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Walking First Thing in the Morning Boosts Your Metabolism


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

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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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Lindsey79 (author) from CA on September 04, 2018:

Curious -- such a small amount of calories would likely not be a problem because if you should burn that off rather quickly. You won't be getting the entire benefit, but you'd still likely be getting a large part of the benefit.

Rick -- Obviously, I disagree. The whole point is that this is a low heart rate exercise. If you keep your heart rate between 50-70% of your maximum heart rate (often called the "fat burning" zone), then your body (via your liver) is able to convert body fat into glucose once your initial glycogen stores are used. That's why a brisk walk is a good example of this sort of activity.

If you exercise at a more strenuous level -- whether 70-80% (often called the aerobic or cardiovascular zone) or 80-90% of maximum heart rate (often called the high intensity zone or anaerobic zone), your liver cannot keep up the conversion for the amount of glucose your body requires. First, it will begin to convert muscle into glucose (exactly the opposite of what you want) and then if that's not enough (which is often insufficient for extended running or weight lifting), then you'll "bonk". It's that awful feeling you get because you're not getting enough glucose to your muscles or brain -- people often become light-headed, feel exhausted suddenly, some get dizzy, etc.

That's why it's generally advised to lift heavy weights in the afternoon or early evening rather first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. But if you keep your morning exercise to a rate that is below 70% maximum heart rate -- such as a brisk walk -- you'll burn through your initial stores of glycogen in the liver and then then your liver will begin to access your fat stores for additional energy. This is why you can lose more fat with this simple timing of exercise and food.

Now, it doesn't mean that you should never exercise at other periods of the day or for great intensity (because the greater intensity in general = more calories burned), but it can be part of a smart way to focus on cutting fat specifically rather than cutting just weight (where you lose fat and muscle). And if this is the only exercise you're going to do, you'll get more bang for you buck fat loss-wise by doing it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach than you will at any other time of the day.

Rick on September 04, 2018:

Exercising on an empty stomach in the morning is bad advice. The liver stores about 85 grams of glucose, your blood only 5 g, and your brain burns 10 grams of glucose an hour while you sleep. Assuming your liver has a full tank, you burn 10 grams of glucose while sleeping, so you burn your entire liver reserve. At this point, you are starving your brain for the primary fuel it needs. If your liver only has a half tank, this is worse. So, go run a mile and have a thin body, along with a leg up on Alzheimer's or dementia.

Curious on August 11, 2018:

Im all down woth this, but one thing is I do put just the tiniest bit of half and half in my coffee. Ive tried but just cant do it completely black. No sugar in it at all. Probably less than a total of 1 TBSP for both cups I drink. Is this still beneficial? Its probably literally like 30 calories.

Lindsey79 (author) from CA on January 09, 2018:

Eileen Callahan -- I don't think so because there would be no actual calories in black coffee. So, you should still be in a fasted state. You'd get a little caffeine boost and I don't think that would adversely impact your fat burning process.

It's not uncommon for runners to drink a half a cup or cup of black coffee before a morning run to give them a little pick-me-up but still allowing them to run on a largely empty stomach (as running right after you eat is oftentimes not desirable). They're more concerned about the empty stomach for running purposes rather than fat burning purposes.

Eileen Callahan on January 09, 2018:

Will drinking black coffee before the early morning walk effect the fat burning process?

DevaSingh on April 25, 2017:

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.

Lindsey79 (author) from CA on February 21, 2017:

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.

Muscle guy on February 21, 2017:

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.

JAM on July 21, 2016:

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

KK on June 15, 2016:

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.

Robbie- Toledo, Ohio on May 24, 2016:

Great article. I'm starting tomorrow. Thanks!

Amanda Walker from Troy, IL on September 28, 2015:

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.

Alicia W Lott on August 12, 2015:

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

Vindhya on April 16, 2015:

Lots of information.Exactly what i needed. Thanks.

Deandra on January 26, 2015:

This post has helped me think things thrguoh

nida danish on September 20, 2014:

Very informative. Thnx

waqar on September 18, 2014:

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

Fatemeh on May 30, 2014:

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

mari on January 09, 2014:

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

amb on October 13, 2013:

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

Lindsey79 (author) from CA on September 15, 2013:

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!

Thomahawk on September 15, 2013:

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.

Kan on February 27, 2013:

Thanks...will give it a try

Pepper from NYC on January 18, 2013:

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

Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on April 13, 2012:

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

Aryn on March 01, 2012:

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

Regemeretrix on January 06, 2011:

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

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