If you’ve been reading up on the various diet techniques out there designed to help you get lean while packing on muscle mass, one strategy you may have come across is that of carb backloading.
The concept sounds alluring – eat all the carbs you want before you go to bed for the night.
Who doesn’t love feasting on carb-dense foods before you fall into bed? As odd as it may seem given the fact that for many people, this is the reason they are overweight in the first place, this strategy can work when done correctly.
Let’s give you a primer on what carb backloading is and what you must do to use it properly.
How Carb Backloading Works
Carb backloading is focused around manipulating how your body utilizes carbohydrates throughout the day. Since carbohydrates are the primary nutrient that determines whether you tend to gain or lose fat, it would only make sense that a diet that revolves around how carbohydrates are consumed should help you control your body composition.
Carb backloading works through managing insulin sensitivity levels, so that when you do eat carbohydrates, you are more likely to shuttle them off to the muscle cells, rather than converting them to body fat stores.
How does it do this?
The rules of carb backloading are relatively simple.
- Eat a reduced calorie/reduced carb diet plan for the first part of the day.
- Perform your strength training workout in the late afternoon/early evening.
- Introduce carbohydrates back into the diet starting immediately post-workout and then into the meals that follow until bed.
So why eat like this?
A Lesson On Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin sensitivity, which refers to how well your body can handle glucose tends to fluctuate throughout the day.
In the morning for instance, studies suggest you are more likely to experience blood glucose spikes and drops following the ingestion of glucose (carbohydrates) compared to later on in the day.
If you ever find that after eating a carb-rich breakfast meal you’re hungry only an hour or two later, this could be one reason why. Focusing on a protein/fat rich meal often tends to keep hunger stabilized better first thing in the morning.
This protocol will build off this concept.
Second, exercise will also dramatically boost insulin sensitivity levels, meaning your body will be primed to send incoming glucose you consume towards the muscle cells rather than the body fat cells.
For you, this means a large feeding immediately after your workout can better result in lean muscle mass compared to fat gain. This protocol again works off this concept, having you cram your daily carb intake into that post-workout period.
Together, these two principles work in conjunction with each other, helping you get leaner while building muscle mass.
Like most things in life that seem too good to be true, this concept is as well. While there’s no questioning it can help you get leaner and build muscle effectively when done properly in a calorie controlled environment, it can also lead to poor exercise performance.
For some people, trying to put in a workout without carbs is like trying to climb Mount Everest without walking poles. It just isn’t going to happen.
So while this concept may help you get leaner, it could also take away from your workout performance. And that could lead to less than optimal results.
Another problem is that if you don’t function very well on lower carb diets, you may find that trying to get through the first half of the day is a real struggle. Your focus may be lower at work, your mental performance declining, and you may be more irritable than ever.
If all of these factors start to build, it may only be so long before you toss in the towel and go get yourself some carbs.
And, if you eat carbs before your workout and then eat them again after your workout in a carb-loading fashion like the protocol suggests, you’ll be at a higher risk of fat gain.
So keep in mind that while carb backloading can be an excellent strategy for some individuals to get leaner while retaining or even building muscle, it isn’t for everyone. It does have its drawbacks and you do need to be aware of those. Then make the decision if this plan is right for you from there.
Gibson, T., and R. J. Jarrett. "Diurnal variation in insulin sensitivity." The Lancet 300.7784 (1972): 947-948.