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A recent Australian study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that the activation of the brain's reward-processing region (the area that helps you weigh benefits versus risks) peaks in the morning and evening and dips around 2 p.m. While the findings suggest that mid-afternoon is not an ideal time to make any important monetary decisions, they further support established evidence that people feel a drop in alertness around this time. Thus, athletes could benefit from taking a break from decision-making and instead use the mid-day window to get re-energized by working out, says Jamie Byrne, Ph.D., lead study author and professor of clinical psychology at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia.
Previous research has shown that in the mid-afternoon hours, the body is physiologically disposed for performance, as body temperature and hormone activity increase at that time. “To capitalize on the circadian rhythm, workouts in the afternoon might be best suited for strength and power training,” says Matt Berenc, director of education at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute. “Because your core body temp is higher, your system is more primed for efficient muscle contractions as well as delivering fuel to the muscles to support the activity. Secondly, working out in the early afternoon can help you take advantage of greater nervous system activation and coordination.”
Getting in a strength workout between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. may be most optimal for building muscle and increasing wakefulness. “If you are not able to adjust your training schedule or if you just prefer to work out in the morning because that ensures you will get it done, all is not lost,” Berenc says. “You will just want to focus more attention on an elongated warm-up to help bring your core body temp closer to what it would be in the afternoon." And try something else at 2 p.m. to feel more alert, like a cup of tea.