The Carb Backloading Experiment
Eat all the foods you want yet still gain muscle and drop the body fat, all at the same time - does it get any better than this?
To say this headline caught my attention last year was an understatement, but we have heard this all before, in fact numerous times. Hopefully this time it would be different...
These claims were made by John Kiefer an American fitness professional in his book Carb Backloading, created after reading over 20’000 articles from scientific journals and quoting over 10’000 of these in the actual book.
This is what separated the men from the boys this time and grabbed the attention of many, including myself.
What is even more interesting is that the main principle behind the book goes against one of the major guidelines that has been preached for years in the health and fitness industry – eat your carbs early in the day.
In fact, kiefer goes one step further and says to eat every single one of your carbs in the evening, and to eat a lot of them.
So who does this work for?
This protocol has been designed for those doing regular and intense weight training. But it is also for those who want maximum muscle/strength gains while minimizing or even reducing your body fat. The key point here is intense weight training, essential for maximum results, as this makes our muscle cells absorb glucose (carbs) at a faster rate, despite getting less insulin sensitive throughout the day.
So what’s the basics?
1. Keep the bulk of your calories to later in the day, eat light during the day and feast in the evening.
2. Carbs must be kept to minimum throughout the day before training.
3. Conduct an intense weight training session, ideally in the afternoon.
4. after that, let the feasting begin and start smashing the carbohydrates.
My experiments with this approach
Over the last few years I have found that this eating pattern was something I felt suited me very well and I tended to do this naturally already, from listening to what my body was telling me. It was great to read the science and research behind what I was doing and to add some further tweaks to a great system.
In theory it is simple and works a little something like this. Keeping carb intake low throughout the day not only keeps the body in a constant fat burning state it also boosts the sympathetic nervous system.
This keeps us focused, energetic, alert and clear thinking, ideal for those busy days at work and the intense weight training we like to do. Once those things are out of the way, we want to put in the right materials (including carbs) to recover from this and create the optimal anabolic environment to reap the most from our hard work.
Last year I used this exact approach for competition prep, to get well into single figure body fat. I kept my carbs until my evening feast and from very healthy choices such as rice and potatoes.
It worked fast and I was very lean in not time, much quicker in fact than any other methods I had previously used. Also, despite the lower calorie intake I would wake up full of energy after sleeping like a baby. I used this approach for my entire contest prep and I was able to keep starchy carbs in my nutrition plan the entire time, right up to game day. I had never been able to do this before.
After competition it was time to see how far I could push the system. So I set a new goal, maximum strength and lean muscle gain but still keeping the same back loading set up but simply increasing my carbs on an evening. For 16 weeks I continually pushed my carb intake up to 300-500g per night, after weight training. The result is I am now holding the most muscle I have ever done while being the leanest I have ever been when eating so many carbs every day.
The downside to this is I don’t feel as healthy and performance has actually dropped. That many carbs is not a long term approach to good nutrition and not something I can do for extended periods of time.
However, it was great to test and push both sides of the carb back loading coin that now allows me to pass this information on and have confidence in what I am preaching.
Let me sum up the entire point of this blog post and the take home message; eating carbs at night will not make you gain body fat any more than eating them earlier in the day.
In fact, providing a few key principles are adhered to, you will be rewarded with better body composition and health by doing so.