Carb Backloading Part 2 – Why?

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Ladies and Gentleman, I present to you Matt Bergeron’s follow up to his first article explaining what exactly Carb Backloading is and why it works. If you haven’t read part one take a look at that before continuing on with this part. Based off of John Keifer’s book, Carb Backloading, this second installment goes over why this process is successful and how it works with the body. Matt was also kind enough to include a brief shopping list to help you stay on track if this is something you think might be for you. 

You might be asking now: Why bother Carb Backloading (CBL) at all when the Paleo and Zone diets are out there? Paleo, Zone, and the combination of the two can be effective, but the science behind diet and nutrition is constantly changing, and currently, especially in the area of nutrition applicable to weightlifting and Crossfit. Here are some reasons to consider CBL to achieve weight goals:

Reason 1: Insulin

What diets like The Zone and Macro and Paleo overlook is, in my view, the role of insulin. Dr. Sear, in his book on Zone, references how food potentiates powerful hormonal responses but fails to elaborate on the effects of insulin in particular.

​Brief biochemistry lesson here:  Insulin is a storage hormone.  When you eat certain foods (not just carbohydrates as some diets claim) you potentiate the release of varying levels insulin on depending on the substance.  White rice, white bread, and gold potatoes (high glycemic carbohydrates) trigger fast, quick releases of Insulin on a huge scale. Further, foods such as casein protein (from eggs or powders), most fruits, and legumes cause a slow release in insulin.  The longstanding belief that low glycemic foods–foods that cause a low, slow release in insulin–are healthier for us because they do not trigger quick insulin spikes (resulting in fat storage) is not incorrect.

​However, most diets fail to emphasize the process that should drive food choices: once you activate the insulin process, your body wants to restore itself to its state prior to insulin release: thus, we keep eat carbs to keep insulin active.  Now here are 2 important messages diets like Zone or Macro overlook:

-Insulin facilitates nutrient storage into the muscles and liver. Once the muscles and liver are full, the rest of the glucose you are ingesting will be converted into fat and stored as fat.   So, the longer you keep insulin active, the more likely you are to store excess carbs as fats. This has real ramifications for what you take in after training is complete.

-The longer insulin is active, especially at night, the longer you have to wait for your nocturnal hormones–such as Growth Hormone–to become active. To function effectively, GH and testosterone, which are active at night, need to have a non-insulin active environment.  The longer insulin is being released (from low glycemic carbs aka “healthy food”), the longer you will have to wait for your nocturnal hormones to do their work. The longer you have to wait for your nocturnal hormones to work, the less time you have to rebuild muscle.

 This is why simple carbs (white rice, gold and red potatoes, etc etc) at the end of the day are desired foods: they provide a big, fast insulin spike to fill the muscles with fuel, and then quickly drop so that our nocturnal hormones can get to work and have healing/recovery effect. The goal here is optimizing your resource, your body’s hormones, to improve performance and recovery, Don’t get distracted by our culture’s definition of like “healthy” or “natural” –labels some dietary organizations have applied to address the obesity epidemic but have little application to those serious about their work-outs and what they eat.

Reason 2:  Using Fat as energy for your day and workout

The second CBL is so effective is that, if implemented correctly, it allows the athlete to stay ketogenic in nature (ketogenesis, the breakdown of fat to use as energy). Low blood sugar levels resulting from this process does not necessarily flag hypoglycemia and but, instead, indicates levels appropriate to initiate a ketogenic state of energy metabolism.  Blood sugar levels are sensitive to these dietary changes, however, which is why the next message is important.

If you wake up and have carbohydrates for breakfast, your body will: release insulin, stop using fat that you have been using in sleep, and crave carbs as a result.  If you have a pre-workout carb meal (or shake or whatever sugar source you use to get you jacked up for training), the same thing will happen.  No one asks the question: Why do we even need pre-training or pre-competition carbs if our body is already making energy from fat? But, why do we believe we require these carbs?

Sustaining ketogenesis during intense training sessions is not easy, but it is possible, and the results are astounding.  After the initial adjustment period of about 2-3 months (this is not an overnight or week long cleanse as Dr. Oz likes to suggest), you will feel just fine, if not better, during training.  The great thing about reducing carbs pre-training is that you are also reducing inflammation. (Glucose and most carbohydrates are known to trigger an undesirable inflammation response especially when you’re putting your body through tough training 5-6 days a week.)

Instead, when you wake up, start with a caffeine source (indicated in the diet outline in Part 1) as well as a fat source, preferably some sort of MCT oil. Ingesting fats (especially medium chain triglycerides – MCT) will potentiate a fat utilization response in conjunction with caffeine intake.  If you are in a ketogenic state: 1) your body is constantly using fat and 2) you will not store those fats you take in the morning through the day, because you are constantly utilizing those fats.  Once you take carbs and activate insulin, your body will stop fat oxidation and start storing everything. Finally, if your muscles are full (from dinner last night) you won’t be fueling anything, you’ll just be storing it all you take in, and what you take in will be stored as fat. If your muscles aren’t working, they aren’t using glucose.

Reason 3: Simplicity

​The greatest thing, in my opinion about CBL is that it is truly, honestly, SIMPLE.  Zone and Paleo can get really complicated regarding: blocks of protein based on amount of carbs or fats or protein, what’s paleo, amount of calories, and so on and so forth.  The greatest thing about CBL is that it’s straightforward – eat enough simple carbs until you are full and happy at night.  Through the day, eat fats and proteins–if you’re trying to put on size. Coffee and protein shakes (a little meat) are good in the morning to get you energized for the day. ​CBL is uncomplicated and stress free.  You need not plan out blocks or conduct meal prep food if you don’t want to; you prepare food as you need it and eat it when you want it.  Developing meal plans, cooking for hours on Sunday to get ready for the week–in addition to work and training–is something I can do without.

Finally, CBL is flexible. If you are training the next day, have carbs at dinner; if you have a day off the next day, do not have carbs at dinner.  When it comes to carbohydrates, you are using them to fuel your body for the next training session. Your energy and nutrient needs for the day come from the fats, proteins, vegetables, and multivitamin (if you are taking one, and yes, multivitamins have value) you take in. All of your nutrient needs are routinely covered especially if you vary veggies throughout the week.

Most diets are not responsive to the needs of the individual involved in resistance training. Those that claim to be tend to involve complicated planning and preparation.  I’d rather be able to wake up and just go in terms of my diet rather than fretting about what I’m going to do if something happens on my day off and I can’t prep food. CBL meets my needs on both fronts: weight control in resistance training and the need to keep it simple.

Shopping Guide:

Now as promised, a quick shopping guide for Carb Backloading to make it easier for you to go to the store and get what you need.  This is based off of what I buy on a weekly basis, so feel free to add variety where you see fit!

Protein

  • Chicken Drumsticks or Chicken Breasts with the bone in, generally the large, family packs.  These are the best bang for your buck
  • Pork Chops or Pork Ribs in the family pack – great source of red meat and fat as well and easy and fast to cook
    • Both the chicken and pork I use as snacks throughout the day now to increase my caloric intake
    • Eggs – giant pack from Walmart

Vegetables

  • Kale – great source of vitamins and minerals – as well as a little substance called DIM that can help with fat loss
  • Spinach – flavor filled goodies that also have a little DIM as well, goes great pan sauteed with Kale
  • Broccoli – another great DIM source, as well as a variety of ways to cook; pan fried, steamed, broiled…the list goes on and on
  • Asparagus – nutrient and fiber packed, this will help fill you up through the day as well as keep your GI tract clean

Fat

  • Butter – preferably organic and grass fed, look for Kerrygold or a local farmers market that has grass fed butter.  Grass fed butter has almost as much omega 3’s and other essential fatty acids you can get from supplementation with a lot more flavor
  • Sour Cream – a great addition and substitute for milk if you’re making mashed potatoes, gives them the fluffy, moist feeling with lots of healthy fat and flavor added without the added sugar of milk if you’re trying to stay gluten free or have problems with milk.
  • Avocados – do I need to say more?
  • Bacon – again, enough said

Carbs

  • White rice – often demonized, but really effective for this diet.  Try to get long grain, low process rice (Mahatma 10 lb bags are my go to) with little additives other than b-vitamin enrichment
  • Red or Gold potatoes – great for broiling, boiling, mashing, stick ‘em in a stew prep.  Add sour cream and butter for deliciousness.

As with anything we put out there with The Strength Agenda, this is simply an opinion and not the end all be all. This may work for some folks and may not for others. Experimenting and trying new things that can improve performance won’t hurt so why not. If you are serious about giving Carb Backloading a shot, we suggest getting the E-book and reading through it then going from there. Gathering all the information before diving into an endeavor will greatly increase your chances for success. Any and all questions from that point on can be directed to The Strength Agenda or to Matt directly.

  1. Jake Crandall left a comment on April 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Great read. CBL is amazing and this makes it easier to understand.

  2. Jordan left a comment on September 4, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Hi there, I keep seeing this particular aspect of CBL thats confusing me. You say if I have a day off the next day, dont backload – ie backload the evening before.
    Now, that means backloading on an OFF day?
    I thought backloading on off days was only if you’re training early the next MORNING?
    for 5pm training, shouldn’t i be backloading after training that day, even if the next day is an off day?

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