Cheat mode in Depth – Carb-backloading

Cheat mode in Depth Article series

This is the start of a 4-article series to elucidate exactly what I mean by my original ‘Cheat mode’ article. First Carb-backloading (or the binge) will be looked at in depth as it has to most potential to screw up progress if used wrongly. Intermittent fasting will be looked at next, and then the Paleo-style health control days thirdly. The last installment of the article will be covering a topic yet to be disclosed and potentially able to drastically augment all the other areas of the diet.

In depth – Carb-backloading

Carb-backloading, as first described by John Keifer at DangerouslyHardcore and later incorporated into Cheat Mode, is the idea of minimizing carbohydrate intake and insulin secretion prior to a weight-lifting workout in the PM, and then eating a good deal of carbs after the PM workout in order to partition glucose and insulin (amongst other nutrients) to muscles rather than fat by various cellular mechanisms.

Goals of Carb-backloading

The goals of carb-backloading are highly based on the transport vesicle called GLUT4. GLUT4 is a transport that exists inside cells and is the main means of getting glucose into cells. Insulin acts by calling GLUT4 to the cell surface to grab glucose in the blood and bring it into the cell, this reaction takes place in both fat and muscle cells. Muscle contraction can also influence GLUT4 translocation, and this mechanism is specific to muscle cells.

GLUT4 sensitivity to insulin is reduced in accordance to the circadian rhythm. GLUT4 sensitivity is higher in the morning due to a night long fast (a glucagon dominant state, glucagon can resensitize the cells that release insulin and the mere lack of insulin can resensitize the cell surface to it in anticipation)

Increased glucose transport

Both increased insulin levels, as well as muscle contraction itself, can lead to increased expression of GLUT4 vesicles. When both stimuli are present, GLUT4 is increased more than either one in isolation, thus an additive effect is present. Insulin seems to work primarily by bringing more GLUT4 to the surface of the cell, whereas muscle contraction can work by either this mean or by augmenting the rate of GLUT4 turnover (making the process run faster).

The increases in GLUT4 translocation have been noted in both resistance training and aerobic activities (swimming, running) suggesting only a low-grade stimulus is needed. Thus as long as you exercise, glucose is getting into your muscles. [x]

So in sum. With endurance exercise, metabolic circuits, or other low-grade stressors there is an increase in glucose transports to muscles (and thus partitioning less to body fat), but this does not inherently mean muscle growth. The fibers still need to be broken and growth factors present. As outlined in my Growth Factors article, the local growth factors that best mediate protein synthesis do not seem to respond to endurance exercise, just resistance training.

Increased protein synthesis

Keeping on with the growth factors article, there are a few mechanisms that carb-backloading inherently opens up in regards to protein synthesis.

  • Higher levels of glucose in the cell, combined with more insulin, means more glycolysis or breaking down of glucose into energy. This will drastically increase certain metabolites that act as signals of anabolism (energy excess redirected to building tissue) such as ATP and pyruvate. These metabolites can act as metabolic levers.
  • The lever mTOR, as discussed in the same article, is downregulated during high levels of cAMP (a marker of lack of energy) and upregulated during periods of excess ATP (a marker of excess energy); mTOR influences other genes that translate protein synthesis. This means that merely having energy in a cell can increase protein synthesis. (cAMP and ATP are inverse, btw; increasing ATP will decrease cAMP and vice-versa)
  • The workout itself is implied to be resistance training, so all the other non-nutrient levers in that article will be much more proliferate and active.
  • Despite muscle having a caloric value of about 600kcal per pound (it is around 60-70% water [x]), placing the amino acids beside each other in chains is not the most energy efficient process. I cannot find a source on how much energy is required exactly (this would be hard to measure anyways due to the time it takes to build a pound of muscle tissue), but many estimates place it around 3000kcal to facilitate a pound of lean mass gained. Don’t put too much validity into the number itself, just be aware that it is a costly endeavor, and that carb-backloading can help deliver the energy cost (glucose) where it is needed at the time when it is needed.

Reduced rate of fat storage

First, some math.

If we are resting and consume X amount of calories from carbohydrates, it has to undergo digestion (which will take the TEF equivalent away from the caloric total), and then one it is in the blood stream it has to potential to go to fat storage based on a variety of factors.

  • So the amount of calories that could go to fat are X – TEF.

After exercise, the same amount of calories (X) must undergo the same TEF. After in the blood it can be redirected to refilling glycogen (mediated by insulin), oxidized by higher insulin levels for energy and heat outside of metabolic reactions and used up in metabolic reactions of protein synthesis. After these factors as well as the preferential diversion of glucose to muscles (due to GLUT4 activity being heightened in muscle cells), the formula looks like:

  • X – (TEF + Glycogen replenishment + Oxidation + Protein synthesis cost) * 0.75

The last one just being a figure to reduce the overall amount due to more being placed in muscles rather than fat, the number holds no meaning aside from being less than 1 to illustrate a point.

Essentially, a much greater amount of calories are diverted to alternate pathways leaving less overall for possible fat synthesis. (To imagine this point, assume that consuming nutrients in the morning without exercise is a 50/50 split adipose/muscle. Consuming them in a carb-backloading style will decrease both tissue’s insulin response by the same degree, yet raise muscle’s; mathematically if they are the same potency the split will now be 25/75 adipose/muscle. Of this 25/75 split, even less than 25 is going to adipose because of metabolic reactions)

The (admittedly minimal) amount of glucose that does enter the fat cells have a greater chance of being oxidized due to higher insulin levels as well; this localized glucose turnover in the fat cells also is a potential spiker of leptin levels, which can act to counteract the acute fat gain by increasing resting metabolic rate [x] [x]

So, in sum, fat gain is reduced eating in a carb-backloading manner since the calories have better shit to do.

(This is not to say that you cannot gain fat eating in this style; there is always an override button. Eventually you can eat enough for the insignificant amount of calories going to fat to become significant. However, by this time there has been a great deal of muscular metabolism undergone, thus muscle gain has been heightened as well)

Conditions that must be met to qualify for the above

The conditions, for the ideal situation of carb-backloading to apply, are:

  • You must work out late in the day (figures bounce around 4pm, give or take) for GLUT4 to become partially desensitized to insulin. Working out earlier than this will not desensitize the cells to insulin, meaning that glucose can get into both muscle cells and fat cells easier.
  • Don’t spike insulin greatly earlier in the day prior to your post-workout binge (or if you spike insulin during exercise with pre-workout nutrition, before that meal), as the recompensatory insulin spike post-workout helps the preferential disposition of glucose and the oxidation of excess and, overall, it is best to only spike insulin at times when it is most beneficial; near workouts.
  • You must do some form of resistance training to allow the excess muscular energy stores to be put to use at protein synthesis. If you do a metabolic circuit or some muscular endurance event, these mechanisms can blunt fat storage and help replenish glycogen, but they’re not going to build muscle. If you do this strategy after low intensity cardio, you’re just looking for excuses to binge eat.

Suggested meal composition

This is the main section I wanted to clarify. Despite mentioning it in the previous Cheat Mode article many people have taken the subheading not for dramatic rhetoric, but literally.

There is much more leeway after the workout conducted in carb-backloading style in regards to what you eat, but you still need to be cautious about including some nutrients.

  • Have a high dose of high quality protein. 2 scoops of whey protein, some meat, eggs, whatever.
  • Have some source of soluble fiber. You’re going to be eating a lot of food here, might want to have it all digested and absorbed rather than just be a huge gut irritant.
  • Something that you enjoy, whatever it is; just eat a slice of cake rather than the whole cake (Unless you deadlift 400+ for reps and are bulking. Enjoy the entire cake in that scenario)
  • Don’t go batshit crazy to start. Some users can eat without apprehension and lose fat, but some (especially those of us who used to be obese) should still practice moderation in a way. Try to still have a caloric goal to hit, not just running into a fast food joint and eating everything in sight.

Final closing points and concerns

Firstly, make sure you earn your binge. If you hit a PR on a major lift after plateauing a bit, enjoy yourself. If you got enough of a pump to cease up your muscles and make driving hard, enjoy yourself. If you just went through the motions and did some rehab, ease up on the binge. You have to decide for yourself whether or not the workout was enough to ‘deserve’ the binge.

Building on that, beginners at weightlifting should always practice moderation in a sense. It is very easy for a beginner to be wiped in the gym using compound exercises yet not actually inflict much tissue damage to their muscles. One should become intimate with how their body reacts to muscular damage (the pump, the burn, the warm tingly ‘pseudo-beta-alanine’ sensation of heavy lifts, etc.)

And finally, if you’re gaining fat off this plan you’re doing it wrong. Take a step back and re-evaluate how hard you are working out, exactly how much you are ‘binging’ and whether you are doing it right, and whether or not you are screwing up your fast in the morning. (This will be elucidated next week, but as for now know that fasting = not eating)

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  1. zahrada says:

    What would you say is a good pre-workout meal if not to spike insulin too much?

  2. Silverhydra says:

    If by pre-workout meal you mean the actual physical meal made of foods, then any combination of fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, nuts, legumes (limited) or oils should work. Just to be cautious about over consuming total carbs.

    If by pre-workout you mean the shake that you consume right before your workout, don’t worry too much about it. Insulin should be saved for times where it is put to best use. This happens post workout, but if you spike insulin during a workout with a pre-workout shake the insulin will still be beneficially used.

    For bulking at least, one could think of the binge starting with workout nutrition.

    I’ll edit in a clarification.

  3. hansolol says:

    Hey Silver,

    Finally made it to your blog to have a decent look. Congratulations – its very helpful and I can see why you are pretty busy these days.

    I have a question or two about this ‘cheat mode’. As you know I am currently on the leangains IF program and typically conduct my workout in a fasted state at around 12 to eat at 1. However, I am working at a fairly normal 9-5 for the next week and this cheat mode seems to be an ideal proposition at this time.

    The question I have is whether I am lifting heavy enough for this to be effective. I only have access to a hotel gym, which does not have really heavy weights – I was therefore going to try and improve on your barbell complex as well as throw in a couple of deadlifts (but not up to the weight I have at home). Thoughts?

  4. Silverhydra says:

    I cannot answer whether the weights will be sufficient for you, as I do not know the weights used nor your strength levels for the day.

    If I were in your shoes (limited absolute resistance), I would use an exercise to focus on power, moving the weight as fast as possible (tension on the muscle is a strength * speed issue, the faster you move the more stress is placed). And then do some volume or pump work, maybe some isometrics, to increase the growth factors.

    This does not need to be done, however, if the weights are sufficient to just do a regular straight work set.

    Good thing is, even if you fail at making the muscles broken and the growth factors high, you will still have most of the post workout meal not go to fat due to glycogen replishment and GLUT4 insensitivity.

  5. alai says:

    Hi Silverhydra, I have three questions:

    1) “TEF”, I had to google that, does it mean “thermic effect of food”?

    2) As far as spiking insulin pre-workout, what amount would do that?
    For pre-workout meal, I eat one slice of this low-carb bread with a bunch of butter, meat, veggies and egg salad. It’s around 7 grams of carbs per slice. I’m not exactly addicted to the bread, but it’s tasty and a convenient platform to stack a lot of other food on top of.

    3) Post-workout: Does it matter what type of carbs I ingest? The sugar which keeps getting referred to here is glucose.
    For example, I have a shake with 70g of maltodextrin right after my workout, which as far as I’ve understood is pretty much pure glucose?
    About 30 minutes later, I have a treat which is two good sized chocolate chip cookies and a large glass of whole milk, which would be a bunch of sucrose and lactose. Does the fructose and galactose in these come to any use in carb backloading?

    Thanks for answering questions Silverhydra by the way! Perhaps if this Cheat Mode diet becomes a big thing you/someone should make an FAQ + general guide to the diet. The most confusing part of researching leangains (because of the blog style release of information) was to have to trawl his site for answers to my questions which probably had been asked by others in the comment section of various blog posts by Martin. As well as having to piece together information from the many different blog posts. I’m sure there might be updates in the details of the diet as new research and such become available as well. Nothing should be gospel forever. Just a friendly suggestion :)

    Whether or not this diet becomes the focal point of the site I will keep visiting for the interesting articles though!

    • Silverhydra says:

      1) Yes, you are correct

      2) Insulin secretion is not a yes/no situation, but a dose-dependent one. Your meal will secrete insulin, and more carbs/proteins will secrete more. So to answer your question, everything you eat except straight oils will secrete insulin to a degree.

      3) I refer to glucose as the sugar in the body is glucose, and since we can buy glucose and it doesn’t need to be converted it’s simple. Maltodextrin is a long glucose chain, so it is broken down into glucose. Galactose is converted into glucose in the liver, and fructose will be stored as liver glycogen until a certain point (which is hard to tell). Just to clarify as well, you are consuming more protein than just that post-workout right? (One glass of milk will not cut it) The galactose will be of use in carb-backloading, although you may want to limit the fructose as you will not know when liver glycogen stores are full. (It’s a better safe than sorry move really)

      As for the guide suggestion, it is planned in the future. I am doing 3 more clarification articles in this series and then finalizing all 5 articles (Cheat mode, as well as the 4 clarifications) in one final article with an easy-to-follow guide.

      It may be the focal point of the site, it’s what people seem to like. (Still the most viewed page, by far)

      • Hyakiss says:

        If you’re looking for ideas for other topics, I know that personally I’d love to see some reviews of supplements, starting with the most useful ones like caffeine, fish oil, whey, creatine. As a noobie to serious weight training, I’ve been gathering info about these from reddit and sources from there, but if I came across a blog like yours that explained how and when to use them, and some basic explanation of the biochemistry behind them, I would gobble it up.

  6. funkypunkmonkey says:

    Where does the 4pm bit come from? X amount of hours since your last meal? X amount of hours that you have been awake?


    • Silverhydra says:

      It’s a random shot in the dark really; a compromise.

      GLUT4 gets progressively less active the later in the day, but too late is not the best as some people have reported that binging and then crashing right after means less sleep, and not as good a sleep.

      We want to work out with a degree of GLUT4 insensitivity, but not too late. 4pm is a nice compromise for people on a normal schedule who go to sleep around 10pm to midnight as it means the binge is at around 6pm or so.

      The exact hour is not overly important, just the general idea. It may be good to think of it as ‘Time you go to sleep minus 6 or so hours’

  7. ahuitzil says:

    Hi Silver,

    Thanks for posting this information, I had a few questions.

    (1) If I want to cut but maintain and even build some lean muscle, where does cardio come into the program for carb backloading? When? And what type (HIIT or long duration)?

    Right now I’m doing a mixed diet between the CARB CYCLE CODEX ( and KIEFER’S backloading (, but neither mention any details about cardio. I did find this one ( that seems to incorporate both diets, with cardio.

    (2) I didn’t find any mention of macronutrient numbers. So on my high-carb days, if I need to intake 300 grams of carbs; you suggest taking in those within the evening? Anything “bad,” in terms of fat gain, from taking in excess carbs at one meal under backloading?

    (3) You mentioned that any carbs secrete insulin; KEIFER suggest high-glycemic carbs for backloading; I’d say I have an endomorph body type (currently at 157 lbs, 13% bf, 5’7″) and easily gain fat, so just a little skeptical that a pint of ice cream before bed will help me, even if I followed the program to a T. So, what type of carbs do you suggest I ingest and at what times; e.g., high-glycemic carbs immediatley post-workout and low-glycemic for the remainder of the night to high my caloric numbers?

    I know you’re busy, but thanks in advance for all your help!

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