Like any form of exercise, a good walk requires proper fueling. When it comes to what nutrients you need to power through your walking workout, nutrition experts recommend nourishing a little differently than you would for a run or other higher-intensity trek. We spoke to registered dietitian Megen Erwine, RD of Let's Get Checked to get the scoop on what makes the perfect pre-walk snack. What’s even better is that it can be boiled down to a couldn’t-be-simpler three-ingredient walking workout smoothie recipe that's about to become your new staple.
How much do you need to eat to fuel your walking workout?
As with any workout, properly fueling up and recovering afterwards largely depends on the intensity of the activity. There is a very wide spectrum of walks you could take, ranging from a leisurely coffee stroll to a more rigorous, arms-pumping jaunt. For a slow and short walk, you likely don’t need much extra fuel beyond your regular meals and snacks.
“Always remember that your daily nutrition habits will outweigh any pre- or post-workout fuel,” says Erwine. To her point, focusing on fueling properly for the energy expenditures of daily life will prepare you for both your afternoon walk as well as your morning meeting, middle-of-the-night childcare, or whatever else is thrown your way. “Concentrate on hydration and balanced meals and snacks that include complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fat,” Erwine recommends. You’ll also want to be supporting your gut health by eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and sauerkraut so that you don’t have to fight the urge to go to the bathroom when you’re miles away from home.
For your longer, power-type walks, Erwine says that you likely don’t need too much extra fuel, depending on your goals. Since walking requires less energy than higher-intensity activities like running or HIIT, you probably don’t need to lose sleep over carb-loading ahead of a dog walk, lengthy or not. That being said, it’s important to make sure that you eat a proper meal before even a low-intensity workout like walking, especially if it’s on the longer side. “Plan to have a balanced meal 90 minutes before your workout,” Erwine recommends. “The timing will allow the food you consume to be digested and converted into energy.”
You’ll also avoid feeling nauseous by giving yourself a chance to digest before exercising. If you haven’t had a meal within that timeframe and you’re about to head out, Erwine recommends grabbing a small, carbohydrate-based snack before you go. "A piece of fruit is a great example," she says.
Hydration is key, too
Just as important as what you are eating before your walking workout is what you are drinking. After all, staying properly hydrated helps your body perform basically all of its essential functions, as well as staving off headaches, fatigue constipation, and mood swings.
Many factors impact how much water you need, including your age, activity level, and overall health, but Erwine recommends a general guideline for fluid intake as about 72 ounces per day for women, and 100 ounces for men. If you’re exercising intensely, you’ll want to add in more water to counteract sweat and increased fluid needs trom energy expenditure (and yes, hydration is important in winter, too!).
Overall, you should be listening to your body’s thirst cues and drinking before, during, and after your workout. That balanced meal that you’re eating an hour and a half before your walk? Erwine says to be sure to include 16-ounces of water to keep you hydrated for your activity. Don’t forget your water bottle so you can sip while you go and avoid getting into a dehydrated state, too. And BTW, Erwine says there is no need for sports drinks for low-to-medium intensity workouts—water will replenish your fluids just fine. For extra credit, though, include one of these electrolyte-rich foods in your pre-walk meal.
The perfect walking working smoothie recipe
If you’re looking for a quick and healthy snack or small meal to whip up before your walk, a smoothie is an easy-to-digest way to fuel your workout. It’s also easy to keep all the ingredients you need on hand so you won’t be scrambling at the last minute. When designing your ideal smoothie, Erwin says to make sure to include all three macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—to achieve a balanced meal.
In this case, that comes in the form of banana, Greek yogurt, and nut butter. “Simply blend together a frozen banana to provide complex carbohydrates, a cup of nonfat plain Greek yogurt for protein, and a tablespoon of nut butter for healthy fat,” she recommends. If you don’t do dairy, sub in soy milk or one of the higher-protein plant-based yogurts on the market, like the almond-based high protein yogurts from Kite Hill.
You can play with this simple formula to match your preferences and what you have on hand. Not into bananas? Sub in another frozen fruit. Your kids or roommates ate all the nut butter without you knowing? Add flax seeds or avocado to get that fatty boost. Just hit blend and get ready to hit the streets, treadmill, beach, or wherever your walk takes you.
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