what to eat before a hiit workout

Are you wondering what to eat before a HIIT workout to maximize your performance and get the most out of your training session? Fueling your body with the right nutrients is crucial for powering through those intense bursts of activity and maintaining your energy levels.

In short, consuming a balanced meal that includes complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats about 1-2 hours before your HIIT workout can provide the necessary fuel to sustain your efforts. Opt for options like whole grain toast with avocado and eggs, a banana with almond butter, or a chicken and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice.

But these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to pre-HIIT nutrition. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn the science behind fueling your workouts effectively, providing insights from nutrition experts and offering a variety of delicious and nutritious pre-workout meal ideas to suit every taste and dietary preference. So, if you’re ready to take your HIIT performance to the next level, let’s dive in!

Nutrition for HIIT Workout (Pre-Workout and Post-Workout)

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are known for their intensity, pushing your body to its limits with short bursts of exercise followed by periods of rest or low-intensity activity. To fuel these demanding workouts and optimize recovery, you need to pay close attention to your nutrition. Here’s a breakdown of the key nutrients for HIIT to focus on:

Pre-HIIT meal (2-3 hours before)

  1. Carbohydrates: Carbs are foods for energy before exercise simply because they are the main source. Aim for complex carbohydrates that provide sustained energy, such as whole-wheat toast, oatmeal with fruit and nuts, or brown rice with lean protein. Don’t joke with them as they are your HIIT workout fuel.
  2. Protein: Including a moderate amount of protein in your pre-workout meal can help support muscle repair and growth. Lean chicken, fish, eggs, or Greek yogurt are all great options.
  3. Hydration:  Don’t forget to stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and aim for 16-20 ounces about 2 hours before your workout.

Pre-HIIT meal (less than 1 hour before)

Simple Carbohydrates: If your workout is within an hour, you may benefit from a quick source of energy like a banana, a piece of fruit with a nut butter, or a sports drink.

Post-HIIT meal (within 30 minutes)

  1. Carbohydrates and Protein: The focus here is on replenishing glycogen stores and repairing muscle tissue. A 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is ideal. Recovery options include a chocolate milk, a protein smoothie with fruit, or whole-wheat crackers with nut butter and banana.
  2. Hydration: Replenish fluids lost through sweat. Aim for 16-20 ounces of water after your workout, and continue to drink water throughout the day.

Timing for Pre-HIIT Nutrition

The ideal timing for your pre-HIIT meal depends on your individual digestive system and preferences, but there are some general guidelines:

2-3 Hours Before — This is the sweet spot for most people. It allows enough time for your body to digest a complete meal containing carbs, protein, and some healthy fats, providing sustained energy for your workout. Examples include oatmeal with fruit and nuts, whole-wheat toast with eggs and avocado, or brown rice with grilled chicken and vegetables.

Less Than 1 Hour Before — If a full meal feels too heavy this close to your workout, opt for a smaller, easily digestible snack that prioritizes simple carbohydrates for a quick energy boost. This could be a banana with almond butter, a piece of fruit with yogurt, or a sports drink.

Experimentation is Key — The key is to find what works best for YOU. Some people feel sluggish after eating a full meal too close to exercise, while others might experience cramps or nausea. Try different timings and pre-workout meals/snacks to see what keeps you energized and comfortable during your HIIT session.

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5 Best Foods to Consume Before HIIT Workout and How to Prepare Them (Expert Suggestions Included)

  1. Whole-wheat toast with nut butter and banana
image source: mondaycampaigns.org

This classic combo provides complex carbs from the bread, healthy fats and protein from the nut butter, and natural sugars for a quick energy boost from the banana.

Here’s how to prepare whole-wheat toast with nut butter and banana:


  • 2 slices whole-wheat bread
  • Nut butter of your choice (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, etc.)
  • 1 banana
  • Optional: Cinnamon, honey, chia seed


  • Toast the bread: Toast the bread slices to your desired level of doneness in a toaster, oven, or pan.
  • Spread the nut butter: Spread your chosen nut butter evenly over the toasted bread slices.
  • Slice the banana: Slice the banana into rounds or lengthwise depending on your preference.
  • Assemble: Arrange the banana slices on top of the nut butter.
  • Add toppings (optional): If you’d like to add some extra flavor or texture, sprinkle some cinnamon, drizzle with honey, or add a sprinkle of chia seeds.
  1. Greek yogurt with berries
image source: thekitchenmagpie.com

Greek yogurt is packed with protein, while berries offer antioxidants and simple carbs. “Greek yogurt is a great source of protein and easily digestible carbohydrates, making it a perfect pre-workout snack,” says registered dietitian Sarah Jackson.

Here’s how to prepare a delicious Greek yogurt with berries:


  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (or flavored yogurt if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup fresh berries (your choice – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.)
  • Optional: Honey, maple syrup, agave nectar (for sweetness)
  • Optional: Granola, chopped nuts, chia seeds, shredded coconut (for crunch)


  • Scoop the yogurt: Place the Greek yogurt in a bowl or container.
  • Wash and prep the berries: Give your berries a quick rinse and pat them dry with a paper towel. If using larger berries like strawberries, you can slice them for easier eating.
  • Add the berries: Top the yogurt with your chosen fresh berries.
  • Sweetener (optional): If you prefer a sweeter yogurt parfait, drizzle some honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar on top.
  • Add crunch (optional): For an extra textural element, sprinkle some granola, chopped nuts, chia seeds, or shredded coconut over the yogurt and berries.
  1. Oatmeal with chia seeds and fruit
image source: yummytoddlerfood.com

Oatmeal is a slow-digesting carb that provides sustained energy, while chia seeds add a touch of healthy fat and protein. “Oatmeal with chia seeds and fruit provides a sustained release of energy to keep you going throughout your HIIT workout,” recommends certified strength and conditioning specialist Ben Jones.

Here are the steps to prepare oatmeal with chia seeds and fruit;


  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (or steel-cut oats for a chewier texture)
  • 1 cup liquid (water, milk, almond milk, or other plant-based milk)
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen fruit (your choice – berries, sliced banana, mango, etc.)
  • Optional: Pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger (for extra flavor)
  • Optional: Honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar (for sweetness)
  • Optional: Nuts, seeds, or shredded coconut (for added texture)

Instructions (Stovetop method)

  • Heat the liquid: In a saucepan over medium heat, bring your chosen liquid (water, milk, etc.) to a boil.
  • Add oats and spices: Once boiling, stir in the rolled oats and any optional spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger.
  • Cook the oatmeal: Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5-7 minutes for rolled oats, or 15-20 minutes for steel-cut oats, stirring occasionally. You can adjust the cooking time depending on how thick you prefer your oatmeal.
  • Stir in chia seeds: While the oatmeal is simmering in the last minute or two, add the chia seeds and stir well. Chia seeds absorb liquid and will help thicken the oatmeal.
  • Remove from heat: Take the pot off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes to allow the oatmeal to thicken further.

Assembling your oatmeal

  • Spoon into bowl: Transfer the cooked oatmeal to a serving bowl.
  • Add fruit: Top your oatmeal with your chosen fresh or frozen fruit. Frozen fruit can be added directly to the oatmeal while it cooks, or on top after it’s cooked.
  • Sweetener (optional): If you prefer a sweeter oatmeal, drizzle with honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar to taste.
  • Toppings (optional): For extra flavor and texture, sprinkle with chopped nuts, seeds, or shredded coconut.
  1. Smoothie made with fruit, spinach, and protein powder

This power-packed drink offers easily digestible carbs, vitamins and minerals from the spinach, and protein for muscle support.  “A pre-workout smoothie is a convenient way to get a dose of carbs, protein, and essential nutrients to fuel your workout,” says registered dietitian Olivia Brown.

Here’s how to whip up a delicious and nutritious smoothie packed with fruit, spinach, and protein powder:


  • 1 cup frozen fruit (your choice – berries, mango, pineapple, etc.)
  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach leaves (or a handful)
  • 1 scoop protein powder (flavor of your choice)
  • 1 cup liquid (water, milk, almond milk, or other plant-based milk)
  • Optional: 1/2 banana (fresh or frozen)
  • Optional: Ice cubes (if using fresh fruit and not frozen fruit)
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon nut butter (peanut butter, almond butter, etc.)
  • Optional: Additional flavorings – honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, etc.


  • Prep your ingredients: Wash and roughly chop the banana (if using) and spinach.
  • Combine everything in a blender: Add the frozen fruit, spinach, protein powder, chosen liquid, and any optional ingredients you’d like to include (banana, ice cubes, nut butter, flavorings).
  • Blend until smooth: Blend all the ingredients together until you have a creamy and well-combined smoothie. You may need to adjust the blending time depending on your blender’s power and desired consistency.
  • Enjoy! Pour your smoothie into a glass and enjoy it right away.
  1. Hard-boiled eggs with whole-wheat crackers

Eggs are a complete protein source, perfect for building and repairing muscle tissue, while whole-wheat crackers offer a dose of complex carbs. “Eggs are a versatile pre-workout option that provides protein for muscle building and healthy fats to keep you feeling satisfied,” explains sports nutritionist Julia Rodriguez.

Here’s how to enjoy a simple and satisfying snack of hard-boiled eggs with whole-wheat crackers;


  • Hard-boiled eggs (amount depends on your appetite)
  • Whole-wheat crackers (your favorite brand or variety)
  • Optional: Seasonings like salt, pepper, paprika, everything bagel seasoning


  • Prepare the hard-boiled eggs (if not already made): You can use various methods to cook hard-boiled eggs. 

Stovetop: Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and cover for 10-12 minutes for a firm yolk. 

Steamer: Steam eggs for 12-15 minutes for a firm yolk.

Instant Pot: Follow your Instant Pot’s manual for hard-boiled eggs, typically around 5-7 minutes cook time with a quick pressure release.

  • Cool and peel the eggs: Once cooked, immediately transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Let them cool completely for at least 15 minutes before peeling. Peel the eggs carefully under running water.
  • Prepare your serving:

Slice the eggs: You can slice the eggs in half, quarters, or wedges, depending on your preference.

Arrange the crackers: Place your desired amount of whole-wheat crackers on a plate.

Enjoy! Pick up an egg slice and pair it with a whole-wheat cracker.

Nutritious snacks for energy prior to HIIT

Incase you want to opt in for some nutritious snacks for energy prior to a HIIT workout, here are some of them:

  • Small banana with nut butter

Bananas are a great source of easily digestible carbohydrates, which will provide your body with quick energy. Nut butter, like peanut butter or almond butter, adds protein and healthy fats to help you feel satisfied and sustain your energy levels throughout your workout.

  • Greek yogurt with berries

Greek yogurt is a good source of protein, which can help to build and repair muscle tissue. Berries are a great source of antioxidants, which can help to reduce inflammation and improve recovery.

  • A low-sugar protein shake

A protein shake can be a good option if you are short on time or don’t have an appetite for solid food before your workout. However, it is important to choose a low-sugar protein shake, as sugary drinks can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a crash.

  • Whole wheat toast with a few slices of avocado

Whole wheat toast provides complex carbohydrates for sustained energy, while avocado adds healthy fats and fiber to help you feel full and satisfied.

It is important to eat your pre-workout snack at least 30-60 minutes before your workout to allow your body time to digest it. You may also want to experiment with different snacks to find what works best for you.

Foods to avoid before HIIT exercise

Individual preferences and tolerances play a viral role in determining which foods to avoid before a workout, as everyone’s bodies react differently to various nutrients. 

However, there are some common culprits that may hinder your workout performance. Here are a few things we suggest you should not eat before HIIT workout:

  1. Carbonated drinks: While some individuals may enjoy a fizzy beverage before working out, certain high-sugar, high-caffeine blends can lead to bloating and may even cause dehydration. It’s important to note that caffeine by itself can be acceptable before exercise if you can tolerate it and maintain proper hydration.
  2. High-fiber meals: Although fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet, however, certain high-fiber foods like broccoli, beans, and some whole grains digest slowly and may leave you feeling uncomfortable before exercising.
  3. High-fat foods: Another category of foods to avoid before a workout is high-fat options. These foods take longer to digest and may leave you feeling more sluggish than energized during physical activity.


Each athlete has their own specific dietary needs, but if you’re aiming to improve your strength, endurance, or any other aspect of your fitness, incorporating pre-workout food into your routine can be beneficial, provided you have the time and can handle a light snack. When selecting your pre-workout meals or snacks, consider your personal preferences, the type of exercise you’ll be doing, and the time of day. Remember, maintaining good nutrition and hydration is not just about what you eat before and after your workout—it’s a continuous effort that spans throughout the day.

By Tunde Rasheed

I'm a fitness coach with a passion for writing. I spend most of my leisure time working out, reading and writing. I created dhammyfit to help you get the most out of your cardio workout sessions.

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