Carb backloading essentially means eating carbs at a specific time during the day – that being immediately after workouts.
We all know that carbs have gotten something of a bad rep in the media lately. Not only are they high in calories but they also spike our blood sugar more quickly than other foods, resulting in an insulin spike followed by weight gain and lethargy. Just how accurate all that is is a subject of hot debate and there are other factors to consider here too – such as the importance of carbs for testosterone production – but the point is that carbs are under fire when it comes to building lean physiques.
The problem is, people like carbs. Carbs are delicious. And they also provide us with immediately available energy which is pretty useful when you have a massive workout ahead.
For these reasons, many athletes have been keen to find a way to enjoy carbs without the guilt and ‘carb backloading’ is one such idea.
How Carb Backloading (Purportedly) Works
The idea behind carb backloading is that you will already have increased your insulin and that any additional calories you consume will be taken up straight into the starving muscles. Because you’re in a highly anabolic state, anything you eat will be sucked up into your muscles instead of being added to your belly as fat. This is pretty much the same logic that many people follow when taking their post-workout shake but applied to everything.
That’s a little worrying though, seeing as most people now agree that a pre workout shake makes more sense seeing as how long it takes for the protein to reach the bloodstream where it can actually be useful.
If you want to try this technique, what you need to do is:
- Eat light in the mornings
- Don’t consume any carbs…
- …Until you’ve finished your workout at which point you can go mad and eat carbs throughout the evening
- Fast at night (easy because you’re asleep)
Should You Try It?
So that’s the theory behind carb backloading… but is it worth trying out?
There’s a fair amount of research out there that appears to suggest carb backloading can work theoretically. This research though is more focused on testing the way that calories get used pre and post-workout rather than actually looking at real people using the technique themselves. In other words, the scientific foundation for this strategy is somewhat shaky at best.
Research does tend to suggest that eating carbs in the evening is better for weight loss and muscle building though (study).
There are downsides however. The first is that you’re going to be pretty much in a fasted ketogenic state throughout the morning. This is all fine assuming that you’re only looking to burn fat but unfortunately it has also been shown that fasted exercise leads to muscle loss – which is effectively what that first workout will be. Plus you’ll be drained and low on energy throughout your workouts.
Another issue is that it’s not particularly pleasant or easy to stick to. Like many of these ‘fad diets’ (let’s be honest, that’s what it is), fasted cardio doesn’t take into account things like ‘eating out with friends’ or the days you take off training. Anecdotal evidence is good for those who stick at it but there are easier methods out there that require less unsocial eating and maddening dedication.