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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Adventures in Carb Backloading

Having heard about it from a friend of mine several months back, ever since I’ve been intrigued to try Carb Backloading (CBL), a fat-shedding, muscle-gaining dietary plan devised by John Kiefer. 

The plan essentially entails following an ultra low carb diet during the day, then replenishing glycogen stores with high GI carbs in the evening after training, with a few other modifications such as not eating breakfast. 

In recent months when following my keto-ish diet to drop in to my weight class, I’ve sort of crudely followed this diet, having kind of worked some of it out for myself, but it seems I run out of energy after more than a week or so and just isn’t sustainable. As the plan is a bit more structured and contains higher GI carbs for my post-training nutrition, I’m interested to see if this plan leaves me with a bit more energy. 

As you’ve probably noticed my weight is quite often an issue and although I did find a ‘sweet spot’ recently with a medium-low carb diet, I still feel there are improvements to be made. I’m hoping to be able to put on a bit of muscle in the next few weeks, and being able to do this while losing a bit of fat (which is what the plan promises!) is an ideal situation.

The first 10 days of the plan involves going full keto, with an intake of just 30g of carbs a day. This is  to ‘train’ the body to use fat for energy, and to fully deplete glycogen stores. I started doing this yesterday, and as ever am constantly looking for new recipes for a bit of variety in my diet. As much as I love chicken legs and burnt broccoli, it can get tedious after the 8th day in a row!
So in the next 10 days or so you can expect some more low-carb recipes that I’ve devised. I’ve bought myself a bunch of spices and have made friends with chilli, so look forward to some aromatic and spicy concoctions. 

I’ve taken a pre-CBL progress picture, and have recorded my weight so hopefully I will be able to use these for reference a few weeks down the line. Then I’ll write a review of my experience with following the plan as a woman as it was predominantly aimed at men. 

Kiefer’s CBL is available as an e-book here.

 

Shepherdess Pie

With my mission to have a varied diet, I’ve been experimenting a bit in the kitchen lately, so you can all look forward to some more healthy recipes in the coming weeks.

This is my (relatively) low-carb take on a shepherd’s pie, using celeriac and leek for the topping and pork mince for the base. This is one of the first recipes that I’ve made entirely from my own imagination, and I’m really proud of how it’s turned out, hopefully you’ll like it too! I hadn’t ever tried celeriac until a few weeks ago in a lovely vegetable pie that my friend made me, so this is my first time ever using it, and I think it works really well against the rich flavour of the pork mince. This took me about 40 minutes to prepare but I’m not very efficient in the kitchen, and was making it up as I went along, so you could realistically make it in about 30 minutes. I’d love to know what people think of this recipe, so if you try it  out do let me know what you think 🙂

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Ingredients 

For the topping

  • 1kg Celeriac (AKA celery root)
  • 2 medium leeks
  • 50g low fat cream cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the base

  • 1 medium white onion
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1/2 tsp crushed fennel seeds
  • 500g reduced fat pork mince
  • 1x 500g carton passata
  • 1/4 tsp stevia (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp salt (optional)
  • Frying oil of your choice

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Makes 4 largish portions or 5 Susie-sized portions

Method

  1. Peel and chop the celeriac into cubes, then put on to boil for approximately 20 minutes
  2. Peel and finely chop the onions and garlic, and fry over a medium heat (I used coconut oil but you can use whichever oil you prefer) for 5 minutes until softened, adding the crushed fennel seeds after about 4 minutes
  3. Add the pork mince to the onion mix and fry over a medium-high heat until browned
  4. Add the carton of passata to the pork, reducing the heat to low-medium and allow it to simmer
  5. At this point chop the leeks and put them in to soften with the celeriac for the remaining few minutes of boiling
  6. If using, add the stevia and salt to the pork at this point. I always add some sort of sweetener to tomato dishes to combat the acidity, but usually don’t use salt. The salt and sweetener are entirely optional
  7. If you want the top to be a little crunchy, preheat your grill now
  8. Drain the vegetables and allow them to steam off for a few minutes, then use a hand-held blender to puree these along with the cream cheese. I didn’t thoroughly blitz the mix and left some leek pieces in tact for added texture
  9. Take the pork off the heat (it should have simmered for about 10 minutes now), and pour into an oven dish, spreading the veg mix on top
  10. Sprinkle the top of the pie with any seasonings that you fancy, and place under the grill for about 5 minutes until a little brown and crispy
  11. Serve and enjoy!

Seeds

cajun seeds

With so many competitions in the recent months, the subsequent need for a keto-ish diet for weight maintenance, and my tolerance for a very repetitious and unvaried diet has meant that I have probably been missing out on some key nutrients. Although I’ve been hitting my target macros, I’ve almost certainly not paid enough attention to my micros, with a diet consisting of mainly green veg, meat and fats I’ve likely been missing out. This may be the cause for my recent exhaustion.

So, to combat this I have done a number of things. To start with, I’m trying to vary the meals I have each week. With pre-preparing meals this can be hard, but I am trying to not eat the same meal for more than 4 days at a time.  I am also trying to incorporate more colour into my diet. Having eating so much green for so long, I am eating more of a range of colours as this will mean more of a range of nutrients. Peppers, aubergines and blueberries have all found their way back onto my plate, and I’m loving it.

One particular food which I feel is often overlooked as an amazing source of minerals and fats is seeds. Holland and Barrett do a great little mix called ‘Omega Sprinkle’ of which I’ve had 2 bags sitting in my cupboard for an age, so I decided to do something with them so I’m more likely to eat them. I’ve come up with a really simple way of adding some extra flavour and crunch to them, which is probably all over the internet already but here’s my take!

Ingredients

– 1 and 1/2 cups mixed seeds
– 1 egg white
– Pre-prepared spice mix of your choice

Method 

  •  Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C (350 °F )
  •  Line a baking sheet with grease-proof paper
  •  Whisk the egg white until reasonably firm
  •  Sprinkle the seeds with the spice mix (as much or as little as you like)
  •  Fold the spiced seeds into the egg white and spread across the baking tray
  •  Sprinkle with some more spice for added flavour
  •  Bake for 7 minutes or so, then break up the mix a bit with a fork
  •  Continue baking, checking and mixing every 4-5 minutes or so, and remove when the mix is evenly browned and crunchy
  • Allow to cool, and store in an air-tight container

These seeds are perfect for afternoon snacking, or sprinkling over a salad. I used a cajun spice mix, which is absolutely heavenly. I also made another batch using a little vanilla extract and some stevia, great for sprinkling on top of some greek yoghurt. Let me know what you think of this recipe 🙂

 

Work

Again, I can only apologise for my lack of posts, but with my second year of uni drawing to a close, and my final big assessment due in tomorrow my focus has understandably needed to be elsewhere.

Training in the last few days has been a little different. Got back into training on Thursday with a bench session. I tried out a different bench shirt, a lot tighter than the one I currently wear, so worked on getting the bar down as low as possible. Worked up to 70kg but didn’t get the bar anywhere near my chest, which suggests I could get some big numbers out of it! It’s a very different experience than the other shirt, as the neck of it tends to press on my neck when bringing the bar down, making it a lot more uncomfortable. Something I will have to get used to, I am sure. Finished the session with 6 sets of 8 reps, 3 sets at 40kg and 3 sets at 42.5kg. Doing 8 reps on my best lift in my first competition is a great feeling.

Friday was interesting, as I decided to do some olympic lifting. It had been months since I’d done any and really fancied getting a sweat on. I was absolutely soaked after my ‘warm-up’ (work-out) of power clean, front squat, jerk, back squat, jerk behind neck for 8 sets of 3 with only 10 seconds rest between sets. 10 seconds is really not long at all! The rest of the session involved working up to a clean and jerk max (managed to get my previous PB of 40kg, though it was very rough) and complexes focusing on front squats, finishing with a complex of 3 clean and jerks followed by a power clean and 10 front squats. Tough but super fun.

I had planned a rest day on Saturday, but after working all day then coming home to do uni work I was itching to get outdoors. I ran to the park for some hill sprints, sprinting up the hill, doing 10 pushups or decline sit-ups (alternated) then walking back down. Did this 10 times, then I did the sprint, 20 decline sit-ups, run back down, 25 decline bicycle crunches, sprint back up, 20 pushups, run back down and a plank to failure. Then a slow run home, feeling pretty darn great. It really helped to boost my productivity too, I got loads of work done afterwards.

Somehow still able to move after weightlifting and sprints, training on sunday in the dungeon consisted of another 6 sets of 8 reps but this time on squats. As I knew I was tired I started on 60kg for 2 sets, but then did 2 sets at each of 62.5kg, 65kg and 67.5kg which was tough. I was super surprised that I managed it considering how shot my legs were. Then moved onto a little kit lifting, without wraps, just to work on keeping upright at the bottom of the lift.

My legs have been surprisingly ok until this morning, where even walking is difficult! Thankfully I have a day of rest ahead, working in the library preparing for my big presentation tomorrow. Then off to MMA, where I am unlikely to be asked to squat!

After last week’s competition I have changed my diet up to include more carbs, though I’m not sure how much I’m enjoying it. Basing meals on sweet potato, brown rice and oats may be filling but is a lot less flavoursome than a high fat diet. Also, I feel fat already, and am noticing a lot more bloating than when I’m on keto. As I want to be at least a little toned for Summer Ball where I’m going to dress up as a UFC fighter, I am going to get through this lot of carbs in my fridge and go back to keto for the 9 days before. After that I will reconsider and see how my body feels best. I think the low-medium carb diet I did in January might be the best bet for me to follow on a day to day basis, with full keto for competition prep. It’s all about experimenting and seeing what works best for me.

Easter Sunday: the bar has risen!

With the competition one week away today, training was working on competition lift rehearsals and routine practice for squats; rolling, wrapping, squatting and unwrapping. Currently suffering from squat death right now for the first time in ages, so I apologise for any upcoming errors or nonsense.

Warmed up to 70kg raw which felt a little tough, my thighs are still a little sore from the week’s work. Then put my newly crispy squat suit on, but with my weight on its way down it still felt a little too loose. Did 80kg and 90kg with suit bottom and no wraps and then 100kg with suit and loose wraps. With the suit still feeling a little loose, decided to turn it around which is how I’ve been tightening it for deadlifts. This seemed to work a treat as I did 100kg again and it seemed to be a little easier. Psychosomatic or not, it worked. Next squats were 107.5kg, 112.5kg and 117.5kg, with tight wraps. All quite easy but not quite to depth, and inch or so to go. For my next lifts I recruited an even tighter wrapper, for a PB attempt of 120kg. Managed this with ease but apparently only hit parallel, so kept on moving up! Starting to learn to relax into the pain of being wrapped, I’ve found plastering an angelic smile on my face does the trick.

Next were the big lifts of the day; 125kg to parallel, followed by a whopping 12.5kg PB of 130kg, which felt easy and was to depth too! Couldn’t ask for anything more out of a Sunday in the dungeon. Well, I guess 130kg+ but we’ll see 😉

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Now back home with horrendously painful legs; bruises around the wrapping site which I’ve not had before, and raw skin. The picture doesn’t do it justice! Going to have a bath then slather a bucket full of Savlon on them and see if that helps anything. A few cups of tea are in order too as a fair bit of noisy growling was necessary during my session today; firstly due to the pain of being wrapped, and secondly due to the pain of pushing down into the wraps to get to depth! So now my throat is a little raw to say the least…

Made the executive decision (with some help from a friend) that some carbs were allowed after my gruelling session, so I’ve had a small banana and one chocolate. I know how to treat myself on Easter Sunday! I have to say it’s been nice to treat my housemates to a mini egg hunt that they didn’t expect, and I’d rather have that pleasure over the nausea of eating too much chocolate. I feel really positive about my weight and the competition next week, so I savoured my 1 chocolate and small banana in the knowledge that I was doing everything I could today to better myself for tomorrow. A little motivation to conclude my 50th post 🙂

Chocolate Nut Butter Drops

This is a recipe from a fellow Bournemouth Barbell lifter, a third year nutrition student who’s heading to the IPF World Championships in July.  He’s been a massive help with my diet in recent weeks, and this is one of his recipes I’ve tried out for when I fancy something sweet. Check out his page here.

I’ll warn you now, these are addictive….

Chocolate Nut Butter Drops

penguin

  • 3 table spoons of coconut oil
  • 4 table spoons of unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon of sweetener
  • A bunch of any natural nut butter of your choice!
  • Silicone ice cube tray (I used a penguin mould 🙂 )


1) Melt the coconut oil down and add the sweetener and cocoa.

2) Fill the ice cube tray 1/3 of the way. Freeze for 5 minutes.

3) Add a teaspoon of the nut butter into each cube. Freeze for a further 5 minutes

4) Fill the rest of the ice cube tray sections with the remaining cocoa and coconut oil mixture. Freeze and leave in the freezer until they are needed. Simply pop one out and enjoy!

These may be low-carb, but they are still high in calories so don’t go mad (advice that I need to take too haha)

Can’t wait to finish writing this post and have one of these as a treat after my deadlift session tonight. Got into my newly sugar-washed squat suit, which didn’t seem too much tighter so I may have to wash it again, and did minimal warm ups; singles at 60kg, 80kg, 90kg and 95kg. Next onto more singles at 100kg, 110kg and then an attempted 115kg. Quite easy off the floor but didn’t quite have the adrenaline necessary to lock out. Felt good though, so looking forward to seeing what I can do next. Went back down to 100kg for doubles working on pulling my shoulder blades right back and straightening out my back so I have less work to do locking out at the top of the lift.

Finished off the session with some easy squatting, tried another member’s suit one size smaller than the one I normally use and it worked quite well for me. Unfortunately I won’t be able to use it for the Welsh, but my coach is looking into finding me a smaller one. Warmed up with a few at 60kg and 75kg. Then put my wraps on for 90kg, and straps and tighter wraps for 105kg for two. Working on unracking and setting up with confidence so I don’t have another fiasco in comp. I think doing unequipped comp so close to the equipped comp left me a bit out of practice with equipped lifting, so I have more confidence that with the next few days of practice the next comp will go a bit better for me.