Hardcore Nutrition: Load Up

Carb Back-Loading: Build Muscle and Burn Fat—Simultaneously


Food is a drug. Understanding the effects of a drug, especially one with massive potential impact on your body, offers you the ability to manipulate your physique in ways conventional wisdom has long deemed impossible. Most pundits will say you have two choices with any diet: fat loss or mass gain, but not both. Despite everything you’ve heard over the years about having to choose one or the other, it’s completely possible and not even all that difficult to exploit your diet to gain muscle while shedding excess body fat.

When it comes to performing awe-inspiring feats of physique transformation through diet, carbs rule the kingdom. To change your body composition, you need to find ways to use these powerful macronutrients to take advantage of what’s happening in your body at the cellular level. Carbs set the rules—so when you adjust your carb intake and timing, you can tap into several different mass-building, fat-shredding processes you probably didn’t even know were taking place.

Making The Switch

Carb back-loading (CBL) destroys the either-or commandment that’s been propagated by physique experts and gym rats alike for decades, and it will give you results via a set of rather unconventional means.

First, forget about how important carbs—and food in general for that matter—are supposed to be at breakfast time; instead, use carbs after sundown—a cardinal sin if there ever was one in the fitness industry. We’ll also show you why you should consume carbs after you train and not limit them solely to your post-workout shake. You’ve obviously been told not to do this by every nutrition guru under the sun. But it’s not as evil in practice as you may think, and research bears this out. This has sparked no end of controversy, but CBL is getting real results. “I hate 
the full-time strictness,” says David Hewett, a competitive NPC bodybuilder. “But when I tried CBL, my strength went up within the first two weeks. I’m staying lean and contest-ready all year by eating foods I used to avoid like the plague, and I’m comfortably benching 405 for reps.” Science drives these real-world results, not a haphazard combination of folklore and health facts. Science governs human alchemy.

Carbs Are Not The Enemy

Carbohydrates trigger growth by releasing insulin, thereby increasing your metabolic efficiency by giving you more energy from food and creating a potent anabolic environment. However, this second advantage is not tissue-specific. We often think of muscle growth when we think anabolic, but insulin is anabolic for fat cells, too. Insulin is an equal-opportunity growth agent. Anabolic means something sparks growth, and insulin sparks a lot of growth, from biceps to beer guts. We’d prefer not to continue using carbs for fat growth. Carbs help your body not only store more fat in existing fat cells, they also spark the growth of new fat cells. Obviously you want to use carbs and insulin to stimulate skeletal muscle growth and not fat-cell growth and proliferation. But if you take in your carbs at the wrong time, the latter is exactly what you’re doing. And odds are, you’ve been doing so for years.

Research has led many astray by showing that insulin sensitivity is highest in the morning, and insulin promotes muscular growth. The problem, however, is that your fat tissue is right there with your muscle tissue. It, too, is at peak insulin sensitivity in the morning, making that first half of the day a prime fat-accumulation window. If morning carb consumption is the method you’re using to time your nutrition for maximum muscle growth, you’re also timing carbs for maximum fat growth.

Science At The Cellular Level

Blood glucose has a huge effect on your strength levels. Being either hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic—too little or too much blood sugar—will compromise your performance by causing psychomotor inefficiencies that will keep your nervous system from operating at peak levels. Research published in the American Journal of Physiology has shown that when insulin hits a cell, specialized protein structures called glucose transporter type 4 (GLUT4) move to the surface of the cell membrane. In a process called translocation, these carriers make it possible for glucose to diffuse through the membrane into the cell. When you’re insulin-sensitive, the GLUT4 carriers respond quickly and in large numbers. When you’re insulin-insensitive, the opposite occurs.

In resistance training, three things happen. GLUT4 translocation occurs within your muscle tissue. Next, GLUT4 concentration increases within the muscle. Finally, fat cells are rendered almost useless for fat storage. There are two significant ways to take advantage of this chain of events.

First, train in the evening, when insulin sensitivity is at a low for the day. Resistance training makes it possible for your muscles to absorb sugar and replenish glycogen stores because insulin isn’t needed for glucose transport into muscles anymore—GLUT4 
does that all on its own. Fat 
cells, however, won’t be able to
 absorb glucose as effectively
for storage as fat. Next, take in
 caffeine before your workouts 
and ingest carbs after. Caffeine increases insulin resistance in
cells, thereby further crippling
the ability of fat cells to absorb sugar for fat gain. The caffeine does not stop muscle from soaking up sugar because you supercharged your muscles to soak up sugar without the aid of insulin. Finally, after training, eat carbs. Eat lots of carbs. And not just immediately after training, but for the rest of the night.

Caveat Emptor

With these three steps, the carb levels in your diet need to be extremely low before you train—as low as possible. This means you’ll be consuming a diet of mostly protein and fat before your workouts, at a protein-to-fat ratio of 50:50 to 70:30— even for breakfast, the traditional home of oatmeal and egg whites. When you don’t ingest carbs during the first half of the day while you’re pre-training, the body reaches homeostasis, which enables your nervous system to function at peak efficiency. This is an ideal environment for building strength, and you’ll likely find your strength levels increasing within the first week of CBL.

“I’m extremely cautious when it comes to any diet tweaking that can hurt my strength,” says Brian Carroll, a world-record–holding powerlifter who has squatted more than 1,100 pounds and totaled more than 2,700 pounds (squat, bench, and deadlift combined) in competition. “Within seven weeks of starting carb back-loading, my body fat dropped 7% and I was the strongest I’ve ever been. Squatting a thousand pounds is awesome, but squatting over a thousand pounds with a six-pack of abs is just badass.”

Train And Fuel

After working out, consume high-glycemic carbs, such as maltodextrin and dextrose (but avoid fructose-based recovery drinks like fruit smoothies). These carbs create the beneficial spike in insulin levels that increase amino-acid uptake and muscle growth. While training, your body is actually catabolic and muscle breakdown occurs, making muscle growth during the training session impossible. But high levels of insulin can stop this degradation. Insulin also reduces formation of reactive oxygen species—chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen that are a normal and detrimental by-product of cellular metabolism. This protects your muscles and other tissues from damage. In other words, your insulin spike will act as an anti-inflammatory after you train.

For your meals, you’ll be taking in high-glycemic carbs throughout the night after training, along with adequate amounts of protein. Your carb sources should be white breads, white rice, potatoes, pastries, and brown-spotted (ripe) bananas. For maximum muscle growth, ingest at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, and try to get a large portion of this in the evening. Research has shown that more than 1.3g per pound of body weight is a waste of money and time—and can cause social awkwardness from sulfurous protein farts. And the 30g per meal max for protein consumption and absorption? Pure myth.