When Jennifer Lopez took to the stage during the half-time show at the recent Super Bowl, the world couldn’t help but notice how fit and toned she looked. At 50, the American superstar and mother-of-two is still turning heads with her amazing physique, complete with well-defined abs and strong, lean legs. Lopez has always been in good shape (she began her career as a dancer and was a former track star in school), but she doesn’t go to extremes to maintain her figure, saying that she works out only “three or four times a week”, according to an interview with the US tabloid Us Weekly . Her other secret for keeping her body in tip-top condition and staving off the middle-age spread ? Hitting the gym as soon as she wakes up. “I don’t like doing it later,” she told the tabloid. “It’s harder to get there when I have my day going already.” Exercising before starting the work or school day is certainly convenient – the sooner you get it out of the way, the better – but, if you’re trying to shed excess weight, there’s probably no more effective time than the morning to schedule your workouts. Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the United States working with other institutions found that exercising before noon instead of later in the day may be more beneficial for people who want to slim down. Morning vs evening exercise: one is better for losing weight, the other for performance Their study, published in the International Journal of Obesity in July 2019, involved about 100 overweight and previously inactive young adults. The goal for all participants was to lose five per cent of their initial body weight. Over 10 months, the subjects exercised five days a week in a physiology lab, burning up to 600 calories a session. When the study was over, the researchers discovered that a group that exercised in the morning lost about four per cent more weight than a group that exercised after 3pm; and about two per cent more than a group with varied exercise schedules. Of the early exercisers, 81 per cent achieved their five per cent weight loss goal, compared with 54 per cent of those with varied schedules and 36 per cent of the late exercisers. Not surprisingly, all participants lost some weight compared to a control group that didn’t exercise at all. While the reasons for the discrepancy remain unclear – more studies are needed to investigate this connection between workout timing and weight loss – the researchers noticed some crucial differences between the early and late exercisers. For one, the early exercisers were more physically active throughout the day and also consumed about 100 fewer calories during the day than the late exercisers. If you can’t exercise in the morning or prefer working out later in the day, does it mean you’re doomed if you’re trying to lose weight? No, says Joan Liew, the co-founder of Fitness Factory in Singapore and the author of The Skinny Sumo Wrestler , a book about sustainable weight loss. “You should exercise at a time that suits you. People who exercise in the morning usually feel more energised during the day and this may inadvertently translate to being more active as the day progresses, but not everyone is disciplined enough to wake up early. If you’re trying to lose weight, some exercise in the afternoon or even late at night is better than no exercise at all.” Keto for beginners: how it works, what you can and cannot eat Because of her busy schedule, Lopez is fond of intense morning workouts that don’t take too much time – no more than an hour to an hour and 15 minutes at the most, according to a 2015 interview with US magazine People . When training with celebrity trainer Tracy Anderson in Los Angeles, for instance, the pop icon does circuit training , kick-boxing, lunges, burpees and abdominal workouts – all vigorous activities that have the potential to burn maximum calories in minimum time. “A short but high-intensity session at the gym is great if you’re time-pressed in the mornings,” says Liew, who is also a professional bodybuilder. “You can mix this up with cardiovascular exercises on alternate days. A high-intensity workout should make you perspire and leave you feeling a little breathless.” Whatever time of the day you choose to exercise, Liew says to make it a part of your routine. “It should be a priority every day. When you exercise regularly you have consistency, and consistency is key to losing weight and keeping it off in the long term. “Consistency makes weight loss and weight management sustainable. So, it’s OK if you don’t have time to exercise in the morning; you can harness the weight-loss benefits of a good workout even if you do it in the afternoon or evening or at night.” Fuelling yourself properly when you wake up is just important as the workout itself – the right foods will give you the energy you need to get through your exercise session and prevent you from bingeing on the wrong foods later in the morning. “If you’re trying to lose weight, go for whole grains, like muesli with no added sugar or fat, or oat porridge, with some fresh fruit,” suggests Karen Chong, a dietitian at Matilda International Hospital in Hong Kong. “Whole grains are high in fibre and have a low glycemic index, which means that they keep your hunger under control for longer, compared to high glycemic index foods like sugary cereals, which cause your blood sugar levels to spike and then crash, leaving you feeling hungry and fatigued sooner. Protein breakfasts are also healthy and give you the energy you need – go for a small portion of nuts, eggs, cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt, or nut milk with no added sugar.” If you don’t have time to prepare breakfast in the morning, Chong recommends making a smoothie with yogurt or milk, fruit, and vegetables like baby spinach. Smoothies can be prepared in seconds in a blender and are easy to drink if you’re on the move. Alternatively, she says to have your breakfast in two parts – a small smoothie before exercising, for example, followed by a small bowl of oatmeal after your workout.