Wednesday, March 23, 2016

HIIT vs. Steady-State for Fat Loss: Can EPOC Really Explain the Benefits of Intense Interval Training (HIIT, SIE, HIE)?

HIIT has been touted to work its fat burning magic by increasing post-exercise oxygen consumption aka EPOC, a marker of the amount of fat you burn after your workouts. Eventually, however, only the total oxygen consumption and energy expenditure count and this is where the putative mechanism behind the fat loss effects of HIIT lacks scientific backup.
Higher excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) after high-intensity interval exercise (HIIT / HIE) and sprint interval exercise (SIE) has long been touted to explain the greater fat loss scientists observed in several studies which compared the fat loss effects effects classic "cardio" aka steady-state exercise (SSE) to interval training (HIIT / HIE).

To elucidate whether that's a reasonable and, more importantly, sufficient  (meaning: "Is the increased energy expenditure high enough to explain the fat loss, even if the steady state exercise consumes more energy and fat on total?") explanation for the previously mentioned advantages, researchers from the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at the Arizona State University conducted a study to compare the EPOC response to the three most common forms of aerobic training: high intensity interval exercise (HIE), sprint interval exercise (SIE), and steady state exercise (SSE).
You can learn more about HIIT at the SuppVersity

Never Train To Burn Calories!

Tabata = 14.2kcal /min ≠ Fat Loss

30s Intervals + 2:1 Work/Rec.

Making HIIT a Hit Part I/II

Making HIIT a Hit Part II/II

Triple Your Energy Exp.
Ten recreationally active males (age 24 ± 4 y) participated in this randomized crossover study. On separate days, subjects completed a resting control trial and three exercise conditions on a cycle ergometer:
  • HIE (four 4-min intervals at 95% HRpeak, separated by three min of active recovery); and 
  • SIE (six 30-s Wingate sprints, separated by four min of active recovery); and 
  • SSE (30 min at 80% of peak heart rate (HRpeak)). 
Oxygen consumption (VO2) was measured continuously during and for 3 h after exercise to estimate the actual amount of excess energy / fat that was consumed in the three treatment conditions.
Figure 1: Oxygen consumption and respiratory exchange ratio (higher numbers = higher carbohydrate to fat oxidation ratio) during the first three hours after exercise (Tucker. 2016).
Unsurprisingly, VO2 was initially higher than resting control for all three treatments. The increased oxygen consumption, which is a marker of fatty acid oxidation, however, didn't last long: After only 1 h, it returned to pre-exercise levels.
There's room for "cardio": Even though it is not popular, these days, it would be wrong to assume that classic steady state training is always the inferior choice. For someone who's killing it in the gym regularly, the additional HIIT training may in fact be too much of a sympathetic stimulus. The "boring" classic "cardio" training, on the other hand, is predominantly parasympathetic, which is why walking on an incline treadmill may eventually be a better complement to your 4-5 resistance training sessions per week than HIIT cycling or sprinting.
It is thus not really surprising that both, the complete 3-h EPOC and the total net EE after exercise were not extremely different and that that 3-h EPOC and total net EE after exercise were higher (p=0.01) for SIE (22.0 ± 9.3 L; 110 ± 47 kcal) compared to SSE (12.8 ± 8.5 L; 64 ± 43 kcal).
Figure 2: The total O2 consumption (and thus fat oxidation) and energy expenditure during the workout and the 3h thereafter shows that steady state exercise burns more fat and energy than any of the two HIIT regimen (Tucker. 2016).
What goes against the idea of increased fat oxidation after workouts due to HIIT (i.e. SIE or HIE), however, is the scientists observation that the "total (exercise + postexercise) net O2 consumed and net EE were greater (p=0.03) for SSE (69.5 ± 18.4 L; 348 ± 92 kcal) than for SIE (54.2 ± 12.0 L; 271 ± 60 kcal)" (Tucker. 2016), while those for for HIE were not significantly different from SSE or SIE, so that Tucker et al. rightly conclude that "EPOC after SIE and HIE is unlikely to account for the greater fat loss per unit EE associated with SIE and HIE training reported in the literature" (Tucker. 2016).
Bottom line: As Tucker et al. rightly point out, simple math shows that the increased energy expenditure and O2 consumption during the steady state trial more than compensates the significant, but small increase in energy expenditure and fat oxidation after the workout.

Figure 3: Minute-by-minute energy expenditure during a sedentary day and a day beginning with a single bout of sprint interval training (SIT). Data are mean values (Sevits. 2016).
It is important to know that this does not negate the results of previous studies that found beneficial effects of HIIT on fat loss. What the study does do, however, is to refute the hypothesis that these benefits were a result of an increase in EPOC and thus overall larger total energy expenditure. This, on the other hand, doesn't mean that any effects after the EPOC window of 3h investigated in the study could be responsible for said benefits. As Tucker et al. highlight, "another previously confirmed benefit of intense exercise is that it can increase the resting energy expenditure (REE) [... 17-24 h after exercise ...] in part due to an increase in sympathetic tone " (Tucker. 2016).

In conjunction with increases in the ease of locomotion (16, 17) and increase nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) (14), these effects could well explain the benefits of HIIT. Studies to confirm that are yet not just lacking, as Tucker et al. highlight, the whole-room calorimeter study of Sevits et al. (32) even suggests that SIE does not elevate REE at 24 h postexercise (see Figure 3). More studies to get to the bottom of the fat loss benefits of HIIT protocols appear warranted | Comment.
  • Sevits, Kyle J., et al. "Total daily energy expenditure is increased following a single bout of sprint interval training." Physiological reports 1.5 (2013): e00131.
  • Tucker, Wesley J., Siddhartha S. Angadi, and Glenn A. Gaesser. "Excess postexercise oxygen consumption after high-intensity and sprint interval exercise, and continuous steady-state exercise." The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2016).