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What is Carbohydrate Backloading?

Have you heard of carbohydrate backloading? Will it help you lose weight?

Carbohydrates are a hot topic these days, especially because of the recent hype surrounding the keto diet, the previously popular low-carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins Diet, or diets that limit specific types of carbohydrate sources, such as the Paleo Diet. People are often more than willing to eagerly provide their impassioned views on all things carbohydrate-related.

One new carbohydrate concept that is gaining popularity is “carbohydrate backloading.” Carbohydrate backloading, in its simplest terms, is eating most or almost all of your carbohydrates later in the day.

What Is Carbohydrate Backloading?

Carbohydrate backloading is a theory based on insulin sensitivity. Insulin, a hormone secreted by your pancreas, helps keep your blood sugar level stable. When you eat carbohydrates, your pancreas releases insulin, which then signals your liver, fat, and muscle cells to absorb glucose (glucose results from the digestion of carbs you eat) to be used for energy. Insulin also helps transport amino acids (results from protein digestion) and fatty acids (results from fat digestion) into your body’s cells. If there is more glucose than your body needs at that time, insulin also helps your body store that extra glucose in your liver and muscles to be used later when your body needs it.

Insulin sensitivity, which is how efficiently your body utilizes insulin, is highest after intense exercise, or after fasting, such as in the morning. This promotes carb absorption into your fat and muscle tissues to be used throughout the day and during exercise. Having carbs stored in your tissues helps you have a ready source of energy all throughout the day.

Carb backloading proponents theorize that by postponing carb consumption until the evening, your body is forced to break down your fat stores to use them as energy throughout the day. They also suggest you exercise in the evening so your muscles more efficiently absorb carbs. Those who use carb backloading rationalize that you will lose more fat because without access to glucose you’d normally have available from the carbs you eat during the day, your body has to break down fat all day. Advocates of carb backloading also mention some previous research that shows that eating carbohydrate-rich foods at night helps decrease appetite, but keep in mind that this was just one study with a small sample size. Simply because something worked in one study with a small number of people enrolled does not mean it will absolutely work for you.

Will Carb Backloading Work for You?

At this time, there is not enough scientific evidence to prove that the time of day during which you consume carbohydrates has any impact on weight-loss. Randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials — the gold standard when it comes to research — need to be conducted. The principles of carbohydrate backloading are mostly applied theory. That being said, there are specific scenarios for which carb backloading may help you lose weight: if you exercise later in the day, or if you struggle with evening and nighttime hunger but are often not hungry in the morning or earlier parts of the day.

If you prefer to work out later in the evening, carb backloading may work because by eating carbs shortly before and right after your exercise routine will help you optimize your muscle-gaining capability and ameliorate your recovery outcome. Saving your carb intake for the evening will promote enhanced carb absorption into your muscle cells so you can exercise longer and at a higher intensity.

If you are trying to lose weight and find yourself really hungry in the late evening and at night but don’t really feel very hungry in the morning or early part of the afternoon, carb backloading could be an effective way of staying within your total daily calorie budget. It would allow you to eat carbohydrates when your body truly tells you that you are hungry, helping you avoid feeling incredibly hungry at night while dieting or having to force yourself to eat in the morning or early afternoon when you don’t have much of an appetite. It is really about listening to your innate hunger cues.

Essentially, when looking at the body of research related to carbohydrate intake and weight loss, carb-backloading is not any more or less effective than other ways of limiting total carbohydrate intake for the entire day. It probably works for some because it helps them not overdo it on total carb intake for the day and also allows them to listen more to their internal hunger cues to eat when it’s best for them. True carb backloading likely is not necessary to lose weight, but if it works for your situation, it is not harmful to give it a try.

The Bottom Line

Thinking about trying carb backloading? It is important to remember to select high-quality types of carbohydrates regardless of when you consume them. Select high-fiber carbs from vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Regarding weight control, consuming proper portion sizes is always important.

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