Nutrition to Support Walking for Weight Loss

Big Salad with Protein

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Are you walking for weight loss but not seeing results? If so, the foods you eat may be the culprit. However, knowing what to eat for weight loss is easier said than done. With so many diet trends out there—low-carb, high-protein, keto, calorie counting—it can become overwhelming and cause you to give up on your health goals.

The good news is that arming yourself with some basic nutrition knowledge can go a long way in helping you lose weight while getting in your daily steps. Read on to discover the importance of a balanced diet for weight loss, the best foods to fuel walking for weight loss, how to create a walker’s meal plan, and some helpful tips to meet your weight loss goals.

Why Balanced Nutrition Is Important

Eating a nutritionally balanced diet is a vital component of any weight management plan. A well-balanced diet is made up of various kinds of whole foods in certain quantities and proportions to meet your daily requirement for energy (calories), protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other essential nutrients.

It’s essential to strike the right balance where the food you eat fuels your activity while promoting healthy weight loss (if that is your goal). This often comes down to making strategic food choices and paying attention to portion sizes. Either over or under-doing it when it comes to food choices and portion sizes can potentially lead to weight gain,” explains Mandy Enright, MS, RDN, RYT, a registered dietitian and author of 30-Minute Weight Loss Cookbook. “It’s ideal to find a happy medium of getting a balance of nutritious foods, along with the occasional indulgences.”

The most energizing foods to fuel your walking are whole or minimally processed foods high in complex carbohydrates, protein, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Combine these whole foods with small amounts of healthy fats (e.g., avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil) for a balanced diet that will deliver sustainable energy throughout the day while helping maintain or achieve a healthy weight.

What Types of Foods Do Walkers Need

The types of foods that walkers need will depend on many factors, including personal preferences and dietary restrictions, the amount of walking a person does, and individual considerations such as height and weight. For example, the amount of nutrition recommended for a person who is 5 feet tall, weighs 100 pounds, and walks 30 minutes per day will differ immensely from someone who is 6 feet 2 inches tall, 200 pounds, and is an endurance hiker, walking six to seven hours each day. That said, macronutrient composition, hydration, and types of foods are important to calculate.

Macronutrient composition

To increase your stamina and ability to walk longer, stay hydrated and eat a diet rich in protein, healthy fat, and high-quality carbs. Many studies show that protein is the most satiating macronutrient. That’s because protein decreases the hunger hormone ghrelin and stimulates the production of the satiety hormone leptin, which helps you feel fuller longer. High quality carbohydrates that contain ample amounts of water, vitamins, and minerals, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains have been shown to be the ideal fuel source for physical activity.

Hydration

Staying hydrated is critical for exercise. If you are losing a great deal of sweat and are walking for more than an hour, or in the heat, you may need to supplement electrolytes. Electrolytes—such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium—are vital for hydration since they help your body maintain the balance between fluids inside and outside your cells.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods (Fruits and Vegetables)

An anti-inflammatory meal plan maybe an effective tool for weight management in some people. One study showed that this type of eating plan was effective for weight loss in younger adults (average age around 43). This was a small study that included 83 young adults, mostly women. Researchers found that this type of eating plan helped to reduce inflammation and induce weight loss.

Some foods on an anti-inflammatory diet for weight loss include cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), berries, walnuts, legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils), dark leafy greens, avocado, and citrus fruit. 

“For most people, walking is an ideal way to [manage weight]. Eating is an opportunity to provide our bodies with calories so we can get the energy we need to move,” Enright says. “Depending on how long or intense the walk was, your body may need to replenish the energy used during the walk by having a small post-walk snack. Also, include fruits and vegetables in your meals and snacks for hydration.”

How to Create a Meal Plan for Walkers

While there is no single best strategy for weight management, what you eat plays an important role. Weight loss is complex and isn't always about calorie in and calories out, but creating a calorie deficit can help to initiate weight loss. Once a person has lost weight, reevaluating eating and exercise will be important for weight maintenance.

Walking is an excellent exercise that provides an abundance of benefits outside of weight loss - improved cardiovascular health, more energy, better mood, etc. If you are walking to lose weight, moving at a quicker pace or walking for longer periods of time will assist you in reaching your goals. This typically means walking at a moderate pace for at least 30 minutes five days a week. If you can’t find time for five days a week, try for more extended periods three or four times a week and at a faster pace to still achieve results.

To create a meal plan, you will need to estimate your caloric needs, which will then inform the portions of certain foods you may want to consume (such as outlined in the sample meal plan below).

Estimating Calorie Needs for Walkers

Counting calories is not a tool that works for all. For those people who have a history of disordered eating, this is not recommended.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that a 154-pound person burns approximately 280 calories an hour walking at a moderate pace of 3.5 miles per hour (MPH) and 460 calories an hour walking at a vigorous pace of 4.5 MPH. A helpful tool to assist in your weight management is a daily calorie calculator. The tools below use your sex, age, height, weight, and activity level to help determine your caloric needs and the number of calories you burn while walking.

Another effective way to monitor your energy expenditure while walking is to use a tracking device, such as a smartwatch or fitness app on your smartphone. These devices and apps are relatively accurate and can track your distance, pace, steps, and calories burned, which is invaluable information for reaching your fitness and health goals.

Sample Daily Meal Plan

Here’s a sample day meal plan for those looking to support their walking for weight loss.

Breakfast: Oatmeal Protein Bowl (550 calories, 28g protein, 73g carb, 21g fat)

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1 scoop of protein powder
  • 1/2 banana, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
  • Dash of cinnamon


Snack (189 calories, 20g protein, 20g carb, 4g fat)

  • 1 7-ounce container 2% Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons honey


Lunch: Quinoa & Spinach Salad (540 calories, 21g protein, 67g carb, 26g fat)

  • 1/2 cup quinoa, cooked
  • 1/4 cup black beans, cooked (drained and rinsed if canned)
  • 1/4 cup whole kernel corn
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced
  • 1/2 cup bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons organic salsa
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Snack (258 calories, 4g protein, 29g carb, 17g fat)

  • 1 apple, whole
  • 1/4 cup walnuts

Dinner: Teriyaki Rice Bowl (521 calories, 41g protein, 47g carbs, 19g fat)

  • 1/2 cup brown rice, cooked
  • 5 ounces salmon, cooked
  • 1 cup kale
  • 1/2 cup broccoli, steamed
  • 1/4 cup carrots, julienned
  • 1/4 cup red cabbage, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons teriyaki sauce


Note: This meal plan provides approximately 2,000 calories per day. You may need to adjust portion sizes based on your caloric and macronutrient needs.

In addition to walking for weight loss, maintaining a weight that feels good to you requires a long-term mindset. Lifestyle changes don’t happen overnight. Committing to eating a nutritionally balanced diet and exercising regularly can be challenging, but making small changes over time adds up.

Other Tips for Walkers Looking to Lose Weight

Dietitian Enright offers up some further advice for meeting your weight loss goals.

Include Fiber and Protein

“Ensure your meals and snacks include sources of fiber and protein, which will provide sustainable energy throughout the day and for walking as well. In addition, I encourage folks to include a fruit and/or a vegetable in their meals and snacks as these are the best bang for their buck: low in calories, high in fiber, loaded with nutrients, and an excellent source of hydration.”

Incorporate Strength Training

Another helpful tip is to incorporate strength training into your fitness routine. Strength training helps you burn more calories while at rest by increasing lean muscle mass and reducing your body fat percentage. In addition, incorporating strength training can help to maintain bone integrity and strengthen your musculoskeletal system, which is beneficial for improving your ability to walk further and longer.

A Word From Verywell

No matter your fitness level or health goals, combining walking with a nutritionally-balanced diet is a great way to manage your weight. If you focus on eating whole, anti-inflammatory-rich foods, and go for brisk 30-minute walks at least five times per week, you’ll set yourself up to maintain a healthy weight.

Speak with a healthcare provider before starting a new weight loss or exercise program. Also, consider consulting a dietitian who can help you navigate your caloric needs to reach your weight management goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do you need to eat a snack before you walk?

    This depends on the duration and intensity of your walk. If you’re walking for less than an hour at moderate intensity, you likely don’t need a snack (unless you haven’t eaten for several hours). However, if you plan on walking longer or at a high intensity, eating a snack high in protein and high-quality carbs about an hour before is a great way to provide long-lasting energy. Examples of a good pre-walk snack would be a slice of sprouted whole wheat bread with peanut butter or an apple with a handful of almonds. Conversely, exercising during a fasted state (e.g., eating breakfast after a rigorous morning walk) may increase fat-burning and enhance weight loss.

  • How much water should you drink when walking?

    If you’re walking for less than 30 minutes, you likely don’t need to consume water when walking. However, if you’re walking in hot temperatures, consider bringing a water bottle to replenish fluids and stay cool. It’s more important to drink water before exercise. The recommended amounts are 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before exercise, and eight ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before heading out for your walk. After 30 minutes of walking, drink seven to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes. After an hour of walking, it’s a good idea to add electrolytes to your water or drink a sugar-free sports drink containing sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

13 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Library of Medicine. Weight management: State of the science and opportunities for military programs.

  2. Ghazzawi HA, Mustafa S. Effect of high-protein breakfast meal on within-day appetite hormones: Peptide YY, glucagon like peptide-1 in adults, Clinical Nutrition Experimental, 2019;28:111-122. doi:10.1016/j.yclnex.2019.09.002.

  3. Carreiro AL, Dhillon J, Gordon S, Higgins KA, Jacobs AG, McArthur BM, Redan BW, Rivera RL, Schmidt LR, Mattes RD. The macronutrients, appetite, and energy intake. Annu Rev Nutr. 2016 Jul 17;36:73-103. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-121415-112624. 

  4. Kanter M. High-quality carbohydrates and physical performance: Expert panel report. Nutr Today. 2018 Jan;53(1):35-39. doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000238.

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Electrolytes.

  6. Stromsnes K, Correas AG, Lehmann J, Gambini J, Olaso-Gonzalez G. Anti-inflammatory properties of diet: role in healthy aging. Biomedicines. 2021 Jul 30;9(8):922. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines9080922.

  7. Kenđel Jovanović G, Mrakovcic-Sutic I, Pavičić Žeželj S, Šuša B, Rahelić D, Klobučar Majanović S. The efficacy of an energy-restricted anti-inflammatory diet for the management of obesity in younger adults. Nutrients. 2020 Nov 22;12(11):3583. doi: 10.3390/nu12113583.

  8. Kim JY. Optimal diet strategies for weight loss and weight loss maintenance. J Obes Metab Syndr. 2021 Mar 30;30(1):20-31. doi: 10.7570/jomes20065.

  9. Cox CE. Role of physical activity for weight loss and weight maintenance. Diabetes Spectr. 1 August 2017; 30 (3): 157–160. https://doi.org/10.2337/ds17-0013.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity for a healthy weight.

  11. Bellicha A, van Baak MA, Battista F, Beaulieu K, Blundell JE, Busetto L, Carraça EV, Dicker D, Encantado J, Ermolao A, Farpour-Lambert N, Pramono A, Woodward E, Oppert JM. Effect of exercise training on weight loss, body composition changes, and weight maintenance in adults with overweight or obesity: An overview of 12 systematic reviews and 149 studies. Obes Rev. 2021 Jul;22 Suppl 4(Suppl 4):e13256. doi:10.1111/obr.13256.

  12. Yoshiko A, Tomita A, Ando R, Ogawa M, Kondo S, Saito A, Tanaka NI, Koike T, Oshida Y, Akima H. Effects of 10-week walking and walking with home-based resistance training on muscle quality, muscle size, and physical functional tests in healthy older individuals. Eur Rev Aging Phys Act. 2018 Nov 19;15:13. doi: 10.1186/s11556-018-0201-2.

  13. Zouhal H, Saeidi A, Salhi A, Li H, Essop MF, Laher I, Rhibi F, Amani-Shalamzari S, Ben Abderrahman A. Exercise training and fasting: Current insights. Open Access J Sports Med. 2020 Jan 21;11:1-28. doi: 10.2147/OAJSM.S224919.