How to make your workout benefits last longer

We're all trying to get the most out of our workouts, embarking on adventurous new exercises, and spending hours and hours sweating it out in the gym — even when we'd much rather be doing anything else. So, how do we go about prolonging the benefits we've worked so hard for? How do we stop ourselves from plateauing, and as a result, losing interest in our exercise regimen? And, most importantly, how do we tap into the "after-burn" effect, which might help us burn fat for up to three days after working out?

I asked a variety of notable fitness professionals for their top tips on how to make those workout benefits last even longer, keeping your healthy lifestyle on track and your mind — and body — fully engaged.

HIIT it hard

HIIT, or high intensity interval training, is the go-to workout of the moment, popularized by the likes of Kayla Itsines and her Bikini Body Guides. Personal trainer, and author of The Burn Revolution, Julia Buckley explains how it works, saying, "The short bursts of activity allow us to get right outside our normal comfort zones and exercise at a level of intensity we'd find impossible to maintain for a longer, steady session."

Fitness professional Diana Mitrea explained that HIIT boasts what's called excess post oxygen consumption (EPOC), which allows for an "after-burn" effect on your body post-workout. Essentially, this means you will continue to burn calories hours after training — even if you're just lazing around. But remember that the workout is called "high intensity" for a reason. Unless you push yourself to the limit (and beyond) throughout, you won't get those desired effects, later.

If in doubt, Malia Frey, the weight-loss expert at Verywell and founder of The Daily Diet Tip, suggests monitoring your heart rate throughout to make sure you're getting it high enough, and therefore, burning as many calories (both before and after) as possible.

Lift heavy

As women, we can sometimes be scared to lift big, heavy weights, for fear of getting bulky. However, it's worth remembering that weight training, like HIIT, is ideal for producing that elusive after-burn effect.

As Valerie Bisharat, wellness expert, certified personal trainer and women's fitness specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, advises, "Weight training — using substantial weight — increases lean mass, which is absolutely critical in looking 'toned.'"

Buckley suggests mixing it up, so your body doesn't get bored. "Lifting heavy works even better if you do a workout featuring lots of different types of lifts, hitting muscles across the whole body," she says. If you work one muscle group and then move onto the next, "the body is going to work really hard — and take a longer time to recover, which lengthens the after-burn."

Eat right

What we do in the gym is, obviously, hugely important. But when it comes to food, the old adage applies: you simply cannot out-train a bad diet. If you're thinking you can eat terribly all day, every day, kill yourself in the gym and still see results, forget about it. Robert Herbst, personal trainer, coach, and power-lifter suggests we eat "a balanced diet with the proper macro and micro nutrients. Good proteins, fats, and carbs, with no junk."

As Ivana Chapman, personal trainer, nutrition coach, and founder of Lean365, explained, "Trying to fight the calories in/calories out equation can be a futile effort, if you're trying to keep your workout benefits." The more muscles you have, the "more metabolically active your body is." Also, if you've got a bit of a sweet tooth, keep in mind too that "Your insulin sensitivity will also be increased, which makes you more likely to use the carbs you're ingesting to build muscle rather than store fat."

Drink more water

Regardless of your fitness level or long-term health goals, what you should definitely be drinking more of is good ol' H2O. Make sure to get enough water throughout the day, too, not just during your workout. As Mitrea notes, "Just because the workout is over, it doesn't mean that your body is done needing water and electrolytes."

Water has a multitude of benefits, as Nina Niyri, trainer and co-owner of 4U Fitness, advises, "Drinking at least 64 ounces daily will assist your liver in doing its job: fat metabolism. It can also increase energy levels and assist in the recovery process." It may sound obvious, but drinking less alcohol will help prolong your fitness benefits, too. As Niyiri explains, "Alcohol calories take priority in your body over other fuel sources. When you drink, fat-burning stops until you burn off those calories."