Sean Hyson

Fitness Distilled

July/August 2015

Abs and Carbs

posted on May 17, 2011
written by sean hyson

I think you should stop doing crunches, situps, and just about any other exercise that makes your lower back bend forward (spinal flexion).

 Hold on, hold on, it’s not MY theory…

Take it up with Alwyn Cosgrove. That’s the main lesson of his book, The New Rules of Lifting for Abs. I was e-mailing with Mike Robertson today, and he just designed several workouts for an upcoming issue of Muscle&Fitness that were totally devoid of spinal flexion exercises. Eric Cressey and Jon Hinds are in the same camp.

Here’s how you work abs...valslide


The revelation to drop the classic situp from the core training arsenal owes a lot to Stuart McGill, a leading expert on back pain, whose research shows that crunching motions can lead to disc herniations in the lumbar spine. In fact, there have been reports that 52% of the U.S. population walks around with at least some bulging disc problem and may not even know it. While their prevalence is probably the result of sitting for long periods, rather than doing too many crunches, more spine-flexing exercise can’t be expected to make things better.


discSo how are you supposed to train abs? Stabilization exercises. You should be familiar with the yoga plank and side plank, but those two are just the beginning. Any exercise where you brace your core and try to avoid movement at the lumbar spine is a healthy, useful ab exercise. This can include rollout/push away exercises, single limb training, and off-set loading—all of which are covered thoroughly in Alwyn’s excellent book.

If you’re training your abs to prevent or treat lower-back pain, don’t do exercises that encourage it. If you’re training your abs just to see them, look at your diet first.

On a personal note, I love hanging leg raises, and I’ve always felt they worked abs like nothing else, so I’m leaving them in. I think if you’re pretty active and don’t currently have back pain—and you balance flexion exercises with extension (such as a rep of hypers for every rep of situps)—you’ll probably be ok. But we should all err on the side of safety and minimize our spinal flexion work. This is one training “fad” that I don’t think is going to go out of style.


Here’s another one that won’t. Eat your carbs at night.

As is often the case, conventional wisdom here is the complete opposite of the truth. The idea has been around a long time that because your muscles are more sensitive to insulin in the morning, you should eat the bulk of your daily carbs then. The problem is that your fat cells are more sensitive too. Eating carbs in the morning will cause more of them to be stored as fat than if you waited til 4 o’clock in the afternoon or later, when insulin sensitivity declines. This is the premise behind Kiefer’s Carb Back-Loading philosophy, and many other similar diets out there like the Modified Warrior Diet and The Renegade Diet. When you weight train later in the day, you allow your muscles to soak up more of the carbs than your fat cells.

Here’s how your day should go:

Wake up, skip breakfast. Drink some coffee if you like.
Around noon, or a few hours after you get up, start eating protein and fat foods. Veggies are ok too. Just about any fat is fine—a greasy burger, eggs with bacon, pepperoni and cheese. Knock yourself out.
Train in the afternoon, then eat some carbs. Higher-glycemic ones like bread, pasta, and potatoes are best, and Kiefer will even tell you that you can get away with ice cream and french fries.

Keep eating high-carb right until you go to bed.

Eat this before


I’ve tried this simple method, and I’ve turned a bunch of other people onto it as well. IT’S THE BEST THING WE’VE EVER DONE. Gone is the banal meal planning and excruciating discipline associated with the normal “fitness” diet. You can eat your favorite foods year-round without paying the price.

If you have to train in the morning (and I usually do), eat some carbs after your workout and then follow the schedule as I wrote. It still works great.

It’s nice when the truth coincides with what we want to hear. I promise you that in this case it does.


  1. Gravatar

    17 May, 2011

    Chase Karnes

    Hey Sean,

    Great post! I've blended what I've learned from Kiefer, Ferruggia and Michael Keck about eating carbs later in the day with great success. I've actually dropped about 12 pounds in the 12 weeks. The best part - I'm still getting stronger. I hit a 535 deadlift PR last weekend at Elite and a 308 push press PR the week before. There is no doubt this is the best way I've eaten, ever!

  2. Gravatar

    18 May, 2011

    Sean Hyson

    Nice lifts, Chase. This kind of eating proves getting lean and strong can coexist

  3. Gravatar

    20 May, 2011


    Sean, do you know if Kiefer is rolling out a backloading book?

  4. Gravatar

    24 May, 2011

    Sean Hyson


    He told me he was, but he wasn't sure when. Check out

  5. Gravatar

    24 May, 2011


    Eating carbs later in the day until bed? This is a dream come true. But Sean, how can you skip breakfast? With training hard in the gym come morning I am starving, don't think I could go without my eggs and oatmeal.

  6. Gravatar

    25 May, 2011

    Sean Hyson


    I didn't think I could do it either. And then I learned I could.


    You can drink coffee to fight hunger, but I doubt you'll have trouble adapting to this schedule.

    Kiefer and others give many reasons why this strategy works so well, and one of them has to do with your central nervous system. If you DON'T eat carbs before you train, your mind is much sharper and you'll actually be able to activate more muscle.

    Plus, there is some research that shows that if you wait to eat after training, you can grow muscle even faster.

    Just try it.

  7. Gravatar

    25 May, 2011

    Nia Shanks


    I've been following your blog for a while. Just thought I'd say "hello" and that I really enjoy the content.

    I have read about the carb-backloading philosophy but never tried it. Guess now is as good a time as ever.

    Thanks for the great info!

  8. Gravatar

    25 May, 2011

    Sean Hyson

    Thanks, Nia

    If people are interested, I'll see if I can get an interview with Kiefer on here and we'll get down to the nitty gritty of his diet.

  9. Gravatar

    26 May, 2011

    Nia Shanks

    That would definitely be interesting! Thanks, Sean!

  10. Gravatar

    26 May, 2011


    Another great post Sean!

    I like reading your stuff because it always tends dispel commonly accepted "rules" for both training and nutrition.

  11. Gravatar

    27 May, 2011

    Sean Hyson

    Thanks, Stephane.

    The most interesting stuff is often what you least expect people to say.

  12. Gravatar

    04 Jun, 2011

    Richard Bender

    Sean-------How would you use this skipping breakfast/carb-backloading philosophy to someone trying to lose about 40 lbs. & trains at 5am? Thanks.

  13. Gravatar

    04 Jun, 2011

    Sean Hyson

    Hi Richard,

    If you're trying to lose that much weight, Back-loading isn't the right plan. I know that's probably not what you wanted to hear, but I think you need to go with what Kiefer calls Carb Nite.

    It's very simple. Drop your carbs to 30 grams per day or fewer. Do this for 10 days. On the evening of the 10th day, start filling up on carbs—you can eat the way I described above. From that point on, go back to low carbs and carb up every five days.

    E-mail me if you want more info but that's really how it's done.

  14. Gravatar

    05 Jun, 2011

    Jessie Hogge

    Did I just read this correct???! I can have a midday "CHEAT MEAL" type food?! I do a weekly "CHEAT MEAL" now and I am not a strict as I used to be.......I do load carbs in the A.M. like 3-5 slices of whole wheat eggwhite french toast and 5-7 egg whites scrambled.......should I chill out on that? That is what i am reading. I lost quite a bit of body weight in a self made 12 week program.....the eating habits also left me not gaining much more muscle so I was not a lean as I shoudl have been. I do eat more foods that are "good" to eat......not the ones that taste "good!" LOL! This article is AWESOME......I am just waiting for the big red word "NOT!!!" to flash accross the screen! LOL! So, is this for real Sean? Can I save money on wheat bread and eggs and not eat that much in the A.M. anymore....not to mention the time I would save and maybe sleep a few extra minutes! LOL!

  15. Gravatar

    05 Jun, 2011

    Sean Hyson


    I honestly don't recommend that anyone eat carbs before a workout anymore. I guess if it's going to be an especially brutal session, or you train late at night, you could. But for most of us, I don't think there's any advantage.

    So yes, if I were you, I'd dump the whole wheat bread. If you want to try back-loading your carbs, the way I outlined it above is pretty much all there is to it. Try to train later in the day and then you can have a pizza, ice cream, or anything else you like without much chance of gaining fat.

    I don't think it works forever and I do think you have to be a little conservative. Furthermore, it's NOT the best strategy if you want to lose a lot of fat fast. If you want to gain muscle while losing a little fat or staying lean, or lose a little fat while maintaining size, give it a go.

    I promise it works FAST.

  16. Gravatar

    06 Jun, 2011

    Your Name

    Hey Sean,
    I have been doing something similar to what Chase mentioned above, and am definitely loving the simplicity of this style of eating. I tend to train in the morning as well, and I was wondering if you could maybe post a sample day of eating for us to see. Maybe of a day you train in the morning, and a day where you train in the afternoon??


  17. Gravatar

    06 Jun, 2011

    Richard Bender

    Sean------Thanks for the reply. Does the 30g. of carbs include vegetables? or is that just like a serving of berries & a little sweet potato plus unlimited vegetables? Also, on the very low carb days, what about workout nutrition, assuming a 5am workout time. Thanks.

  18. Gravatar

    08 Jun, 2011

    Sean Hyson

    John and Richard,

    See my new post. Green veggies don't count toward your carb numbers. Beets and carrots you might be a little cautious with but I think if you're doing everything else right, it should be fine.

  19. Gravatar

    16 Jul, 2011



    I've been trying to access your 12-week transformation workout schedule via Men's Fitness website, but the links appear to be outdated or invalid. Any way you can point me in the right direction? I'd love to take on that challenge!

  20. Gravatar

    26 Jul, 2011

    Sean Hyson

    It's on this site, John. Scroll back to my first few posts. The diet and training is in there in its entirety.

  21. Gravatar

    22 May, 2012


    what is the carb eating plan for days you dont work out?

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