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Walking First Thing in the Morning Boosts Your Metabolism

Updated on January 2, 2011

I’m always looking for ways to work smarter, not just harder. Everyone knows that you’ll only lose weight if ultimately you consume less calories than you burn. However, how you do these things, can make a huge difference in your ultimate results – both in how much weight and fat you lose as well as how quickly you do it. Eating 1200 calories of doughnuts is not the same 1200 calories of lean protein, good fats and fruits and vegetables. Therefore, arming yourself with the best information on how to do this the smartest way will help you lose the weight more effectively. Walking first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is one of the best tips on how to naturally jumpstart and boost your metabolism.

Many years ago, my good friend Natalie turned me on to this tip – a brisk walk (or moderate cardio) first thing in the morning before eating. She learned this from her trainer when she was competing in the Miss America pageant. Last year, I came across this same tip from my mother-in-law who was instructed to do this from her physician who specializes in sports medicine and weight loss. I thought to myself that it was time to really understand the biology behind this tip and why it works.

Walking First Thing in the Morning Jumpstarts Your Metabolism. In addition to jumpstarting your metabolism first thing in the morning, it also naturally boosts your metabolism which helps you burn more calories throughout the day. To achieve these effects, you want to do 30 minutes of moderate cardio first thing after you wake up on a completely empty stomach. There are 3 keys to this:

  1. The cardio must me moderate
  2. It must be on an empty stomach 
  3. You must not eat anything for 30 minutes afterwards

What is Moderate Cardio? Moderate cardio is an activity that puts you in the “fat burning zone” according to your heart rate. The fat burning zone is 60-70% of your maximum heart rate.

To determine your maximum heart rate, calculate 220 – age (or 226 – age if you’re a woman). For me, I’m a 31 year-old woman, so my maximum heart rate is 195 (226 – 31 = 195). My fat burning zone is between 117-136 heartbeats per minute (60-70% of my maximum heart rate of 195). To achieve this heart rate, you can use a heart rate monitor or count your heart beats per minute (take your pulse for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4). You can do any any activity that gets your heart beating in the fat burning zone -- brisk walk, eliptical, biking, etc. For me, I prefer a brisk walk with Xander, my German Shepherd.

It is imperative you do not exceed this rate for moderate cardio. You do not want to be training harder, putting you in the cardiovascular/aerobic zone (70-80% of maximum heart rate) or the anaerobic/heavy conditioning zone (80-90%). Therefore activities like running, sprinting, weightlifting, and swimming are too intense for this very specific exercise time and should be avoided.

Why on an empty stomach? When you first wake up in the morning, you have very low blood sugar levels and glycogen stores because you haven’t eaten anything yet.  Glycogen is carbohydrate stored in the liver and muscles which is used as a fuel during exercise.  Normally, after having eaten during the day, the body has enough energy in blood sugar and glycogen to sustain 65-85 minutes of exercise.  Therefore, when you do cardio exercise later in the day, you have to burn through all that energy stored in glycogen before you can access your stored fat.   However, when you expend energy in moderate cardio on an empty stomach, your body will burn through what little glycogen you have stored and access your stored fat much sooner.  

Why not exercise more intensely? As a general rule when you’re trying to lose weight, you want to exercise as intensely as possible because you’ll burn the most total calories this way. However, in this very specific scenario, you do not want to do that because it will sabotage your weight loss goals.

Working out more intensely on an empty stomach will cause your body to break down more muscle than fat. It is also much more likely that you’ll become lightheaded (called “bonking”) because your body cannot breakdown muscle quickly enough to supply energy to your body during intense cardio exercise on an empty stomach.

Since it is easier for the body to breakdown muscle than it is fat when it needs immediate energy, your body will run through your glycogen stores very quickly and begin to break down mostly muscle to provide the energy for the intense cardio exercise. This will ultimately hamper your weight loss goals because you’ll be losing highly desirable lean muscle. However, when you exercise less intensely on an empty stomach, your body is able to break down a greater proportion of fat versus muscle because your energy needs are not as intense. This is why it is so important to only exercise in the “fat burning zone” (60-70% of maximum heart rate) for 30 minutes.

Why only exercise for only 30 mins?  Why not longer?  For the same reason you do not want to do intense cardio at this time.  After 30 minutes, your body will start to break down too much muscle, thereby, sabotaging your weight loss goals.

Why do I need to wait 30 mins before I eat anything?  In order to allow your body to maximize the “after burn” of your moderate cardio.   Jump starting your metabolism with this moderate cardio means that your body is not only burning calories while you are doing this activity, but it has also been proven to remain burning calories at an accelerated pace after you stop the activity.  To maximize this “after burn”, you shouldn’t eat anything for 30 minutes after the moderate cardio.  Take this time to get ready for the day – jump in the shower, do your hair, cook your breakfast, etc --- just wait a total of 30 minutes until you eat it!

Photo Credit - Carlos Porto
Photo Credit - Carlos Porto | Source

Water. As always, water is a great help in any weight loss regime. I highly suggest you drink a big glass of water or two before your moderate cardio exercise and immediately following it. You’re always somewhat dehydrated when you wake up, so getting water into your system immediately is always a good idea and will help your body work effectively.

Summary. To boost your metabolism and maximize your body’s fat burning capabilities, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Drink glass of water when you first wake up
  2. Exercise for 30 minutes of moderate cardio
  3. Drink glass of water immediately after moderate cardio
  4. Wait 30 minutes before eating – grab a shower, do your hair, cook your breakfast, etc.

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    • profile image

      Regemeretrix 6 years ago

      that's a lot of biology-babble for a very simple concept!

    • profile image

      Aryn 5 years ago

      Thanks for the helpful article--I'm going to try this. Have you seen any weight loss results from following this regime?

    • Pinkchic18 profile image

      Sarah Carlsley 5 years ago from Minnesota

      This was awesome, I have always wondered if this would be beneficial or not. I'm all for it now!

    • profile image

      Pepper from NYC 4 years ago

      i'm definitely trying this, & telling friends 'bout it. thanks so much for typing up the article. it's very helpful! :-)

    • profile image

      Kan 4 years ago

      Thanks...will give it a try

    • profile image

      Thomahawk 3 years ago

      I normally work out with free weights in the morning on an empty stomach. I take a preform out supplement. Should I walk before then workout? Should I eat between walk and workout? I'm trying to build muscle and get lean.

    • Lindsey79 profile image
      Author

      Lindsey79 3 years ago from CA

      Thomahawk -- I've heard quite a bit of debate on this as it's hard to put on muscle and lose weight at the same time because one is an anabolic process (building muscle) whereas the other is catabolic (losing fat). I think most work on bulking first (increasing muscle and strength), but this usually comes with some additional fat, then they cut (work on losing the fat).

      But if you want to do both at the same time (who doesn't?), my first advice would be to break up your workouts -- walking in the morning on an empty stomach and lifting weights in the afternoon/evening. But, if you want to do it at the same time, walk after the weights. What are you doing for weights? Starting Strength or something like that (squats, press, bench, deadlift, etc.)?

      Also, diet is huge here. Personally, I'm a huge fan of primal eating myself and it works very well with these fitness goals (see link to Mark's website below). Increased protein will help the most -- help you build muscle and maintain as much lean mass as you lose weight/fat. A minimum 0.7 grams of protein per lb of body weight, usually aiming for at least 30% of your total calories. Both Yo Elliot and Mark Sisson of Primal Blueprint and Mark's Daily Apple have some great articles/videos on it.

      Unfortunately, hubpages will not allow me to link directly to them. So put these into to google searches and you'll find them:

      Yo Elliot's video: "yo elliot easiset fat loss method". The video is titled Easiest Fat Loss Method.

      Mark Sisson's Protein article: "mark sisson how much protein should I be eating." It will take you to his site called Mark's Daily Apple and is entitled How Much Protein Should I Be Eating? from April 24, 2013.

      Let me know how it goes!

    • profile image

      amb 3 years ago

      It actually works! I did this for 2 months and lost two stone!

    • profile image

      mari 3 years ago

      your article is simply awesome and i really agree with each n every word u wrote for us and I'll defintly try this

    • profile image

      Fatemeh 2 years ago

      Thank you for the AWESOME article. It covers all the information I was looking for.

    • profile image

      waqar 2 years ago

      i am waqar i also try this one make my heart beat in good condition.

    • profile image

      nida danish 2 years ago

      Very informative. Thnx

    • profile image

      Deandra 2 years ago

      This post has helped me think things thrguoh

    • profile image

      Vindhya 2 years ago

      Lots of information.Exactly what i needed. Thanks.

    • profile image

      Alicia W Lott 21 months ago

      This is something I am going to give a try. This person explain this ? so well until it really made sense to me I should say.

      Thank you

    • aswalker profile image

      Amanda Walker 20 months ago from Troy, IL

      Great article. I will definitely be trying this, as I prefer to walk instead of run. My knees are pretty bad and the running hurts.

    • profile image

      Robbie- Toledo, Ohio 12 months ago

      Great article. I'm starting tomorrow. Thanks!

    • profile image

      KK 11 months ago

      I have already been doing this before I read this article, glad I am actually doing it right. I have been doing it for two 1/2 months now and have lost 15lbs. I will continue on. I am hoping to be at my goal weight by november, plus having my fit bit helps a lot with the heart monitoring.

    • profile image

      JAM 10 months ago

      I am 7o and walking 3 io 4 miles a day should I walk less on empty stomach

    • profile image

      Muscle guy 3 months ago

      This article is not accurate. Your body will always burn fat for energy before it starts using muscle for energy. This is the whole basis of the Atkins diet.

    • Lindsey79 profile image
      Author

      Lindsey79 3 months ago from CA

      Muscle guy -- The basis for the Atkins diet is considerably different. That is based on putting your body into ketosis where you're deriving energy from ketones rather than the traditional simple sugars. It's a considerably different biological mechanism than what is described in this article.

    • profile image

      DevaSingh 4 weeks ago

      Its really works bocz for last 5 years I m following the same routine. i.e. first glass of waarm water,second 30-35 walking & cardio exercise, third healthy breakfast.

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