Carb back loading vs No carbs at night


I have decided to write this more as a personal rant than anything else but I do hope that people find something useful contained within…

Now, one of the biggest buzz words within the realm of fitness and sports nutrition at the moment is Carb back loading. To put it bluntly, it is the antithesis of what has become a common recommendation in fitness circles to cut the carbs at night. Along with the other buzz word of hormones, carb back loading’s basic premise is that rather than consuming carbs during the day, you have your carbohydrates at night and around your workouts.. what’s even more startling is the recommendation of “Junk Carbs”.. you know, higher glycemic carbohydrates such as white rice and pasta which were all a bit no no not too long ago.

The theory is that the high glycemic carbohydrates create a hormonal response just before bed that increases your growth hormone level during sleep which creates an anabolic environment for muscle growth. WIth a lower carbohydrate start to the day, the fat burning process is extended.

Now, i’m not knocking the science behind Carb back loading… there’s more evidence to suggest that works from a scientific point of view than cutting carbohydrate intake at night time because somehow the body doesn’t deal with carbohydrates as well or due to metabolic slow down (That is in fact “bro science” and not entirely accurate) although a study did show that eating a carbohydrate meal late at night did mean a higher level of blood sugar levels in the morning which could inhibit fat burning.1

Another study showed that there was very little difference in terms of body composition make up between obese men who mostly ate carbohydrates at lunch and protein at night compared to those that at protein at lunch and carbohydrates at night (although both groups lost weight since they were consuming 10% less calories than they needed per day)2

Now, on the flip side, A study was conducted whereby a group of 78 police officers with a body mass index of over 30 (obese) were given a diet with a caloric defecit. The experiment group consumed the bulk of their carbohydrate intake at night compared to a control group. Whilst both groups lost weight, the results showed that those that ate more carbohydrates at night showed a higher amount of weight loss with better hormone profiles and less hunger.3 Whilst this doesn’t contradict the earlier study exactly, it does pose the question (to me anyway) that surely these studies counter each other somewhat. Further more, we don’t know much about the control group’s energy expenditure in terms of exercise or the kind of lifestyle and job they have.

Now here’s where I start my rant

So, the thing that really grinds my gears (to quote Peter Griffin) is the fact that a lot of so called fitness experts and self confessed gurus love to get on their soap box about the latest trends and like a preacher on a pulpit, deliver a surmon how eating in anyway contrary to the latest research or dietary fad will condemn you to instant obesity and perhaps a long stint in the darkest depths of Hades too.

Infact, I was reading on Facebook just yesterday, a personal trainer arrogantly telling people how they must eat and it reminded me of how I was reading an interview with the queen of fitness, Monica Brant, saying that if you’re going to eat carbohydrates, eat them during the day so they’re put to good use… Now, whether Monica’s recommendation was based on solid science or not doesn’t really change the fact that she was in phenomenal shape and infact, before this whole no carbs at breakfast/late night thing came alone, I am pretty sure I still saw very lean, muscular and athletically endowed people within the fitness and sports industry and beyond. It has come to my conclusion that some people get too hung up on the nuances of nutrition.


Carbs at breakfast didn’t seem to make Monica Brant into a heffer did they?

So how do all these contradictory pieces of information seem to all work?

Well for the main part, the one thing that they all have in common is:

  1. The people getting the results don’t eat crap
  2. The people getting the results work hard
  3. The people getting the results eat nutrient dense foods
  4. The people getting the results exercise portion control for the most part

That seems to be the common denominator for me personally… all the other flavours and accents or nuances of diet and sports nutrition to me are still important but are not gospel. In my opinion everyone is different. Some people have high insulin sensitivity, some peoples bodies react differently etc. For me the key is to find what’s working for you and fine tune it by experimenting rather than getting so hung up on trying to fit your life around the latest piece of science or trend. Don’t get me wrong, Science is great, I love it and i’m sure you can tell by now if you’ve been following my blog or know me, that i’m a bit of a nerd and partial to reading up journals etc because I believe that arming yourself with good knowledge can really make the difference when you’re trying to help people but I also don’t believe that there’s just one way to do things. Science is great but too many people get caught up in one study or research paper and almost get religious and, often times, downright arrogant about it!

So where do I stand on the carbohydrate debate?

Personally, from what I have learned based on science and from how I know what works for my body, I think carbohydrate consumption is very important when especially when I am training however, I do believe in “earning your carbs” What this means is that if you want to eat starchy carbs then earn them by working out. if you’re not very active or don’t exercise at a high intensity most days of the week, you’ll be fine cutting your carbohydrate intake and in fact, a diet with a more moderate carbohydrate intake would be recommended.
I also believe that a lot of the information about nutrition, especially relating to the fitness industry, tends to be more directed towards bodybuilders and those who are more interested in aesthetics than actual fitness or athletic goals and as a result a lot of mixed up advice is given and taken. It is important to eat according to your goals and according to the training you’re doing. You must eat according to the way you train and the energy systems you use. Therefore someone involved in Mixed martial arts or crossfit would need to eat slightly differently (and in my humble opinion, ingest more carbohydrates) than someone who is say a bodybuilder. Based on that and coupled with what you already know that’s working for you (and let’s face it, if you’re lean and performing at optimum levels of performance or thereabouts, chances are you’re on the right road), you can make an educated decision on how you’re going to eat. If it’s not working then chances are something needs to give and that’s when you can tweak things, oh and of course you can tweak things to improve on where you’re at now too. Just remember, what works for someone else may not work for you and there are so many other factors involved. For example a bodybuilder that’s a student and sits on their butt all day and drinks copious amounts of sugar free red bull will have a completely different level of hormones levels as someone who works in a busy warehouse.

Other factors to consider are when you train, The whole no carbs after 5pm may have been founded out as a bunch of bunk but what about if you’re training late at night? in that instance, you’re going to want to make sure you get your carbs in after your workout to replenish glycogen stores and aid in recovery. Also, if you’ve working under a calorie deficit, or have a higher metabolic rate etc etc

The arguments will go on and on but stick to fundamentals based on science and what works for you, eat quality proteins and nutrient dense foods. Train regularly and don’t over eat and I am sure you’ll be onto a winner or at least until the latest piece of research comes out! 😉

Have an awesome day!

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1. Effects of a late supper on digestion and the absorption of dietary carbohydrates in the following morning – Tsuchida Y, Hata S, Sone Y.

2. Eating carbohydrate mostly at lunch and protein mostly at dinner within a covert hypocaloric diet influences morning glucose homeostasis in overweight/obese men.

3. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner.

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