Carbohydrate Back Loading-Much To Do About Nothing

Note: I’m 6’6 and a natural athlete, there are some people that want to consider themselves “hardcore” that won’t accept any valid science if it doesn’t come from someone who’s 300 pounds and ripped. Sorry. If you want a valid scientific article then please continue to read and learn. I’m also more then happy to talk to people that want to say I’m wrong for having my theories. Please leave a comment below.

 

The idea was simple really. Eat the majority of your carbohydrates, including some unhealthy foods like donuts, at the end of the day after you’ve trained late at night and your chances of gaining muscle, preserving strength and losing fat will be increased.
The idea was termed “back loading”.

When you view the original article as it was published on elitefts a few points stand out.
Paraphrasing the author,he notes that:
-Muscle and fat tissue is more sensitive to glycogen in the morning, thus the traditional recommendation of consuming carbs in the morning.
-Exercise is the wild card and changes your insulin sensitivity due to glut4 activation.  Glut4 is a protein that transports glucose. Its sensitivity increases post exercise thus you should, in theory, be able to consume more carbohydrates at that time.
– In order to attempt back loading you need to train in the late afternoon, every evening. Prior to your training session you consume less then 50 grams of carbohydrates, little fat and some protein. This is what differentiates it from intermittent fasting. It looks more like a typical low carbohydrate diet if done right.
– Post workout you consume close to 100 grams of sugar-laden carbs and finish off your day with another high carb meal or two.  Your metabolism will increase and you’ll burn fat throughout the night.
– Provided your glycogen stores are full from the day before, you’ll have ample strength to train at night after a day of work and with small amounts of food during the day.
That’s the theory behind carbohydrate back loading.

Here’s why I don’t like it.

Most “regular” people can’t do it.
As someone who’s in the gym training clients and writing diet programs daily, I always look at how “real” the method is before I begin to recommend it or form my opinion on it. Anyone that has a significant amount of fat to lose with lose fat on any type of diet that restricts carbohydrates. For his part the author does mention that he has a flexible schedule and that his clients whom he advises this diet to also have that.
Even people that LOVE training and looking great might not have that schedule and should they be able to train at night that will usual come after some annoying thing called work.
Again, the author stated that he has clients whom ate up to 100 grams of carbohydrate in the morning and afternoon before they trained at night but that defeats the entire purpose of this method (more on that later).
Could you survive on fat, veggies and protein during the day? Sure, that’s a typical low carbohydrate diet but why eliminate the carbs when your metabolism might need them?

Why save the majority for the end of the day when you can get just as lean with the same amount of carbohydrates spread throughout the day?
I train professional athletes and I train asset managers. For the most part, they eat pretty much the same. Try telling someone in the larger then life asset world of New York City, Westchester County and Greenwich, CT that he can’t  eat until seven at night.
There’s a fear of eating carbohydrates and the notion that if you eat them at all, that you’ll never lose enough fat. This is where proper planning and knowing your macronutrient math comes into the equation.
If you tell me that you have 6 weeks to lose 10 pounds I can design a diet for you to lose that weight while you still consume enough carbohydrates to fuel your workout, provide energy for the day and allow you to lose 2 pounds per week.
I don’t need to throw all your carbohydrates post workout. Look at it like this.
200 grams of carbohydrates spread out over 2 meals at night. 100 carbohydrates per meal.
200 grams of carbohydrates spread out over 6 meals during the day. 33.3 carbohydrates per meal.
I’m still eating 200 carbohydrates during the day. Now arguments can be made concerning insulin spikes and stable vs unstable insulin and insulin secretion with one or two large carbohydrate meals versus four to six small feedings per day.
I won’t make them…
For starters,insulin is an extremely complicated hormone that isn’t as easy to understand as most fitness and diet author attempt to make it out to be. Sure we know the basics about it but it’s a complex, 24-7 hormone that is affected by everything from age, sleep, daily stress, exercise, the meal 3 hours before, the meal two days before, the workout yesterday morning and what your mama gave you.

Multiple meals gives you small, frequent spikes but more of a chance to continually secrete insulin during the day.
One or two large meals gives you less spikes but the spikes are bigger and while you’ll secrete insulin less you’ll secrete more of it when you pack everything together in one feeding.
Determining if you respond properly to either eating pattern is something that can only be done with personal coaching that you can hire me for here.
Ferrari vs Hummer.
The time to finish line doesn’t matter, at the end of the day they both travel the same distance. Large insulin spike versus small, frequent spikes. One just gets you a hotter girlfriend.
So that argument isn’t valid.
This is a problem that I have with the hardcore fasting folks as well. Not that they are wrong but the diet is specific to the client. If someone does better on multiple small meals then give it to them. If skipping breakfast makes you eat a double cheeseburger at lunch then have breakfast.

Almost everyone grossly overestimates how many carbohydrates that they eat. How many people are really going to measure 100 or 150 grams of carbohydrates post workout when their starving?
Then you need to look at training time. Having to train at a certain time just so you can eat a certain way takes some of the luster out of training, don’t you think?

Time of day muscle sensitivity, Glut4 and my breaking heart


Going against common advice, you’re advised NOT TO eat carbohydrates in the morning since, according to the author, while you’re sensitive to carbs in the morning, you can become more sensitive to them post workout.
Here’s where people might get angry at me. Please don’t, I’m just using valid science.
For starters, there’s some weird internet theory that training increases our glut4 translation in some large amount which would allow us to take in large amounts of carbohydrates post workout to stimulate recovery. In rats and untrained individuals (1,2)) that has proved to be as effective as a Steven Segal upkick in mixed martial arts (it works!) but in most human trials that just isn’t case (more on that in a minute).


As my friend Mark Young points out in his fantastic product about reading research, we over react to the conclusion and find points to validate our beliefs.
You’ll find Glut4 receptors three places in the body in every day life:
-Fat cells
-The heart
-Muscle
If we follow the carb back loading principle then glut4 should be as wild a house keeper meeting in the Schwarzenegger home.  It isn’t. Muscle contraction does stimulate glut4 activation but primarily in cardiac muscle and only to a lesser extent skeletal muscle (3).


Still want to back load?
Let’s look at the some more actual science on glut4 and exercise, shall we?
When glut4 was measured post exercise, the quickest rise in it occurred 8 hours post exercise (4). Other studies showed the first spike upward of 22 hours post training (4) while one study showed no significant increase 4 hours after training (5).


Consuming carbohydrates is actually more effective a day later then post workout!
Adding things up we see that we get less glut4 improvement from training then we thought and a longer delay to see that small improvement. Really feel like pounding down 100 grams of sugar and another few high carbohydrate meals at night while you’re training your butt off to lose fat?

Post workout nutrition shizzzz

Post workout nutrition is highly determined by what the supplement companies currently say it is. I’ll be writing a “tell all” article about it  next week but for right now, understand that most people are too quick to react to the latest fads when it comes to post workout nutrition.

When we consume large amount of carbohydrates post workout and top off our glycogen stores, like recommend, we IMPAIR insulin sensitivity  and make it harder to lose fat!
Picking on carb back loading again. Why would we really want to consume large amounts of gut irritating carbohydrates post workout? Not only do we become a bloated mess but might actually cause more cortisol release then we originally planned.

Doesn’t ” high insulin sensitivity” really mean that we need low amounts of insulin to accomplish the same thing that we needed more insulin to do pre training?
At the risk of spilling all the beans that I’ll discuss in the post workout nutrition article I’ll start to put a pretty bow on this piece.  Your body has a way of making muscle glycogen even if that’s not our direct intention post workout (6). That’s what liver glycogen is for to begin with and unless you’ve been running a few miles per day for about a week, you’ll have enough left “in the tank” when combined with amino acids to stimulate recovery.
If glut4 is vastly overrated and gives you an excuse to cheat on your diet and if the type of diet is too hard for most people to live on every day then what advantage is there really? Especially when you consider that you’ll feel better and lose the same amount of fat with other approaches.

References

Neufer PD & Dohm GL (1993) Exercise induces a transient increase in transcription of the GLUT-4 gene in skeletal muscle. Am J Physiol 265, C1597-C1603Ren J-M et al. (1994) Exercise induces rapid increases in GLUT4 experssion, glucose transport capacity and insulin stimulated glycogen storage in muscle. J Biol Chem 269, 14396-14401.Lund S et al. (1995) “Contraction stimulates translocation of glucose transporter GLUT4 in skeletal muscle through a mechanism distinct from that of insulin” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.S 92 (13): 5817-21Griewew JS, et al (2000) Exercise induces lipoprotein lipase and GLUT-4 protein in muscle independent of adrenergic-receptor signaling. J Appl Physiol 89,176-181Wojtaszewski JFP, et al. (2000). Insulin signaling and insulin sensitivity after exercise in human skeletal muscle. Diabetes 49, 325-331Phinney, Stephen (2004). Ketogenic diets and physical performance. Nutrition & Metabolism 2004, 1:2

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  1. Wayne
    5 years ago

    Thanks for the interesting take on carb back loading. I am not sure why this concept has gotten the attention that it has. It would seem that any diet/workout program that takes advantage of the post workout window will be anabolic and lead to more muscle development. And, you can lose weight on any diet that is low in calories and controls carbs. The timing as described just doesn’t seem that important to me.

    Wayne

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