Should You “Backload” Your Carbs?

Carbohydrates can be a key part of your fitness diet.  Of course, how many and what types you eat can effect your progress.  But there is also a diet strategy based on when you eat them.  Backloading your carb intake, or having them later in the day and generally post workout, is an approach used by some to get leaner faster.  Is this something that you should give a try?

The idea behind carb backloading is simple.  Earlier in the day after a nights sleep your cortisol levels are higher and your blood sugar is lower than normal.  Having more carbohydrates under these circumstances makes it easier for your body to store them as fat.  Later in the day, especially post-training, your body will be more likely to store the carbs you consume as glycogen in the muscles and the liver.  Carb backloading is a strategy used to minimize body fat storing and to get leaner while still having ideal post workout recovery.

Sounds good right?  So what are the potential issues?  Carbohydrates are a great energy source and training on low or no carbs can be an adjustment.  The goal in backloading is to use fat for energy but it’s not as easily accessed, especially during anaerobic, higher intensity training, so you may definitely feel the effect, at least for a while.  Also, without enough carbs or glycogen you can break down more muscle as fuel, another inefficient process from an energy standpoint, and certainly not ideal if you’re concerned with size and strength.

So, what does this all mean.  Should you backload your carbs or not?  If your goal is primarily performance and you’re training to increase strength, size, athletic ability, performance, etc. then eliminating carbohydrates can keep you from having ideal success.  You may still want and need a targeted amount to do your best.  25-50 grams of low glycemic carbs as part of a complete meal an hour or two before your train won’t halt your body’s ability to burn fat for the day if you’re in the proper caloric range.  How well you do that workout will effect your results more than just where your resting hormone levels happen to be.  If your main focus is on fat loss and you’re not trying to build size or strength or dominate your opponents during football or track practice, then you may find it a lot more beneficial to hold off on those early day carbs until later on.  If you find that your energy is lacking, you can try a caffeine based pre-workout formula, or simply some coffee with maybe some branch chain aminos to help fight muscle wasting.

One key to carb back loading (as with low carb dieting in general) is to still make sure you are giving your body adequate amounts of calories via your protein and fat intake.  Having your calories at too low of a level will excessively slow your metabolism and can halt your progress long before you reach your goals.  You still need to eat earlier in the day, even if you’re holding off on the carbs until later (with the exception of intermittent fasting- but that’s another conversation).

Carb backloading has proven to be an effective strategy for many.  It’s best used for someone who is primarily concerned with getting leaner above all else.  Like with most things though, you don’t have to embrace the extremes to get results.  If energy and muscle loss are concerns, you can have some pre workout carbs if you find that works best for you.  And just because post workout carbs are touted as “free food” due to our body’s increased ability to store glycogen, filling your diet with high sugar junk, even if it doesn’t always hurt how you look, may not be the best thing for your long term health.

If you’re interested in carb backloading, do some more research and see if it’s something you might want to try. If you have no problem processing carbs or getting lean, and you like your training energy, then you’ve no reason to change a thing.  But if you can’t seem to get as lean as you want, aren’t overly concerned with workout performance and yet, don’t wish to completely pull carbs from your diet, carb backloading by shifting them to later in the day may be an option you want to explore.

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