High-Intensity Interval Training: How to Meet Nutritional Demands

male athlete nutrition

Moji Kaviani, Ph.D., CEP

Nutrition plays a key role in maximizing the training benefits and recovery of individuals engaging in high-intensity interval training. With HIIT being a form of exercise, it is important to consider you nutrition prior and following to obtain the most out of these kinds of workouts. Proper nutrition could vary depending on different level of intensity during HIIT as well as recovery allowing you to obtain the most health or/ and performance benefits. Nutrition also has shown to have positive effects on the recovery process allowing you to obtain maximal benefits days following the workout.

HIIT is a cardiorespiratory workout that requires repeated bouts of high intensity exercise followed by periods of low intensity exercise. It is seen as an extremely effective form of exercise because it requires less time than steady state cardio for essentially the same benefits.

Related Article: Fat, Carbs, Protein and Recovery. Is There A Silver Bullet?

Nutritional Sources of Energy

Exercise intensity and duration are dependent on the levels of glucose your body has readily available, as this provides the main source of energy for the HIIT session. The intensity and duration also influence muscle glycogen use, the higher intensity and the longer the session the faster glycogen and glucose are depleted. Research shows that cycling for 30 seconds, two times resulted in a 47% drop in total muscle glycogen. If continued for longer it could impair performance even further.

Carbohydrate and protein intake prior to HIIT depends on intensity and duration. Carbs during the days prior to exercise has shown to maintain muscle glycogen and improve performance. This is important considering KETOGENIC diets are popular. Carb diets have been shown to support better exercise performance. No need to nutritional considerations during HIIT less than 30 minutes, although if longer than 30 minutes exogenous consumption of Carbs could enhance performance.

Following exercise carb consumption should be the main focus, the intensity and duration of the activity will provide a guideline to how much carbohydrate you should consume. As well, carbohydrate and protein combination were found to be the most beneficial for those with limited recovery time or those on a ketogenic diet. Although highest glycogen synthesis occurs when carb consumption is high (75-90g).

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Supplements that have the potential to improve HIIT performance or recovery following are:

  1. Caffeine
  2. Creatine
  3. Sodium bicarbonate
  4. Beta-alanine

Creatine can increase the amount of creatine phosphate stored in the muscles and may improve performance in multiple sprints.

Caffeine can be helpful in short duration exercise. High doses (6mg/kg) 1-hour prior intermittent sprints significantly improves performance, but decreases performance when recovery was only 20 seconds due to blood lactate build up. Most researchers suggest 1-3mg/kg body weight is effective for improving performance and should be ingested 30-60 minutes prior.

Sodium bicarbonate controls excess acidity in the blood, providing a buffer for lactic acid produced by high intensity exercise within exercising muscles. This improves performance as lactic acid can lead to fatigue, but this helps prevent it and is safe when taken in proper doses (0.3 g/kg body weight).

Beta-alanine is another supplement that has been linked to increased performance by increasing intramuscular carnosine content. Most suggest a total of 3-6.4 g/day for 4-6 weeks (up to 10 weeks is safe).

Examples of Foods With a Ratio of 3:1 (CHO:protein) for Different Body Weights

Related Article: Can Caffeine Improve Sprint Time In Elite Swimmers?

Raquel C. Garzon, and Christopher Mohr.  Meeting the nutritional demands of high-intensity interval training. ACSM’s HEALTH & FITNESS JOURNAL

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