‘I’m a HIIT Fitness Instructor and Certified Nutritionist, and This Is What I Eat for Maximum Energy in My Workout

Photo: Getty Images/Oleg Breslavtsev
Workout nutrition is an imperfect science: Eat too soon before you kick off your high-intensity effort, and you may feel nauseous; under fuel ahead of exercising, and you may not have enough energy to see the whole workout through. So if you’re a high-intensity interval training (HIIT)-lover just out there wondering: “What should I eat before my workout?,” it's time to call in an expert.

Maria Garcia, group fitness manager at Equinox, HIIT instructor, and certified NASM nutrition coach has thought a lot about how to walk into a workout class with maximum energy. “Pre-HIIT fuel is important because it ensures you can sustain strong throughout the whole training session,” says Garcia. “Who wants to feel lightheaded and fatigued or have to run to the bathroom in the middle of a class?” Retweet.

Experts In This Article
  • Maria Garcia, Maria Garcia Group Fitness Manager at Equinox, a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition(IIN), and a Certified NASM Nutrition Coach

As someone who's studied nutrition and repped through her fair share of mountain climbers, Garcia has a few rules of thumb to help you fuel with the right nutrients while leaving the optimal time to digest. “About 45 minutes before a HIIT class, I ensure I can perform at my best with optimal nutrients,” she says. “My pre-workout fuel is an easily digested snack consisting of carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates give you quick energy, and protein supports your muscles and helps you recover faster.”

My pre-workout fuel is an easily digested snack consisting of carbohydrates and protein." — Maria Garcia, group fitness manager at Equinox and certified NASM nutrition coach

While protein and carbs are great nutrients to take with you into your workout, there are a few nutrients Garcia recommends consuming in moderation before you get moving and grooving. Specifically, fiber and fat. “Fiber right before a workout can cause digestive issues, and that is the last thing you want during your workout,” explains Garcia. “In addition, I stay away from eating large amounts of high-fat foods. Fats take the longest to digest. This is again a bad idea right before your workout—you won’t have enough time to digest it all before you hit that class.”

Of course, you also don’t want to eat too large a quantity of food before you start warming up—even if your mega-snack includes all the right nutrients. “You don’t want to eat a big protein bar, a high-sugar drink like soda, or any big meal right before your workout. Keep the snack small but with the right nutrients, and it will get you through a HIIT class at your best,” says Garcia.

Now that you know the science behind pre-fitness nutrition, you're ready to get down to the good stuff. And by that, I mean... the snacking. Below, Garcia shares her four favorite snacks for noshing before, *ahem*, hiiting the gym.

The 4 best snacks to eat before a HIIT workout, according to a nutritionist-slash-trainer

In short: All these criteria mean that picking a pre-HIIT snack isn’t exactly straightforward. But in all her time teaching HIIT and studying nutrition, Garcia has a few go-to snacks that you can steal for yourself.

  • A small banana with nut butter
  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • A low-sugar protein shake
  • Whole wheat toast with a few slices of avocado

So is the science of snacking before a workout officially… cracked? Not quite. “Everybody is different, and what works perfectly for one person may not be optimal for another person. Choosing foods that work for you based on your goals, health conditions, and preferences is important as well to create sustainable and successful outcomes,” adds Garcia. So take her snacking preferences as a suggestion and experiment with your own workouts—okay?

Get moving with this full-body, no equipment HIIT workout: 

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