Should I do cardio in the morning and weights in the evening?

When is the best time to do cardio exercise, and when should you fit in strength training? We break it down.

If you’re a keen exerciser, you’ll know both cardio and strength training contribute to a balanced regime. But is it best to do cardio in the morning and weights in the evening – or vice versa?

Ultimately, any exercise is better than no exercise at all, and there’s a lot to be said for moving your body at a time and in a way that’s suitable for you. However, if you’re serious about fitness, you’ll want to pay attention to your timings.  

This is especially true if you want to do two workouts – one cardio session, on strength session – in the same day. Your body needs sufficient time to recover between them, and it also needs to be fuelled correctly for the type of exercise you’re planning to do.

A woman and man going for an outdoor run in the morning sunshineCredit: Shutterstock / NDAB Creativity

When is the best time to do cardio?

Dean Zweck, product development manager at health-club chain Total Fitness, says: “If you have the time to do two workouts on the same day, I’d recommend doing cardio first and then weights later.” 

If you’re planning on exercising twice a day, it’s important to leave a long enough gap between sessions, so this might mean doing fasted cardio first thing in the morning.  

“If you do cardio with lower fuel availability (before breakfast), your body adapts by increasing the number of the energy-producing ‘engines’ in your cells, known as mitochondria,” Zweck explains. “More mitochondria mean you can produce more energy, making cardiovascular exercise easier at a given intensity – meaning we get fitter.” 

One of the benefits of cardio exercise is that it conditions your heart and lungs. That doesn’t mean you always have to go all out, but if, for example, you want to get a really good run in, then doing it first thing will help you push as much as you want to, without needing to hold anything back for weight training immediately afterwards.  

Good examples of cardio exercise to try before breakfast include: 

“Early-morning cardio also improves the efficiency of producing energy from fat,” Zweck says. “Our body uses two primary sources for energy – fat and sugar (glucose and glycogen). Everyone stores more energy from fat than glycogen, so the more we can utilise fat as a fuel source, the better our endurance and fitness.” 

As a side note, Zweck adds an important point if weight loss is your goal: “Using more fat for exercise doesn’t mean more fat loss. For this, total calories burned versus total calories consumed will always dictate movement on the scales.” 

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When is the best time to do strength training?

While there are gains to be had from fasted cardio, when it comes to  the benefits of strength training, you’re better to have some form of fuel – i.e. food – to help you. This is especially true if you’re training to preserve or build muscle mass.  

It therefore makes sense to schedule strength sessions such as weights in the evening, or at the very least later in the day.

“Doing strength training later in the day when you have refuelled gives your body the nutrients it needs to maximise the intensity of this session,” Zweck explains.

“Our bodies need energy to lift heavy weights to provide the stimulus our muscles need to strengthen or grow. Be sure you have some protein before your workout because our muscles require it to help repair and grow after the session. So, while there are some benefits to fasted cardio, the same can’t be said for resistance training.” 

Line of people holding silver dumbbellsCredit: Shutterstock / Robert Kneschke

Most of us will know what it’s like to feel lightheaded because we need to eat. That feeling is magnified when trying to lift weights. It can also become a real safety concern, especially if you’re lifting heavy weights.  

That’s not to say you always need to save weight work for later in the day. If you’re not planning a cardio workout that day, you can do strength work at any time of the day, provided your body is properly fuelled beforehand. 

Ideas for protein-based pre-workout snacks include:

  • Protein shakes
  • Hard-boiled eggs 
  • Greek yogurt with fruit 
  • Wrap with turkey, hummus, lettuce and tomato 
  • Fruit smoothie made with milk 
  • Handful of nuts 

How to plan two workouts in a day

If you’re planning on doing cardio in the morning and weights in the evening – or any two workouts in the same 24 hours – then you must consider your day carefully.

It’s important to think about rest time, first and foremost, and whether your daily routine allows for sufficient recovery. If you’re going for a swim before breakfast, for example, is the rest of your day relatively low-key before weight training in the evening? It’s probably not a good idea to tackle the garden, or redecorating, for example.   

Also, what will your mealtimes look like? Is there ample opportunity to eat during the day? Grabbing snacks on the run won’t give you a lot of fuel for lifting heavy weights, and you could end up injuring yourself if you’re too fatigued. A mindful approach to exercise is all that’s needed to enjoy two good workouts in a day.  

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Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her

Updated:

Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain. Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

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