What should I eat? When should I eat it? And when’s the best time to work out? Should I hit the gym when I wake up in the morning, during lunch hour, or late afternoon? Everyone has a different opinion, whether they are an entrepreneur, a freelance photographer, a school teacher or a diehard fitness freak. So HCM took the query to the training professionals to get their take on the problem.

Dr. JoAnn Dahlkoetter, author of Your Performing Edge and member of the medical staff at Stanford says, “The best time of day to exercise is first thing in the morning. You lower your stress and increase your metabolic level. If you wait until later in the day you may put the workout off and not do it at all.” (Website for helpful articles and success tips: www.YourPerformingEdge.com.)

Dr. Yariv Rothman, a Venice, California chiropractor also prefers the A.M. workout. “A morning workout can be very helpful, especially if you’re shedding those extra pounds post pizza night.” Cardiovascular exercise or circuit training in the AM stimulates the endocrine system, releasing endorphins and enhancing mood. Dr. Rothman says, “My patients who work out in the early morning report that they have more energy throughout the day and deal with stressful situations at work better.”

Guy Grundy, Mr. Australia, is a morning person, too. He says, “By training first thing in the morning you are able to take advantage of certain factors. You release more growth hormones (GH) at this time due to the low blood sugar levels. The more GH you release the better.”

If you are looking to gain bulk or become more lean, your meals will be a little different. To bulk up, Mr. Australia suggests, “A high protein, high carb snack is great before the workout as you will have additional nutrients in your system while you are training.” Dr. Dahlkoetter suggests a sports bar or a bowl of oatmeal.

If you are looking to drop body fat Guy Grundy offers a suggestion before pumping weights, “Go with a shake. It’s easy to digest and will ensure you have enough protein in your system while you train.” Remember, if your body is low on carbs it will use protein as an energy source.

Grundy says, “I always make sure I have a little more protein in each meal as I like to stay lean and therefore eat less carbs. I build muscle and drop more body fat with this method.”

The most important meal is the one immediately following your workout. You should look to get between 25-50% of your daily carbohydrate intake. And the amount of carbs needed during a post workout meal varies between people. Guy Grundy says, “My favorite is egg whites, flank steak, and three blueberry and banana multigrain pancakes.”

There’s a good reason for all these carbs. After a workout your body has depleted its carbohydrate reserves. Your body is releasing more insulin, sending needed carbs back into the muscles. These calories and nutrients absorbed during post-workout meals are directed into the worn muscle mass which leads to a better gain in muscle and cell growth.

Guy Grundy says, “Using creatine with your post workout meal and a high amount of water will provide even better results.”

Dr. Rothman says, “Your body needs refueling as well as protein, which is necessary for muscle repair.” He suggests a turkey sandwich or a few scrambled eggs with fruit.

There is a downside to the morning workout. Since muscles are still asleep from a long night’s rest, they need some waking up before strenuous exercise. Spend a few minutes warming up. This could be five minutes on the stationary bicycle and stretching exercises, which will avoid unnecessary strain on muscles and ligaments.

Ryan Kravetz, a Bally Total Fitness trainer and former Team USA ice hockey forward, knows a morning workout gets the metabolism going, but he has practical concerns. “The crowd hits the gym in the early morning and late afternoon.” This is the time when people have to wait to do their bench presses or leg lifts. “The equipment is available without a wait during midday,” says Kravetz.

Not everyone can jump out of bed in the morning and pump iron. There is a school of thought that agrees with Kravetz, but for a different reason. Led by Dr. Phyllis Zee of Northwestern University, this group cites a good explanation for the P.M. exercise. Muscle strength is at its peak, and people are most alert. Therefore, athletes are less apt to injure themselves.

There’s some science to back this opinion, too. It has to do with circadian rhythms, our internal biological clocks. These rhythms time our sleep, wakefulness, and body temperature. During the afternoon our internal clocks have increased our body temperature by one to two degrees. Consequently, muscles are more supple lowering the risk to injury. For most people this happens between 2:00-4:00 P.M.

Exercise before bedtime is frowned upon. According to Dr. Dahlkoetter, sports psychologist, “If you exercise at night, you will become dehydrated and have more difficulty sleeping.” A workout before bedtime will keep you up. Sure, you’ll be wide awake for Letterman or Leno, but you’ll have trouble waking up for that early morning appointment.

Maybe it’s an A.M. workout you prefer to start the day with an energy boost. Or a P.M. workout suits you best when your muscles are warm and you need to relieve some stress. Take your pick. Choose one and stick with it. And remember to eat smart before and after you exercise. Maintaining a regular workout schedule with an appropriate diet could extend your life and definitely improve your mental and physical health.