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. 

SAM_8739

SAM_8746

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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