If you work out regularly, you should be familiar high intensity intermittent training (HIIT).  This type of training that alternate short periods of high intensity with same or longer recovery periods at low-moderate intensity for much shorter overall duration workout compared to the low intensity one hour steady state workout. This style has been linked to increase cardiovascular capacity and life span, and is faster for accelerating fat loss than traditional workouts.

As yogis have shown a tendency to practice mindful eating, HIIT followers have done their part by following the “caveman diet” or "paleo diet." Regardless the name, in general, both diets are based on mimicking the way our distant ancestors used to eat: mostly meat, seafood, nuts, fruits and veggies while avoiding grains, sugar, processed foods and dairy.

“Basically, eating lean proteins and any fruit/vegetable that was found pre-agricultural revolution. Very restrictive in other foods,” says Bob Seebohar, M.S, R.D, C.S.S.D, C.S.C.S., author of the book Nutrition Periodization for Athletes.

Working out at high intensity while following a diet like the "caveman diet" will definitely make you lose weight. However the questions are:

a) Is this the best diet to go with a type of HIIT workout?

b) Is this diet doable for a long time period?

And c) Does this diet provide all the nutrients and vitamins, minerals and fiber that the body need to function at its best?

No need to eliminate

A new study concludes that when subjects were given a high protein intake (3g/Kg) and worked at high intensity experimented less psychological stress and better recovery compared to normal protein intake (1.5 g/Kg). “Effect of Increased Dietary Protein on Tolerance to Intensified Training,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise Journal.

It seems that programs such as Cross-Fit, Tabata workouts and other HIIT workouts are doing good promoting a protein rich diet. However, while the role of this nutrient has been well documented to keep a healthy body mass and metabolism, and to decrease body fat, experts advise on the health hazards of overconsumption, especially when other nutrients rich in fiber and vitamins and minerals are put aside.

Shari Portnoy, M.P.H., R.D., www.FoodLabelNutrition.com, says that The Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition recommends 1.2-1.7grams per Kg of body weight for athletes and those training. Non athletes need 0.8g per Kg of body weight.

“Any diet that eliminates a food group, eliminates essential nutrients,” says Portnoy. Indeed, this eating plan avoids grains and dairy and even though promotes fruit and vegetable intake; the overall carbohydrates consumption may be insufficient.

To Portnoy, the body needs carbohydrate meals to fuel and refuel properly, adding, “The brain runs on glucose only, a fuel received from carbohydrates. Using protein for fuel is inefficient because then what do you have left to build and repair muscle tissue?”

On this subject, Seebohar says, “If fruits and vegetables are consumed in good amounts (at least 10 servings), the carbohydrates needs can be somewhat met for shorter, intense exercise.”

However, when statistics show that Americans have a tough time to meet its five a day, it’s really hard to think that they’ll eat double the amount.

Portnoy explains that “protein does not provide more than 10-15% of the total energy requirement for an activity. It is not advantageous to use protein because it is crucial for building and repairing muscle tissue.”

Bring the carbs back!

There’s no doubt of the benefits to include the appropriate amount of protein when doing HIIT training. However, to make the most out of your workout, you need to provide the body the appropriate energy that carbohydrates – whole grains, high fiber types- only can supply. Even to efficiency metabolize protein, the body needs carbs to carry this nutrient to the muscles.

This is particularly important before and after working out. Seebohar says “usually eating 20 to 25 grams of protein with about 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrate within 1 to 2 hours pre workout then repeating it post workout is a good nutrient time system to decrease the loss of protein while doing HIIT type of training.”

Likewise, Portnoy adds that “protein consumed in close proximity to strength and endurance exercise can have gains on skeletal muscle. However, eating too much high protein foods before a workout can cause GI symptoms. Eating several protein containing meals and snacks throughout the day is better than one large meal.”


Dairy products are usually excluded in this type of diet, which goes against to what research is showing about the benefits of including dairy such as fat-free milk and Greek yogurt in our diets. In fact, dairy is a source of the bran chain amino-acid leucine, which has been shown to enhance strength performance, as stated in a study from the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.

In addition, dairy has whey protein, calcium and vitamin D which have also been related to decrease body fat and to maintain body mass. Equally, drinking milk after working out has proven to be an excellent recovery meal.

Bottom line: Weather you do HIIT training or not, eating close to earth can provide a healthy, weight loss/maintenance diet for the long run. This means eating lean meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits, whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, bulgur, beans, skim dairy food and healthy mono-saturated fats such as nuts, avocado and olive oil and Omega 3 fatty acids, while avoiding sugar and processed food. This is an eating plan that works for everyone, just adjust the serving sizes accordingly to your needs and if you workout make sure that you have a well balance pre- and post-workout meal.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning, coach and master trainer who is an adjunct professor at Florida International University.  Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health  tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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