What is Carb Back-Loading?
Although the fundamental principles of it have been a part of the bodybuilding community for some time, the unorthodox diet plan known as Carb Back-Loading (CBL) has made a sweeping trend in the fitness community since John Kiefer’s publication of his “Manual for Total Body Fat Control.” CBL has exploded in popularity in recent years and leaves many wondering if CBL is just another fad and more importantly, if it actually works in transforming body composition and increasing performance. This article takes a look into the founding research and methods of CBL in helping to determine the right lifestyle and nutritional choices for you.
As the name suggests, CBL entails the bulk of carbohydrate intake to take place at the end of the day. Morning and pre-workout meals stay light, eating little to no carbs until post workout, which preferably takes place in the later afternoon or early evening. From the first post-workout meal until bed time, the “backload” takes place through the intake of simple carbs, sometimes even in the form of “junk” food. In stark contrast to traditional dieting habits, the research supporting CBL begs to be understood and this means first learning how carbs affect our body.
The absorption of carbohydrates means the introduction of glucose (sugar) to the bloodstream, thus raising insulin levels in response. Insulin acts as a transporter of excess carbs, either to muscle cells or to fat cells, and determining how and to which cells that the insulin will transport carbohydrates is the art of CBL. Our bodies follow natural hormonal fluctuations throughout the day, one of these being a rhythm in insulin sensitivity. The premise of CBL is in using these natural mechanisms to our advantage by fasting carbs when they are most likely to be stored as fat (in the morning) and eating them at a time that they are more likely to be stored as glycogen energy-stores in the muscle cells (in the evening). Weight training is an important factor in CBL, particularly that it takes place later in the day, as a way to deplete the muscle cells of glycogen stores (backloaded from the previous day) to increase insulin sensitivity so that once carbs are introduced they are shuttled by the body directly into the muscle cells by preference.
The target of CBL is to train the body to fuel off of fat earlier in the day and to keep carbohydrate-induced bodily stress levels to a minimum while recognizing the importance of carbs on a cellular level. The insulin spike seen through the ingestion of carbs can take up to 8-10 hours before the body reverts back to burning fats for fuel, meaning that when we wake up each morning our bodies are primed to fat burning. Many nutritionists prescribe carbs both first thing in the morning and immediately pre-workout as a means to absorb quick energy needed to start the day or to get started with the weights, however, the reality is that our bodies can run perfectly fine on proteins and fats and in fact, can provide us with an energy of greater “clarity” due to the negative effect that carbohydrates can have on our nervous system.
CBL is not the magic pill, but no diet worthwhile of making the lifestyle change for actually is. The bottom line is that the results seen through CBL speak for themselves and can be done without damaging metabolism or health as many trending diets can and for that, it just might be worth the try.
Sarah Loogman is a trainer and athlete of Northstate CrossFit in Redding, Ca. With a strong athletic background in collegiate sports, Sarah transitioned to CrossFit in 2013 and has since been familiar to the podium in fitness events such as Femme Fit and Northstate’s Fittest, among others. Sarah competed in the California ‘Super’ Regional in San Diego in 2015 with the Northstate team and is hopeful to qualify among California’s top women in 2016. You can find Sarah on Instagram at @sarahloogman.
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