Experts have long harped that a low carb-high protein meal plan is the way to go when leaning out. So it came as a surprise that there’s a diet increasing in popularity that permits you to consume carbs and even in large amounts!
The Carb Backloading diet isn’t exactly new, but it’s coming back in vogue because it allows for some carb binging. In a nutshell, the meal plan asks you to limit your carb consumption throughout the day, then at night and post-workout, you can have your fill of carbs.
This goes against usual advice to consume your carbohydrates earlier rather than later in the day. According to exercise scientist and nutrition expert John Kiefer, one of the leading advocates of this type of eating, it’s a strategic way of carb consumption.
“Carbs can make both muscle and fat cells grow—often at the same time. But by shifting when you eat carbs, you can control which kind of tissue grows,” writes Kiefer for Men's Fitness. Translation: You boost muscle growth while keeping fat cells at bay!
And carbs really isn’t the enemy of those looking to get lean, anyway. “Carbs are essential for performance and they also spare protein for the unique function of rebuilding muscle tissue,” says Timothy Jeffe Ting, C.S.C.S., a Precision Nutrition certified coach who’s also a strength and conditioning specialist and training consultant for Fitness Armory and Movement Performance Manila.
Ting also points to this study published recently in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that says the total amount of calories we eat is what’s really fattening and it doesn’t matter if it comes from carbs, protein, or fat.
But before you call all your gym buddies and schedule carb-back lamons, remember that it’s all about timing and discipline. Here are a few rules you should keep in mind should you wish to try carb backloading.
Rule#1: Timing is everything
For carb backloading to work, you need to be smart when you schedule your workout and your carb consumption. Ting recommends scheduling workouts during late afternoon or early evening. “The rule is to keep carbs low before the workout limiting it to around 20-30 grams (roughly half a cup of rice) and consuming the rest of your daily requirements (2 and a half cups if you eat 3 cups of rice a day) after your workout,” he suggests.
Rule #2: Keep disciplined on non-workout days
Since the goal is to deplete the body of carbs at certain points to become more efficient at burning fat and being able to still eat carbs later in the day, you have to keep carb-consumption to low-levels on non-training days. This balances out what you’ll consume during training days. “Limit [your carbs] to a single meal or about 50 grams, the equivalent of about a cup of rice for the entire day,” advises Ting.
Rule #3: Be smart with your macro nutrients
Some proponents of this meal plan suggest to consume whatever type of carb you feel like. However, it’s still best to consume them from whole food sources than processed carbs like donuts and cakes. While you’re at it, monitor your protein and fat consumption, too. “This is a specialized meal plan—it won’t work unless you keep your total calories in check,” reminds Ting.
Rule #4: Cycle your diet
Like changing up your workouts, you need to know when to take a break from this kind of eating. “The key is to adhere to the plan just enough to produce results, usually about 90% of the time while giving yourself 10% wiggle room to have a healthy relationship with food,” advises Ting.
He also points to a study published by the British Journal of Head Psychology, which found that prolonged compliance to a meal plan can be a bad thing as it can lead to stress that can induce burnout and eventually, binge eating. So to keep your gains and keeping temptation at bay, shake things up every few weeks.