Carb backloading is a relatively new diet regimen that is gaining popularity. Unlike many diets that restrict eating junk food, carb backloading permits followers to eat typically off-limits foods like cake, donuts, and cheeseburgers, while still helping you lose weight and build muscle.
The creator, John Kiefer, claims that this style of dieting utilizes carbs more effectively by holding off any carb intake until dinner time, at which point you can then eat whatever you want.
Before understanding how carb backloading works, it’s important to understand how carbohydrates are processed in your body.
Anytime you eat carbs, they’re broken down into glucose in your blood. This raises your blood sugar levels, which then signals your pancreas to release insulin to rebalance them.
Insulin does this by depositing these carbohydrates into either your muscle cells or your fat cells.
If you have an active lifestyle, a lower body weight, and an overall healthy physique, these carbs will most likely be going into your muscles. In this case, you’re then considered to have good insulin sensitivity.
On the other hand, if you lead a more sedentary lifestyle — which may lead to a higher body fat percentage — the chances of carbohydrates being stored as fat rather than muscle are much higher. This is considered being insulin resistant.
Carb backloading takes advantage of this cycle and focuses on consuming all of your carbohydrates when your body is most sensitive to insulin — after strenuous exercises like weight lifting or resistance training.
The basis of this diet requires you to eat little to no carbs for breakfast and lunch, with the bulk of your calories coming from fats and protein. Then, once you have exercised (preferably in the evening), you increase your carb intake for your post-workout meal.
John Kiefer — the creator of carb backloading — believes that this way of eating works synergically with your body’s insulin sensitivity[*].
Research shows that insulin sensitivity peaks in the morning, giving your body the input to store glucose both into fat and muscles. Carb backloading takes this into account and recommends not eating any carbohydrates when your body is most susceptible to storing them as fat (i.e. during the day)[*].
Instead, you would eat the majority of your carbs when your body is more susceptible to turn glucose into muscles. By avoiding carbs as much as possible during the day, fat gain or the creation of new fat tissues through carbohydrates is mitigated.
Essentially you’re eating carbs when your body is most likely to store them as glycogen in the muscles, rather than stock them up as fat.
This diet focuses heavily on proper hormonal function timing. When you’re sleeping, your body runs on a fat-burning mode, while releasing growth hormones[*].
Upon waking, the goal of this diet is to stay in this fat-burning state (also known as ketosis). This has shown to help control hunger and improve fat oxidative metabolism, and can be achieved by consuming only fats and proteins throughout the day[*].
For breakfast, opt for a low-carb, high-fat meal such as a bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast casserole or even skip breakfast entirely.
Skipping breakfast, an essential part of intermittent fasting, has several benefits that extend beyond this diet plan. By helping deplete your glycogen stores during the day, it can help your body become more insulin sensitive and use carbs more efficiently[*].
For lunch, it’s recommended to consume meals consisting of mostly fats and protein, with the bulk of your calories coming from healthy fats. Remember to keep carbohydrates low by eating keto-friendly meals like salmon with pesto cauliflower rice.
Most of your calories from carbohydrates will come after your workout. The “post-workout” principle is important because that’s when your body is most likely to store glycogen into the muscles rather than into your fat cells.
Eating Carbs at Night
You may have been told that eating carb-laden meals at night will ultimately lead to higher levels of fat in your body composition.
Many nutritionists and dietitians recommend you eat the majority of your carbohydrates during the day while your insulin sensitivity is higher, and then decrease your total caloric intake in the afternoon and night time.
However, the carb backloading protocol proposes the complete opposite.
Cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, naturally increases at night and peaks around 7 a.m. When you eat carbs in the morning, this could counteract insulin activity and signal weight gain[*].
By backloading your carbs — eating them at night after a workout — you can help negate this fat-gaining effects.
Like other diets, carb backloading comes with several potential health benefits.
- Helps reduce cravings: This diet allows you to be less restrictive (at night), so it’s OK to have junk food once in a while as long as you’ve remained low-carb for most of the day. Recent studies show that giving in to your cravings can help you achieve your weight loss goals faster[*].
- Promotes less stored fat: The whole idea behind this diet is to utilize your hormonal function. By staying in nutritional ketosis throughout the day, you’re encouraging your body to burn off excess fat.
- Can promote better sleep: Carb consumption at night time helps produce more tryptophan. This essential amino acid promotes the conversion of serotonin into melatonin, which helps you to have a better quality of sleep.
By avoiding carbs throughout most of the day, you’re maintaining low blood sugar levels. This means you won’t have any major insulin releases, and your body will burn fat through ketosis during the majority of the day.
One study compared the effects on women of eating 70% of daily calories in the morning rather than in the evening, to assess their resulting fat loss. The results showed that the women who ate the bulk of their calories in the evening lost more fat and less muscle than those who ate in the morning by half a pound[*].
Another study published in 2011 placed 70 Israeli police officers on a six-month diet regimen, with one group eating carbohydrates evenly throughout the day and the second eating the bulk of their carbs at dinner time.
Researchers found that the second group experienced less hunger, lost 4.4 more pounds, and experienced a greater body mass index (BMI) compared to the group who ate carbs throughout the day. Reduced inflammation, glucose control, and improved blood lipids were also seen in the subjects who ate the majority of carbs at night[*].
The carb backloading diet can be easily explained in these three easy steps.
#1. Limit Your Carb Intake to 30 Grams Per Day for 10 Days
The first phase requires you to restrict your carbohydrate intake as much as possible.
It’s recommended to eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily and to consume large amounts of fat. Eggs, salmon, avocados, and bacon are all recommended.
Saturated fats shouldn’t be a concern. The Annals of Internal Medicine have concluded that low-carb diets with moderate to high amounts of saturated fats can improve the risk factors of heart disease and help to promote cardiovascular health[*].
You can expect to feel lethargic for the first few days on this diet, similar to the keto flu.
#2. Eat Large Amounts of Carbs on the 10th Day
On the 10th day, Kiefer recommends eating plenty of carbs and protein immediately after your evening workout. According to the carb backloading protocol, your body is so depleted of carbohydrates by the 10th day that there’s no possible way for carbs to be stored as fat.
On training days, you can repeat the process of eating large amounts of carbs after your afternoon or evening training session.
On the days when you don’t train, lower your carb intake in a similar fashion to the first 10 days of the program.
When it comes to a low-carb or ketogenic diet, one of the biggest complaints is the difficulty in gaining muscle mass. For example, weight lifters and bodybuilders find they need carbohydrates to maintain strength during their workouts.
However, you should keep in mind that if your carb intake gets too high, you may find yourself getting kicked out of ketosis.
When you are in ketosis, your body is extremely glycogen sparing. This means your body doesn’t normally blaze through all the carbohydrates that it normally does.
Your body holds about 450-500 grams of carbohydrate in your muscles and liver. This means that you normally have to burn through 450 grams of carbs to drain them on a traditional diet. When you’re in ketosis, your body is utilizing ketones — this means it’s sparing a lot of glycogen.
So whereas a normal workout might burn 250 grams of carbs, when you’re in ketosis that same workout might only burn 50-60 carbs, meaning you can get by with fewer carbohydrates in your keto backloading strategy than if you were traditionally carb backloading.
A carb backloading principle in conjunction with ketosis could be highly effective as long as you don’t exceed your permitted allowance of 50 grams of carbs. This is because you still want to have the positive effects of low insulin during the course of the day.
If you train in the evening and restrict your carb intake until after your workout, you’re in a fat-burning state throughout the whole day. When you consume your carbs post-workout at night, this will give you the benefits of ketosis during the day, while still receiving muscle mass benefits.
Keto Carb Backloading Meal Example
Here’s a sample of a carb backloading meal plan, where you opt for low-carb meals until after your 5 p.m. workout:
- Breakfast – Turkey sausage frittata
- Lunch – Lemon balsamic chicken
- Dinner – 12 oz grass-fed steak with one cup of white rice
- Dessert – Protein shake
Backloading on Carbs Can Work for You
The principles of carb backloading have a lot of things in common with the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet.
If you’ve been struggling with gaining muscle on the keto diet, following these guidelines can potentially enhance your muscle mass and strength.
In fact, through a targeted or cyclical ketogenic diet regime, carb backloading can help your increase athletic performance or gain muscle.
Otherwise, a standard keto diet wouldn’t be optimal with backloading on carbs because consuming too many carbs can easily kick you out of ketosis.
The longer you stay on the diet, the easier it becomes and the better your results.
While backloading claims to increase muscle mass and drop body fat while still enjoying junk food, you must remember to follow the strict low-carb guidelines during the day followed by a carb-laden meal after your evening workout to start seeing visible results.
Learn more about the benefits of the different ketogenic diet versions and find out which one fits your lifestyle and goals:
- The Targeted Ketogenic Diet: Everything You Need to Know
- The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet: Strategic Carb Intake for Keto Athletes