Whats better for Fat Loss Running or Walking ?
A couple of my clients were asking me what was better for fat loss walking or running. One was saying running as you work harder and burn more calories and the other was saying walking as you utilise fat as an energy source more when you are walking ie "the fat burning zone". I then stepped in and gave them the usual answer to most questions of this nature. "Yes and No" and "It Depends..." :-)
If you ran for 10 mins versus walking for 10 mins you will burn more calories from running as you will use more energy.
If you run 5 miles versus walk for 5 miles you will burn roughy 25/30% more calories running as you are using up more energy, heart rate higher etc.
Running compared to walking, comes at a price. It is more damaging to the body, it takes longer to recover from, and it becomes harder to achieve more with it, without spending more time on it which then sometimes becomes unsustainable.
How many of you reading this have turned to running for weight loss, achieved great results in the first few months then saw your results taper off and in some cases go the opposite way despite doing more?
So unless you really enjoy running I wouldn’t use it as the ‘go to’ for weight loss. Running has some great health benefits, but do it because you enjoy it and of course you will get some weight loss/weight maintenance benefits from it providing your diet and recovery is aligned with your training.
Walking is low level and low impact, still burns a good amount of calories and doesn’t fatigue you as much during or after. It is a more sustanable approach to burning calories a bit like a sensible diet.
Running soley for weight loss on the other hand could for this example be compared to a more extreme dieting approach.
So do we lose more body fat walking versus running because we are in the “fat burning zone”?
Firstly the “fat burning zone” description can be a bit misleading as our body tends to use what is readily available as an energy source and so this will vary person to person.
Walking is a great way to compliment your training and lose weight but again you can walk all day in this “fat burning zone” and still gain fat. Your diet, calories in versus calories out determines if weight loss will occur or not at the end of the day.
The fat burning heart rate zone or roughly 50-70% of our max HR is what we use for most day to day tasks that require a bit of effort like gardening, housework and walking. As we go up through the zones and exercise at greater intensities we utilise fat less as an energy source but this doesn’t mean we won’t lose body fat from our efforts, and like I said above, can vary person to person. Again it is down to whether the training is aligned with our diet, calories in versus calories out that will determine this.
You can train harder and still gain fat. You can train less and still lose fat. You can train more and lose more fat and you can train less and gain more fat.
The key is the equation, have you consistently used up more calories than you have been consuming? If so then weight loss and fat loss will most likely occur regardless of what zone you have been working in.
Exercising at greater intensities offers us better health and fitness benefits and plays an important role in our training. But you will know from using a heart rate monitor or a my zone belt that you can’t sustain these intensities for long periods.
Training in all zones is therefore important for overall health fat loss and burning calories.
There is no perfect exercise, there is no perfect food or supplement and there is no perfect heart rate zone for training in. I know for many of you, you are seeking the answers to these questions but the reality is it’s actually a lot simpler than that.
Stop worrying about the minute details of fatloss when you dont even have the basics in place. The phrase “Can’t see the wood for the trees” comes to mind. Or one I heard recently was, if your car was covered in mud would you start to clean it by polishing the wing mirror? Get the basics nailed down and you will give yourself a fighting chance.
The holy grail for me when it comes to training for fat loss and body shape improvements is this:
Do what you enjoy first and foremost with your training so you build consistency and momentum, key for long term adherence.
Ideally perform some kind of weight / resitance based training 3-5 x per week for 30-60mins. Training through all zones (I don’t pay too much attention to it tbh – my focus is on strength, form, recovery times, volume, exercise progression, enjoyment). This is my ‘go to’ if you want to build a body that is muscular, toned, shaply, strong and pain free. If you want to maintain muscle mass and be in with a shouting chance of building new muscle tissue then this type of training is key. (Resistance based training comes in many forms and doesnt just mean your typical gym workout – I also feel 1-2 sessions per week is so much better than 0 and for some people more sustainable) For the record I train 4 times per week with weights.
Supplement this training with lots of walking – step goals, weekend walks etc (this could easily include some kind of sport, class, running, cycling, swimming etc – like I said do what you enjoy and it doesn’t always need to be at a high intensity).
Big focus on nutrition – nailing the basics and building better habits should be the ‘go to’ to begin with. Understand calories in versus calories out is of key importance. Eat better quality food but get a balance. Try find enjoyment so it’s sustainable in the long term. Learn how to maintain your weight as well as lose weight.
Manage stress levels – sleep, work/life balance, training balance, look after your mental health and wellbeing. Learn to respect the rest and recover days – these are the days you actually improve. If you dont have many of these my guess is you are not improving.
So whether walking or running is better for fat loss it doesn’t really matter and is largely irrelevant if you don’t align this type of training with the right approach to your diet and recovery. Do everything you can to get a routine that is sustainable and enjoyable for you. If you want to run then run, if you want to walk then walk.
Have a great day.