My Thoughts on Carb Back-loading

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“Man. Ice cream is awesome. Too bad I’m dieting.”

Poor soul. What if I told you there was a way to diet AND eat what you want? Sound too good to be true?

Sadly, people get way too stressed out about carbohydrates. They’re looked upon as “evil” or the “enemy” when it comes to fat loss. Some people would rather eat twice as many calories than include carbs in their diet because they believe the carbs are what is making them fat, far from the truth as it is. But getting used to carbs takes time and won’t happen overnight. At the same time, hardly anyone can say no to a plan that allows you to reap the benefits of eating carbs without the fat gain, all the while eating all the things you like.

Everyone, meet my friend carb back-loading.

When I first heard the idea of carb back-loading it didn’t really seem to make a lot of sense. I had experimented with my fair share of different eating methods and didn’t really seem to see any noticeable differences in terms of one doing something different than the other or being notably better. However, I liked the idea. Eat low/no carb during the day, and feast on junky carbs post-training.

Carb back-loading took the standard recommendations for dieting, ripped them into a million pieces, and set them on fire.

Carb backloading allowed me to say, “Fuck you, oatmeal!” and grab a donut with my coffee.

Ah. C’est la vie.

Now, there are some basic principles that must be kept in mind and followed if you want to ensure the success of a carb back-loading plan.

First and foremost, carb back-loading is NOT a diet.

It’s not something you go on for a couple of weeks and then begin eating “normally” again. It is quite simply a different way of eating. And to be quite frank, I haven’t really seen anyone who went back to regular eating after giving CBL a run, so I guess you could call it a “lifestyle”.

The method is founded off a couple of simple guidelines:

  1. Eat low/no carb during the day
  2. Consume shitty carbs post-workout (more on that soon)
  3. Continue to eat whatever kind of carbs you want until your daily totals cuts you off

The catch here is that on non-training days (“cardio days” included), zero carbs will be had. Some much more active and muscular folks can get away with keeping it around 75-100g on a day off, but for most everyone, keep it <30. Think keto. That’s what your off days should look like.

“A bowl of oatmeal is discarded; a plate of bacon is eaten. Fair trade.” – John Hartigan

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(Or I think that’s what he said.)

What’s wonderful about this way of eating, is that it can coincide with whatever way of eating you are already doing, minus ketogenic diets. (Note: The author of the Carb Back-Loading manual wrote up another diet that is more of a ketogenic diet called “Carb Nite”, but we’ll save that for another time.)

The most common questions are from those who are on an intermittent fasting plan, or something like the Warrior Diet. Fortunately, CBL not only works well with these types of “diets”, but is preferably done with them. At least in my opinion anyway. Though if someone was trying to gain muscle, optimally some more eating would be done during the day before training.

For those who don’t know, these are the main differences between the WD and IF:

Warrior Diet:

“Eat like a warrior”. In other words, think of scavengers and hunters. Very light “meals” during the day. Things like small amounts of nuts, seeds, and fresh or frozen berries are the best. Low calorie vegetables are also great. You could also have small amounts of fish oil, low-carb/fat protein powder, cream in your coffee, etc. The main thing is to keep the calories low, but still have some small and very light snacks during the day to keep your energy and spirits up. It’s also much better for those who have a problem with their blood sugar crashing from regular fasts.

At the end of the day, you would eat the rest of your calories. So even if you are on a low calorie diet, you should expect to eat a minimum of 800-1000 calories for your final “feast”. This is preferably post-training. If you are not used to eating so many calories in one meal, it can be separated into two meals, though just having one is largely more satisfying for some people.

If it is a training day, have some berries and/or veggies with a scoop of protein pre-workout. You will still be getting energy from your feasting the night before, and get to look forward to a large meal right after.

Intermittent Fasting:

IF is based on the idea of fasting for a minimum of 14 hours, to a maximum of 20 hours daily.

During the fasting period, calories are meant to be kept <50. So you may have sugar-free beverages such as tea, coffee, diet soda, etc. as well as some small amounts of sweeteners. It is recommended to drink plenty of water and to keep yourself busy during this time. The fast is broken after whatever time slot you have set out for yourself, which is usually pre-workout. Food is then consumed within roughly an 8 hour window, sometimes shorter for others depending on the length of the fast and the time of training.

If you are like me however, 20 hours is far too long and I would hardly recommend it for the average person, especially if you have an intense training regimen. On the flip side, 14 hours is pretty short and hardly enough to get the benefits out of IF in my experience.

(I say “like me”, because my blood sugar has a tendency to go completely bonkers if I go that long without eating anything. So in this case, I follow more of a Warrior Diet style to help keep my blood sugar somewhat more stable and avoid any unwanted crashes.)

I hope that clears things up for some of you who aren’t too familiar with the different terms. Regardless of what you choose, both ways of eating coincide extremely well with CBL, and I’d recommend giving both a try to see if either one suits your needs.

Now, one of the main concerns with not only CBL, but also the Warrior Diet, is:

“Will I get fat skipping meals and eating tons at night?”

Non-lengthy answer: No.

The problem with getting people to appreciate the beauty that is CBL and the WD(or even IF for that matter) is convincing them that eating this way will not make them overweight and unhealthy.

“Well, when I was a freshman in college that was basically my diet anyway and I gained 30 lbs.”

It is a common concern. But what people fail to understand is that your training and the types of food you are eating and when you are eating them plays a big role. Also, people tend to underestimate how many calories they are eating when they are sedentary.

A baconator combo from Wendy’s doesn’t seem to be all that intimidating. But it packs quite a calorie punch. Roughly 1600-1700 calories with a small size. So if you are coming home after eating nothing and then consuming that, combined with a poor training plan (if any at all), poor sleep schedule, and possibly some other midnight snacks and/or sugary drinks you failed to remember mindlessly eating while studying for your finals, that’s a pretty good way to gain weight. And not the good kind.

If you take a relatively sedentary person and give him a 2000 calorie meal to eat at the end of the day, and do the same for someone who just finished an intense weight training session with some heart-pounding cardio at the end of it, who do you think will make better use of the calories?

The difference with CBL is remembering that “bad” carbs are only there to reward a great training session. And especially after being in a relatively fasted state (or completely fasted depending on how you normally eat), your body is more than ready to soak up all the carbs to aid with your growth and recovery.

This is why we avoid junky carbs on days off from training.

Or any carbs that aren’t vegetables, really.

This is why I can afford to eat like an obese American some nights and not actually gain weight from it. It’s simple body science. Or nutritional science. Whatever you’d like to call it.

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My dinner on Thursday nights, post-benching.

All I know is it works.

Something to keep in mind if you are thinking about starting CBL is you MUST get in your essential nutrients and hit your macros as well, unless you are having a “cheat” meal (hate that term). For some people who know there body very well, eye-balling portions is an option. However, most people need to follow macro guidelines especially in the beginning, as it is easy to go overboard.

And getting your essential nutrients means you can’t swap out your fish oil for bacon. Yes, bacon tastes better. No, it doesn’t have the same effect on your body. Can you still eat bacon? Yes. But take your fish oil first.

Vitamins and minerals are still important. Veggies are still important. Protein is still important. So just because you can eat junk post-training, doesn’t mean you should only eat junk.

By now you’re probably wondering, “Why junk post-training?”

The idea behind that, is that slower-digesting carbohydrates post-training have a dampening effect on the back-loading process. A direct quote from the author of the Carb Back-Loading Manual:

“We all know—or should know—that eating carbs before bed disrupts nighttime release of growth hormone. I’m not going to spend time talking about the benefits of growth hormone other than to reiterate its role as a fat burner and a lean tissue builder: something no one wants to screw up with poor food choice.The poor choice here is low-glycemic carbs. The body will not release growth hormone during sleep until roughly two hours after blood sugar and insulin levels return to normal4. Low-glycemic carbs keep insulin and blood sugar levels elevated for hours, while high-glycemic create a spike that ends within an hour or so of eating. Eating junk gives the benefit of replenishing glycogen stores without interfering with the nocturnal hGH cycle.

Eat like a fat kid and get jacked. End of story.” – John Kiefer

More on the studies/research behind why junk food is better post-training than regular carbohydrates is explained very thoroughly in the book by the man himself. If you are very curious about the effects, I highly suggest visiting his website and purchasing the book. It is worth the money and will clear up questions you may have regarding how to eat post-training and why one way is more beneficial than the other.

If it helps, in my experience and from viewing others, junk  most definitely works the best. No complaints!

Getting back…

Another pit-fall with CBL and any kind of fasting or semi-fasting meal plan is that some people find it very difficult to get in that many calories at once. This can be helped by eating higher calorie foods, and of course, conditioning your body for it.

If you are used to eating 8 tiny meals a day, it’s going to seem weird and even difficult to eat 600 calories at a time, much less 1000 or more. So you have to start out slow. If you are fasting, try splitting it up into 3-4 meals post-training. Then cut it down to 3, then 2, etc.

The problem is when people decide that, “Oh hey, I have to eat my veggies!” and opt for a huge salad and then have no room for anything else.

Which is why I recommend WD over an intermittent fasting plan, since it still allows you to eat small amounts during the day, and leave the juicy calories for the end of the day. Personal preference of course though.

Bottom line: hit your nutritional needs. That’s more important than anything else.

Anyway, before you slam your laptop screen shut and make a list of all the goodies you’re going to eat post-training tomorrow, there is something else that must be done prior to beginning backloading.

Induction phase.

Ew.

The phase typically lasts for 10 days. Some exceptions are made for those who literally cannot function on ketogenic diets. If you are someone who falls face-first into a cheesecake after 3 days of low-carbing or convulses just at the mention of the word “keto”, the induction phase can be shortened. Or if you are someone who has had a lot of experience with a ketogenic diet, the phase can also be shorted to 5 days or so just to kind of give your metabolism a kick without turning you into the walking dead.

But for most people, just stick to the induction phase.

During the induction phase, it is treated like a regular ketogenic diet. Under 30g of net carbs per day. After your first carb-up, your cycle begins as normal with carbs on training days, and no carbs on off-days.

Another great thing about backloading is the ability to eat MORE carbs on your training days than you were able to before. So for example if you’re someone who is used to eating 150g of carbs a day, you can start getting used to eating upwards of 200g. Of course this also depends on individual needs, but as a general rule, it is easier to eat more carbs on this plan.

I know this may seem scary to some of you who are not used to eating carbs, but I can tell you right now that carbs are a wonderful thing, and life is a very sorry place without them. Most people think they are more carb resistant than they actually are. But once you get into the world of higher carb eating and see the awesome stuff is does for your physique, you will never turn back.

Plus carbs are yummy. Don’t know if I mentioned that already.

So who can do this diet?

Honestly, anyone. I have seen very lean people use it for bulking or maintenance, and I have seen overweight people use it for cutting.

So if you are somebody who:

  • Loves carbs
  • Loves eating large amounts of food
  • Loves eating a variety of different foods
  • Loves sweet stuff but feels “guilty” about it
  • Loves having energy
  • Loves losing fat with ease
  • Loves retaining muscle while stripping fat

Well then…CBL might just be for you.

And even if it’s not. Why not give it a try and see anyway? You’ll never know what to expect unless you do.

FINAL NOTE FOR NON-EVENING TRAINING INDIVIDUALS: For those of you who train in the morning or really any time before the evening, things must be adjusted. Supplementing with BCAA’s is a smart idea. Of course, training in the morning is not the most optimal thing for CBL, but again, you have to play around and see what works well for you. Ideally you would be training in the afternoon/evening for this to work perfectly.

Feast on, comrades.

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