Adventures in Carb Backloading: a Review

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 22.34.59If you’ve been reading my blog you will know that for the last month or so I have been trialling John Kiefer’s diet plan ‘carb backloading’. The plan essentially entails manipulating the body’s normal hormonal rhythm to create a favourable fat burning environment during the day time and promoting muscle growth in the evening after training with some very careful carb timing. Put simply, the program is high-fat ultra low-carb during the daytime and high-carb low-fat at night time, with high GI carbs favoured for the night time backload. Moderate-high protein intake is maintained throughout, and meals are shifted to later in the day, which can mean fasting in the morning. 

Prep-phase

Before backloading can begin, there is a preparation phase which involves 10 days of ultra-low carb intake (ideally less than 30g a day) in order to ’empty’ the muscles of glycogen stores prior to backloading. This in turn causes weight loss (mostly water weight) which can then be used to gauge the amount of carbs which you will need to consume during the backloading phase.

I found the prep-phase to be quite enjoyable, and didn’t feel it affected my performance at training at all really. As I had followed keto-esque diets previously I was quite well versed with severely limiting carb intake, but for those less initiated it is worth looking into keto recipe sites and books to keep you on track. It’s always surprising how many hidden carbs there are in things! A more in-depth write up of my prep-phase can be found here

According to the book, based on the weight I dropped after the prep-phase, if I was a male doing quite high volume training (which the book assumes you are) I would have needed around 360g carbs every night in order to replenish glycogen stores. However the book suggests that women would not need this amount, and a friend of mine who’d previously followed the plan had said that the kind of training we do really doesn’t warrant the kind of backload that Kiefer suggests. So I settled on 200-250g carbs to start off with so I could tailor it accordingly. 

Backloading

I’d be lying if I said I got it right straight away. The day time part of backloading is easy enough; coffee, whey isolate and coconut oil (with optional double cream) throughout the morning to stave off hunger pangs, then ultra-low carbohydrate until training time. The tricky part is getting the right amount of carbs post-training. For the first week or so I got a little excited and didn’t necessarily heed Kiefer’s warnings that women really didn’t need as much, and worked with about 250g after training. I ended up feeling soft and watery, and frankly a little fat compared with how I felt after the prep-phase. However, I didn’t really limit my fats, which I think is definitely where I went wrong. Cake and steak for dinner has a nice ring to it, but cake wasn’t necessarily the right choice! The book does say to favour high GI carbs, which generally means lower fat levels, however it also suggests donuts and milkshakes for backloads. I found once I had got the carb levels right, the lower I kept my fats in the evening the better I felt in the morning. 

In the following two weeks I definitely hit the nail on the head with carb amounts. I dropped my intake right down to ~100g on bench and light assistance days and ~150g on squat, deadlift and HIIT days. I spread my carb intake out throughout the evening right up until bed time, and found I could pretty much rely on my body to tell me when I next needed carbs. High GI carbs such as cereal, low fat flavoured milk, frozen yoghurt, honey and low-fat baked goods all worked really well for me, and  just as it said in the book I could adjust the level of carbs I ate based on how I felt in the morning. With backloading, and also being on creatine it was a nice change to sit at around 51.6kg, which is within my weight class.

Example food day

8am: Coffee, Whey Isolate, Coconut Oil, Double Cream, 2x Omega 3, Multivit

10am: Coffee, Whey Isolate, Double Cream, Creatine

11:30am: Beef burger, 1/2 avocado, salad, 2x Omega 3, 2x L-Carnitine (not in the plan)

2:30pm: Satay chicken, garlic aubergine

5:30pm: Gluten free sausages, courgettes, small piece of cheese, 2x Omega 3

7:30pm: (post-training) 1/2 scoop casein, 1/2 scoop whey, Creatine, BCAA’s, low-fat strawberry milk

8:30pm: Chicken breast with high-carb curry sauce

9:30pm: Cereal with honey and low fat yoghurt

(10pm: melba toast and lemon curd)

As you can see I am eating the majority of my meals later on in the day. These portions are all pretty small but still fill me up. 

Results

The picture on the left was taken the day before the prep-phase, and the picture on the right was taken around 3 and a half weeks later, so just a few weeks into the backloading. I don’t think I need to say much; the results are pretty clear. As a fat-loss tool, carb backloading works. (Also I have a droopy shoulder?!)

I will say though that I don’t think you can see that clearly in the picture the amount of muscle I’ve put on. I’ve had several people comment on the size of my traps and shoulders in the last few weeks, and I can definitely feel a difference. 

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Performance

Often with weight loss programs the fear is that strength will be lost along with the fat. This is absolutely not the case with backloading. Despite having no carbs before training, which felt really odd for a little while, I’ve felt full of energy and my squat and deadlift have been soaring in the last few weeks. My bench has stalled a little though I feel that is probably due to having reached the limitations of my bench shirt more than anything else.

Even at times where I’ve had quite a small meal before training and subsequently felt a little peckish during the session, I haven’t experienced any of the light-headed weak feeling that I would normally have on an empty stomach. This is also the case during the fasted mornings, where normally I would be ravenous and shaky by 11am, I am finding myself to be clear headed and well-functioning. Being fuelled by the previous evening’s meals definitely feels a little weird and takes some getting used to, but it’s definitely worth it.

Competing

I suppose the best way of gauging how carb backloading has affected my performance would be to assess how I fared in competition, and I think it would be fair to say I did quite well. I achieved a new British record for squat, and got my PB deadlift of 130kg which I have been chasing for quite a while. 

The main thing to mention in terms of competition is how backloading affects you psychologically in preparation for a competition. Having had the prep-phase of the plan, I was confident that I would be able to drop enough to be safely in my weight class for a day-time weigh in, which took away a lot of the stress involved in preparing for the comp. Additionally, it was a great confidence booster to go into a competition feeling almost… big. Ok, maybe not big, but definitely ‘fuller’ than I normally feel going into a comp. I normally will have had at least 5 days of full keto in order to drop in which can leave you feeling almost skinny. This time round however, I had my last backload on the wednesday evening, then another Saturday night before the competition on the Sunday. Knowing my glycogen stores would be full, and that there was no reason I would be any weaker than normal was awesome.

Overall 

Overall I’d say carb backloading is definitely worth a try for any committed athlete looking to boost their performance, gain muscle and shed some fat. I’d say it’s not for everyone, as you need to be very strict with nutrient timings, and the plan definitely works best when you train in the evening which obviously doesn’t suit everyone. 

The book is easy to understand and follow, and it’s good to be able to understand the science behind a diet as it really helps you to stick to it. No daytime insulin spikes thank you very much! 

 I think the book could maybe have had more information for women. There are obviously so many variables for training types and dietary needs that can’t be covered in just one e-book, but as we make up pretty much half the population I thought there might have been more detail on how to adjust the plan for that one particularly important variable, gender. It took me some tweaking to get it right and some time to get used to, so perseverance is key.

Thankfully my competition this last weekend was in the evening so my carb intake was around the same time as normal, and I’ve not had to go through the whole prep-phase again. I’ll be continuing to follow the plan until at least after my Turin competition, but I do feel this isn’t something I’ll be doing forever. Although I’ve had favourable performance and appearance results from the plan in the short term, I do wonder how the human body would cope in the long-term (which Kiefer does mention as a negative of the plan). 

Watch this space for any more updates about carb backloading, and do let me know if there’s anything you think I might have missed off, or any questions you might have, I’d be happy to answer 🙂 

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All England Powerlifting Championships

The run up to the All England was quite smooth; I’d recently hit a PB deadlift, felt confident with all my openers and didn’t have weight as an issue. I also found out it wasn’t going to be my last chance for my 130kg deadlift as I had thought, so this took some stress off (although this was in some ways mistaken – will come onto this later!). However, the week prior was full of travelling, life-sorting and trying to find someone to wrap my knees on the Sunday. All of this along with the stress of managing my mum at her 2nd competition on the Saturday meant I didn’t have much time to feel nervous, which I guess is a good thing! 

I’m still not sure whether the distraction of coaching my mum the day before the competition was a help or a hindrance to me in the long run; all I know is that it was stressful, exciting and a completely new experience! I’ve never fully appreciated the amount of energy that goes into managing a lifter at a competition, and it has made me all the more grateful for the support we receive as a club. Keeping a close eye on the clock, carefully selecting next lifts and making sure the lifter has everything they want and need is definitely not an easy job. Thankfully the stress paid off and my mum had a great competition, she managed 7/9 lifts and finished with a 200kg total (10kg above her aim) with a 75kg squat, 37.5kg bench and PB 87.5kg deadlift. I’m a very proud daughter. The whole experience completely drained me, but I used this to my advantage to get a solid 9 hour sleep the night before my competition, quite the feat as I’m sure many lifters will agree!

Another new experience for me was a 3pm weigh-in; I’ve only ever had an 8 or 9am weigh-in which makes it easier to restrict food and drink beforehand in order to make weight. Thankfully due to the success of carb-backloading making weight wasn’t going to be an issue. Hovering at around 51.7kg while still backloading, I was able to drop to around 51kg after dropping carbs for my rest days, allowing me a backload the night before the competition and to eat and drink as normal before weigh in. I weighed in at 51.3kg, the lightest I’ve ever weighed in a competition, in the middle of the day, and on creatine which can make you hold water. Result!

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Lifting was delayed due to the groups before us going on longer than intended, so we were unsure as to when we would actually start lifting. Although a minor hindrance, this meant that our final warm-up lifts for squats were a little rushed! Unfortunately our coach couldn’t be with us on the day so were relying on another coach (who will be coaching when I go to Italy) to help us out with timings and warm-ups. I was very grateful and reassured to be introduced to him the day before, as it meant I had someone to do my wraps for me, and also gave me experience being managed by him before my first international in Turin. 

The warm-up itself wasn’t the smoothest, as I think I had forgotten how to squat with my new technique a bit, and wasn’t taking as much time as I maybe should have to set up for the warm-up lifts. However, my final warm-up of 110kg was fine and deep enough which gave me the confidence to open with a very easy 115kg. Comp nerves and feeling a bit out of practice from rest days meant my form was not completely up to scratch, but still miles better than it had previously been. I then went on to do my second lift of 122.5kg which is shown in the video, setting a new u20 British Record. As this was somewhat tough and I had broken my record I made the tactical decision not to do a third lift as I wanted to save my energy for deadlifts. 

10514410_246741888869786_1518619450639784693_o We had the same issue with bench of not knowing the exact lift-off time until part-way through the warm-up. This meant I actually only did one lift in my bench shirt before stepping out onto the platform to do my opener of 62.5kg which absolutely flew up. My second lift was 67.5kg which was tougher than I had liked as I think I had my belt on a little high making it harder for the bar to come down to my chest which threw me a bit. Still got it up. Decided on 71kg for my 3rd lift attempt, as the record I hold is 70kg and felt 72.5kg was a little out of reach on the day. Unfortunately I missed this lift; lack of strength, wrong line, shirt on wrong…. who knows. I wasn’t deterred as I already held the record and had two good lifts in. Onto deadlift!

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Deadlift warm-ups ran smoothly, despite feeling a little tiredness in my hips and a minor twinge in my left calf, my suit felt tight and I still had buckets of energy. I was also very excited to try for the 130kg I had been striving for. My final warm-up was 110kg which shot up, so I stepped onto the platform to do an easy 120kg. Next was the lift I had been waiting for; 130kg on the bar. Unfortunately I didn’t get it captured on video but as you can see in the picture above I got it up! It wasn’t easy but it definitely wasn’t a massive fight. Pleased I had got this and with nothing to lose, I tried 135kg but my foot slipped a fraction and I narrowly missed it. Definitely got it in me! This left me with a PB total of 320kg. With the slipped foot and slight twinge before the deadlifts had even began, my left calf is now a little more than twinged so there is a lot of stretching and some rest on the cards for me at the moment. I am still walking and it only feels like a small pull so I should be back training in no time.  

Now is probably the time to mention my slight mishap. For months I have (somehow) mistakenly thought that the British Standard for deadlift is 130kg so have been striving to get it in a national competition for around 2 months. Thinking I had achieved this, I checked the records on the way home to see if I had managed to set a total record too. Turns out the deadlift standard is 140kg so I am actually 10kg off, but the total record is 322.5kg so I was only 2.5kg off which would have been easily achievable in the competition with another squat or a lighter third attempt deadlift. I was surprised at myself in that I’m not upset and am actually pleased I had the (mistaken) motivation to achieve the 130kg in the last few weeks. It also means I now have the 140kg to strive for at the Western Europeans, and having big goals definitely spurs me on. Operation add 10kg to my deadlift in 3 weeks starts now!!

I had great fun at the competition with my family, friends and fellow club members, and really enjoyed meeting some new faces. Some very strong ladies on the powerlifting scene at the moment. For such a massive competition it was run incredibly smoothly and as ever the referees, spotters and commentators were fantastic. My thanks in particular go to Arun who helped me in a time of coachlessness (although we did stay in contact throughout the competition) and without him I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did and maintain my composure. I’m very much looking forward to being coached by him at the Western European Cup in September and am very excited for the coming weeks of training! 

Another reminder of my fundraising page where I am hoping to raise a bit of money towards my upcoming international debut in Italy! Anything you can spare would be a big help 🙂 

Squat Progression

I haven’t been posting much over the last few weeks as I have been moving house! A couple weeks without proper internet and lots to be getting on with has left me very little time for updates, but I should be back posting a bit more regularly now.  My new house is lovely and I’m all settled in to a much bigger room, where I have room to foam roll and do my rehab exercises so I’m very happy 🙂

I will be posting a much more in-depth review of the carb-backloading (CBL) diet I have been following within the next fortnight, but for now I’m just going to say that I’m loving it. It took a bit of getting used to and I didn’t get it right first time round, but I seem to have got the hang of it now. I look and feel great, and I feel my performance in the gym has greatly benefited from it.  I would like to see how I fare in my competition next weekend having followed the plan for a month or so (including prep-phase) so as well as my competition write up you can expect a CBL review then too.

Training in the last few weeks has been a strange mixture between strength training and competition prep, as although I am competing at the GBPF All England next weekend, I am ‘training through’ and my focus is on the Western European Cup mid-September. I’ve been working up near max attempts, with emphasis on competition rehearsal but also working on technique and having a little more volume in sessions than I normally would pre-comp.

I’ve made the tough decision to have a few months off from MMA, leaving me more time to do assistance work for powerlifting and allowing my body some respite from the consistent minor injuries. My penultimate MMA session was amazing, I had the luxury of a one-on-one session with the trainer which made me anxious to come back after a few months. However, with the weeks I’ve had off I am starting to realise it may be impossible to chase both hobbies. I had a very enjoyable private session today with a mate which I will be doing occasionally in the coming months to keep things ticking along, should I decide to go back to training a few times a week, but for now my focus is on becoming a better lifter.

One thing I have particularly been working on in the last month or so is my squat technique; working on sitting back into my new suit and keeping my chest up so I don’t ‘crumple’ as much under the weight of the bar. I’ve seen massive improvements in my squat form which may be down to any number of things; new suit, new belt, new wraps, new CBL diet, new hand position on the bar, more core work or any combination of all these things.

 

I’ve made a video showing my squat progression. The first squat is my 117.5kg squat at the Welsh champs back in April, and the second one is a 120kg squat from training a few weeks ago. I came out of the 120kg grinning as I could feel such an improvement in my core stability. In the video you can see my walk-out is a lot stronger, my knees don’t go forwards as much and I don’t look so much like quasimodo on the way up out of the squat. I’m delighted with my progress, but there is always more work to do.

I’m looking forward to the competition next weekend as it will be good practice for the Turin competition, and I also have the chance to set yet more British records. I am very likely to break my squat record, have a chance of breaking my bench record (though I am not holding out too much hope) and I plan to set the deadlift record (130kg), which I recently hit in training. It’s something I’ve been striving for for a few months now and it’s well within my grasp now!

Just a quick reminder of my fundraising page where I am hoping to raise a bit of money towards the costs of my Italy trip, as it will be entirely self-funded. I have already raised enough to cover the cost of my flights which is fantastic, but anything else people can spare would be so useful!