Like Intermittent Fasting, Carb Back-Loading (CBL) is a fast growing trend in the fitness industry right now.
The common denominator? Both ‘diets’ boast the ability for you to reach your fitness goals, whilst eating your favourite carb-dense foods.
So…What is Carb Back-Loading?
Carb Back-Loading is a fairly simple concept. Nutritionist John Kiefer is largely responsible for its popularity as of late! Basically…
You can break the diet down into several simple ‘rules’:
✔ Eat light in the morning (which may mean skipping breakfast) and in the early hours of the afternoon, but consume a lot in the evening.
✔ Eat virtually no carbs until after you have worked out, which ideally should be mid-afternoon.
✔ Your first meal containing carbs is your post-workout meal, and you continue to consume carbs throughout the remainder of the evening.
That is essentially it, it seems pretty mad and goes against what we naturally think which is to consume less food; especially carbs in the evening!
How does it Work?
Kiefer suggests that when utilising this diet, you take advantage of your body’s natural daily fluctuations in insulin sensitivity in your muscle and fat cells, as well as the exercise induced increase in insulin sensitivity in your muscle cells.
Research has suggested that your insulin sensitivity in muscle and fat cells is higher in the morning than in the evening. This means that your muscle and fat cells will be more receptive the glucose sugars earlier in the day.
With regards to muscle, this is a positive thing, since the more glucose that is absorbed, the better your performance in the gym, or working out will be. However, this is bad in the case of fat, since the more glucose is absorbed into your fat cells, the more fat you will store.
Carb-back loading logic?
CBL works on the idea that you use these mechanisms to your advantage by not eating carbs when your body is ready to store them as fat, which happens to be earlier in the day. Instead, you consume carbohydrates when your body is starved of them, and hence will be much more likely to store them as glycogen in the muscles. This occurs later in the day, after working out.
This is why it is advised to work out later in the day when following CBL. After working out, your glycogen stores (‘reserve’ energy) will be depleted. This means insulin sen
itivity will be increased in your muscle cells, but will remain at a lower sensitivity in your fat cells. As a result, when you start eating carbs, they will instantly be utilised by your muscles, rather than being stored as fat.
There have been dozens of studies which Kiefer has boasted that back up this idea, however it still remains a theory and is not guaranteed to work in every case. By all means give it a go, however don’t expect it to be some sort of miracle diet which helps you lose weight whilst still eating junk – it will work differently for everyone!
Potential Benefits of Carb Back-Loading
✔ You Can Enjoy Yourself
With most diets out there, you will be restricted with what you can eat. This means there will be times when you will have to pass on an opportunity to go out for a meal with your family/friends, or will opt for a salad rather than what you really want to eat, which everyone around you is enjoying. You are able to have the burger and chips which your friends rave about, without feeling overly guilty. You will feel more comfortable about what you are eating.
This is another reason why it is a good first step diet for someone looking to take the first step into their fitness journey.
✔ Less Cravings
One of the key benefits of this diet is that it does allow you to be less restrictive with your food choices. It is okay to have some junk, since it is actually foods which a high glycaemic index which are optimal to consume when following CBL, but don’t go overboard. Even if you do see results in the mirror this way, it isn’t good for your long term health.
Nevertheless, the fact you can eat your favourite foods means you will have less caving, are less likely to binge on junk, and will stick to the diet more. This makes it sustainable, and is optimal for those who want to take the first step without cutting out lots of their favourite meals altogether.
✔ Reduce stored fat
As previously mentioned, the whole premise of this diet is based on your hormonal response. Whilst your body has been fasting all night, it is in a prime fat burning state. Your stress hormone (Cortisol) peaks during the morning, and if you do not consume carbs at this time, your body should continue to burn fat. However, if you do, cortisol and insulin will ‘encourage’ your body to store fat.
Levels of cortisol drop later in the day, which means your body can process carbs more efficiently, reducing the amount that is stored as fat.
✔ Improved Sleep
If you’ve ever tried going to sleep on an empty stomach, you will know it is not pleasant in the slightest. Consuming carbs increases the production of melatonin and serotonin, which help you to sleep, and improve the quality of your sleep. This occurs after consuming complex, slow releasing carbohydrates. Hence it is essential to ensure you balance the ‘junk’ you eat, with healthy foods too.
Take Home Message
Carb Back-Loading is a very controversial topic. It has been shown to work for some, but others aren’t convinced.
I’d recommend this diet to anyone who is starting out with their weight loss journey, as it may just be that great first step towards your goals!
You do not need to cut out your favourite foods, therefore it is sustainable. Once you end up seeing results, you will want to take the next step, and then I think there are better diets you can follow once you are able to exercise a little more self-control!