What is Carb Backloading & How To Do It - Ross Edgley

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What is Carb Backloading & How To Do It


Carb Backloading is a nutritional protocol designed to manage your carbohydrate intake to increase lean muscle and lower your body fat. Carb Backloading is a phrase coined by nutrition expert John Kiefer and is relatively new to the mainstream. But the basic lessons have been used by athletes, bodybuilders and fitness models for years. Here I explain exactly what it is as well as its pros, cons and some important things to consider if you are thinking of Carb Backloading.

Carb Backloading Introductions

Carb BackloadingCarb Backloading works on the principle that you restrict your carbohydrate intake throughout the day. Then you save them all up and eat the majority of your carbohydrates after training. The reason for this is because carbohydrates cause the body’s blood sugar levels to rise. Now this is great after training since your muscles are in a more absorbent state. What this means is the rise in blood sugar levels and carbohydrates actually work with the protein to help the muscle repair and regrow. But eat those same carbohydrates throughout the day when you’re sat at your desk and your muscles are not in an absorbent state and those same carbohydrates are likely to be stored as fat.

Carb Backloading Pros

Carb Backloading is why for years athletes wanting to cut their body fat have forgone the pre-workout carbs . This is because researchers from the University of Texas, USA discovered eating pre-workout carbohydrates actually slowed the fat burning process during exercise. This is due to the ingestion of carbohydrates causing a rise in certain hormones which when elevated during training can ‘limit fat oxidisation’. So by not eating any pre-workout carbohydrates, you effectively put your body in a better hormonal state to burn fat.

Then by having your carbohydrates post workout, according to researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, you replenish muscle glycogen levels and kick-start the recovery process by spiking powerful muscle building hormones. The rise in blood sugar resulting from the carbohydrates also helps shuttle protein to the muscle which ultimately accelerates the whole recovery process.

Carb Backloading Cons

So you’re probably sitting there thinking Carb Backloading sounds great. But there are some cons and some important things to consider. Firstly, carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel supply. So if you’re goal is to improve your performance, you absolutely need a sufficient supply. Training or competing without them is ‘sporting suicide’. To prove this researchers at Loughborough University set out to test the difference carbohydrate intake made to an athlete’s performance. They discovered those who consumed a high carbohydrate diet seven days before a 30km treadmill time trial were 10% quicker than the athletes who didn’t consume any.

Science also supports the use of pre-workout carbohydrates for those wanting to pack on muscle too. Researchers from the University of Queensland subjected strength athletes to a carbohydrate restricted diet to analyse its effects on performance. After a 2-day carbohydrate restriction program athletes performed three sets of squats with a load of 80% of one repetition maximum. What they found was the carbohydrate restriction program caused a ‘significant reduction in the number of squat repetitions performed’. Basically showing how avoiding carbohydrates pre-workout could directly reduce your muscle building potential in the weights room.

Also if you’re prone to overtraining, surprisingly pre-workout carbohydrates may hold the answer. Scientists from Loma Linda University Medical Center in California set out to test how carbohydrates influenced the immune system and more specifically cytokine concentrations. Cytokines are substances that carry signals between the cells of the immune system and are believed by researchers to be critical to preventing the body becoming ill and run down from too much exercise. What they found was consuming a 6% carbohydrate drink before training positively affected cytokine levels. Concluding pre-workout carbohydrates could help support the body’s immune system during periods of intense exercise.

Carb Backloading Other Things To Consider

Some people will use Carb Backloading as an excuse to eat ice cream, chips, pizza and everything else after training. Whilst in principle this is ok there are some things to consider. Ice cream and soft drinks for example aren’t exactly known for being a great source of minerals and what’s worse is that a lot of them contain phosphates that have been shown to deplete the body’s iron stores. Iron is obviously hugely important to athletes since it’s vital for the transportation of oxygen by haemoglobin and muscles using oxygen by myoglobin. Having less iron in the body means less oxygen can be delivered to the working muscles.

Talking more generally, junk food such as doughnuts or pastries lack various muscle building micronutrients such as zinc which serves as a cofactor in more than 100 enzyme processes within the body, the most important being to help build DNA, protein and testosterone production. Whilst there are too many nutrients to name specifically, it’s important to note that high calorie diets can lead to nutrient deficiency or a new form of malnutrition as described by scientists Orit Kaidar-Person et al (2008) which will ultimately leave your muscles underfed and will stunt their growth. Therefore concerning nutrients, it’s much wiser to attempt a clean bulk and ensure you create a calorie surplus through more nutrient dense foods since this will ensure your body also receives the often overlooked micronutrients it needs for muscular hypertrophy. All the more reason to include supergrains, instant oats, fruit and vegetables in the diet. Just like Mother Natured intended.

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Ross Edgley