Best Time to Exercise to Lose Belly Fat for Women vs Men (Not What You Think)

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan | Updated on 23 November 2022

A woman in blue pants, a top, and shoes has her feet crossed, chest up, and arms underneath her as she does a plank variation next to a lake and grassy hills during an early morning sunrise because she knows the best time to exercise to lose belly fat for women.

The best time to exercise to lose belly fat for women vs men is different, but in either case, effective workout timing can help speed up weight loss for both genders. 

This slight edge can be extremely motivating to both genders when they’re trying to settle on which weight loss solutions work best for them. 

Study results are vast and, although results may vary on gender and will be explored in depth below, it may be important to consider that the best time to work out for either sex is whenever consistency can be achieved. 

What One Study Says About the Best Time to Exercise to Lose Belly Fat (Men vs Women)

Looking closely at what one study says about the best time to exercise for weight loss in men vs women, is that men had a greater fat loss in the evenings while women had a greater fat loss in the mornings.

While, initially, this may encourage males and females to settle on a particular time of day to hit the gym, it is important to recognize that the research was limited to only 47 participants for 12 weeks.1

Even though this was a narrowly conducted study that has a smaller sample size, investigating the details further can begin to shed some light on the effects of exercise timing.

Study participants were divided into male and female groupings and then subsequently split into morning and afternoon subgroups. Each individual was given equivalent meal plans, training programs, and physical assessments and the results varied widely.

  • Body Composition – While there was no change in weight, women showed a higher variance of fat percentage loss in the AM group, while men showed no difference between the AM and PM group. 
  • Physical Performance – The morning group of women had improved lower body exercise performance and the afternoon had a bigger improvement in their upper body. Conversely, both morning and afternoon groups of men showed no significant variations in output.
  • Metabolic Reaction – For women in the AM group, levels such as resting metabolic rate and blood pressure were reduced to a higher degree than in the PM group. However, for men in the AM group, there were no notable changes, while the PM group of men has a significant decline in blood pressure, cholesterol, and respiratory exchange ratio, which directly correlates to fat loss.1,2

Even though the above results show some differences between results in men and women and the timing of each, the study also found that every participant, regardless of timing, saw results in body composition, physical performance, and metabolic reaction.1

Why the Morning Can Be the Best Time to Exercise for Fat Loss

In addition to the reasons mentioned in the study above, there are several proven reasons why exercising in the morning, for both men and women, can be the best time to exercise to lose belly fat.

This doesn’t mean working out at dawn causes an extreme amount of weight loss in comparison to workouts during other parts of the day, but what it does try to prove is that going for a run or lifting weights before the day starts can promote changes in habits and physiology that lead to bigger changes in the scale in the long run.

Exercising in the AM Potentially Targets More Fat

Research suggests that exercising in the morning before consuming food targets fat rather than using excess carbohydrates or burning muscle for energy. While this doesn’t necessarily mean more weight is lost when workouts occur earlier in the day, it does mean that a majority of weight that is lost will come from fat. 

This particular study found that if 1 hour of exercise was performed before eating in the mornings there is a higher amount of fat burn for the next 24 hours, not only leading to higher fat loss, but a larger calorie deficit as well, which is imperative for weight loss.3,4

Morning Workouts May Lead to Longer Bouts of Exercise

The Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews followed 33 participants who were in a 6 week long post-bariatric surgery exercise program and found that a majority of the 37% of individuals who consistently performed their workouts first thing in the morning worked out for longer.5

A man wearing large headphones, a phone arm band, grey pants and a grey hoodie is sitting on a track preparing for a morning run by bending over to touch his right shoe or toe to stretch his hamstring and there's playground equipment in the background.

The study did not pinpoint the exact cause for what prompted those exercising at dawn to prolong their workout times, but reasons could include:

  • Greater Focus – less likely to have distractions or scheduling conflicts to impede workout times
  • Higher Stamina – not worn down from events of the day
  • Increased Alertnesscortisol, which hits its peak in the early morning and naturally gives the body energy6

Assuming someone works out 5 times a week, adding on just 10 minutes of exercise per day can increase their weekly physical activity by nearly an hour, which can have a positive impact on the scale.

Working Out in the Morning Could Increase Energy

Living things rely on circadian rhythms that help orchestrate hormonal releases. Cortisol, as mentioned above, as well as melatonin, prolactin, and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), are the four most common hormones that are most affected by a person’s circadian rhythm and correlate strongly to sleep and wake cycles.7

A morning workout routine can alter circadian rhythms which can encourage better sleep patterns, which in turn can cause greater energy stores throughout the day. Having more energy also tends to increase individuals non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which is calories burned through movement that isn’t planned exercise.

In other words, the more energy someone has, the more they tend to move, which results in more calories burned.5

Why the Afternoon or Evening Might Be Best Time to Exercise to Lose Weight

Although there seems to clearly be quite a few pros for working out in the morning, there are studies that have evidence proving afternoon or evenings also have welcome benefits. Whether a man or a woman, the following benefits such as increased strength in the evenings, stress relief, and the ability to fall asleep faster can contribute to successful weight loss. 

Possible Benefits to Afternoon and Evening Weight Training Due to Testosterone

Like cortisol, testosterone levels are at their highest in the mornings for both women and men. Since increased testosterone leads to muscle growth, this leads those debating between morning and evening workouts to believe that AM sessions would be beneficial. 

However, a study published by Chronobiology International shows that, because cortisol levels are highest in the mornings as well, this can counteract the benefits of high morning testosterone, which ultimately leads to strength gains and hypertrophy in the evening when the cortisol ratio lowers.8

Exercise Is Proven to Relieve Stress Regardless of the Best Time to Exercise to Lose Belly Fat

Research shows that exercise increases endorphins, which gives both a mood boost and releases tension. While this definitely can be a benefit in the morning, stress has a tendency to build throughout the day; so, instead of waiting until the morning to surrender that stress, working out after a tense day can help relieve tension and relax the body.9

Evening Weight Training Sessions to Fall Asleep Faster

For years, it has been said that working out at night can negatively affect sleep; however, a study published in Sports Medicine found that weight training in the evenings can actually help in falling asleep faster and sleeping deeper due to muscle exhaustion and hormone release.

When working out at night, it is important to note that high intensity training can affect sleep and, if possible, needs to conclude at least an hour before hitting the sheets.10

The Type of Exercise & Goals Also Affects The Best Time to Exercise

Based on evidence and data from studies listed above, the type of exercise and goals can affect the best time to exercise to lose belly fat or weight in general. 

  • Cardio – Cardio is excellent for the heart and is a common way to fit in daily exercise whether it is through walking and running, utilizing gym equipment, or playing sports. According to research cited earlier, performing cardio based exercises earlier in the day can lead to increased energy and well adjusted circadian rhythm, which makes mornings the best for those with cardiovascular goals.
  • Weight Training – Those lifting weights or participating in resistance training tend to hit their peaks in the afternoon or evenings when their muscles have already been warmed up throughout the day and their hormone levels are primed for strength gains, making the end of the day the ideal time to pump iron.

Best Way to Exercise to Lose Belly Fat

So, what is the best way to exercise to lose belly fat? The answer tends to be controversial because both cardio and weight lifting burn calories. A closer look at how these two categories of exercise change the body as a whole will give the best explanation.

A woman wearing a black sports top and pants is standing in front of a window that has a city for a backdrop and a curtain on both sides while she does a alternating dumbbell bicep curl with her left arm at the top, and right arm at the bottom.

Cardio has long been seen as the ideal way to get fit and lose weight. It does have an array of benefits that includes burning calories, suppressing appetite, and reducing the occurrence of diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.11

Intense aerobic exercises that utilize hundreds of calories do have a tendency to increase hunger and leave runners, hikers, or bikers exhausted, which can lead to overeating and less movement throughout the remainder of the day. It also can cause some loss in muscle tone due to the body using muscle for fuel.

Weight lifting, on the other hand, has been classified by many as only for meatheads looking to have giant muscles. In reality, bulking up takes quite a bit of concentrated effort; what resistance training actually does is tone muscles and burn fat while also increasing bone density, boosting resting metabolic rate, and aiding in the reduction of the same diseases mentioned above that are reduced by cario.12

To rephrase it, weight training is an excellent way to target fat loss without losing muscle and becoming “skinny fat”. While pumping iron may use some muscle for fuel, it is concurrently working out those muscles which breaks them down and rebuilds them even stronger.

Top Exercises to Lose Belly Fat Quickly

Utilizing some top exercises to lose belly fat quickly should begin to spark inspiration to create a long term workout plan that focuses on keeping the fat away, the muscles strong, and health at an optimal level. Combining both weight lifting and cardio workouts can help ensure that individuals are in tiptop shape regardless of the best time to exercise to lose belly fat. 

Best Weight Lifting Exercises

The body has over 600 muscles, some big and some small, so it is important to target the largest muscles during resistance training to burn the most calories and get the best overall results. A beginner guide to weight training is an excellent way to start and will detail the below exercises.

  • Back Squats – Back squats target the muscles of the legs, which include the calves, quads, and hamstrings, along with the glutes, as well as hip and ab muscles.
  • Deadlift – A deadlift workout may sound intimidating, but it is an easy and effective exercise and works out muscles in the back and core, as well as the hamstrings, quads and glutes.
  • Overhead Press – An overhead press is an exceptional upper body workout and focuses on chest and shoulder muscles (pectorals and deltoids), along with the triceps and upper back (trapezius).
  • Bench Press – The bench press is an exercise that is familiar to most and focuses on the muscles in the chest and the biceps.

Best Cardio Exercises

There are a multitude of cardio exercises that cater to every athletic ability and skill level. Even if starting out as a couch potato, anyone can find an exercise that suits them and can figure out how to get skinny fast.

  • Walking – Even if someone has physical limitations, a majority of those looking to shed pounds have the ability to walk. Walking doesn’t require a membership fee, a specialized location, or certain clothes and it is the perfect way to get the heart pumping to burn some calories.
  • Running, Biking or Swimming – These activities can all vary in magnitude, but they are each superb ways to get the blood flowing and increase heart rate, which leads to a reduction in body fat.
  • HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) – HIIT includes short periods of intense activity followed by a recovery period of the same time frame that includes low intensity movement. This type of workout can burn a large amount of calories in a short amount of time, giving a large bang for the buck.

Diets Role in Weight Loss

It is essential to remember that, while working out is a huge factor in health, even if someone has found the best time to exercise to lose belly fat or the best workout to lose weight, the progress made through these means can all be negated by a poor diet. 

Some may ask, “how many slices of pizza should I eat on a diet?” or “are lunchables good for weight loss?”, and while the easy answer to these questions may be to simply cut out processed food completely, it is important to figure out how to incorporate favorite foods in moderation because that can lead to long term success.

From now on, instead of asking “are onion rings good for weight loss?”; eat an onion ring or two, enjoy them, and cut back on other high fat or high calorie items for the remainder of the day to ensure a calorie deficit.

The Best Time to Exercise is a Time You Can Remain Consistent 

One common thread throughout the previously noted research is, that even if a study finds the best time to exercise for fat loss in men is the afternoon, and women see better results in the morning, ultimately, the the best time to exercise is one you can stay consistent with since the results you get from an am and pm workout are marginally different.

Some may find waking up in the mornings to workout an impossible task, so if they can find consistency in an after work exercise routine, then the benefits will be far greater than not exercising at all. Conversely, if an evening weight training session is impossible, waking up and fitting it in before the day begins will still result in strength gains.

While evidence suggests there is, in fact, the best time to exercise to lose belly fat, anyone can find an individualized plan that includes consistent exercise, regardless of timing, along with a healthy and balanced diet, which are the predominant keys to long term success.


References

1Arciero, P., Ives, S., Mohr, A., Robinson, N., Excudero, D., Robinson, J., Rose, K., Minicucci, O., O’Brien, G., Curran, K., Miller, V., He, F., Norton, C., Paul, M., Sheridan, C., Beard, S., Centore, J., Dudar, M., Ehnstrom, K., … Yarde, A. (2022, May 31). Morning Exercise Reduces Abdominal Fat and Blood Pressure in Women; Evening Exercise Increases Muscular Performance in Women and Lowers Blood Pressure in Men. PubMed. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35711313/>

2Kravitz, Ph.D., L. (2003). Eating or Fasting for Fat Loss: A Controversy Resolved. University of New Mexico. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from <https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/fasting.html>

3Bachman, J., Deitrick, R., & Hillman, A. (2016, August 18). Exercising in the Fasted State Reduced 24-Hour Energy Intake in Active Male Adults. NCBI. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5050386/>

4Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, February 13). Balancing Food and Activity for Healthy Weight | Healthy Weight | DNPAO | CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from <https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/calories/index.html>

5Bond, D. S., Schumacher, L., Thomas, J., Raynor, H., & Rhodes, R. (2020, October). Consistent Morning Exercise May Be Beneficial For Individuals with Obesity. NCBI. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7492403>

6Thau, L., Gandhi, J., & Sharma, S. (2021, September 21). Cortisol (Blood) – Health Encyclopedia. University of Rochester Medical Center. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from <https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=cortisol_serum>

7Schecter, A., & Boivin, D. (2009, October 16). Sleep, Hormones, and Circadian Rhythms throughout the Menstrual Cycle in Healthy Women and Women with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. NCBI. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2817387/>

8Baker, J. S. (2010, June). Interactions of cortisol, testosterone, and resistance training: influence of circadian rhythms. PubMed. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20560706/>

9Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, July 7). Exercising to Relax – Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard. Harvard Health. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from <https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax>

10Stutz, J., Eiholzer, R., & Spengler, C. (n.d.). Effects of Evening Exercise on Sleep in Healthy Participants: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PubMed. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30374942/>

11My HealtheVet. (2020, August 21). Why is Cardio Important? – My HealtheVet. My HealtheVet. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from <https://www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-portal-web/ss20200821-importance-of-cardio>

12Westcott, W. L. (2012, August). Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. PubMed. Retrieved October 6, 2022, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22777332/>

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.