August 08, 2021 9 min read

What you put into your body is just as essential as maintaining a healthy exercise routine.

This is especially important when doing strenuous cardio workouts, such as fat-burning, muscle-building HIIT exercise.

You want your hard work in the gym to pay off, which is only possible when you pair HIIT with the proper pre and post-workout nutrition. 

What Is HIIT?

If you’ve never heard of HIIT before, you’ve come to the right place. HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training and is a highly effective way to improve your cardiovascular health as well as gain some strength. Many people also use HIIT for weight management.

young man running on the promenade

What makes a workout specifically HIIT is the structure of the workout. You’re probably used to hopping on a treadmill or bike and going at it for as long as possible in order to burn off unwanted calories or gain endurance. This exercise is a type of cardio called steady-state cardio.

HIIT utilizes the power of intervals in order to encourage your maximum energy output in each movement, which has shown to be more effective than steady-state cardio.Being used to working out nonstop for an hour or more might have you scratching your head at the idea of intervals.

An example of a HIIT routine might have you exercising for 45 seconds, then taking a 10-second break. During those 45 seconds, you’re going as hard a possible, so the workout is still very effective. 

What Should You Eat Before HIIT?

It is important to remember that HIIT is high-intensity, meaning it will likely feel very difficult and demanding. Without the proper nutrition and energy, you run the risk of ending your session prematurely, exposing yourself to injury, and missing out on potential gains.

Carbohydrates

Carbs are far more important than many people realize. A lot of diet culture has attempted to eliminate carbohydrates from our daily diets. While you may see some results in the beginning from doing such a diet, restricting your carbohydrate intake too severely does a great disservice to your training and overall bodily functions.

Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy. They are broken down quickly and help protect your muscles from losing mass during demanding training sessions such as HIIT. Carbs are best paired with protein as this helps the body process both the carbs and protein more efficiently.

If you’re keeping up with gym trends, you’ve probably seen the popularity of chowing down on sugary rice snacks before a gym session. While this is sure to give you a boost of energy, it’s probably not the best thing you could put in your body before a workout as it causes a spike in blood sugar levels.

Here are some examples of carb sources you can eat before a HIIT workout:

  • Fruit: Fruit is an amazing pre-workout snack. Not only is it full of naturally-occurring sugars that your body can use for quick energy, but it’s also jam-packed with water. Additionally, fruit is full of antioxidants and vitamins that are essential for bodily functions. We recommend bananas for their potassium, which aids in muscular functions. You can also eat apples, grapes, blueberries, or strawberries.
  • Oats: Oats are a great source of energy because they tend to digest slower. This means you’ll have long-lasting energy and you’re less likely to crash during your workout. Oats are also filling, making them a great choice for those in a calorie deficit. Additionally, oats are incredibly versatile, so it’s easy to incorporate them in different ways each day. Try granola, oatmeal, oat bars, or oat cookies. Tip: Top your oats with fresh fruit for the perfect pre-HIIT sustenance.
  • Whole Wheat Toast: Bread is a great source of carbs and is also a good food to pair with other foods. However, try to avoid eating plain white bread, which are “empty” carbs, A.K.A. has little nutritional value. Strive to eat whole wheat or whole grain bread as they contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Hydration 

Those who are under-hydrated are likely to have poor performance in the gym, leaving feeling defeated and confused. You fueled up with a healthy meal, you put on the best workout songs of all time, and still, your gym session was pretty terrible. It’s likely your water intake is to blame.

Staying properly hydrated is not just important throughout the day, but is also a large factor in getting the most from your workouts. Dehydration is also quite dangerous and is more likely during difficult workouts such as HIIT. Be sure to fill up your water bottle and sip on your way to the gym!

Protein

While all macronutrients are important, protein is perhaps the most important. This is not because it does more for the body than the other macronutrients, but instead because our everyday diets tend to lack proper amounts of protein. Therefore, we should strive to put more emphasis on our protein intake.

For your pre-workout meals, protein helps your body use carbohydrates without setting your body up for a potential energy crash. This is why your carb source should also be paired with some protein.

Here are some good sources of pre-HIIT protein:

  • Low-fat Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is packed with protein and is calorie-friendly for those in a deficit. Furthermore, it serves as a great plain base for your carbs. Try adding granola and fruit for the perfect pre-workout snack.
  • Eggs: Eggs are not just full of protein, but they are also a relatively light yet filling snack. Eggs contain every essential amino acid, making them an ideal protein source. Another plus: they are also a source of healthy fat, which is imperative for your brain and many other bodily functions. Furthermore, they are easily paired with a carb, such as whole-wheat bread.
  • Chicken: If you’re in need of a heavier meal before workouts, chicken is a great source of lean protein. Most people would pair chicken with rice or potatoes. However, while these are great healthy carb sources, you should save rice and potatoes for post-HIIT meals, as they can be highly filling.
  • Peanut butter: Peanut butter and other nut butters are amazing for getting in quick energy. It’s also calorie dense, so it doesn’t take a lot of peanut butter to feel satiated. For your pre-HIIT meals and snacks, you should avoid fat-heavy foods, but a small amount of peanut butter is an exception. Pair it with toast or a banana for a yummy treat.

Foods to Avoid Before HIIT

Of course, there are many foods you should steer clear of before HIIT. If some of these foods have served you well in the past, by all means, keep doing what works for you. However, for most of the population, eating these foods before a workout can cause some issues:

  • Vegetables: What, really? No veggies?! Yep. Eating vegetables before a workout is a recipe for disaster. This is especially true for green leafy vegetables and raw vegetables. While these are an essential part of your diet, they can cause gassiness and an upset stomach and will make your highly dynamic HIIT session feel nearly impossible. When should you eat your veggies? Stick around to find out.
  • Fast Foods: This one is pretty obvious. Our bodies hate greasy, overly processed fried foods. They are hard to digest and make us feel tired and sluggish. It’s best to avoid these meals altogether but especially keep them away from your pre-workout foods.
  • Smoothies: With all the foods listed as your pre-HIIT options, you may be tempted to just whip up a fruit smoothie with those ingredients. While we aren’t saying you should never have smoothies, can be pretty caloric and even more filling. Being too full before your HIIT session can lead to discomfort and inhibit your ability to move freely.

What Should You Eat After HIIT?

Post-workout nutrition is perhaps just as important as your pre-workout nutrition. Refueling your body after an intense workout is important for recovery and helps your body repair itself to better handle the next workout. In other words, if you want to see results such as improvement in performance and even muscle growth, you need to refuel.

Hydrate

After your HIIT session, you’re sweaty, tired, and maybe a little out of breath. The first thing you should put in your body? Water!Ideally, you’ve been using your rest periods between exercise movements to get some water intake as dehydration can have negative effects on your athletic abilities.

 Shirtless sportsman resting after training at the gym sitting on the floor drinking water

Still, all your electrolytes and hydration have been lost through the intense HIIT sweat and you’ll need to prioritize your water intake for a while after your workout session. 

Carbohydrates

Many people mistakenly think after a workout you should consume only protein, or maybe even avoid food entirely. The idea is that eating will only reverse any progress from training. The good news? This simply isn’t true.

Most HIIT sessions burn a large amount of our energy stores, so you shouldn’t feel any guilt about replenishing. As for carbs, our body converts carbohydrates into glucose which our muscles store as glycogen. After a workout, your muscles are depleted of their glycogen stores, which help the muscle not only perform well but also aids in a fuller look to the muscle.

Not all of the carbs we eat get stored in our muscles, so it’s best not to go too overboard with your post-workout carbs. You should also stick to healthy sources of carbs.

Here are some good post-workout carb ideas:

  • Brown or white rice: Rice is a very good source of carbs and is slow to digest, meaning it will keep you fuller longer. It also pairs well with most proteins and completes any well-rounded meal.
  • Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are full of vitamins and nutrients, making them a great carb choice for your post-workout. They are quite filling, so having them as a pre-workout snack may lead to discomfort. You can prepare sweet potatoes several ways and since they are sweet, they taste like a fun treat.
  • Fruits: Fruits make both a good pre-workout snack as well as a post-workout snack for all of the same reasons. They are highly nutritious and are a great way to rehydrate.

Protein

While carbs are important in your post-workout meal, protein is perhaps the most important. This is because workouts like HIIT, especially strength-training HIIT, can cause your muscle tissue to tear. What macro aids in muscle recovery? You got it: protein!

Here are some great post-HIIT protein ideas:

  • Chicken breast: Chicken breast is a great source of clean protein. It’s super healthy, highly versatile, and pairs well with many carbs and veggies.
  • Protein shake: For you shake fanatics, post-HIIT is the best time to get in some shake action. You can pack your protein shake full of nutritious foods, like fruit, oats, spinach, and Steel Supplement’s “Try Whey-Pro” protein powder sample packs! Not only will it taste like a treat, but it will also provide an efficient well-rounded way to get in a lot of your necessary post-HIIT foods.
  • Salad: Eating salad after a difficult workout may be the last thing you want to do. However, vegetables are an essential part of our daily diets and because they are difficult to digest, consuming them pre-workout is not the best idea. And another surprise? Salads don’t have to be boring. You can load them with your favorite protein source, your favorite fruits and veggies, or really any other food you like.

Healthy Fats

Just like carbs, you should not eliminate fats from your diet despite what you may have heard. Of course, you don’t need a large amount of fat in your day to function, but having fat after your HIIT session is a great way to feel satisfied and help your body absorb vital nutrients.

Here are some post-HIIT fat sources to consider:

  • Eggs: A good source of fat and protein, eggs are easily incorporated into any meal. They are also calorie deficit-friendly and are a great addition to salads.
  • Nuts: Many steer clear of nuts because of their high calorie content. However, nuts have many vital nutrients and are a very satisfying snack. To incorpotate them into a meal, try them in salads or smoothies!
  • Avocado: Avocados are perfect for replenishing lost energy as they are calorie dense and full of nutrients. They also make a great addition to any meal and provide a quick and easy way to get in some healthy fats. Pair it with eggs and toast for a fulfilling post-HIIT meal.
  • Salmon: Salmon contains a plethora of benefits but is best known for its healthy fats and high protein content. Salmon pairs well with salads or rice.

Keep Your Fitness Goals in Mind

If you’re striving for weight change, body composition changes, or other aesthetic-related goals, be sure your HIIT pre-workout meals fall in line with your goals. This means if you’re aiming for weight loss or fat loss, be sure to eat a meal that will keep you in a calorie deficit.

HIIT is great for torching calories, so this shouldn’t be too difficult. If you’re looking to achieve muscle gain, you’ll need to be sure to maintain a calorie surplus. This typically means eating a large meal before or after doing HIIT since HIIT is notorious for burning through energy.

If you’re really stuck with your pre and post HIIT meals, you should consult a nutritionist about what’s best for you. Everyone works differently and not all nutrional advice works the same from person to person.

Wrapping Up

With the vast amount of information on the web, determining what to eat in order to best support your body through workouts like HIIT is no easy task. If nothing else works, focus on having a healthy balance of macros.

Macros can be confusing, but with determination and research, you can learn everything you need to know about macros.

Be sure to prioritize protein for muscle repair and carbohydrates for your body’s preferred energy.

And above anything else, preparing your body for HIIT and refueling afterward are vital for feeling and seeing results. 


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