written by sean hyson
It’s probably the easiest diet in the world and yet I know it can still be confusing. In an effort to clear up the confusion, I put together a little Carb Back-loading Frequently Asked Questions list, based on what I’ve learned from Kiefer and my own experience with back-loading.
Remember that this is Kiefer’s baby. He created Carb Back-loading and I don’t speak for him, so any questions I can’t answer should be directed to him on his site. But see if this doesn’t tie up some loose ends for you in the meantime.
Q: Why can’t I eat bread, fruit, or pasta? I thought anything goes on a back-load night.
A: You CAN eat bread. Kiefer just warns that it’s not a great choice if your body doesn’t tolerate gluten, and perhaps as much as 50% of the population doesn’t. However, if it doesn’t bother you, white bread is a great back-loading food. If you want to have a sandwich at some point during the night, any bread is ok then too.
Pasta, unless cooked beyond the “al dente” stage, generally isn’t high-glycemic enough (it doesn’t raise insulin enough) to be a great choice during a back-load. But as long as it’s not your only carb source for the evening, you can have some. Beware of the gluten factor here as well.
As for fruit, most fruits also are not big insulin-releasers and fructose is easily converted to fat in the liver. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat your favorite fruits, but you should limit your intake. The best carb choices on back-loads are white potatoes, white or sushi rice, sweet potatoes (cooked a long time so they’re very sweet), ripe bananas, pastries, and ice cream.
Q: A lot of junk food carbs contain high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Is it ok to eat that?
A: You should not be eating much HFCS. This should be obvious to anyone interested in health, however, not necessarily for the hyped-up reasons you may have heard about. As far as I know, there’s no real evidence to show that HFCS is inherently worse for the body than any other processed sugar, but it certainly isn’t healthy. The main reason it’s bad for back-loading is that it’s surprisingly not high on the glycemic index, so it doesn’t give you a big insulin spike. There are simply better, more wholesome and nutritious carbs you can eat during a back-load session, so it’s better to do so.
With that said, if you just finish training and you want to throw back a regular Coca-Cola or some Entenmann’s doughnuts, you won’t store these foods as fat regardless of their HFCS content. They’ll get sucked up into your muscles. There are also other sugars and starches present in foods besides HFCS, so it’s not like they’re a complete waste of time to back-load. You’ll still get an insulin spike. Again, you CAN use them, but know that there are better choices (as listed above). Unfortunately, HFCS is so prevalent in the food market these days it’s hard to avoid no matter what. So don’t stress too much over it.
Q: Can I back-load on off days?
A: Yes, but it depends. If you’re back-loading to lose fat, you need lots of low-carb days to keep insulin low and convert fat to fuel. You should only back-load on A) the night of a training day, or B) the night before the first of two morning workouts on back-to-back days. Only do this with weight workouts, not cardio.
If you’re back-loading to gain muscle and strength while staying lean, the same applies but you can be a little more liberal with your portions. Back-load more carbs on training days and you might occasionally back-load on off days.
If you’re back-loading to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible and staying lean is not a high priority, you can back-load every night—assuming you tolerate carbs well. I have been doing this for the past month or so and haven’t fattened up much. And I’m loving every minute of it, as you can imagine.
Q: How does back-loading work if I’m an athlete?
A: I wrote a story about this for Stack.com. First, determine what kind of athlete you are. If you’re an explosive power athlete (football, wrestling, track, etc.), you can back-load for two days straight, then do two low-carb days, then carb up the night before the game/meet/match. It doesn’t matter how your workouts or practices fall—stick to that schedule. You need some carbs to keep you recovering but also a dearth of them at times so that you’ll store them better when you do eat them.
If your sport is more endurance-based (basketball, cross country, soccer, etc.), deplete carbs for a full week. Then have two big carb-up nights before game day.
Q: I’m allowed 30 grams of carbs in the day time before I back-load and on off days. Can these 30 grams come from any kind of carbs?
A: Technically, yes, but don’t do it. The 30 grams is already taking into account the trace carbs you’re going to inadvertently pick up from foods like vegetables, nuts, dairy, etc. (Foods we don’t think of as carb-containing.) Even the most low-carb foods generally still have a gram or two of carbs in them per serving that aren’t fiber, so they have to be counted. Stick to foods like this and you’ll accumulate a few carbs over the course of the day but you’ll stay safely under the 30-gram cap. If, on the other hand, you eat one slice of an apple, a cup of cashews, or one square of Herhsey’s chocolate, and the like, you risk screwing things up big time.
I guess you COULD eat one slice of an apple and a piece of chocolate, accrue 20 grams of carbs in an hour, and eat nothing but meat the rest of the day, thereby keeping your total under 30, but this isn’t smart. You need to eat vegetables, and even green fibrous ones contain some usable carbs. Get your usable carbs from veggies and not sugar foods that offer less nutritionally.
Q: Can I eat much fat during a back-load?
A: This is very individual. Focus on consuming foods high in protein and carbs, but enjoy yourself as well. If the foods you’re carbing up with also happen to have some fat—like a cheeseburger and french fries—that’s ok. If you find you’re getting fat from this, Kiefer says you don’t necessarily need to back off the fat content but just eat less in general. Have smaller portions or less food overall.
Q: What macros should I aim for?
A: The beauty of back-loading is that you don’t HAVE to aim for anything. You learn to go by the way your body looks and feels—a very valuable skill. But to ensure you get enough protein, try to get one gram per pound of your body weight. You can eat a little more than a gram per pound—it won’t hurt—but it probably won’t show up in your muscles. Aim for 1–2 grams of carbs per pound—go for the low end if you’re a woman and more if you’re a muscular guy who lifts/competes a lot. This is another thing you need to experiment with to find what works for you.
As with the fat content of your back-load meals, you don’t absolutely need to write everything down, but if you find that the scale and/or your physique is not moving in the direction you’d like, you will need some kind of measurement to go by. If you don’t keep track of numbers, I suggest eyeballing portion sizes or eating more of the same foods on a regular basis so you can tell how much you need to consume to go up or down in weight.
Q: You say I should skip breakfast, but then I hear that breakfast is ok as long as it doesn’t have carbs. Which is it?
A: If you just got up, don’t eat breakfast right away. Assuming you’re getting up at a normal time, around 7 a.m., you should wait for your cortisol levels to fall naturally a bit before taking in food. Have some black coffee or coffee with heavy whipping cream or coconut oil, or just drink water to quell the hunger pangs. Then you can have a carb-free breakfast at 9 or 10 or so, if time allows.
If you are training in the morning shortly after waking, do not eat anything. Have some black coffee or take a caffeine pill and get after it.
Q: What are the main differences between Carb Back-loading and the new Renegade Diet by Jason Ferrruggia?
A: I answered this extensively HERE.
You can buy Kiefer’s Carb Back-loading e-book HERE.