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Interval Training & Nutrition

By Andrea Cespedes ; Updated November 20, 2017

When you combine the highly effective exercise protocol of interval training with an expert nutrition program, you can experience improved cardiovascular health, reduced blood pressure, enhanced insulin sensitivity and healthier body composition.

Interval training involves alternating bouts of high intensity cardio with bouts of lower intensity. It's superior to steady-state training when it comes to burning fat and is a more efficient use of your workout time.

Understand exactly what nutrition strategies support interval training performance to help you reap the fitness and health benefits of your efforts.

Pre-Workout Nutrition

Eating before an interval workout helps you put forth the energy to get solid results. You probably don't need this extra calorie boost, however, if you've eaten in the last three hours. Save pre-workout nutrition for a workout that happens three or four hours after your last meal or, if you're exercising first thing in the morning, before breakfast.

In the hour or so prior to your interval session, eat 100 to 200 calories. Make it something easy to digest, such as:

  • A banana with a handful of almonds;
  • A small serving of raisins and walnuts;
  • A slice of toast with a smudge of peanut butter;
  • An energy bar with three to 10 grams of protein;
  • Yogurt with sliced peaches.

You may need to experiment to see which flavors sit best with you for the workout. Some people abhor dairy prior to exercise, others like it. Avoid foods exceptionally high in fat or fiber, as these take longer to digest and may disturb your stomach. Plus, a little protein can be beneficial, but too much interferes with your ability to digest and produce energy.

Post-Workout Nutrition

After a tough workout, your body benefits from nutrition that replenishes. Go for a combination of carbohydrates and protein. The carbohydrates restore your glycogen — or energy — stores and the protein helps repair and build muscle. Post-workout snacks that contain a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein within about 30 minutes of your workout helps you recover optimally. Options for this snack include:

  • A whey protein smoothie with berries and almond milk
  • Whole-grain cereal with sliced banana and milk
  • A few ounces of deli turkey in a tortilla with lettuce and cheese
  • Hummus and whole-grain crackers

After your workout, avoid rewarding yourself with unhealthy, high-calorie foods that undo all the good work you just did.

Day-to-Day Nutrition Considerations

Even if your pre- and post-workout nutrition is on par, it won't mean much if your everyday eating habits brings your overall diet quality down. Good nutrition habits keep your weight on track, reduce your risk of chronic disease and boost your energy levels.

A quality diet doesn't have to follow some fad like paleo or macro-counting. Rather, focus on eating whole, mostly unprocessed foods. Ample vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean proteins — such as chicken and fish — and healthy fats, including avocado and olive oil, give you the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients you need to support exercise and good health. Minimize your intake of added sugars, refined grains, alcohol and saturated fat.

Watch portion sizes, too. A protein serving at most meals should be about the size of your palm. Fill a quarter of your plate with grains or a healthy starch, such as sweet potatoes or winter squash, and another half of your plate with green veggies of choice. A thumb-sized serving of unsaturated fats — a sprinkling of sunflower seeds or drizzle of olive oil — makes for a complete meal.

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