination of endurance and strength training exercises in the evenings gained muscle mass, compared to those who worked out in the morning.8 But don’t fret if you’re an early bird: No matter what time of day you work out — regular exercise can still build muscle and improve your cardiovascular health.9
A good night’s sleep is still possible. If you’re worried that an evening workout will keep you up at night, don’t worry: Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine say exercise may promote deep sleep by letting your mind relax.10 But keep an eye on the clock: A review of multiple sleep and exercise studies reported that vigorous exercise less than an hour before bedtime could affect sleep,11 so aim to finish your workout several hours before bed to get the shut-eye you need.
Try this: When it comes to weight loss, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity exercise per week.12 Not sure which is the best time to exercise for you? Don’t sweat it — pick the time of day (or night!) that works best with your schedule. Get pumped for your workout with these six simple tips, and check out our Beginner’s Guide to Exercise, where we’ll break it all down. Exercise is just one component of weight loss: You’ll also want to get plenty of sleep and to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
The best time to sleep
Whether you’re a night owl, a morning lark, or somewhere in between, the best time to sleep may differ. So, what do experts suggest? Don’t fight your body by going to sleep too early or too late. The ideal bedtime is the evening hour when you are the sleepiest, they say.13
And to keep your body on a healthy sleep schedule, aim to go to bed and to wake up at around the same times every morning and evening — even on the weekends.13
No matter what time you get in bed, try to get at least 7-9 hours of sleep, which is what the National Sleep Foundation recommends for adults.14
Because light plays such an important part in regulating your circadian rhythms, you can also limit your exposure to light before bedtime to help get a better night’s rest. Research suggests light exposure in the evenings and at night may suppress and delay melatonin, a hormone that can influence circadian rhythms and sleep.15
To cut down on light exposure before bed, stash away electronic devices (like phones, laptops and tablets), which all emit blue light that could disrupt your shut-eye. One study found that adults who sat in front of computer screens for just two hours before bed16 didn’t experience the important drop in body temperature that helps with sleep, woke up between 6-7 times at night, and reported feeling more tired and in a worse mood after blue light exposure.17
The best time to eat for weight loss
Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
You’ve probably noticed that what you eat can affect your health, but when and how often you eat could play a part, as well. Like your exercise and sleep schedule, you can also align your eating habits with your circadian rhythms to help support your weight loss efforts.
Late-night eating may be linked to weight gain, but enjoying a more balanced eating schedule may help with weight loss. One study found that individuals who consumed food between 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. tended to eat more, and consequently gained weight after the study concluded.18 In a separate study, late lunch eaters lost less weight and lost weight more slowly, compared to those who ate earlier in the day.19
Jenny Craig’s Rapid Results program works with your body’s natural circadian rhythms to promote effective weight loss, using the help of Nobel Prize-winning research. The body’s circadian rhythms typically follow a 24-hour cycle, and Rapid Results splits this into two 12-hour periods. With Rapid Results, you’ll eat during the first 12 hours of daylight and then allow your body to rest and digest during the remaining 12 hours in the evening. So, if you eat breakfast at 7:00 a.m., you’ll finish eating before 7:00 p.m.
Throughout the first 12 hours, you’ll eat 6 times per day and enjoy a variety of thoughtfully portioned entrées, snacks, and even dessert. And during the remaining 12 hours at night, you’ll give yourself the rest you need to refresh, so your body can focus on other processes besides metabolizing food.
Try this: Use these tips to help you put a stop to midnight snacking. And when you eat, try to be mindful of your mealtimes. You can work with your circadian rhythms by eating during the first 12 hours of the day and resting during the next 12 hours.
What’s the difference between intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating? Find out.
When it comes to weight loss, the times that you eat, sleep and work out could all play a part. But to find the best times for those activities, you might want to do a little experimenting. Each of these elements could have an impact on your weight loss efforts. If you’re looking for a weight loss solution that’s flexible enough for your lifestyle, we’re here to help! With a variety of delicious foods, easy-to-follow menus and one-on-one support from a personal consultant, Jenny Craig can help you to develop the healthy habits that will carry you through your weight loss journey — and beyond.
Start your journey today — book a free appointment with a weight loss coach to get started!
Stephanie Eng-Aponte is a copywriter for Jenny Craig and has written for the health and wellness, tech, and environmental industries. Stephanie graduated from Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Media Studies. They employ an “eat first, write later” approach to food blogging and enjoy the occasional Oxford comma. Outside of writing, you can find them photographing a muttley crew of rescue pups, brewing kombucha, or exploring San Diego.
Favorite healthy snack: green apple slices with sunflower butterStart your journey today — choose the menu that’s right for you!
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
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