Nutrition and exercise are important factors in weight loss. They can work together to create a calorie deficit, which is when you burn more calories than you consume. Walking is a great form of exercise for weight loss. It’s low-impact, so it’s easy on your joints, and it can be done anywhere, anytime. It’s also great for your mental health as it can help reduce stress and improve your mood. The question is, should you eat before or after walking to lose weight? There is no definitive answer, as both have benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and what works best for you.
What’s The Difference Between Fasted And Fed Exercise?
Fasted exercise is when you work out on an empty stomach, without having eaten anything in the last few hours. This can be early in the morning, before breakfast.
Fed exercise is when you have eaten before working out. This could be a small snack or meal, depending on how much time you have before exercising.
The main difference between the two is how your body gets its energy. When you’re fasting, your body has to burn stored energy (fat) for fuel. When you’re fed, your body can use the food you’ve eaten for energy.
Should You Walk Before Or After Eating?
Your body responds differently to fasted and fed exercise:
Ability To Use Fat For Fuel
Your body primarily uses fat and carbohydrates for fuel. Fat is stored as triglycerides in your fat cells. When you’re fasting and exercising, your body has to break down triglycerides into free fatty acids to use for energy. This process is called lipolysis (5).
Lipolysis is more efficient when you’re in a fasted state. This means that your body can better use stored fat for fuel, which can aid weight loss. Your body can still use stored fat for fuel even if you have eaten before walking (5). It just might not be as efficient.
On the other hand, carbs are stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen is broken down and used for energy during exercise.
Your body can use glycogen more efficiently when you’re fed. This means that you may have more energy for your walk if you eat before working out.
Many wonder which way is best, when walking in a fasted or fed state. The answer is that it depends on the exercise duration.
If you’re planning a short walk (30 minutes or less), you likely won’t notice a difference in performance whether you’re fasted or fed.
However, if you’re exercising vigorously or for longer than 30 minutes, you may perform better if you have eaten beforehand. This is because your body will have more glycogen available for energy.
That said, everyone is different. Some people may feel more energetic and perform better when they walk on an empty stomach, while others may feel sluggish and have less energy. It’s important to experiment to see what works best for you.
Verdict: Is It Better To Walk Then Eat Or Eat Then Walk?
Exercising fasted causes your body to burn fat more efficiently during your workout. However, this doesn’t translate to greater loss of body fat over time.
A small study of young healthy female participants found that those who exercised while fasted didn’t lose more body fat than those who exercised after having eaten (1). Both groups lost weight and fat mass similarly.
Ultimately, there are many other factors at play that determine weight loss, such as diet and genetics. What’s probably more important for weight loss is the total energy you take in and the total energy you burn throughout the entire day, rather than timing of eating versus exercise.
That said, if you exercise in a fasted state, it’s important to eat after your walk. This will help refuel your body and replenish glycogen stores.
A common misconception is that you must eat immediately after working out to maximize glycogen replenishment. However, research suggests that you have up to four hours after exercise to eat without affecting glycogen stores (3).
If you don’t have time to eat right away, drink a carbohydrate-rich beverage or eat a small snack. Then, aim to eat a meal containing carbs, protein, and healthy fat within the next four hours.
To summarize, there isn’t one right answer to the question of whether you should eat before or after walking. It depends on your goals and preferences. If you want to maximize fat burning during your workout, exercise on an empty stomach.
If you’re looking for an energy boost, eat before your walk. And if you’re concerned about replenishing glycogen stores, aim to eat within four hours after exercise.
What’s most important is that you listen to your body and do what feels best for you. Experiment with both fasted and fed walks and see what works best for your schedule, goals, and energy levels.
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Avoid fasted exercise if you experience the following symptoms (6):
- Excessive hunger
These symptoms may indicate that your blood sugar is too low (6). Eating before exercise can help prevent these issues.
If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor before exercising in a fasted state. This is because blood sugar levels can drop too low during and after exercise when you haven’t eaten.
Checking your blood sugar before and after exercise can help you gauge how well your body responds to fasting. If blood sugar levels drop too low, you may need to eat a small snack before or during exercise.
How To Maximize The Weight-Loss Effects Of Walking
Walking is a great form of exercise for weight loss regardless of whether you eat before or wait until after. To increase the number of calories you burn and maximize the weight-loss effects of walking:
Increase The Intensity Of Your Walks
Intensity refers to how hard your body is working to perform an activity. The more the intensity, the more calories you burn.
You can increase the intensity of your walks by:
- Walking faster
- Inclining the treadmill or walking uphill
- Wearing a weight vest
- Carrying dumbbells
- Walking with resistance bands around your ankles
- Add Intervals
Interval training alternates periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of low-intensity exercise. This type of training can help you burn more calories and fat.
To add intervals to your walking routine:
- Start with a five-minute warm-up at a moderate pace.
- Increase your speed for 30 seconds, then return to your moderate pace for two minutes.
- Repeat this pattern until you reach your desired duration.
- End with a five-minute cool-down at a moderate pace.
- Include Strength Training.
Strength training helps build muscle, and muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue. This means that strength-training can help you lose weight and keep it off.
One study showed that those who did strength training for 20 minutes three times per week increased lean body mass (muscle) more than those who only did aerobic exercise, although both groups lost a similar amount of weight and fat (2).
You can add strength-training to your walking routine by doing bodyweight exercises, such as pushups, lunges, and squats, during, before, or after your walk.
Change Your Diet
A low-calorie, nutrient-rich diet is essential for weight loss. Eating fewer calories than you burn leads to weight loss, and the right foods help optimize fat burning.
Focus on eating mostly whole, minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. These foods are more filling and tend to be lower in calories than processed foods.
Some foods may also help increase the number of calories you burn. These include:
- Coffee – Studies suggest that coffee may increase energy expenditure and boost metabolism (7).
- Green tea – Green tea contains caffeine and catechins, which may promote fat burning.
- Cayenne pepper – Capsaicin, a compound in cayenne pepper, may increase metabolic rate.
Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and prevent hunger pangs.
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Prioritize Rest And Rejuvenation
Weight loss is influenced by many factors, including sleep and stress.
Getting enough quality sleep is important for weight loss. One review found that short sleep duration and poor sleep quality may be associated with increased obesity risk (9). So aim to get 7-9 hours per night of quality sleep.
Chronic stress may also lead to weight gain. When you’re stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol. Cortisol increases appetite and may lead to cravings for high-calorie, sugary foods (8).
To reduce stress and promote restful sleep:
- Practice yoga or meditation
- Get a massage
- Spend time in nature
- Exercise regularly
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine
- Go to bed at the same time each night
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake
The Bottom Line
Both fasted and fed exercise have benefits and drawbacks. It ultimately comes down to personal preference and what works best for you.
Walking is a great way to lose weight. But, in order to see results, you need to do it regularly and make some other lifestyle changes as well. Try these tips to create a comprehensive approach to weight loss.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise (2014, nih.gov)
- Effects of aerobic and/or resistance training on body mass and fat mass in overweight or obese adults (2015, nih.gov)
- Fundamentals of glycogen metabolism for coaches and athletes (2018, nih.gov)
- Interval Training Burns More Fat, Increases Fitness, Study Finds (2007, sciencedaily.com)
- Lipolysis – A highly regulated multi-enzyme complex mediates the catabolism of cellular fat stores (2011, nih.gov)
- Low Blood Glucose (Hypoglycemia) (2021, nih.gov)
- Normal caffeine consumption: influence on thermogenesis and daily energy expenditure in lean and postobese human volunteers (1989, pubmed.gov)
- Psychosocial Stress and Change in Weight Among US Adults (2009, nih.gov)
- Sleep and obesity (2013, nih.gov)