“I hate cheat meals!” … said no athlete ever.
In a perfect world, we could all eat whatever we feel like eating, each and every day, and we would still stay lean and continue to perform well in the weight room. Well, guess what? The world might just be a bit more “perfect” than one might think.
Thanks to the beautiful gift that is the human body, there is a way to get the best of both worlds – enjoy the delicious, carb-heavy foods we know and love while maintaining a lean, muscular physique.
Sound too good to be true? I’m guessing that many folks out there will write off this post as soon as they read the sentence above. I don’t blame them – the modern state of the fitness and nutrition industry has brainwashed America for the last 30+ years, instilling a “dieting” mentality that is so impossibly restrictive that almost no one can maintain the suggested guidelines for any extended period.
“Dietary restrictions,” in my opinion, are the number 1 reason why so many diets fail. People told over and over that they cannot eat the foods they love, or they will get fat, period. It’s stated as a fact, and for some reason, no one questions it. The result is the extremely common cycle of people dieting for a period, then falling off the wagon and weeping alone in a tub of Ben & Jerry’s while binge-watching Game Of Thrones. Hey, it happens to the best of us.
But it doesn’t have to! The truth is, we can still enjoy the foods we love, our biology allows it, but we have to earn it, and we have to follow just one simple rule.
THE RULE: DO NOT EAT CARBS YOU DON’T DESERVE!
Yes, it’s as simple as that. When we combine the right forms of exercise and properly time our macronutrients, we truly can have the best of both worlds. We just have to put all of the puzzle pieces together. This is where the popular terms, “Carb-Backloading,” “The Anabolic Window,” and “The Window of Gainz” originated. There’s even a company called “Doughnuts and Deadlifts,” whose entire slogan is based on the concept.
The science is there, and we can take full advantage of it. But first, we must briefly discuss the most important piece of this puzzle.
MUSCLE GLYCOGEN AND WHAT IT CAN DO FOR YOU
If you’re following a standard American diet, you undoubtedly have a surplus of glucose (starches and sugars) in your body. Some of that glucose is used to fuel the brain and maintain blood sugar levels; some is stored in the liver and muscle cells as something called, “glycogen” and the excess is stored in fat cells. Glycogen is burned for energy during bouts of intense exercise, like heavy lifting, high-intensity interval training, and endurance training.
The problem is, glycogen is intended to be a secondary source of energy behind fat, which yields a far greater output of energy during oxidization, making it a more efficient form of fuel. However, the typical American diet is extremely high in carbohydrates and extremely low in fat. For that reason, the average body is extremely inefficient at using fat as a fuel source – it’s never had to, thanks to the never-ending supply of glucose. This is called, metabolic inflexibility1, meaning that the body cannot efficiently access more than one type of fuel for energy.
This brings us to the first step in solving our puzzle, training our bodies to burn fat as well as glucose for energy, something called, metabolic flexibility. Meaning that the body will preferentially burn whichever fuel source you provide it. In other words, eat more fat, and your body will burn more fat. Eat more carbs, and your body will burn more glucose.
The easiest (and somewhat unpleasant, I will admit) way to make this happen is by following an extremely low-carb preparation phase. I recommend a period of somewhere between 7-10 days, in which you will follow a rather strict diet, known as the Ketogenic Diet, which I won’t cover in great detail in this post so we can jump straight to the donuts and cheesecake! Generally speaking, you’ll aim to eat less than 30 grams of net carbohydrates per day. Ideally, you want to continue working out during the preparation phase, because the underlying goal of this phase is something called glycogen depletion For all you runners out there, this is also known as, “hitting the wall” or “bonking.”
A word of warning: this experience is not exactly fun, but dammit man, think of the donuts! It will all be worth it. During this phase, I recommend lifting weights, and particularly, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to help deplete glycogen as quickly as possible. Here’s a brief explanation of what will be happening during the preparation phase. Keep in mind; this step is optional, but I highly recommend it to achieve maximum results. Unless you are a fit athlete, somewhere around 10-14% body fat, do not skip this phase.
- Your body will have access to far less glucose, but because it is so trained to believe the supply of glucose is never ending, it will burn through the glucose in your system rather quickly.
- You will experience glycogen depletion. At this point, most people will reach for carbs to refuel, usually in liquid form. You will not be doing that!
- As a result, your body will have to make a decision: die, or find an alternative energy source. (it’s not that serious, I promise)
- Your body will begin burning fat for fuel!
- 7-10 days later, your body will know how to burn fat more efficiently, and you are ready to load up the carbs!
Don’t get confused here – I’m not advocating that you run out and start slamming carbs as soon as you complete the preparation phase. This whole concept only works if you time your carbohydrates correctly – and by that I mean post-workout. Remember, “Do not eat carbohydrates you don’t deserve!” This is the last piece of the puzzle, and it is the simplest of all: only eat carbohydrates post-workout. The rest of your day should pretty closely resemble the preparation phase, somewhere around 30 grams of carbohydrates total. Any meals that are not post-workout should be made up of proteins, plenty of healthy fats, and green leafy vegetables.
POST-WORKOUT NUTRITION GUIDELINES
The idea behind the concepts of “Carb Backloading,” “The Anabolic Window” and “The Window of Gainz” is simple – when your glycogen stores are extremely low, your body will prioritize the rationing of glucose. What is usually divided up between the various cells in your body is now sent directly to your muscle cells, above all else, in an attempt to replenish your muscle glycogen stores. This means that virtually none of the glucose you put in your body will be stored as fat. In other words: After glycogen depletion, the carbs you eat post-workout will not make you fat! BOOYAH, here come the bear claws! I’m gonna dip mine in cheesecake, and I don’t even care!
Ok, ok, now that we’ve gotten our celebration out of the way, let me be clear… I am not advocating that you go out and eat every crappy food in sight. I’m just saying that, if you were so inclined, you just maybe… kind of sort of… more than likely… almost assuredly… could stuff your face like a fat kid in a pie-eating contest and wake up the next morning looking lean and mean!
PROCEED WITH CAUTION
So, is it really possible? Yes. Do I recommend it? No. In fact, I highly advise you to follow this protocol using much cleaner carbohydrate sources than donuts and cheesecake. I know, I know, who invited Debbie-Downer? But hey, it’s my article, and I’ll cry if I want to. So…
The key is to consume high-glycemic carbohydrates, as soon as possible after your workout. Meaning, carbohydrates that can be rapidly absorbed by the body – the higher the glycemic index, the better. Your muscles will be starved for glucose, and they will suck it up like a sponge. Low-glycemic carbohydrates are not rapidly absorbed by the body and thus will not have the same desired effect. Generally speaking, the more unhealthy the food, the more sugar it contains, the higher the glycemic index rating. But that doesn’t mean your only option is to choose horribly unhealthy foods when replenishing glycogen stores. There are plenty of foods that still rank relatively high on the glycemic index that are far cleaner sources of carbohydrates. Personally, I recommend the following:
- Dextrose (add about 40 grams to your post-workout protein shake)
- White Sushi Rice (the stickier, the better)
- Bananas (very ripe)
- Sweet Potatoes
Another note, your post-workout meal should not contain vegetables and fat content that isn’t crucial. The 90-120 minute post-workout window should consist of two things – protein and carbohydrates.
After consuming your post-workout shake, your meal plate should look something like this:
- 1/2 plate: high-quality protein (I recommend grass-fed beef)
- 1/2 plate: high GI carbohydrates (I recommend white sushi rice)
One last note, this one is about your workout. I am not joking when I say, “Do not eat carbohydrates you don’t deserve!” You need to be serious about your training, and you need to work for those delicious carbohydrates! Here are a few things that do not make you eligible for carbohydrates:
- 20 minutes on the elliptical while reading your favorite trashy magazine
- A few sets of that “low-weight, high rep” crap
- Going for a walk with your co-worker on your lunch break
- Cleaning your house
If you try loading up on carbs after any of those things, you’re going to get fat, and you probably deserve it. If you want to eat like you mean it, you have to train like you mean it. Here are a few deserving candidates:
- Powerlifting/Olympic Lifting (we’re talking 80-90% of 1 rep max weight, if not actual 1 rep maxes)
- HIIT (MetCons, etc.)
- Any combination of the above
Remember, athletes eat and train – they don’t diet and exercise. You need to be honest with yourself. If you’re not ready to consistently give 100% in the gym and push your body to the limits, then this approach just isn’t right for you, and that’s ok. That just means more donuts for the rest of us!
- Metabolic Flexibility – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2584808/
- Metabolic Inflexibility – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2584808/