Every year, the nutrition world throws up another new concept.
In the past, it’s been Paleo, intermittent fasting, ketogenic diets, and now it seems that everyone’s all about carb backloading.
So, is this concept a solid dietary approach that could enhance your results, or merely just another way of eating that could be applied to your diet?
In this article, we’ll dive in, and see exactly what carb backloading is all about.
Carb Backloading: What is It?
The concept of carb backloading is very simple – you eat the vast majority of your carbs right before bed.
Throughout the day, you consume mostly protein and fats, saving all your sweet and starchy foods until your final meal.
The premise of this diet (as popularised by coach John Kiefer) is that in the morning, your insulin sensitivity is higher. This is both a good and bad thing – higher insulin sensitivity means your muscles are more responsive to any nutrients delivered to them, but so are your fat cells, meaning it’s a double-edged sword.
Carb backloading (CBL) therefore attempts to get around this potential issue by avoiding carbs early in the day (surmising that they’re more likely to be stored as fat) then training later on – usually around 5pm – to make your muscles far, far more receptive to any nutrients ingested, and therefore avoiding the potential fat gain that comes from eating carbs at other points of the day.
It sounds solid, so let’s look deeper.
Research to Support CBL
Two studies in particular stand out as supporting CBL.
The first was a study from a 2011 edition of “The Journal of Obesity” and found that subjects experienced greater weight loss eating most of their carbohydrates at dinner, rather than spread evenly throughout the day. (1)
The second might initially seem like a negative result:
It’s a slightly older study, from a 1997 edition of “The Nutrition Journal” but it found that participants lost more weight when eating larger meals at breakfast, rather than large meals at the end of the day.
However, what was interesting was that preservation of fat-free mass (i.e. muscle) was far better with the large evening meals group. (2)
So both these studies potentially add weight to the idea of carb backloading – the first from the side of pure weight loss, and the second from a body composition standpoint. After all, there’s no point losing weight if the only weight you lose is muscle mass.
Increasing Your Flexibility
Another interesting concept is metabolic flexibility, and something that Kiefer himself, along with other respected nutritionists such as Dr. John Berardi and Dr. Mike T Nelson talk about.
This revolves around the idea that you can “train” your body to be more responsive to certain nutrients at certain times – particularly carbohydrate.
By separating carbs and fats, and consuming most of your carbs around workouts, and most of your fats further away from training times, you create a more efficient metabolism, more likely to drive carbs to muscle cells, rather than storing them as fat.
If you train in the evening therefore – around the time Kiefer recommends – in theory, you take advantage of this shift, and can improve your metabolic flexibility.
How about from a mental standpoint?
The theory and science is all well and good, but it doesn’t matter much if you can’t adhere to a diet.
For many, carb backloading is an extremely useful way of controlling cravings and managing calorie intake.
Most people get cravings at particular times of the day – these will usually be mid-morning and mid-afternoon, when it’s been a few hours since you’ve eaten, as well as in the evening.
At the end of the day, when your work’s been done, you’ve eaten dinner, and you’re just sitting there watching TV, it can be very easy to let your mind drift to food. You may well have already eaten all your day’s calorie allowance, or only have a small protein-based snack left.
Yet all your brain wants is carbs, carbs, carbs.
Imagine if you could have carbs here.
And not just a couple of rice cakes or a cereal bar either.
Picture huge bowls of oats, ice cream, cookies, pasta and pancakes.
With CBL, you could have all those, and still lose fat.
In fact, Kiefer suggests getting a decent amount of these carbs from junk foods.
For some ladies out there, this approach can be a godsend.
Perhaps you don’t mind (or actually quite enjoy) eating just protein, veggies and fats throughout the day. Maybe your morning ritual is an omelette, your lunch is a chicken salad, you snack on protein shakes, and just love a simple piece of steak or fish with vegetables for dinner.
But once 7pm hits … it’s all about the carbs!
Provided you hit your daily calorie and carb intake quota, then there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t go a little nuts with your favourite carb-dense foods while chilling out with a movie, or even sitting in bed before drifting off to sleep.
Hold on a Second … It Can’t All Be Good?
As with any nutritional strategy, CBL won’t work for everyone.
If you’re prone to binge eating tendencies for instance, then deliberately saving 80-90% of your day’s carbs for right before bed could exacerbate these negative connotations with food.
If you know that you often get a bit carried away with your diet, and can’t ever just have a small bite of certain trigger foods without wanting to eat your body-weight in them, then CBL may be best avoided.
Likewise, if you have a particularly strenuous job that requires a lot of energy throughout the day, then carbs are still your body’s preferred source of fuel, and last night’s spaghetti alfredo and Tim Tams are unlikely to still be keeping you going come 4pm the next day.
The Wrap Up – Is CBL For You?
CBL could be for you – it’s worth trying it to see.
The only women who should probably avoid it without a doubt are those who train in the morning, as eating some carbs around your workouts is generally a good idea.
Give it a go and see how you fare.
If you do find it helps you control your cravings, you feel good throughout the day, perform well, and keep burning fat, then in carb backloading, you might have found your new best friend.
RESULT BASED TRAINING