Weight Loss with Carb Backloading: Does It Work?

Successful weight loss often requires a more strategic approach toward nutrition and physical activity. Diet-related changes are necessary in order to lose weight and keep it off. One of many strategies people use to make it happen is carb backloading. As popular as it may seem, it’s impossible not to wonder about the effectiveness of this approach. The main objective of this post is to provide more info about weight loss with carb backloading. Read on to learn more.

What is carb backloading?

Carb backloading is a carb-restrictive dietary approach based on the theory that timing the consumption of your macros can alter body composition. In a way, carb backloading isn’t necessarily about the amount of carbs you consume, but when you eat them in order to reduce fat storage. This approach encourages you to eat all the carbs later in the day to capitalize on the natural insulin sensitivity cycles of the body. Advocates of carb backloading believe this diet strategy can promote weight loss, help build stronger muscles, and store less fat. In other words, eating carbs in this case isn’t forbidden.

The development of this dietary pattern is attributed to John Kiefer, an American nutrition and exercise expert who authored Carb Back-Loading 1.0 manual for total body fat control, and a book The Carb Nite Solution. According to the official website, Kiefer spent a lot of time researching this subject and discovered it’s possible to achieve certain body goals without extreme dieting.

While Kiefer is considered a creator of this relatively new but highly popular, diet approach, the idea of tweaking carb intake has been around for decades. The idea of carb backloading protocol stems from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s era (1).

Carb backloading is an interesting concept primarily because traditional dieting restricts the consumption of carbs, especially junk food. Low-carb diets are highly popular today. At the same time, carb backloading encourages followers to eat off-limit foods and claims they can still slim down and build muscle.

How does carb backloading work?

Carb backloading has been around for quite some time, but it has gained popularity recently. While it may seem tricky, this dietary approach is quite simple mainly because it takes away the calculations that other diets are known for. You don’t have to count calories unless you want to or eliminate certain food groups from your diet entirely. Below, you can learn more about carbohydrates and carb backloading.

How do carbs work?

In order to understand how carb backloading works, it’s useful to learn a thing or two about carbohydrates. Basically, carbohydrates are macronutrients your body breaks down into simple sugars that are absorbed into the bloodstream. As a response to the increased levels of blood glucose in the body, the pancreas releases insulin. Without this hormone blood, sugar can’t enter the cells and produce energy (2). It’s useful to mention insulin stores carbs in fat cells or muscle cells.

In an active person with a healthy weight and physique, the carbohydrates primarily go into the muscles. That means the person has good insulin sensitivity. The term insulin sensitivity refers to how sensitive the cells in the body are in response to the hormone insulin. High insulin sensitivity enables the cells to use blood sugar effectively for the production of energy thereby decreasing blood sugar levels.

On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle, higher body fat percentage, and overweight or obesity are associated with insulin resistance. The term insulin resistance describes the lack of response of cells in muscles, fat, and liver to insulin. As a result, they can’t obtain sufficient glucose levels from the blood. Increased blood sugar levels ensue.

How does carb backloading work?

The foundation of a carb backloading diet is the consumption of little to no carbs for breakfast and lunch while eating more carbs at dinner after an evening workout. For lunch and dinner, your calories should come primarily from protein intake and healthy fats.

In theory, carb backloading takes advantage of insulin production and insulin sensitivity. You see, the human body processes carbs differently at different times of the day. Hormone insulin tends to bring more carbs to fat cells when a person is in a calm or resting state. On the flip side, insulin sends more carbohydrates to muscle cells when a person is active. In people who aren’t active, excess carbs in fat cells can lead to weight gain, increased diabetes risk, and other problems (3).

The whole idea of carb backloading is to reverse the crab-storing process in the body to promote fat loss. This approach could induce this effect by eliminating the primary source of energy – carbohydrates and making the body rely on stored fat for fuel.

The body can burn fat as you sleep. The fat-burning process keeps going if you don’t consume carbohydrates during the first meal. If this seems familiar that’s because of the fat-burning state in the integral component of a popular keto diet.

However, carb backloading a person consumes too many calories to maintain the ketosis state. In this diet, you avoid carbs during the day and consume them over dinner or as a post-workout meal. As a result, throughout the day, the body burns the stored carbs from the fat cell. So, when you finally eat carbohydrates the body uses them as fuel to the muscles to take your athletic performance to a new level. This action prevents the storage of carbohydrates in fat cells or minimizes it. For that reason, carb backloading could help a person slim down or increase their muscle mass. The potential effectiveness of this diet approach is discussed further in the article.

Who can benefit from carb backloading?

Since the evidence on this subject is limited, the long-term benefits of carb backloading are unclear. For that reason, it’s tricky to determine all groups of people who can benefit the most from this eating pattern. That being said, carb backloading is particularly popular among bodybuilders because it helps them lose fat and support muscle growth.

Additionally, carb backloading may decrease cravings and promote sleep by increasing the production of tryptophan, an amino acid that regulates our sleep cycle. In a way, people who have trouble getting quality good night’s rest could also benefit from carb backloading.

In a nutshell, people who want to lose weight and active men and women who want to work on building muscle mass through weight training are the ones who can get the most benefits from this eating pattern. This approach could also benefit persons who are into intermittent fasting.

Carb backloading takes some time to adjust, especially if you’re used to eating too many carbs earlier in the day.

Does carb backloading really work for weight loss?

Now that you know what carb backloading is and a little bit about its mechanisms of action, it’s time to focus on potential effectiveness. Does this popular dietary approach work? Not much evidence is available on this subject, and further studies are necessary to elucidate its short-term and long-term effects.

Several studies do exist, and they show promising results. For example, a study from the British Journal of Nutrition found consumption of carbohydrates with protein at night could promote weight loss or curb appetite. Insulin levels in participants were increased, as well (4). Although results are promising, they aren’t necessarily focused on the concept of carb backloading.

The journal Obesity published a study that investigated the effect of a low-calorie diet with carb intake primarily at dinner on weight loss and other parameters. Consumption of carbohydrates mostly at dinner led to lower hunger scores and greater improvements in fasting glucose levels, daily insulin levels, LDL (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, C-reactive protein (CRP), and other measures. This dietary approach also modified concentrations of hormones such as leptin and adiponectin in the group eating carbs at night. Most importantly, subjects who at most of their carb intake at dinner also experienced better body composition parameters such as weight loss and reductions in abdominal circumference and body fat mass. Scientists also explained this diet approach could be useful for persons with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome (5).

Quick reminder; leptin is a hormone that lets you know when you’ve eaten enough food. An impaired balance of this hormone could lead to overeating and weight gain. For that reason, healthy levels of leptin are crucial for weight loss and weight maintenance (6). On the flip side, adiponectin is a fat-derived hormone that protects against insulin resistance. Impaired levels of this hormone are associated with obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (7).

When we take these studies into account, carb backloading seems to be effective. However, it’s important to keep in mind current evidence usually includes small sample size and focuses on short-term effects only.

Many people claim carb backloading helps them lose weight and stay in shape (8). The biggest potential of this dietary approach is its mechanism of action. As seen above, this eating pattern focuses on the insulin cycle and has a lot to do with insulin sensitivity. Evidence shows insulin levels rapidly spike in muscle and fat cells in the morning compared to evening (9). That means these cells are more receptive to blood glucose earlier in the day. What you’re doing here is avoiding consuming carbohydrates when the body is more likely to store them as fat. Instead, you eat carbs at night when the body uses it for muscle strength fuel (10). All this can affect weight loss and could be easier to follow than a low-carb diet.

If you’re not sure where to start, you can always set up an appointment with a personal trainer who will assess body composition and help you modify carbohydrate consumption in order to lose bodyweight and reduce fat stores.

Can you lose weight fast with carb cycling?

Carb cycling can promote weight loss and help you lose body fat as long as a person maintains a calorie deficit. As a relatively new dietary approach, carb cycling revolves around alternating carb consumption on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. Most people rely on this eating pattern to lose fat, overcome a weight loss plateau, or maintain athletic performance at an optimal level while dieting. The main mechanism of this diet plan, like in many others, is a calorie deficit, where you eat less than your body burns and use of glycogen stores (11). Losing fat, after all, requires lower calories through food intake and a higher number of calories burned through exercise. In other words, it has a lot to do with improved total body electrical conductivity that allows you to burn more body fat while gaining muscle mass.

The carbohydrate cycle isn’t necessarily the same thing as the carb backloading diet. In backloading, your calorie intake happens at night or post-workout, whereas the carb cycle means you’re switching carb intake from meal to meal. Sometimes you eat a low-carb breakfast, then the next day, you have a moderate-carb breakfast, and so on. This diet approach is based on the manipulation of carbohydrates. Essentially, this eating pattern attempts to match the body’s need for glucose or calories by providing carbs around the workout on intense days. High-carbohydrate days can improve performance and muscle breakdown as well as balance out leptin levels to promote weight loss and keep it off (121314).

Is 200g of carbs too much for weight loss?

The recommended daily intake of carbohydrates is 45% to 65% of total daily calories. For example, if you eat 2000 calories a day, about 900 to 1300 should come from carbs. In terms of grams, this translates to 225g to 325g of carbs on a daily basis (15).

For that reason, 200g of carbs may not be too much, but the actual answer is more complicated than that. After all, it’s not just the amount of carbs that matter here. Overall diet and average weight, and especially intake of other macros also play a role.

For a person on a ketogenic diet, 200g of carbs is too high. It may also be too high for someone who’s trying to slim down if we bear in mind 200g of carbs is around 800 calories. That said, other nutrients you take are also important as well as the type of carbs you eat.

Focusing only on the number of grams or calories is a mistake. The quality of those nutrients is the most important part as well as the other nutrients.

Labels on the packaged foods contain information regarding the number of calories per serving. If you want to regulate carb intake more thoroughly, it’s useful to keep an eye on the labels.

Quality matters

The idea of increasing carbohydrates intake later in the day may seem appealing to many. Advocates of carb backloading explain this eating pattern isn’t (and shouldn’t be) an excuse to eat junk food throughout the day, especially at night.

You will benefit the most from carb backloading if you focus on complex carbs. This type of carbohydrates takes more time to break down and thereby fuels the muscles for longer than simple carbohydrates. At the same time, complex carbs are present in nutritious foods, whereas simple carbs usually come from heavily processed and junk food abundant in empty calories.

The quality of carbohydrates you consume matters the most, which is why you should focus on natural sources. You may want to eat carbs from sources such as:

  • Whole-wheat bread and pasta
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Barley
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Beans and other legumes

Don’t forget to eat proteins, which are also useful for fat burning, and enrich your diet with fruits and vegetables as well. Also, keep in mind carb backloading isn’t about skipping breakfast or other meals hoping to succeed in avoiding carbs. Those who ate breakfast lost more weight, in studies. So make sure to eat your meals regularly.

Is carb backloading safe for everyone?

The short answer would be – no, it is not. While the idea of tweaking carbohydrate intake and eating more of this nutrient at night and fewer carbs in the morning is generally safe, some people should avoid this approach.

Carb backloading may not be a good idea if you have hypoglycemia or diabetes, a history of eating disorders, and if you’re pregnant or underweight. Before you attempt to try carb backloading, you should consult your healthcare provider. You should do the same if you have some other health condition as well.

Conclusion

Carb backloading is considered a relatively novel dietary approach, but it has been around for decades. Evidence on this subject is small and limited. But, many bodybuilders and active men and women claim it helps them lose weight and increase muscle size. The cornerstone of this diet is to eat very few carbs in the morning but consume higher amounts over dinner or after a workout. Carb backloading isn’t the excuse to eat junk foods while losing weight. You need to choose healthy carb sources and focus on the quality of your diet.

References:

  1. https://www.hollywood.com/general/arnold-schwarzenegger-i-was-carb-backloading-before-it-was-hip-59100011
  2. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/carbohydrates
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6082688/
  4. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/influence-of-nighttime-protein-and-carbohydrate-intake-on-appetite-and-cardiometabolic-risk-in-sedentary-overweight-and-obese-women/5D66F9CB928136E64B73D848514F0C7C
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21475137/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2430504/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5486142/
  8. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/carb-backloading-to-lose-weight#What-does-the-research-say?
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21939733/
  10. https://legionathletics.com/does-carb-backloading-work/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19246357/
  12. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/carb-cycling-101#TOC_TITLE_HDR_3
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9694422/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11126336/
  15. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/carbohydrates/art-20045705
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