If I had to guess, I’d say that the most common question I get asked about cardio exercise has nothing to do with what type is best (steady state, interval training, etc.) or what form is best (jogging, cycling, etc.) but rather what TIME is best to do it for maximum weight loss benefits.
Now, this question implies two very important things that greatly influence my answer:
Because of these two implications, I really have two different answers to this question.
Years ago, the only answer I ever gave to any questions about what time of the day was best for doing cardio exercise is this: first thing in the morning on an empty stomach (before eating/drinking anything).
This is what’s commonly referred to as fasted cardio, and the reason it was the only answer I gave is because it’s the answer that is, you know… true.
Various research (and real world experience) tends to show that the fat burning benefits of cardio exercise are slightly enhanced when the workouts are done fasted as opposed to doing them any other time of the day after eating.
Now, before you start waking up extra early to jump on the treadmill before breakfast, let me mention that the key word in the previous paragraph is “slightly.”
The fat burning benefits of doing cardio exercise in a fasted state don’t appear to be anywhere near as significant as most people incorrectly make it out to be. In fact, the more fat you have to lose, the less these benefits exist in the first place.
Which means in many cases, the advantages might not truly be big enough to warrant going out of your way to do these workouts fasted.
At the same time, while this might technically be the best time to do it in terms of weight loss, fasted morning cardio (specifically when done at the moderate to high intensity it usually is) is the worst way to do it in terms of performance (meaning it will be harder for most people if they don’t eat something first) and probably for maintaining muscle while losing fat as well.
Not to mention, doing these workouts first thing in the morning may not actually be doable for most people due to their schedules.
For these reasons, while it’s usually the most technically accurate answer to this question, it may not be the best answer. What is? Let’s find out…
And now for the answer I currently give most of the time when asked about the best time to do cardio exercise. Simply put… whenever it’s most convenient and sustainable for you.
Meaning, whenever is best for you and fits best in your schedule is going to be the time you’ll be most likely to consistently DO that cardio. Whenever that is for you, THAT’S when you should do it.
Why? Because honestly, just doing it in the first place is always what matters most. If you’re trying to force yourself to exercise at times that are inconvenient or just generally annoying for you, then guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to hate it and eventually stop doing it.
So knowing that the benefits of fasted morning cardio aren’t all that significant in the first place for most people, and adding in that it might not be ideal for your schedule and preferences, you may realize that it might not be worth trying to make work.
Here’s what it comes down to. Fasted cardio may have some small fat burning benefits (mostly among people trying to go from lean to REALLY lean), but the key to getting any form of weight loss benefits from any form of cardio exercise is just actually doing those workouts in the first place.
So, whatever time of the day works best for you, your schedule, your life, and your preferences… that’s when you should do it. Whether that’s first thing in the morning in a fasted state or any other time of the day after eating however many meals, that’s for you to decide.
What matters most is that you actually get this cardio exercise done on a consistent basis. That’s always what’s going to produce the real weight loss results. When you do it is just a minor detail in comparison.