No matter the workout you choose, you’ll likely need something to eat right before as well as a post-workout recovery meal or snack, depending on the workout, duration and level of intensity you choose.
With the exception of low-impact, low-intensity movements, such as walking for leisure, restorative yoga flow, stretching or an easy bike ride, which may not necessarily fit into the classic description that defines a “workout,” most forms of exercise will likely increase your heart rate, target and tax major muscle groups and require enough endurance to get you to the end.
And hopefully with progress, in your performance and training efforts too! So, you’ll be able to better track and recognize improvements in fitness level, over time, as your body learns how best to maximize workouts and maintain greater stamina.
Why is Snacking So Important for HIIT Workouts?
Plus, for more rigorous workouts like HIIT, boxing, weight training or cycling, you’ll need that added fuel both before you begin—for that little nudge out the door–as well post-workout, when those muscles are low in energy, electrolytes and nutrients and need food and hydration ASAP to properly recover and repair damaged tissue.
Plus, the recovery process is essential for building and strengthening muscle mass over time, where you’re making the most out of your workouts and in more lean, defined muscle gains to protect your body as you age. And when you increase the intensity or duration, your body will also require more nutrients both pre- and post- workout.
If you are doing a high-intensity style workout, such as sprints, plyometric intervals, or tabata sets that require maximum effort in a short period of time (i.e. intervals of 20 seconds on, 20 seconds rest—alternating for eight rounds to complete a set), the kind of snack you eat before and afterwards matters–where it can either enhance or hinder your workout performance and results.
Here’s what to eat around HIIT workouts for the most effective workout sessions and results.
Best Pre-Workout Snacks for HIIT Workouts
If you’re looking to grab something that’s high in ready-to-use energy, such as carbohydrates (which tend to be the body’s primary source for fuel, since they can be broken down the faster for use), you’ll most likely be grateful for that little boost.
If your muscles have a richer supply of nutrients prior to working out, they’ll not only have more energy for your HIIT workout, but also they’ll have more available in total stores, where they won’t be as depleted once you’ve finished. And that means a speedier and easier recovery afterwards!
The best pre-workout snacks to have include simple carbs, like granola, an oat bar or a protein bite or truffle that is portioned well so you won’t feel too heavy or full as you workout. Steer clear of high-fat, high-protein foods that might weigh you down or make you lethargic as well as monitor serving size.
If you’re getting in a bit of protein, as you may with a protein enhanced granola or homemade trail mix, for example, you will not only have more immediate energy but also sustainable energy where you’ll find it easier to go harder and for longer–where you’re sweating fast, with your maximum effort.
Another option is to keep a low-sugar or keto friendly electrolyte blend or sports drink/gel handy—you might even bring a spare one for mid-workout if you feel energy dwindling. And of course, a banana with a drizzle of nut butter or a small handful of nuts will provide a good combo of fast-acting carbs plus a bit of protein, fat and fiber to keep you full and most fueled while you train.
Best Post-Workout Snacks for HIIT Workouts
After HIIT, you’ll be low in energy and fluids. Since the work is so challenging and sweat-inducing, the deficit will be substantial—as you should really feel fatigued, in dire need of a break to rest and recover.
Besides stretching or massage, even a bath with Epsom salts (a.k.a. magnesium salts, a source of electrolytes), eating and hydrating within your window of muscle recovery is critical to replenish those electrolytes and fluids, which you lost through sweat. That sweet spot will be the same—30-45 minutes preferable, with an hour, as a max.
As for what to eat during this window, the goal should be getting a heavy dose of muscle-building and strengthening protein, a bit of satiating healthy fat and complex carbs that come from high-fiber sources, to further improve satiety and gut health. A healthy gut strengthens your immunity, which means fewer sick days and more HIIT sessions—plus it keeps you regular and improves nutrient absorption, so you can maximize the benefits of what you’re eating too.
A great snack for HIIT might be a protein bar that’s more substantial in size and contains around 15-25 grams of protein and with some nut butter drizzled on top to increase protein macros. Or you can crumble a protein bar and enjoy it as a topping for soy-based yogurt.
You can also drink your fuel by making a protein smoothie that lets you refuel fast and on the go, where you can also blend a good variety and high amount of nutrients. Include a plant protein powder, soy milk, green veggies, nuts and seeds–plus, a small serving of fruit would be great for sweetness, just be sure to keep portion size in check to avoid turning your smoothie into a calorie and sugar bomb!
Lastly, meal prep can be a welcome tool for simplifying workout snacks around HIIT training. Set aside a day or two in the week to meal-prep big batch recipes, like protein-packed truffles, a DIY nut and seed mix as a versatile all-purpose topping, and even a tofu “scramble” for power bowls, toast, fajitas and more.