When to Eat

Although food fuels your body’s fire for burning energy when walking, food itself also requires energy to be digested. That means walking too soon after eating makes walking harder, strains your heart and makes burning fat near impossible.

Eating a medium-sized meal (about 600 calories) immediately before exercising causes the heart to work twice as hard to pump oxygen-rich red blood cells to both your gastrointestinal (GI) tract for digestion and your active muscles, according to a recent study done at The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn. In fact, cardiac output increased 1 liter per minute, says study co-author Tommy Boone, PhD, professor and chair of exercise physiology at the college.

That adds up to a decreased ability to burn fat during exercise, a key component to weight loss. If you want to get the most out of a walk, diet must be taken into consideration.

Your Walking Diet Bottom Line

Wait 30 to 40 minutes after a meal before exercising to allow digestion a head start – particularly if you are middle-aged and have a heart condition.

When to Drink

Not drinking before, during and after walking can lead to dehydration, which can cause fatigue, headaches, and in severe cases harms the kidneys, brain and heart. Water should be your primary source of hydration, says Roberta Anding, registered dietitian and instructor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Sugar-laden sports drinks add calories, which defeats the goal of staying fit and, often, losing weight.

How much water you need depends on the outside temperature and humidity level and duration of your walk, says Anding. According to guidelines from the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., women should get 91 ounces (oz.) of fluid daily and men 125 oz., including fluids from other beverages and foods.

Your Walking Diet Bottom Line

To stay hydrated, follow the “gulp” rule, says Anding. Every gulp of water is about an ounce. Before you start walking, drink at least eight gulps of water. Bring a bottle with you and sip it on your route. When you return, take another eight gulps.