“No eating carbs past 7pm”
“No carbs in the evening”
“Carbs are bad for you”
How many of you have heard any or all of these fun comments about our friends, the carbohydrate?? I sure have.
In fact, JLo just announced her 10-day “carb cleanse” and is encouraging her fans to jump aboard. The Today Show is promoting this diet, as well. I find it so abhorrent that people with such an impactful influence are promoting this kind of mindset and fear of eating for so many people who follow them. We wonder why so many people develop disordered eating. We wonder why so many people develop an irrational fear of food. THIS is why. We grow up hearing these things.
Now you may not be a CrossFitter, and putting the fitness philosophy of CrossFit aside, this is why I love this sport. When all of this came out, SO many strong, powerful, and influential women (Meredith Root, Laurie King, etc.) called both JLo and the Today Show out. These are the people we should be taking advice from. People who are honest and who use their influence to positively impact their followers.
Well, in light of the recent bash towards food and carbs specifically, today, we’re going to talk about one of my favorite strategies to apply to people’s diets that contradicts ALL of those statements: carb backloading.
Carb Backloading is a tool I LOVE to use with myself personally and with some of my clients. It’s something you can easily apply to your nutrition and day-to-day eating. This is a tool that strategically implements carbs into your diet to IMPROVE your health, showing the beneficial nature of carbs.
What is carb backloading?
It’s when you push most of your carbohydrates for the afternoon/evening. This has a wealth of benefits for your body.
It improves cortisol levels. Our bodies have a natural cortisol curve. In the morning, cortisol should be high to wake us up and get us moving through the day. As we progress through the day, it should steadily decline. By the time nighttime approaches, cortisol levels should be relatively low so that melatonin can be released and we can get to bed. Carbohydrates turn off cortisol. When we start the day with low carbs, cortisol remains high, and lets us cruise through the morning/day without any crashes or >1 cup of coffee. When we start bringing in carbs later in the day, it starts bringing those cortisol levels down getting you ready for bed hours in advance. It puts you into parasympathetic mode, where your body can rest and digest. Eating no carbs keeps cortisol levels high and keeps you in “fight or flight” mode, introducing a ton of potential health complications. Eating carbs earlier in the day starts turning off cortisol earlier which may make for some mid-day drowsiness and grogginess.
It improves insulin sensitivity. Anytime we consume carbs, our bodies break it down into glucose (sugar) which is released into our blood stream. Our bodies then release insulin to shuttle the sugar into our cells, where it can be used for energy use/storage. We want to limit how many. The more often you eat carbs, the more often your body has to respond by releasing insulin. Over time, your body may experience some fatigue doing this. The solution isn’t to NOT eat carbs.
It improves digestion. Carbs feed gut bacteria, both good and bad. If you have any symptoms of leaky gut or some form of gut dysbiosis, then giving your gut some time to reset in this carb fasting window will help tremendously. It simply gives your gut a break and allows more motility (or movement) within your GI tract.
It improves sleep. Remember, carbs turn off cortisol. We’ve all had a bowl of pasta or oatmeal and immediately felt sleepy. At Thanksgiving, we are sleepy afterwards not because of the tryptophan in the turkey, but rather because of the carbs we’re consuming. Carbs à turn off cortisol à release melatonin à gets you to sleep and helps you stay asleep. Carbs also shuttle water in and out of your cells. If you aren’t eating enough carbs or at nighttime, then your body needs to get rid of this excess water not getting into your cells. So you get up often to pee, which disrupts your sleep.
It improves energy and focus. Again, coming back to cortisol. Cortisol early in the day prevents slumps and mid-day grogginess. Avoiding carbs in the morning keeps you mentally energized and ready for the day ahead.
Who is carb backloading for?
Anyone who works out in the afternoon/evening. If you’re a morning trainee, then it’s more important to consume carbs post-workout for breakfast or lunch (depending on how early “morning” means to you) than it is to backload your carbs. Anyone is welcome to give it a shot and implement it into your diet. Will it be THE answer to your diet? The secret fix? The magic pill? No it will not. It is simply a tool that I use to help people feel better. It can and probably will help weight loss, but that’s not the reasoning why I personally implement this for my clients and self.
How do you do it?
You have your first meal of the day high in protein, veggies, and healthy fats. The veggies will provide trace amount of carbs and shouldn’t be avoided. The protein and the fats will keep you full longer and will help push you through the morning.
Your second meal of the day can be the same high protein, veggie, and fats. If you have a ton of carbs to eat in a day (if you’re an active CrossFitter or participate in high-intensity activities), then it’s okay to bring in a moderate amount of carbs to help you reach that final number.
The third meal of the day will be your pre-workout meal where you start bringing in higher amounts of carbohydrates.
The fourth and potentially fifth meal is post-workout and will include the rest of your carbohydrates.
Check out The Perfect Day of Eating blog post which puts these meals into the day for you.
If you’re a morning trainee, and wish to follow some of this, remember you need carbs post-workout. Meal 1 would be your post-workout meal with carbs. Meals 2 and 3 should be carb-free and higher in protein, veggies, and fats. Meal 4, your final meal of the day, is when you’d bring back carbs to start lowering cortisol levels and to function as your pre-workout meal for the next day.
Remember, this is simply a tool for you to use to improve your health and your day to day life.
If you're ready to take your nutrition to the next level, apply now for a strategy call for elite, individualized coaching.