By John Kiefer Flex
I’m a huge advocate of eating so-called “junk” carbs at night. Sticky white rice, pizza, cherry turnovers—I want you to eat all of that in abundance after you train.
That’s the foundation of my Carb Back-Loading plan, and it’s what literally thousands of my clients have used to pack on slabs of muscle while skipping the traditional bulking and cutting phases that add fat and mitigate your hard-earned mass gains.
By “junk” carbs, I’m referring to high-glycemic carbs. Low-glycemic carbs like brown rice? Well, as the title suggests, all the “experts” that suggest these as your primary carb sources have been lying to you for years.
Scientists introduced the glycemic index (GI) as a new classification scheme for carbs in 1981. The idea was to assign an index to different foods based on the percentage of blood sugar increase in reference to glucose during the two hour period after ingestion. This, logically, should correlate with insulin release, right? One problem with this approach is that people rarely eat just one type of carbohydrate in any given meal. How often do you sit down to dinner and eat just a plate of plain pasta with no sauce, no meat, and no beverage except water? When you start mixing foods, GI loses its ability to predict blood sugar levels. Milk is a low-GI food, so adding it to a meal should lower the GI of the entire collection of food—which means it should lower your insulin response. Milk doesn’t do this, though. It does lower the GI of your meal, but it also increases the amount of insulin released. Simply put, when it comes to your meals, things are way too convoluted to rely on GI as a predictor of anything.
Research has now shown even more clearly that you can’t use the GI—especially when it comes to low-glycemic carbs—to predict health, insulin sensitivity, or fat loss. Low-glycemic carbs are essentially useless for what we require—enhanced performance and the building of muscle without adding fat.
You need to rebuild your glycogen stores to fuel performance. Skeletal muscle will recover from even the most strenuous workouts within 48 hours. Your nervous system, in contrast, can take up to 10 days to return to normal. To understand this, you have to compare the workloads of both your nervous system and your muscles. In terms of their relative capacities, your nervous system works much harder than your muscles do when you train hard. When you have sufficient glycogen in reserve, you’re allowing your motor neurons to fire at a higher level during training. This, in turn, allows your muscles to fire with maximum force.
You need glucose for maximal contraction as sets approach failure. When you approach the anaerobic point during training, your muscles need glucose to continue contracting during the glycolytic (glucose-burning) cycle. Making sure your glycogen stores are full will allow your muscles to use fatty acids during training until the need for glucose arises. It’s at this point that glycogen is broken down and used. Eating high-glycemic carbs at night will give you the glucose you need; eating low-glycemic carbs won’t.
Your glycogen levels may help muscular growth. This point has been debated just about everywhere, and there are valid points on both sides. Research, however, has shown that full glycogen reserves help limit the protein breakdown caused by training sessions. They also increase glycogen usage during your training session(s) the following day. When I talk about replenishing your glycogen levels, then, I’m not talking about recovering from today’s workout. I’m talking about helping you prepare for tomorrow’s.
High-glycemic carbs won’t kill your nighttime growth hormone release. Eating low-glycemic carbs before bedtime will disrupt nighttime release of growth hormone, which is an incredibly powerful fat burner and lean-tissue builder. Your body won’t release growth hormone while you sleep until approximately two hours after your blood sugar and insulin levels return to normal. Low-glycemic carbs will keep your insulin and blood sugar levels elevated for hours, which is obviously bad. High-glycemic carbs, however, create a spike that ends within an hour or so of eating. In other words, eating junk replenishes your glycogen stores without interfering with your nocturnal HGH cycle. If you’re trying to work Carb Back-Loading with brown rice and whole-grain toast, you won’t get the results you’re looking for. This is precisely why.
If you train in the early morning, you can get a bigger boost from your post-training nutrition. Believe it or not, there’s a sort of “insulin memory” to your nighttime carb feedings that extends to your next morning meal. Creating a larger insulin spike before you go to sleep causes a greater insulin response to food the next morning. Using Carb Back-Loading principles to tweak your diet for this training schedule, you can get a larger anabolic burst after your morning workouts.
Insulin is an anti-inflammatory. Large insulin spikes can help speed muscle repair and growth. Yes, you definitely need free-radical production during your training sessions to trigger growth, but too much will ultimately slow your progress. This effect is known as hormesis—a little is good, but a lot is bad. Using junk to cause large insulin releases can potentially decrease muscle protein breakdown and increase muscle protein synthesis in even more ways than simple nutrient delivery.
Insulin release up to a certain threshold shuts down fat cells’ ability to release fat, and increases their ability to store it. Research released by the American Diabetes Association, however, found that once you drive insulin levels higher, it’s like flipping a switch that actually causes your fat cells to increase their ability to empty their fat loads. How do you accomplish this? You guessed it: with high-glycemic carbs, not their low-glycemic brethren.
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