Carb Back-Loading Book Review
written by sean hyson
I previously mentioned that I have been working on an e-book that reviews all the best fitness and nutrition programs that have come out in the past few years. I am happy to say that we are razor close to the release date. I know many of you have had your hopes up for a while and are tired of waiting, and I apologize. But when you see this book and all the work that went into it, you’ll know why it was delayed.
And it’s also FREE, so quit complaining!
Last time I gave you a glimpse at the book, I posted my review of The Renegade Diet, and since I get so many questions about Carb Back-loading, I’ll give you another sneak peek with the Back-loading review below. Note that I make a few references to Kiefer’s other book, The Carb Nite Solution, which really helps you understand the science of Back-loading better. My e-book includes a thorough review of Carb Nite as well, so when you read it, your understanding of Back-loading should be more complete.
Hope this helps answers your questions.
It’s a fitness magazine editor’s dream: tell people they can eat all the bad food they want and gain muscle while losing fat simultaneously. That’s essentially the promise Kiefer makes with Carb Back-loading (and the reason I’ve given him various assignments for Men’s Fitness and Muscle&Fitness). Again, he delivers. Unlike The Carb Nite Solution, his primary fat-loss protocol, Carb Back-loading is suited to people who lift weights and are looking to bulk up while staying lean. The main principle behind it violates one of the major guidelines nutritionists have been pushing for years—eat most of your carbs in the morning and taper them throughout the day. In this protocol, you’ll “back-load” your carbs, eating the bulk of them at night.
About The Author
His real name is John Kiefer, but he prefers to use his last name alone. If you think that’s a right reserved only for a rock star, I agree with you, and fortunately for him, Kiefer is just that. I’ve never met a guy who was so consumed with research. He reviewed over 20,000 articles from scientific journals to form his opinions. This is really saying something, since he makes his living marketing fitness to the mainstream, which doesn’t care about hard science. More importantly, Kiefer wants to interpret that research correctly, so he reads studies in their entirety and analyzes how they were conducted, on what population they were done, and whether the methods used were valid. He has a highly analytical mind, so it’s not surprising that he’s also a physicist and writes software. From Kiefer’s website, carbnite.com:
“Physicists develop a large number of skills during their work, the most important of which is the ability to gather, decipher, and form a theory to describe a mind-boggling number of facts. Perhaps even more important: physicists need to find the answer simply because the problem exists.”
With his egghead background, you might expect Kiefer to write a book that’s insufferably scientific, beating you over the head with jargon and formulas. Thankfully, he doesn’t, and as I’ve found over the years, the smarter the expert is, the more simply he can explain his ideas. Kiefer also matches his research library with an equally impressive record of practical experience, having worked with several clients of all fitness levels and with all kinds of goals for more than 15 years.
How To Do It
1. Deplete carbs. Consume no more than 30 grams of carbs per day for five to 10 days. This is optional, but depleting carbs first will heighten your sensitivity to them and allow them to be better stored in your muscles.
2. Schedule your weight training in the afternoon or evening (if this isn’t an option for you, I’ll explain what morning trainees can do below). When you wake up in the morning, you can have coffee with or without heavy whipping cream, but if you choose to eat breakfast, you must not consume carbs.
3. Every meal from this point forward until after you train will comprise protein and fat sources (green vegetables are ok, too). The sources are yours to choose, and it’s hard to go wrong. Bacon, whole eggs, sausage, and cheeseburgers are all fine. Keep your carb intake very low until after your workout Kiefer has written meal plans where a tomato is allowed at lunch, plus any incidental carbs you pick up from veggies or nuts and seeds.
4. After lifting, which should ideally fall between three and six p.m., have a post-workout meal of protein and carbs. Kiefer suggests a protein shake with rilose or dextrose powder (simple sugars), which digest very quickly, but says that sugary fruits like a mango or three ripe bananas can work as well. You need about 30–50 grams of carbs and 20–40 grams protein. The same supplements Kiefer recommends on the Carb Nite program apply here as well—Blend H and leucine are perfect after the workout. While Blend H is formulated to allow you to get an insulin spike without ingesting carbs, combining it with carbs for Back-loading intensifies the insulin response, setting the stage for greater muscle gains. (Remember, too, that Carb Nite’s purpose was to prevent muscle loss, and Carb Back-loading is aimed at maximizing growth without fat gain.) You can also add five grams of creatine to the shake for an even greater effect.
5. About an hour after your post-workout meal, begin eating carbs ravenously. I’ve seen specific meal plans that Kiefer has written for his clients, and the instructions actually state, “Splurge and don’t worry about anything.” What more do you need to hear? Eat like he recommends on a Carb Nite—burgers, pizza, and ice cream. Just be sure to get some protein in with each meal (this is where protein shakes comes in handy). While you won’t count calories or grams on this program either, Kiefer still recommends getting about a gram of protein per pound of body weight. He also says it’s not uncommon for people to eat up to 400 grams of carbs in an evening and still lose body fat.
6. The next morning, evaluate yourself in the mirror. If you look lean and hard, you’re on the right track. If you look soft and bloated, you overdid it with carbs and should be a bit more conservative the next night. That’s really how he judges progress—a simple mirror test.
7. If you have to train in the morning, schedule your day like this: Wake up, drink coffee, then train. After training, have a small serving of carbs (a scoop of carb powder or two bananas) with protein, and then eat protein and fat foods until the evening. If you trained at seven a.m., begin eating carbs around six p.m. Because your feast is so far removed from the workout, your muscles can’t soak up carbs as effectively, so, unfortunately, you’ll have to be more conservative with your food choices. You can still have a few slices of pizza or a burger with fries, but beyond that, you should stick with sweet potatoes and brown rice. Eat carbs liberally until you go to bed.
8. On days that you don’t lift weights, limit your carbs to a single, conservative meal in the evening. A sweet potato or some rice at dinner, or a small dessert.
Because Carb Back-loading contradicts so much of what fitness enthusiasts have been taught over the past few decades, many are skeptical of the science behind it. The truth is, it’s pretty solid. Kiefer grants that there are studies showing that muscle is more insulin sensitive in the morning, but, he points out, so is fat. Eating carbs in the morning may cause a good portion of them to be stored in fat cells, so he gets around this by having you fast or drink coffee, which has a way of curbing hunger and shutting down fat cells.
Keeping carb intake low throughout the day not only keeps the body in a fat-burning state but also amps up the sympathetic nervous system—the mode that’s responsible for the “fight or flight” response to stress. In other words, when you go to train, you’ll be clear-headed and sharp—ready to attack the weights as if your life depended on it. Kiefer says you’ll even be able to recruit muscle fibers better, and you may see an immediate increase in your lifts. Afterward, your muscles’ sensitivity to insulin is high because they’re damaged and need repair, but your fat cells are less sensitive (especially if you’ve taken caffeine). So while it’s true that insulin sensitivity lessens as the day goes on and you’re more likely to store fat if you eat carbs late in the day, resistance training turns the tables. For this reason, Carb Back-loading can’t be practiced by sedentary people who do no weight training.
If you’re still not convinced there’s something to this, Kiefer has plenty of testimonials for you. NPC bodybuilder David Hewett raves about it. And elite powerlifters Jesse Burdick, Jason Pegg, and Brian Carroll have all benefited as well (Carroll and Burdick have even achieved single-digit body fat percentages—a rarity for someone not competing in physique competition).
What I Like About It
It’s fun! Almost every day feels like a “cheat” day on this plan. You can eat all sorts of heinous foods without worrying how they affect your waistline. And again, as with The Carb Nite Solution, you don’t have the stress of having to count anything. If you’re the type who can’t stick with a regimented plan, this is as good as it’s going to get for you.
It works fast. Even if you don’t use Kiefer’s supplements or follow the program to the letter, you’ll still see results quickly. My assumption is that consuming carbs at night is such a departure for most people that the shock it provides to the body alone is enough to speed the metabolism and see fat loss. At least that was my experience.
It fits perfectly with a busy schedule. Even though I just stated that it’s a departure for most people, Carb Back-loading is at the same time just a few steps removed from most people’s ingrained habits. (They just happen to be crucial steps.) Most of us tend not to wake up feeling hungry, but we eat breakfast anyway because everything we’ve read says we should. Or maybe we drink coffee and skip it like Kiefer says to but we start eating carbs much earlier in the day than we ought to. Because we work from nine to five, we typically only get a meal at lunch and then tend to eat most of our calories at dinner or afterward when we have free time after work.
Now imagine if we just fasted or ate protein and fat in the morning, kept carbs to a minimum, trained at night, and made a point of carbing up after the workout. It’s a matter of making a few gentle tweaks to a routine we’re already comfortable with. That’s a lot easier than trying to adopt a more standard fitness diet where you’re eating five small, well-balanced, and “clean” meals throughout the day, beginning with a large carb-laden breakfast.
What To Consider
Like the Carb Nite plan, it may not be healthy long-term. I can picture the pundits at the American Dietetic Association looking aghast at Kiefer’s meal plans. As anyone familiar with bodybuilding diets knows, there’s a distinction that needs to be made between losing fat healthily and just losing it. There’s a difference between performance nutrition and health nutrition.
Eating sugar- and fat-rich foods can certainly aggravate blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but if your body fat is going down, one can make the argument that you’re still improving health. While I think Kiefer’s general tenet of consuming carbs at night is a great guideline to follow for the rest of one’s life, extreme feedings of junk foods shouldn’t be maintained for long periods. That’s just common sense, and Kiefer doesn’t argue it. If you’re concerned about eating too much junk food, stay instead with cleaner carbs like grains and potatoes.
It’s hard to gauge progress without counting. The big advantage to counting calories and macros over the course of a diet is that it gives you some basic measure of how much you’re consuming, and you get a sense of how each kind of nutrient affects you. While Kiefer has rightly pointed out that calorie needs fluctuate daily based on a number of processes in the body, not counting anything can be like flying blind—especially if you’re a beginning dieter who’s not very in tune with his body or has no concept of how much he’s really eating. If you find you’re not gaining weight or getting leaner, you may want to start estimating how much protein and carbs you’re taking in and adjust accordingly.
On A Personal Note
I’ve had great success with Carb Back-loading, and have turned many others on to it who have also done well. We all looked and felt better within a week’s time. The scale goes up yet you look leaner in the mirror. Energy during workouts is never a problem, as some might suspect it would be without carbs beforehand. In fact, looking back, eating the standard ration of egg whites and oatmeal before training made me feel downright sleepy compared to going to the gym after a plate of bacon and whole eggs, or just black coffee.
There are other diets out there that bear strong similarities to Kiefer’s method, such as the modified Warrior Diet that Michael Keck has championed, and The Renegade Diet by Jason Ferruggia (discussed HERE). All of these approaches use fasting and have you eating most of your carbs at night, which I think are the take-home points. The rest is just details.
The Carb Back-loading e-book is available HERE. He generously gives away a considerable amount of information and strategy for this approach on his site, dangerouslyhardcore.com, and in various articles he’s done for fitness magazines and other sites. Blend H is available at proteinfactory.com. Leucine and creatine can be found at truenutrition.com, per Kiefer’s recommendation.