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Carb Back-Loading: The Diet Advice Dreams Are Made Of?

by Alasdair McClintock on Tuesday 1 May 2018



For many, 'carbs' is a dirty word. Not to be uttered, lest your stomach bloat and you immediately put on 20kg. With the re-emerging trend of carb back-loading, however, many are running back to bread and pasta for a late-night fix. It sounds like a dream, but what is it? 

Essentially, carb back-loading means you eat sparingly during the day, sticking to lean protein and low-carb veg, then eat all your carbs in the evening, post-workout. The basic idea is that your body will use fat for fuel during the day, to promote leanness, and you will enjoy better carb absorption into your muscles overnight.

The result: getting big and looking lean.

The diet was first touted in 2015, by John Kiefer, a self-confessed "geek," who has since disappeared from the public eye somewhat.

His theory is largely based around research showing that insulin sensitivity peaks in the morning, which causes your body to store glucose both into fat and muscles. Thus, Kiefer recommends not eating any carbs during this period, as your body is most susceptible to storing them as fat.  

He believes post-workout, high carb, high calorie meals in the evening are best. Because he also recommends high-GI (glycaemic index) carbs, some say it encourages eating junk food, but most nutritionists disagree with this train of thought. 

The big question is, of course, does it work?  

Well, maybe.


Apart from one very small study of 44 people, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, there is little to no real science to support the concept. There is, however, quite a bit of anecdotal evidence to say that yes, it really does work. 

A quick online search uncovered many forums advocating its effectiveness and many more wondering what actually happened to Kiefer (it looks like he just took a step back from the public eye for personal reasons, so no great mystery there).

Nutritionist, Drew Price, put it to the test himself and found that it could be a good strategy, but there are some unexpected downsides, like having to work out at the busiest time in the gym.

Another diet expert, Dr. Mike Israetel, told Shape Magazine, it could be effective if you eat high-quality carbs like whole-grain bread, sweet potato, quinoa and brown rice, to name a few, but you should watch your portions and certainly not gorge on unhealthy foods, like burgers and donuts. 

On the other hand, Sports Nutritionist, Brian St. Pierre, is sceptical of nutrition timing in general, of which carb back-loading is a proponent of. He believes that, unless you are an elite athlete or body builder, there are far more important things you should be focusing on.  

So, without any real, sizable scientific studies, it is hard to say whether carb back-loading is the dream diet we've all been waiting for or just another excuse to sell books.

On the bright side, if it suits your lifestyle and you stick to the healthier carbohydrates - which, admittedly, are much less fun than cheeseburgers and spaghetti - it could at least be worth a try.

*We recommend maintaining a healthy balanced diet with an active lifestyle. Make sure you consult with an expert before embarking on any major dietary changes.

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