With promises of short workouts, maximum calorie burn and noticeable fat loss in all the right places, high-intensity interval training (aka HIIT) sounds too good to be true.
But trust the research: In an August 2019 study in Circulation, participants who did HIIT lost more belly fat than people who did more moderate exercise, and the HIIT-ers continued to torch calories even after the workout session was over.
A high-intensity workout requires stamina, which is what the third week of our January Fuel-Your-Fit Challenge is all about: eating the best food combinations to power you through that one. last. exhausting. interval.
Your Goals for Week 3
Psst — new to the challenge? Click here to get all the details on the four-week program, which pairs different types of workouts with the optimal nutrients to "fuel your fit."
Click here for a printer-friendly version of this week's plan!
How to Join the Fuel-Your-Fit Challenge
- Step 1: Download the MyPlate App. Meal and activity tracking is linked to successful weight loss and is an effective way to stay on top of your goals, which is why we'll be using MyPlate to log our progress throughout the challenge.
- Step 2: Join Our Challenge Facebook Group. A supportive community of fellow Fuel-Your-Fit challengers, the LIVESTRONG.com Challenge Group is where you'll find tips, motivation, expert Q&As and enter to win prizes throughout the month.
- Step 3: Fuel Your Fit! Follow the food and fitness plans each week, being sure to log your food intake and fitness activity in MyPlate. At the end of each week, comment in the Challenge Facebook Group with a screenshot of your MyPlate Food Diary to be entered for a chance to win MyPlate’s premium Gold membership or a $250 gift card! (Get more details on the prizes and sweepstakes here.)
Get Fuel: What Are 'Energy-Boosting Foods,' Exactly?
HIIT is all about short bursts of demanding, high-intensity exercises, which means you'll need to eat the right foods to help maintain your stamina. And thanks to Week 1 of this challenge, you already know that when you need energy, you need quality carbohydrates.
"Carbohydrates are an important and easily utilized fuel source that meets the needs of a demanding HIIT workout," Maya Feller, RDN, CDN, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Another important component of your pre-workout fuel: caffeine. You can get your jolt from tea, but research suggests that coffee (sans cream and sugar) is the real winner: Drinking some joe before a workout can help boost exercise performance, per an October 2019 study in Nutrients.
The Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association (CPSDA) recommends getting 2 to 6 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight about an hour before you exercise. One cup of coffee packs in about 100 milligrams of caffeine, so that means a 150-pound person would drink one to three cups of brewed coffee. If you opt for brewed black tea, which contains about 50 milligrams of caffeine per cup, you'll have to drink more.
Before hitting your gym (or living room), pair your caffeine and carbs with some healthy fats and protein. The small serving of healthy fats (like avocado or chia seeds) helps stabilize your blood sugar levels for more sustained energy, while the protein (like almonds or cottage cheese) helps repair and rebuild your muscles, aiding in recovery.
Eat your energy-boosting snack or meal with your unsweetened coffee or tea about an hour before you start working out.
Pre-Workout Food Combos for Lasting Energy
- 1 banana + 1 serving of almonds + unsweetened coffee or tea: "Bananas are a good source of easily digestible carbs and one serving of almonds (about 23 nuts or 1 ounce) supplies 6 grams of satiating protein," Feller says.
- 1 sweet potato + 1/4 avocado + unsweetened coffee or tea: Sweet potatoes are a nutrient-rich complex carb, and this pairing will also give you healthy fats from avocado, Feller says.
- 1/4 cup pomegranate arils + 1/2 cup whipped cottage cheese + 1 teaspoon chia seeds + unsweetened coffee or tea: You'll get quality carbs from both the pomegranate and the cottage cheese, protein from the cheese and energy-stabilizing fats from the cheese and chia. If you don't have pomegranate on hand, you can sub it with another sweet fruit like pineapple chunks or grapes.
Energizing Pre-Workout Recipes We Love
Get Fit: Finding the Right Kind of HIIT for You
Now let's look at how you'll be using up all your newfound energy. Fitness expert Mike Donavanik, CSCS and founder of Sweat Factor, explains why HIIT is so good for burning fat and how to get started.
"HIIT workouts are just so efficient," Donavanik says. "You get in strength and cardio, plus a high calorie burn during the workout and some extended calorie burn after the workout (the after-burn effect)."
Part of what makes HIIT so great is how versatile it is, but at its core, it's simple: You do a string of moves (such as squats, push-ups and mountain climbers) in a certain order for a certain period of time with very short rest periods interspersed.
The period of work, period of rest and total duration vary across types of HIIT workouts:
- Tabata workouts follow a pattern of 20 seconds of all-out effort followed by 10 seconds of rest. "True Tabata protocol is done for a 4-minute period — which breaks down to 8 rounds of 20 on and 10 off," Donavanik says.
- EMOM stands for "Every Minute On the Minute." You have a certain number of exercises that you perform for a certain number of reps at the start or top of the minute. If it takes you 30 seconds to finish your reps, you've got 30 seconds to recover before starting again. EMOMs can go for a set amount of time or until you can no longer complete the exercises or reps in the time allotted. "Your body will start to fatigue and it will take more time to perform the exercises, resulting in shorter rest time," Donavanik adds.
- AMRAP means you do "As Many Reps As Possible" of a specific exercise for a set amount of time — say, one minute. Or you could do as many rounds of several exercises as possible for a full 20-minute workout.
- Circuit training involves a series of exercises strung together, performed back-to-back with minimal or no rest. You rest only once a full round is completed, and then you repeat the series of exercises about two to four more times.
Start with two or three different exercises and format them in a Tabata, EMOM, AMRAP or circuit structure. You can always add more exercises or reps to your string as you get accustomed to HIIT.
Calorie-Torching Moves to Combine Into Your Own HIIT Workout
- 12 Essential Squat Variations to Try
- How to Perfect Mountain Climber Form for Full-Body Strength
- What Is a Thruster Exercise and How to Perform One
- 17 Exercises to Shape and Tone Your Booty
- 24 Essential Push-Up Variations for Total-Body Strength
- The Best Body-Weight Exercises for a HIIT Workout at Home
HIIT Workouts We Love
Donavanik suggests doing HIIT at least two days a week for a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of one hour, depending on how high you amp up the intensity.
Tips for Making the Most of Your HIIT Workout
- Start slowly and perfect your form. Ensuring you're doing each exercise with good form will protect you from getting injured. Check your form by looking in a mirror or asking a trainer for help. That's especially important because HIIT is all about high intensity. That said, go at your own pace and listen to your body if you feel like you need a break.
- Go for free weights. If you're going to build your own HIIT strength routine, body weight and any type of free weight — dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell — work best. Resistance machines aren't ideal for HIIT.
- Take advantage of the cardio equipment in your gym. Treadmills, assault bikes and rowers are also ideal for HIIT.