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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline,What to Eat Before High Intensity Interval Training

What to Eat Before High Intensity Interval Training

Reading Time: 4 minutes 1 second


DATE: 2021-03-27

Proper nutrition is essential in helping a client reach their goals. Whether the goal is weight loss or gaining mass, proper fuel is key. Although the scope of practice for a personal trainer doesn't allow for providing meal plans to clients, it's important to know how to guide them with the right information. This article will supply some insight into what proper nutrition before high-intensity interval training should look like and how timing can affect what they should eat.

What is High-Intensity Interval Training?

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is short, very intense bursts of exercise followed by short recovery periods. There are many different combinations of HIIT, but the goal is for the client to go all out during the work phase of exercise and then recover quickly so they can complete another intense burst of exercise. Among a variety of other benefits, this type of exercise has shown to be effective for fat loss and blasting calories during and after the workout.

What to Eat Before High-Intensity Interval Training

HIIT routines are high intensity cardio workouts and they require a lot from the body. It is important to properly fuel the body to ensure it has the energy it needs for the high demands. So, it is important to eat before a HIIT workout.

For most, the focus should be a healthy mixture of carbohydrates and protein. This will help the body perform well, minimize muscle loss, and recover properly.


Although carbohydrates sometimes tend to get a bad rap, we need them. Carbohydrates are what the body primarily uses for fuel, especially during short, high-intensity workouts.

There are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Ideally the focus should be on fueling the body with complex carbohydrates although it is best to have a mix of complex and simple carbs.

  • Simple carbs: Also known as fast carbohydrates. These carbs digest and absorb quickly for fast energy. Examples of simple carbs are fruit, fruit juice, and white bread.

  • Complex Carbs: Also known as slow carbohydrates. These carbs digest and absorb more slowly, so they typically supply sustained energy over a longer period of time. Examples of complex carbs are slow-cooked oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice.


HIIT training typically causes small amounts of damage to the muscles. This damage starts the rebuilding phase so the muscles can meet the demands placed on them. Protein holds amino acids which are the building blocks our muscles require for rebuilding bigger, faster, or stronger. Pre-workout protein helps ensure there are amino acids readily available in the bloodstream as soon as the workout is complete so that the muscles can immediately start repairing.

Good sources of protein may include:

  • Eggs

  • Fish

  • Turkey

  • Hemp seeds (plant-based)

  • Protein supplements


Don't forget about the importance of hydration. During a HIIT session, it is possible to lose a lot of water from sweat. And, the body needs proper hydration to function optimally. So, it is important to ensure clients are drinking enough water throughout the day and hydrate before they even start their workout. Ensuring clients achieve hydration ahead of time is important because most people typically don't do well drinking a lot of water right before a workout. Fluid intake is important during and after a workout as well.

Adequate hydration varies for each person, the environment they are training in, the amount they sweat, and many other variables. Although there are many variables, many health experts recommend somewhere around two liters of water per day as a rule of thumb.

When to Eat?

One of the important elements of properly fueling the body for a workout is making sure not to eat too close to the workout. When the body begins exercise, many times the focus the body had on the digestive system shifts to the muscles. So, it can leave undigested food in the stomach that can cause stomach cramps.

Two or More Hours Before HIIT

Everybody is a little different, but the general rule is to eat at least two hours before the workout so they body has the time to digest. Here are a few suggestions for pre-workout meals:

  • Eggs and whole wheat toast

  • Oatmeal with raisins and peanut butter

  • Lean chicken and brown rice

60 Minutes or Less Before HIIT

If a client has limited time between when they are able to eat and their workout, they may still be able to have a quick meal but it should be smaller in size and contain more simple carbohydrates so they are quickly and easily digested. Try some of the following:

  • Banana with a little bit of almond butter

  • Greek yogurt with berries

  • Protein blended with ice, 1/4 banana and almond milk

10-15 Minutes Before HIIT

Although not ideal, sometimes clients only have a small window to eat before a workout. If the client only has about 10-15 minutes before the workout, the snack should be very small and easy to digest.

  • A few jellybeans

  • A small part of a small sports drink

Everybody is Different

HIIT workouts demand a lot from the body. However, it is important to remember that every human body is different. It is important to see what works best for each individual's body and goals when you are helping guide them in selecting the right foods, correct portion sizes, and the best times to eat.

So, basing meals on foods that work best for the individual, proper timing for consumption, and amounts aligned with an individual's goals are incredibly important as well.

Interested in learning more about nutrition and the role it plays in how our physical and mental performance? Check out ISSA's Nutritionist Certification.

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ISSA | Nutritionist

By becoming an ISSA Nutritionist, you'll learn the foundations of how food fuels the body, plus step by step methods for implementing a healthy eating plan into clients' lifestyles.

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