WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO EAT CARBS?

Ah carbs. To some, they are the tool of the Dark Lord, put on this planet solely to make one's thighs rub together and arms flap in the breeze. Others claim they are “The Secret” to achieving a NASCAR-esque metabolism and an Instagram-worthy butt you could bounce a quarter off. Who’s right? The answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Too many carbs can definitely lead to flub-a-dub-dub. Too few carbs, however, will make it very difficult to build muscle, slow your metabolism, and could actually wind up causing weight gain (along with a slew of other unpleasant side effects including, but not limited to, hair loss, insomnia, and small intestinal bacteria overgrowth.) The bottom line is: We need to eat carbs, especially women.

The real secret to carbs and weight loss is figuring out how much you need, and when is the best time to eat them.

Here I’m going to outline ONE strategy that I personally follow, and has worked for a lot of my clients, it’s called carb backloading.

In a nutshell, you save most of your carbs for later in the day, ideally, after you work out.

Yes, for most, that means saving the majority of your carbohydrate intake for nighttime.

GASP! BUT WON’T IT ALL JUST “SIT THERE” ACCUMULATING AS MORE FAT? Don’t I need to eat my carbs in the morning, so I can burn them off all day?!?

Turns out, the answer is no. This is another one of those myths up there with “Biotin makes your hair grow,” or that gladiator sandals are flattering.

There is a lot of research to back this idea up. If you’re interested in learning more about the science of carb backloading, I first recommend Dr. Alan Christenson’s book The Adrenal Rest Diet. Dr. Christenson's approach is suited to everyone - no matter what your goals, lifestyle, or workout routine - and primarily focuses on using carb timing to heal burnt out adrenal glands (which I feel almost everyone has these days, myself included). 

Next, you can check out John Keifer's program here. Keifer is an exercise scientist and nutrition expert who brought this idea to popularity. His approach is a little more extreme, ideally suited to men who follow weightlifting programs, but he includes modifications for women. 

If you want an easy, actionable strategy to try now, and you’re cool with just taking my word for it, read the rest of this blog.

HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

1. For any woman, I recommend eating a MINIMUM of 100 g of carbs per day – regardless of whether you taught three Zumba classes, or sat on the couch all day watching Maury reruns. (This is ESPECIALLY important for women with fragile hormonal systems, or who may deal with issues such as an autoimmune condition or hypothalamic amenorrhea.) You need AT LEAST this many carbs to ensure proper thyroid function, (i.e. fat burning), hormone production, mood stability, brain function… You get the picture. 100 GRAMS. AT LEAST. EAT THEM.

What does 100 grams look like?

  • 2 cups of white rice
  • 2 cups of beans
  • 3-4 apples
  • 3-4 bananas 
  • 2 cups sweet potatoes 
  • 5 dates

2. On days that you work out, eat more carbs. Around 150-200 grams.

3. Save the majority of your carbs for lunch and dinner, eating the most after you work out. Research shows that when you eat carbs after a workout they’re much less likely to be stored as fat. The insulin (triggered by the carbs) will also help shuttle protein into your muscles to help them get bigger (we want bigger muscles because muscle burns fat – remember that quarter-bouncing Insta-butt? Yeah. #goals). Finally, eating carbs at night will help you sleep better! Double bonus. Less fat, more muscle, better sleep. Need I say more?

Since grams and measuring and portions can be a drag, I go by Dr. Christianson's "golf ball guide." In the Adrenal Reset Diet, Dr. Christianson recommends you have 1 golfball-sized serving of carbs at breakfast, two at lunch, and three at dinner. 

If you workout, have a post-workout meal that's just protein and carbs - I like to do a protein shake with plant protein, collagen, and some kind of starchy, high-carb fruit, like a banana. 

Why no fat? Because fat slows nutrient absorption and you want all that protein and carbohydrate going straight to your muscles as fast as possible. 

WHAT DOES THIS KIND OF NUTRITION PLAN LOOK LIKE? 

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with tomato, feta, and spinach
  • Snack: 10 mixed nuts & carrot sticks
  • Lunch: Arugula salad with salmon, avocado, 1/4 cup quinoa   
  • Snack: veggie sticks & hummus 

Workout - ideally a workout that involves some kind of strength training / working your muscles 

  • Post-workout shake: Protein powder + 1 banana + 1tsp sea salt + water / non-dairy beverage
  • Dinner: 3/4 cup GF pasta with ground turkey Bolognese, 1 glass of red wine

Please Note: This is ONE general strategy for carbs and weight loss that works for me and several of my clients. This NOT a blanket recommendation that works for everyone. There is no such thing.

Many people find they need carbs in the morning and/or spaced more evenly throughout the day because no carbs leaves them tired and foggy-headed. For me, this is not the case. I find if I eat carbs in the morning, I’m hungry and craving food all day long. Eating lowER carb throughout the day keeps my blood sugar stable, and the carbs at night help me sleep better. It also makes having a social life a whole lot easier – Yes Regina, wine is a carb.

There is another approach which uses carb timing based around where women are at in their cycle. You can read more about that on Stefani Ruper's Paleo for Women Blog (one of my faves!)

Personally, I find this to be a little impractical (at least for me). I'd rather have a plan that I can follow every day, not have to change things up every two weeks. But, as always, you have to experiment with what works for YOU. Every body is different. Experiment. If eating all your carbs at night doesn’t work, try them in the morning, or at different times throughout the day or month. Let me know what happens.

If anything is unclear, or you’ve got specific questions about how to modify this approach for your personal lifestyle, let me know in the comments below!