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Adventures in Carb Backloading

I’m always up for a good experiment. And during my random browsings, I came upon yet another nutrition idea that could help my strength and conditioning. It’s endorsed by a physicist, so it *has* to work. It’s called carb backloading, and it has received a fair bit of press recently as the new big thing. I do it to some extent already, but not by design. But once my shoulders are fully healed and I’m full force into my 3-times-a-week weight training regimen, it could be a fun little trial.

The official website of the program’s creator makes it seem very simple. Three basic steps to follow:
1) no carbs before exercise / in the morning
2) lift heavy things
3) load up on your starchy carb sources after you lift / in the evening

The benefits of this are two-fold. First off, it takes advantage of diurnal variations in cortisol, and thus, carb-induced fat gain/storage. Your levels are highest in the mornings, so to load up with starches for breakfast would induce fat storage. The program recommends intermittent fasting, but like we know, that doesn’t work for everyone, especially people like me who don’t get their full 8 hours of sleep everyday. You need *some* calories in the morning to curb cortisol release, and there seem to be two ways to handle this situation:

1) Bacon and Eggs – a no-carb breakfast, but not *too* heavy on calories. What I didn’t know was that egg whites contain chemicals that stimulate insulin release *unless* there is a lot of fat in the meal with them. (High amounts of protein do the same thing.) Hence the healing powers of bacon. Or walnuts, I guess, but how fun is that?

2) Fat Alone – the hybrid of intermittent fasting and early-morning calorie satiety, the framework for the Bulletproof Diet. Drink your morning coffee with a tablespoon of coconut oil and a dollop of grass-fed butter. Repeat until you’ve had a ‘carb-protein’ fast of about 16 hours. WARNING: coconut oil on an empty stomach is not pleasant. Ever hear those stories your parents tell you about mineral oil, or cod liver oil. Same kind of thing. An overwhelming stomach rumble is *just* what you need when you’re about to rush out the door for work in the morning.

My solution: 2-3 eggs in the morning, scrambled/lightly fried in butter, maybe some bacon to go with it a few days a week. About 15g protein, 30-40g fat, 2-3g carbs.

In addition, your insulin sensitivity is at its highest after a workout, meaning that a large amount of carbs can be absorbed into the muscles without using much insulin (and all the nasty inflammatory effects it can have.) So it makes sense to eat heavy after a lift, and also to eat a lot of carbohydrates. Chronic low-carb may work for a lot of people, but not for me, because 1) I work out a hell of a lot and 2) my body hates me. Kidding. But I trust the Perfect Health Diet’s argument that carbohydrates (100-150g a day of glucose/starch) are an essential fuel for most people, and it prevents over-reliance on protein breakdown for gluconeogenesis (creation of sugars from amino acids), which may tax the liver too much. Lions do it, but they have much larger and more efficient livers than we do.

(One of my favorite Futurama scenes. A vegan protest crowd exclaims, “we taught a lion to eat tofu!” The lion meekly coughs up a mouthful of dust.)

So what can we safely eat after a workout, or at dinner? Again, a couple theories fly around the web:

1) Nothing – If your goal is fat-burning and you’re not competing for the CrossFit Games, why eat anything after a lift? So argues Mark Sisson, for one. Fast for an hour or two after a lifting session, and *then* eat to your heart’s desire.

2) Whey Protein Shake – The Robb Wolf / Charles Poliquin method. Have some protein right after you lift to theoretically preserve muscle tissue, but mix it with a little fat to prevent insulin release and continue the fat-burning from the actual workout. Sounds perfect, right? Not *as* ideal for fat-burning as Option 1, since protein intake *blunts* testosterone production and growth hormone production a little bit.

3) Gorge – The John Kiefer Carb Backloading plan. Carbs right after you lift, more carbs through the night, lots of starches and sugars and all that good stuff.

My idea: definitely not #3. I’ll stick with the Charles Poliquin mantra of “no carbs after lifting, until you’re under 10% body fat”. But I *do* want to get stronger. Hmph. Maybe I’ll give the fasting-after-lifting thing an entire month to work its magic, and then decide if it’s worth the anguish.

Here is how it worked in actual practice over the past 2 days:

Breakfast – 4 eggs, hot sauce
Lunch – grilled chicken salad, cashews
Workout – farmer’s walk 5x50m with 85lb dumbbells
Dinner (1 hr later) – salmon filet, steamed broccoli, 2 cups rice pilaf, 1 pint coffee ice cream

Breakfast – 2 eggs, 3 bacon slices
Lunch – grilled chicken salad, cheese, some pineapple chunks (cheater!)
Dinner – gigantic baked potato with BBQ chicken and cheese

Do I want to pay $89 for his book? Hell no. But I don’t want to misinterpret what his actual meal/workout plan is, in case I’m missing something. Has anyone else had good or bad experiences with carb backloading? Are you allowed to eat *any* fat after you lift? Discuss.



3 thoughts on “Adventures in Carb Backloading

  1. I have been back loading for a few weeks now, and still in the tweaking phase. I will tell you though that once you get the right formula down, the results are startling. It takes some trial and error, but when I lift heavy and then hit the right carb/protein numbers, I wake up feeling jacked. On non training days I eat a lower carb, lean meats and vegetables diet, supplemented with protein shakes and coconut milk. On loading days, I go to town. Tonight it was chicken, yams, chocolate almond milk, rice, cake, and cookies.
    So far, I have lost a few pounds, gained some definition in the abs, and I feel stronger in the gym. I do a heavy strength bias version of crossfit.

    Posted by Chris | June 29, 2012, 2:12 am
  2. Any updates? Are you still doing this? I’m interested in this program but am unable to find any information on the internet that is not directly from Keifer or from someone who has affiliate links to Keifers site. I’d like to hear/see some results from actual end users.

    Posted by Aaron Anderson (@AaronJAnderson) | November 5, 2012, 3:47 am
    • I *am* still doing this, and I’ve been pretty strict with it for the past 3 weeks. I try to update the blog every Monday/Tuesday and sometimes mid-week. Glad to answer any questions you have about the process or my experiences.

      Posted by cortisolfiles | November 5, 2012, 9:38 pm

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