Nutrition/Weight Loss

Carb Back-Loading

My training regimen has been going pretty well for a while now. This past month I’ve done a kettlebell-focused workout 2 or 3 times per week, and it has done wonders for my muscular endurance. By “muscular endurance” I mean the ability to exert force for longer, and with less stress. In even simpler terms, it means I can lift heavier while at the same time I am not huffing and puffing while doing it.

But I’m repeatedly running into the age-old problem: I can’t cut fat while also building muscle. Forgive my ignorance but apparently the bodybuilders have known this for a long time, and it make sense since the majority of powerlifters I see at the gym or on Youtube are overweight. No offense, but my goal is not directly the amount of weight I can lift. It is looking and feeling better.

Recently on the Fat Burning Man podcast, this guy John Keifer was interviewed. He’s a physicist and also happens to be a trainer. And unlike most of the trainers at the gym I belong to, he’s actually physically fit. The podcast is well worth a listen and is very intriguing to me. It’s one of those “too good to be true” approaches to diet but I am intrigued for one reason: when I think back to the time where I lost the most weight in the shortest period of time (approximately 6 months, when I lost about 40 of my 75lbs total), I often partook in a night of drinking or eating desserts. Typically on a Saturday night, I would go all out and grab a 6-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade (those things are sugar bombs), or go out to dinner with my family and eat a big ass dessert after a typical low-carb meal. I usually always did this after working out hard earlier that evening/day.¬†And guess what? The next morning I would feel leaner. And since I had a lot of bodyfat at the time, I would often lose weight on the scale too.

But I ignored it and kept on. And eventually successfully lost all of the excess weight. Back in those days I wasn’t *really* lifting weights heavy. I was cycling between doing all sorts of inefficient/not effective for my goal workouts, like Crossfit, or cardio, etc. When I was got to a good weight is when I really started focusing on weighlifting, as the research is pretty clear that it is the best path towards overall fitness. But try lifting heavy consistently on a low-carb diet and you will likely bonk like I have. By “bonk” I mean either run into performance limits, or just overall not feel that great.

The smart 42 year old guy would just not lift weights. But I’m an idiot trying to make up for lost time/health in my life, so I trudge on searching…

Back to the podcast I mentioned above – so now this guy is saying that his approach results in both cutting fat AND building muscle mass at the same time. Too good to be true? Probably, but I’m gonna try it. I have a feeling, based on my experience, that there’s something to it.

What is Carb Back-Loading?

In a nutshell, it is this:

  • Non-lifting days: eat low carb, < 30g of carbohydrate (it just so happens that 30g was my ‘sweet spot’ for consistent weight loss back when that was my primary goal)
  • Lifting days*: no breakfast, very low carb lunch, lift weights between 3-5pm (approximately), follow with a protein shake and then eat lots of high-glycemic carbs* that evening

* Notes:

1. By “lifting” it is assumed you are busting your ass with real weightlifting, meaning lifting heavy weight.
2. The interesting part and probably most controversial is the focus on high GI carbs. Specifically junk food/sugar bombs. Donuts, ice cream, etc. Of course, this also includes white rice/potatoes. “Slow” carbs like sweet potatoes are not a good fit because they dull (but lengthen) the insulin spike longer than what Keifer wants. To simplify (and I may have this wrong, so be forewarned) – the goal is to burn fat via the low carb intake throughout the night/day, then workout heavy and then afterwards while your insulin sensitivity is increased (due to the weightlifting), you shunt glucose directly into your muscles and therefore replenish the energy lost during the weightlifting. And, get ready….because of the timing of this high-GI spike, the excess glucose is alleged to not get stored as fat.

Keifer has the details on his site and discusses it some on the podcast. Anyone that’s been following the diet/fitness pundits for any length of time knows not to trust “science” because for every guy these days, especially the Paleo-centric ones, that says, “here’s the science!” or “it’s based on science” or “let the other guy show me the science!” etc., I can find another guy with “science” that will refute it. I have long since learned to not believe in the “diet science” that is out there and just self-experiment. So time to self-experiment some with this program.

But, to start, I’m going to stick to just one night per week or a high-glycemic carb load and see where it takes me. If I start putting on fat then I’ll know.

I started this program on Sunday and did my typical full-body weightlifting routine yesterday. And I gotta say, I did quite well. But afterwards I avoided any carbs. I’ll see how I feel during tomorrow’s workout (which may be another full-body lifting session or may be the kettlebell routine which I plan on doing once per week going forward) and see. If I feel like I need the carbs, I’ll do a refeed after.

If you’ve tried carb back-loading or any type of carb cycling/refeeding approach, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment below.

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