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Should I eat my breakfast before or after my early morning walk?

By Christel Dunshea-Mooij, MSc Nutrition (Hons), 09 360 6330

We've all heard that early morning walking before breakfast is supposed to be more efficient from a fat burning point of view, but personally I feel wobbly when I try to do this. Now and then I’ll try, but I don't seem to have any stamina, and my pace is slow. 30-60 minutes after breakfast I'm ready to walk anywhere at a steady pace!

Breakfast consumed before exercise is only useful once it has been digested and absorbed. This means you need to time your food intake so that the fuel becomes available during the exercise period. The time required for digestion depends on the type and quantity of food consumed. Generally, foods higher in fat, protein and fibre tend to take longer to digest than other foods. Large quantities of foods take longer to digest than smaller quantities. You need to experiment to find the timing that best suits your individual needs.

What should I eat?

Food eaten before your early morning walk should provide sufficient amounts of carbohydrate, fluid, a little protein and should be low in fat. It is also useful to continue to consider other nutritional goals when choosing breakfast. This means opting for a breakfast that provides a wide variety of nutrients including vitamins and minerals (e.g. fruit and vegetables).

Breakfast options

Wholegrain toast plus a poached egg and grilled tomato
Wholegrain toast plus 2 tbsp avocado plus tomato and a pottle of yoghurt
Wholegrain bread roll with low fat cheese + fruit
Raisin bread (vogels or burgen) plus pottle of yoghurt
Fruit salad with fruit and yoghurt
Fruit salad (good option when in a hurry)
Fruit smoothie = 1 cup low fat milk + 1 cup fruit + 2 tbsp yoghurt (optional add weetbix or ½ cup oats)
All bran with low fat milk and fruit
Cartoon Up’n’go ™
Special K ™ with low fat milk
Rolled oats with low fat milk and fruit

Are foods with a low glycaemic index better?

Carbohydrate-containing foods have different effects on blood glucose levels. Foods with a low glycaemic index (GI) cause a slower, sustained release of glucose to the blood, whereas foods with a high GI cause a rapid, short-lived rise in blood glucose. It has been suggested that low GI foods could be useful before your morning walk as they would result in a slower and more sustained release of glucose during exercise maintaining blood glucose levels for a longer period.

Should I avoid eating before exercise if I am trying to lose weight?

Exercising in a fasted state (8 hours since the last meal) results in a greater proportion of fat being used as the exercise fuel compared to doing the same workload after a carbohydrate-containing meal or snack.

It is likely that you will be able to exercise harder and for a longer period if you consume a light breakfast (as above) before your early morning walk. Therefore, you would use more energy and are more likely to lose fat.

To make a decision about eating before your early morning walk, it is useful to consider your goals. If your primary goal is to improve performance, have something to eat before walking. If your primary goal is weight loss, and you will do the same amount of exercise regardless of whether you eat or not, save your breakfast until after your walk.