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How to Balance HIIT and Steady-State Cardio

www.ironmanmagazine.comQ: I noticed that you prefer HIIT for cardio. I also noticed that you don’t like to do it in a fasting state. Is that to prevent muscle breakdown for fuel? I do my HIIT first thing in the morning at about 6 a.m. What would you recommend as a snack for fuel, and how long prior to doing HIIT should I eat it?

 A: I actually do a combination of high-intensity interval training and steady-state cardio. I think they are both beneficial and have their place in losing fat.

HIIT cardio has been shown through studies to burn more calories and more fat than lower-intensity steady-state cardio. And with the HIIT I was able to keep the cardio sessions shorter than I did with regular cardio.

The double-edged sword with using cardio to lose fat is that you can overdo it and also sacrifice muscle tissue. Doing long cardio sessions too often has proven to be catabolic to muscle, especially when combined with a low-calorie diet.

I keep my cardio sessions under 30 minutes when I’m trying to lose fat. If I’m doing the steady-state cardio, I will do it immediately after my weight-training session. Most of my glycogen will be used up during my intense weight-training workout, so by the time I get to my cardio work, my body will have to use stored bodyfat for fuel. As long as I keep the cardio session moderately intense—enough to raise my heart rate but not so much that I will sacrifice muscle tissue—I will burn fat.

If I use HIIT, I will do it on a day when I do not weight train. Because HIIT is more intense, it requires carbs for fuel. I will not do it in the morning on an empty stomach because I may lose muscle tissue. I will usually have at least one or two meals before doing HIIT.

As for the meals, I think you should have a good source of protein and some complex carbohydrates. My normal breakfast when I am dieting consists of one or two whole eggs, six egg whites, one cup of oatmeal and one or two slices of Ezekiel bread. If I am doing a session of HIIT, I will do it 90 minutes after my breakfast.

If you are doing your HIIT first thing in the morning, I would recommend having something in your system before your workout—a protein drink consisting of fast-acting whey protein with some type of complex carb like a half cup of oatmeal or a slice of Ezekiel bread would be a good choice. Just give yourself at least an hour to digest the food so it doesn’t interfere with your workout.

Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at for more information about how you can be a part of his exciting, new Natural Olympia Fitness getaway. Send questions or comments to Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, Listen to John’s radio show, “Natural Bodybuilding Radio,” at  IM

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