Your Are What You Absorb

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m in favour of back-loading carbohydrates in the evening, with meals in the early part of the day mostly comprised of protein, fats and veggies. I stumbled upon this by accident more than a year ago, just because it made me feel more alert at work – not because of what it may or may not do aesthetically or health wise.

Fast-forward to today, and there’s a growing fitness buzz regarding the practice, most notably John Keifer’s Carb BackLoading (CBL) diet strategy, which recommends small meals during the day with nothing more than trace amounts of carbs, and then a big load of carb-laden delights following hard exercise in the evening, with some of his marketing genius advocating for forbidden foods including ice cream, pizza and cherry turnovers.

It seems to work regardless of your carb sources, as long as you don’t go crazy with the quantities. I’ve experimented with all types, but I prefer smart choices MOST of the time for health reasons – sweet potatoes, rice, fruit, flavoured oats – but I’ve suffered no ill effects from the odd poptart or ice cream. In fact, I wake up with full muscle bellies and no bloat.

What I think all of this ultimately boils down to is insulin sensitivity. The more “sensitive” you are to insulin, the better you’ll utilize carbs when you introduce them into your diet. By restricting carbs for as much as 20 hours in a 24-hour window, insulin is dormant and primed for action when you do finally give it something to work with. In the simplest terms, if you’re constantly spiking insulin throughout the day with dietary carbs, it gets overworked and becomes bad at its job.

Insulin is a potent inducer of amino acid uptake and protein synthesis, which makes it key to a muscular, fit physique, but it’s very much a double-edged sword. We know insulin is effective at driving carbs into muscle and liver tissue (hence why it should be paired with protein after workouts), but it’s also equally as good at directing carbs into fat tissue.

After a hard training session, your muscles are primed to store those dietary carbs the right way, but what happens when you’ve been inactive for several days and then decide to spend NFL Sunday on the couch gorging on beer, pizza and wings? Your fat cells are going to be the beneficiaries as no ‘distress’ signal is being sent by the muscle cells requiring repair.

Use GDAs to improve insulin sensitivity

Another tool in your insulin sensitive tool belt is glucose disposal agents (GDAs). They help to ensure that carbs are stored as glycogen in hard-working muscles instead of fat. But before you start hitting the drive-thru after popping your GDA of choice, I stress they WON’T make up for a poor diet. The wrong circumstances to take GDAs are any time calorie intake is excessively high and energy expenditure is excessively low, like the NFL Sunday example above. As Bill Willis explains, the combination of a ton of calories relative to less energy consumption triggers a compensatory decrease in insulin sensitivity, and GDAs won’t do any good in that environment.

Here’s my go-to GDAs:

Cinnamon not only helps insulin do its job better, but it has insulin mimetic properties (which means in the absence of insulin it can drive nutrients into muscles). It has health benefits beyond being a good GDA, but I won’t get into those here (let google guide you). This is the one I most often recommend because it’s EASY to implement into your diet right away! Every one has cinnamon in their cabinet, and it tastes good on a lot of things (hint: post-WO shake is a good time to use generously). Long shelf life adds to the allure.

Alpha Lipoic Acid:
ALA is naturally found in small amounts in muscle meats, heart, kidney, liver, etc., but needs to be supplemented to reap the GDA benefits. The plain ALA version should be dosed at a range of 600-900mg per day (mostly following exercise with carbs), while general recommendations for R-ALA are half that. Considering those dosing protocols, do the math and determine which provides more bang for its buck.

Chromium Picolinate:
Chromium is an essential trace nutrient needed for carbohydrate metabolism. Chromium is another one of the agents that can directly affect insulin sensitivity. If you’re a Diet Coke/Pepsi lover, this has residual benefits as diet soda reduces blood levels of chromium (which might explain some of the weight gain studies associated with diet pop consumption).

For a good article debunking the ‘carbs at night make you fat’ phenomenon, read here

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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.