I often preach about the dangers of cutting carbohydrates for long periods of time. It’s true, you don’t want to be cutting carbs from your diet on a regular basis as this can lead to muscle loss, hormone disruption, weakness, fatigue, moodiness, bad skin and a plethora of other issues. With that said, I also understand that too much carbs can bring on a look of fluffiness and get stored as excess fat, covering those hard earned muscles. But I hate diets and I also hate calorie restriction, so what’s a person wanting to lean out to do?
The solution is something called carb cycling or carb backloading. Instead of weeks of food deprivation, the focus is on timing your macro nutrients and consuming carbs only after you’ve finished weight training. Consuming large amounts of carbs (particularly the sugary and starchy kind) raises your blood sugar which triggers the release of the hormone insulin to bring your blood sugar levels back down. If you’ve just finished weight training, that’s good, because insulin will take the carbs you’re consuming straight to the muscle cells for rebuilding. At any other time of day, however, insulin will store those carbs as fat.
Manipulating this effect is the key to getting the perfectly lean, muscular, and strong body. I’ll now explain how it works and how I use it in my weight training.
Carb backloading, requires resistance exercise to work. This means limiting carb consumption to late in the day, after weight training. Eating carbs in the afternoon or evening is done for a strategic reason as carbs can make both muscle and fat cells grow—and often at the same time. But by shifting when you eat your carbs, you can actually control the type of tissue that will grow. Your body’s sensitivity to insulin is highest in the morning and lowest in the afternoon, leading many to believe that we should eat carbs first thing in the morning because much insulin won’t be required to keep blood sugar under control. The problem with carbs first thing in the morning is that if you raise insulin even slightly by eating carbs (30 or more grams will usually do it) you seriously inhibit your body’s ability to burn fat for the rest of the day. You may even gain fat because of the presence of another hormone—cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that will break down fat all morning, but combined with raised insulin levels, it can actually cause your body to create new fat cells.
What I do:
Weight train 3 days of the week between 3pm-6pm (it’s fine if you have to train a little earlier or later, but this is the sweet spot), let’s say Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The other days in between I do 25mins of HIIT/Cardio in the morning, let’s say Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Sunday is my rest day and a day that I eat really whatever I want.
Step 1: On HIIT/Cardio training days, I keep carbs very low and only eat 30 grams or fewer of carbs until around 5 p.m. This really means really limiting fruits but eating tons of greens. Green veggies are great carbs with super low carbs calories, so I usually eat lots of spinach, broccoli, kale and so on with different types of meats. You can have a whole plate of cooked broccoli, feel full and only have about 15 grams of carbs added to your count.
Step 2: Weight training in the Afternoon or Evening is ideal. I wake up at 7am and will eat a breakfast of feta and egg omelet around 8am then a lunch high in fats and protien and try to keep my carbs low— 30 grams or fewer. I begin my weight training workout at some time around 3 p.m.
Step 3: Afterward, I have a post-workout shake that’s rich in protein, vitamins and carbs (fresh fruit), and keep eating carbs like jasmine rice, potatoes, pasta and bread until I go to bed. At this time you can now even include fun foods like pizza, cookies and ice cream, and so on, which really help to keep you mentally sane. It’s not cheating as my body can now absorb all of the sugary carbs of those meals. Post-workout nutrition is very important as muscles need carbs after a workout to replenish their energy stores and prevent further muscle breakdown. If you must train early in the day—you just can’t ingest as many carbs afterwards without compromising the program.
That’s it, just 3 steps. The best part of carb backloading? You get to eat tasty treats almost every day while still gaining muscle, leaning out and not losing out on all the fun foods of daily life. What could be better than that? My pumpkin protein muffins of course. I make these babies once every few weeks, and I love eating them after a grueling workout of lifting weights. Here is the recipe for you:
Post Workout Fuel: Pumpkin Protein Muffins
- 2 cups protein powder (I use Elite 100% Whey Protein by Dymatize)
- 11/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 11/2 tsps salt
- 2 tsps ground nutmeg
- 2 tsps ground cinnamon
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup olive oil
- 11/2 cups applesauce
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg whites
- 15 ozs pumpkin puree (you can use canned or freshly homemade puree)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease muffin pan, I use an olive misto spray.
- In a large bowl, stir together protein powder, flour, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and sugar. Add oil, applesauce, eggs, egg whites, pumpkin and water; stir well. Fold in pecans. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan.
- Bake in preheated oven for 16 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of each muffin comes out clean.
- Garnish with a pecan and some icing sugar if you would like
Now go get your workout on, and then you can eat smart and to your heart’s fancy afterwards.
To Living Positively Strong,