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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.