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One evening, while throwing a slant route, I harnessed my inner Brett Favre and rocketed a ball toward my number one receiver. After thousands of practice passes, and hundreds of game situation passes, we missed our timing. The ball carried out of bounds and met with the face of an innocent and unsuspecting cheerleader. Perhaps it was fate, maybe it was a coincidence attached to our lack luster performance, but she wound up with a goose egg on her forehead with a distinct X in the middle of it. I wasn't popular with the cheerleaders after that night.
As great timing goes a long way for a successful passing offense, it's paralleled by successful training timing. If you want to keep hitting the metaphorical slant route with power and grace you have to get your training time right. Here's the how.
Diurnal Circadian Rhythm
Most people think of circadian rhythms in terms of the sleep cycle, but, in reality, there's a bit more to it than the transition between rest and wake. Throughout the day we also experience hormonal fluctuations, especially with two of great interest in regards to training--cortisol and testosterone.
Upon waking, and throughout the morning, the blood carries a high concentration of testosterone. Due to testosterone's role in protein synthesis, it seems logical to suggest that morning resistance training elicits superior hypertrophy and strength gains. But as testosterone is elevated in the morning so is cortisol-- potentially limiting testosterone's hypertrophic affect. The high T levels also do not guarantee a strong hormonal response.
Later in the day, however, when the levels of each hormone have declined the response of each is much stronger when provided a training stimulus (a strong cortisol response is also important for eliciting adaptation). It appears counterintuitive, but it's true. The gains we're looking for come from a strong hormonal response, and that response doesn't peak in the morning.
Body Temperature and Movement
Hormones are a fuel that erupt our strength and mass fire, but they aren't the only catalyzing agent that we need to respect in regard to training timing. We must also mind the time that our body is primed to perform at its peak based on several other factors.
Enzymatic activity, nerve conduction velocity, muscular blood flow and joint limberness all affect performance. Though many take the "tough it out and make gains" approach to training--using peak performance time to our advantage accelerates strength and mass gains. If you can perform better you'll train harder--potentially eliciting a greater physiologic response to boost strength and mass gains.
As we move and eat throughout the day, even if we are predominantly sedentary, body heat increases--boosting energy producing enzymes, improving nerve conduction velocity and muscular blood flow while cultivating joint limberness (1).
If you want to strength train in the morning, be my guest, but realize you'll be missing a huge performance advantage. To some optimal performance time seems irrelevant when considering muscle building. But you can liken gaining mass to hitting a home run--it's a lot easier when your timing is right.
So, What is the Optimal Training Time?
So the question still lingers--when is the optimal training time? It's a complicated answer--everyone has different biochemistry and functions on a different circadian clock; but primetime is narrowed to a few hour window.
The best time to lift--and hit your performance home run--is in the late afternoon to evening. At this point, the nervous system, endocrine system and musculoskeletal system are primed to work. It's also when our body answers best with a strong physiologic response.
It times up well with life's diurnal rhythm--leave work, hit the gym and train like you'll never see weights again. Testosterone and cortisol respond accordingly so you adapt properly to your training, and a big post training meal promotes parasympathetic function--allowing you to rest and digest before bed.
There's only one way to find your individual optimal training time--experimentation. Over the next few weeks train at different times within the late afternoon to evening window; change the time in half-hour to hour increments. Take detailed notes on how you perform and recover. By the end of the experiment you'll find your training time sweet spot.
Testosterone Support: The Supplementation Advantage
For some of us timing is an issue and we have no choice; we have to train in the morning. It's well documented that training in the morning puts a lifter at a neuromuscular disadvantage--strength and power output are far lower than in the P.M. Caffeine ingestion, however, reverses the morning's nervous system blunting effect. As little as 3 mg per kilogram of bodyweight produces improvements in strength and power output--even in experienced lifters. (2).
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It should be noted, too, that an androgen receptor technology (L-Carnitine/L-Tartrate) like BioQuest's AndroCept increase androgen receptors on your muscle cells as well as decrease micromuscular damage associated with intense training. This means bigger mass gains and improved training intensity. Even if you're already hitting a physiologic homerun, a grand slam is always better.
Optimal gains require optimal timing--that includes training, nutrition and supplementation. Experiment to find your training sweet spot while supplementing wisely and you'll make faster gains.
- Hayes, L., Bickerstaff, G., & Baker, J. (2010). Interactions of cortisol, testosterone, and resistance training: influence of circadian rhythms. Chronobiology International, 4, 675-705. doi: 10.3109/07420521003778773
- Mora-Rodriguez, R. (2012). Caffeine ingestion reverses the circadian rhythm effects on neuromuscular performance in highly resistance-trained men. PLOS One, 7(4), doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033807