I kicked off 2013 with an 8 week conjugate strength training and intermittent fasting (IF) experiment. During this period I increased skeletal muscle by 0.7 lbs and reduced body fat by 1.6 lbs. These changes in body composition dropped me from a body fat percentage of 14.1% to 13.1%. Looking at the percentage change in body fat I’m pleased with my results, but at an absolute level, I would have liked to add more muscle. Driven by this desire, I decided to mix things up and try something different.
The New Diet
While on IF, I’d heard whispers about another interesting protocol called carb backloading. Upon further research, I uncovered that this diet would pair nicely with my strength-specific training and allow me to retain some of the IF habits I came to enjoy – all the while, more aggressively targeting muscle mass development. I listened to Robb Wolf’s podcast where he interviewed the diet’s creator, Kiefer. I was really impressed with the research outlined in that discussion, so I purchased Kiefer’s ebook. The book does an excellent job at both quickly breaking down the protocol so you can get started immediately and also digging into all the nitty gritty science that makes the diet actually work. The latter was by far the best part of the book to me. His discussions on body chemistry, especially hormone response is well worth the price of the book.
For those of you that want the basics, the simpliest execution of this diet is as follows:
- Don’t eat in the mornings
- Eat very low carb throughout the afternoon
- Resistance train in the evenings (this means lifting heavy sh*t)
- Crush high glycemic index carbohydrates at night after training
Raise your hand if you’re not intrigued by a protocol that encourages you to eat ice cream, pizza and doughnuts… I didn’t think so. Unlike many other programs advertising incredible results while eating McD’s for your 3 squares, carb backloading is built on sound scientific principles. The diet leverages our internal hormone response with the timing of macronutrient consumption to optimize muscle growth.
Are there any downsides? Well, that may depend on your perspective. Kiefer, the creator of backloading has a background in training figure competitors so that is the perspective from which this book approaches diet. Big muscles and minimal fat gain. If that’s you’re primary objective, then this is likely the protocol for you. However, there is little discussion of the overall health impact of carb backloading. If this is something that concerns you, it may be a good idea to get some labs drawn before beginning and after a few months of compliance. Of primary interest may be blood lipids and inflammation markers. As an aside, though I didn’t have lipid panels drawn, I did happen to have key inflammation markers measured pre- and post- backloading with zero impact by the diet.
I’ve been CrossFitting for about 4 years and throughout that entire period my bodyweight has remained almost exactly the same (+/- a few pounds). No doubt that my body composition changed, but I’ve struggled to pack on muscle. In my two months of backloading I added 3.3 pounds of skeletal muscle. During this period I also added 4 lbs of body fat, but I want say a couple things about that. 1) While I added about equal quantities of fat and muscle, ascetically I cannot complain about the results 2) I adhered to the density bulking protocol in back loading which is the more aggressive regimen, had I stuck with Kiefer’s other plan, I believe my fat increase wouldn’t have been so great 3) Similar to my training during IF, I adhered to strength only workouts, i.e., I wasn’t CrossFitting – coincidentally, this is also what Kiefer recommends in the book. If you’d like to see the pre- and post- body fat measurement for this experiment, click the images below.
Though I was happy with the muscle gain during my backloading experiment, I think I’ll mix it up and try something a bit different for the next few months. Stay tuned for the results… and let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.