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Addicted To HIIT? Use These Tactics To Optimize Performance, Recover Smarter, And Avoid Workout Burnout

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We preach the merits of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) on a nonstop basis. Our WOTMs and workout gauntlets have HIIT-based principles baked into their DNA, featuring everything from supersetted and supercircuited resistance training to incendiary cardio sessions. Hell, February’s brand new WOTM took it up 13 levels into the world of uber-HIIT (UHIIT).

2014 was, and 2015 is going to be, all about pushing limits, slashing rest periods, and condensing MORE volume into a shorter time window.

The net effect is a HARDER workout that produces gargantuan results in a fraction of the time; including accelerated muscle growth, improved VO2Max (a marker of cardiovascular fitness), greater explosive power, elevated metabolism, and significantly reduced body fat.

Compared to mind-numbing steady state cardio, there’s no contest — studies show that HIIT cardio pumps out TWICE the body fat loss in half the time, with minimal muscle loss to accompany it.1

“Studies show that HIIT cardio pumps out TWICE the body fat loss in half the time.”

And fitness classes are finally picking up on the high-octane power of the HIIT trend — just look at the studios driving ClassPass. Boutique shops are transforming into workout juggernauts—especially in places like New York and LA—with the likes of Crossfit, Flywheel, Tone House, Row House, Barry’s Bootcamp and other hellacious classes becoming trendy hot spots.

But as miraculous and transformative as HIIT-styled workouts can be, they’re a stark and shocking change for the uninitiated. If you’re just jumping in aimlessly for the first time, it’s highly likely that you’ll feel run down and deflated after a session or two. You might not even be able to finish the workout you’re doing, and if you do, your muscles will be excruciatingly sore.

And that’s expected. It’s no joke. That’s one of the ways athletes develop Overtraining Syndrome.

HIIT workouts are, well, intense by design, and they’re EXTREMELY hard on the body. Respect that, otherwise it’ll wreck you. To compensate and keep up—because after all, the goal is to excel at a high level—it’s critical to recalibrate your diet and nutrition, up your supplementation game, and implement effective recovery tactics, especially if you’re gunning to indulge on the regular.

We’re all-in on HIIT. Make it your go-to workout. But use our 6-pack of HIIT tactics to keep your body fresh and performance at peak levels.


6 Tactics To Optimize Performance, Recover Smarter, And Avoid Workout Burnout

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This one is obvious, yet most people don’t actually do it. It’s like playing craps with house money and leaving your chips on the table — don’t waste the opportunity.

Depending on the format, intensity, and methods used, HIIT-based workouts can burn anywhere from 700-1250 calories per hour. And that’s JUST during the workout itself — it doesn’t account for the “afterburn” effect that lasts for 1-2 days afterwards. That afterburn is known as EPOC—excess post-exercise oxygen consumption—which sparks a prolonged metabolism boost as the body attempts to return to its relaxed, resting state.

Translated: you need to EAT more. Like, a lot more to compensate for the heightened calorie burn. Those additional calories spark recovery, help regenerate muscle tissue, and refill the fuel stores in your muscles. They also directly power your future workouts and ensure that strength and performance are at elite levels.

Your move — on workout days, beef up your pre- and post-workout meals.


2. Eat More of the RIGHT Foods.

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Jacking up your caloric intake is step #1, but those calories still need to be clean and rationed out in a calculated manner. It’s not an excuse to mindlessly scarf down McDonald’s and Taco Bell.

HIIT has 3 major implications on energy use and nutritional strategy. Both of these are mandatory for thriving before, during, and after the onslaught, and ultimately constructing an elite physique out of your hard work (and not one that looks tired and anemic).

  • (1) Up your carbs. HIIT and intense weight-lifting are predominantly anaerobic activities, which means they function without oxygen. Because of that, they primarily churn through stored carbs (aka glycogen) and glucose as the major fuel source. Read the graph above. As aerobic power—aka training intensity—increases, your body progressively relies more and more on carbs for fuel (not fat).
    • Your diet needs to reflect that — elevated carb intake is mandatory if you hope to survive AND perform at a high level.
  • (2) Up your protein. Shocker, but vigorous lifting is a stellar way to build new muscle mass, especially when you’re using heavy weights. It also mutilates muscle fibers in the process. Protein intake needs to shoot up to help repair, rebuild, and contruct new muscle tissue.
    • Aim for at least 1G/protein/LB bodyweight, per day. We recommend chugging a protein shake post-workout as an easy way to compensate.
  • (3) Over hydrate. If your sweat waterfalls are any indication, water loss is at a premium during any intense HIIT session. Restoring that, by hyper-hydrating beyond your normal H2O consumption, is extremely important. Additionally, stored carbs in your muscles (glycogen) carry water along with it. As you increase carb intake to support your workouts, make sure to over hydrate along with it.



hiit, hiit training, high intensity interval training, hit training, hiit workout, hiit recovery, exercise recovery, workout recovery, interval training, high intensity training

One word: RECOVERY.

As far as recovery and self-maintenance go, you’re probably used to some half-assed 5 minute cardio warm-up with a few random stretches sprinkled on top.

Welcome to the big leagues — mobility and self-maintenance matter, in a massive, massive way. Get educated on the perks of foam rolling and myofascial release. From this point forward it’s absolutely mandatory.

“You need a foam roller if you don’t have full potential range of motion of every joint, have any kind of injury or even stiffness, if you’ve ever sat in a chair, or if you don’t move with the fluidity and grace of a jungle cat.” — Susan Stanley, Manuel Therapist

From overuse, misuse, and sitting a disgusting amount (basically life) your body naturally develops stiffness, tightness and annoying little bundles of muscle tissue, otherwise known as trigger points or “knots.” Those knots—the same ones your masseuse knocks out—restrict range of motion and screw up posture. In severe situations (e.g. sciatica), they can compress nerves and cause excruciating pain, discomfort, and numbness.

And as far as athletics go, that all equates to decreased performance and a significantly higher risk of injury.

Your move: combat it with a regular dose of foam rolling.

  • (1) Foam rolling helps relax tight muscles, release trigger points, and stimulate blood flow to targeted areas, all of which speeds up the recovery process. We love Trigger Point’s foam roller.
  • (2) For really deep, targeted issues (e.g. piriformis, hips, back knots), drill them with a tennis, golf, or lacrosse ball. Just a warning, it can be blackout-level painful at first. Ease in.

Get cozy with both tools, they’re your new BFFs and make great buddies in front of the TV (it can actually make watching The Bachelor or Vanderpump Rules a productive activity).

Knock out knots and reclaim your mobility with our 5-minute foam rolling routine. Do it at least 3-4x per week.


4. Flood Your Body with BCAAs.

Launch a BCAA tsunami.

BCAA’s, or the Branched Chain Amino Acids, are a naturally-occurring group of amino acids that can help boost muscle protein synthesis—a factor that increases muscle growth—significantly reduce post-workout muscle soreness (known as DOMS), and accelerate muscle recovery.

They also function as a bonus fuel tank during exercise (which can help delay fatigue and help you go harder, longer) and actively preserve muscle tissue whenever the body starts to fall into a deficit.

They’re an effective, smart supplement that’s proven to work; especially if you’re grinding out high intensity workouts on a consistent basis.

Need a reco? We’ve got a full BCAA review locked and loaded.


5. Compress So Hard.

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Between designer leggings, spandex, and neon knee-high socks, compression gear is so in right now.

But there’s tangible benefit for hardcore athletes, especially for anyone dealing with lingering injuries. Along the same lines as foam rolling, applying compression is an easy way to improve circulation and increase blood flow to a given area, which subsequently galvanizes recovery. And if you’re nursing an injury, swelling, or inflammation, extended use can help speed up the healing process.23

Pair that with a rolling regimen and it forms a potent combo to regenerate mutilated muscle fibers.

While some people swear by compression swag for a performance boost—including reduced fatigue and lactic acid build up—the evidence is anecdotal at best, as there’s conflicting hard resarch to support it.456

Go ahead, swag up to stimulate recovery, especially if you’re ailing. But don’t expect it to supercharge your workouts beyond that.


6. Rest Days.

We love anyone with a relentless, bloodthirsty drive to construct the most elite physique possible. Busting ass is a prerequisite. But be smart and realistic about it, especially if you’re crushing HIIT workouts on a regular basis.

Yes, you need rest days. Follow this cadence —

  • For the most ambitious lifting aficionados, cap yourself at 4-5 intense workouts per week
  • If you’re new to the HIIT thing, start slow with 2-3 sessions per week, max.

That ensures that your body has enough time to adequately recover, refuel, and stay fresh, and it allows it to take the time needed to build new muscle tissue. Remember: your body grows when you’re not lifting.

And if your muscles start to ail, energy levels plummet, and upper respiratory track starts to sear in agony, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. You’re run down and need to regenerate.

Slow down, rest often, and try not to kill yourself in the process. Keep working hard and get after it — as long as your smart, the results will pile up and flow freely.

Bryan DiSanto

Bryan DiSanto

Owner & Editor-in-Chief at Lean It UP
Bryan DiSanto is the Owner & Editor-in-Chief of Lean It UP, ACE-CPT & CSN, NYU graduate, ex-fat kid, and all-around fitness/nutrition nutjob.

When he’s not working on his (or somebody else’s) abs, whipping up Eggocados, or running a Tough Mudder, he’s probably off yelling at a Carolina Panthers game somewhere.
Bryan DiSanto
Follow Lean It UP on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for real-time fitness/nutrition tips, advice, info and updates.



References, Notes, Links

  1. Lean It UP — 5 HIIT Workouts You Can Do RIGHT NOW To Incinerate Fat In Under 15 Minutes []
  2. Partsch H, Winiger J, Lun B. Compression stockings reduce occupational leg swelling. Dermatol Surg. 2004 May;30(5):737-43 []
  3. Ali A, Caine MP, Snow BG. Graduated compression stockings: physiological and perceptual responses during and after exercise. J Sports Sci. 2007 Feb 15;25(4):413-9. []
  4. Rider, Brian C.; Coughlin, Adam M.; Hew-Butler, Tamara D.; Goslin, Brian R. Effect of Compression Stockings on Physiological Responses and Running Performance in Division III Collegiate Cross-Country Runners During a Maximal Treadmill Test. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: June 2014 - Volume 28 - Issue 6 - p 1732–1738 []
  5. Ali A, Creasy RH, Edge JA. The effect of graduated compression stockings on running performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 May;25(5):1385-92. []
  6. Kemmler W, von Stengel S, Köckritz C, Mayhew J, Wassermann A, Zapf J. Effect of compression stockings on running performance in men runners. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):101-5. []


  • Bruno Guedes

    Great article! For someone like me who only does endurance and HIIT circuit training I was under the impression that carbs, even if clean, would get in the way of burning fat.
    This is still one of the areas I’m struggling with the most: what to eat and when? Would you recommend loading up on carbs before such workouts and relying more on protein post-workout or to have it spread evenly throughout my meals?

    • Bryan DiSanto

      What you eat should be dictated by your training. As a really simple, general rule to follow, both your pre- AND post-workout meals should be heavy on (clean) carbs and protein, lower in fat.

      For high-intensity training, in particular, your body needs carbs to drive performance. Performance translates to muscle gain, more fat burned, progress, etc.

      • Bruno Guedes

        Got it! Thanks for the reply, will try and make the adjustment to those two meals and and see how it feels.

        • Bryan DiSanto

          You got it, keep me posted on how it’s going.