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Weight Loss Timing Is Everything – Part 2

In this series of articles we’re examining the timing of fitness. As we found last time, when we eat is almost as important as what we eat. In this article we’re going to take a look at when we exercise, and how to get the maximum benefit from our workouts based on timing.

We’ve all heard the popular addage ‘Timing is everything’. As passe as cliches may be, we can’t argue with the accuracy of this phrase. It holds true in almost every aspect of our lives – business, relationships, family and even exercise.

When we do our training may be just as important as how intensely and how long we do it. Many bodybuilders and fitness experts swear that the absolute best time to work out for fat loss is first thing in the morning before breakfast because it enhances the fat-burning process. Morning exercise not only appears to benefit fat utilization by the body, but it also may be advantageous for several other reasons.

Those who preach the superiority of morning exercise for fat-burning deserve a pat on the back by the scientific community. That’s right: The theory that cardiovascular exercise on an empty stomach first thing in the morning has the greatest potential for fat loss is firmly supported by science.

However, this effect is not necessarily due (as many believe) to the low concentrations of glucose in the blood and glycogen in the muscles when we wake up in the morning. In actuality, glucose and glycogen have little to do with this morning fat-burning effect. Henriette Pilegaard, PhD, a research scientist at the prestigious Copenhagen Muscle Research Center in Denmark, states: “Blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels stay fairly constant overnight. This fact is reported in several texts including the well-known Biological Rhythms in Clinical and Laboratory Medicine.”

While glucose and glycogen are tightly maintained, metabolism, on the other hand, takes a drastic swing during the night. Jaci VanHeest, PhD, professor of exercise science at the University of Connecticut (Storrs), explains: “During your nightly slumber, your muscles switch almost exclusively to fat use in order to spare glucose for the brain. At this time, insulin levels are very low and the hormone glucagon is very high.” This increases the amount of fat that leaves our fat cells and travels to our muscles, where the fat is ultimately oxidized (burned).

As several research studies show, we can take advantage of this fat-burning cycle by exercising first thing in the morning before eating. Increasing the energy needs of our muscles via aerobic exercise will enhance both the ‘leaking’ of fat from fat cells and the ‘sponging up’ of fat by exercising muscles. Over time, this could lead to noticable bodyfat loss.

Several studies have also discovered that this increase in fat usage by muscle continues throughout the day, even while we’re just sitting around. When we eat breakfast after exercise, less fat from the meal ends up in fat cells and more is burned by muscle. This is a great way to nullify the fat content of a meal and keep it away from our love handles, but it won’t work if we eat a plate of bacon and eggs every day.

The effect of greater post-meal fat-burning appears to be maintained even during later meals. In essence, we could say that morning exercise boosts our fat-burning potential for the entire day.

When we wake up in the morning, we’re typically at our ‘slowest and lowest’. That means several of our body’s processes are still waking up, because our body follows a biological clock that cycles all bodily functions over a 24-hour period. Each function, such as adrenaline release, has a peak and a valley at some point during the day. When our alarm clock buzzes, our body temperature is at its lowest – as is the release of adrenaline, which is related to our slower metabolism and heart rate at this time.

Exercise first thing in the morning will get that adrenaline flowing and kick-starts our metabolism for the rest of the day. Research shows that if we get into a consistent morning exercise routine, we’ll actually shift the phases of our biological clock. Before we wake up, our temperature, adrenaline release and metabolism will start to take off to prepare our body to awaken and get ready for the workout to come.

To burn the most fat, then, the best time to exercise is first thing in the morning. Before breakfast is best. (Although there are some concerns about exercise without eating, but that’s a topic for another article.)

One caveat: the absolute best time for you personally to exercise is anytime you can. Yes, we’ve been talking about morning exercise and there’s lots more research we could discuss about two-a-days, evening exercise, etc. But the single most important factor for fat loss is that we simply exercise, period.

Yes, timing is important. But what if a job or family prevents us from making it before noon? Is that bad? Not at all. As we all know, any exercise is better than no exercise, no matter what the time of day. Many health club members exercise regularly after 6:00 pm each day, and that’s great too. Every time we can get some exercise in, we will reap the benefits. The point of this article is to help us realize that morning exercise will help most of us more than evening exercise.

So keep exercising, and we’ll see each other at the gym!

About the Author

Tracie Johanson is the founder of
Pick Up The Pace
, a 30-minute exercise studio for women focusing on fitness, health and nutrition for maximum weight loss. Please visit for more information.

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