Tomorrow we are releasing our Metabolic Flexibility chapters that you get when you purchase a year long subscription for $49.95. These chapters are written by Mike T Nelson who is considered to be the authority on the topic. When I wrote this article Carb Back Loading was the only book that closely resembled what I teach. With two volumes of Foundations and now Mike’s chapters on MetFlex I can safely say this is NOW the best information you can purchase specific to our sport (that being high intensity weight lifting and OLY lifting). Not only do you get that but you get seminars and a private group with other doctors and Crossfit athletes to support your new performance journey (how cool is that?).
This is a big topic for the seminars: “How can a woman keep a healthy amount of carbs in her diet while also mobilizing fat?” I realize that it’s all very confusing at this point, because there’s been a lot of buzz over the past few years surrounding fat loss on a ketogenic diet. There are certainly a lot of women who’ve made dramatic transformations by cutting carbs, but the results may have come at a cost; for a small percentage of women, symptoms like irregular menstrual cycles and compromised fertility go hand in hand with calorie deprivation and maintaining a low body fat percentage. If this doesn’t apply to you, you probably can’t relate, but for a few of the ladies out there, a bell just went off in their heads. Another group of relatively lean ladies have taken a less restrictive approach to eating, and most are quite happy with their body composition.
Exercise Differences Between Men and Women
Aside from the obvious differences, men and women are biologically quite different and respond differently to exercise in a few important ways. For instance, women burn fat more easily than men do while CrossFitting; due to a significantly decreased oxidative work capacity, women have been shown to use up glycogen more slowly than men do. They rely upon alternate pathways to supply ATP to the muscle cells during intense activity. So if women burn more fat while exercising, why are some of them struggling to rid themselves of what they consider to be excess body fat? Although it has something to do with neurotransmitters and adrenergic receptors in adipose tissue, we’ll just say that each person stores and mobilizes fat differently; it’s dependent upon so many factors that it would take an entire book to adequately explain. Once again, this is a complicated question that is largely individual, but I have and will continue to argue that there is a process of analysis that must occur. In the long run, the results are enlightening and will lead to important discoveries about your unique metabolism.
What about Carb Back-Loading? That Seems Like a Lot of Carbs…
Later, you will read three testimonies from women who Eat to Perform. Not all of them are CrossFitters, nor are they CBL zealots, but that makes their experiences much more informative and broadly applicable. Each of these women has formulated a conscious approach to carbohydrate intake that works for them.
Once you hear from them, you’ll agree that the contrasts between these various athletes are eye-opening. All of them do some version of what I describe in this article, adjusted for their activity level, at various times. Some do it by feel, some count calories and some carb cycle BUT every single one of them agrees that a high-functioning metabolism involves some amount of carbohydrates.
Adjusting CBL for Women
Back-loading can be intimidating. Kiefer talks about “slamming the carbs”; images of doughnuts and turnovers dance before your eyes. This rubs people the wrong way sometimes, because it doesn’t jive with what they consider a basic tenant of human nutrition; it seems insane (and unhealthy) to suggest that eating baked goods and pizza could help you lose fat. When I started this site, I wanted to start women down the path of thinking more openly as far as carbohydrates are concerned. That started a discussion and here we are with almost 200,000 people participating (it will probably be more if you read this down the road). That discussion led to experiments for a lot of people and better performance while eating moderate carbohydrates. I think I can safely say that women trying to lose fat might do well to try something out of their comfort zone and add some carbs/starches to their meal plans.
This Is a “Non-Standard” Recommendation
It’s important that everyone understands that no recommendation works for everyone. You have to take the reins, but this is a safe spot for most active women to start. I just posted an article with a link and explanation of how to calculate your energy requirements based upon your activity level. It’s very informative so you should give it a quick read. In the articles coming up you will see examples of women using vastly different approaches as it relates to carb strategies that all make sense. We’ll go over this more during the seminars as well, so don’t sweat it if these numbers don’t work for you.
- For our example, we’ll use a woman in her mid-twenties, 5’4”, 125lbs who CrossFits a few times a week.
- We’ll start her on 125g of protein a day. If you are particularly light (under 125 pounds) then you can get away with 100g.
- 125g of carbs (ideally eaten in a small window post workout at the end of the day, similar to the way it is described in the book). Again, if you weigh less than 125 pounds, 100g is a good place to start. If you’re particularly active (or you train in the morning), you may want to add 25-50g of carbs to your post workout nutrition.
- 125g of fat. This will provide the bulk of your energy throughout the day and turn you into a veritable furnace of fat burning.
Starch Sources in Your Evening Meals
Part of the problem with very active women following a Paleo-esque diet is that they struggle to find energy dense sources that come from mostly whole unprocessed foods. Fibrous vegetables don’t count; eat as much of them as you want throughout the day but leave them out of your evening meals. While they may be packed with vitamins and minerals, they will fill you up and you may have a tendency to under eat when it comes time to “slam the carbs”. This is one of the reasons I recommend having dessert on your back-loading days (ideally, the day before a workout). My coconut milk smoothies are a great choice; I have also seen women get very favorable results adding dark chocolate and wine into the mix (as long as it’s in moderation).
As far as more traditional options go, we’ll keep this simple: sweet potatoes, squash (kabocha squash pictured above) are great carbohydrate sources. If you’re open-minded, you could occasionally try some white rice too. Starches are important, as they provide a quick source of glucose to spur muscle tone (really muscle growth but I digress) and trigger the hormonal cascade responsible for fat burning. I think you’ll get a great response from these. Finally, variety is the spice of life, so try different things and don’t be afraid to have a cinnamon roll before bed to prepare for a particularly brutal workout the following day.
Workout Days Followed by Rest Days
Because men burn through sugar like there’s no tomorrow, they can get away with back-loading every day. Women have things a little harder due to their decreased usage of glycogen as fuel during exercise. If your goal is to mobilize fat, I would suggest reducing your carbohydrate intake on these days, while simultaneously increasing your fat intake. It may seem like it contradicts the entire ideology of back-loading, but by eating relatively low carb after training, you will ensure a glycogen debt and maximize fat burning hormones. Using the example from above, stay with 125g protein, 100g of carbs and add roughly 22g of fat (preferably from sources like coconut oil and grass-fed butter) to make up for the loss of calories incurred by lowering carbohydrate intake. That would shift your macros to 125p/150f/100c.
These are just my thoughts; you can play with this many different ways. My goal is to convey a more clear understanding that a reckless approach is unnecessary; you don’t need to eat turnovers and pizza to back-load. I hope this helps a bit in clarifying that. As always, these are guidelines and not rules.
- Men and women utilize carbohydrate differently. Women are, in general, better at burning fat than men so they need fewer carbohydrates in their nutrition plans.
- Ketogenic/low carb diets can cause fast weight loss but they are rarely ideal for optimal performance.
- While it may not be extremely common, some women suffer some unfortunate side effects when they get really lean and/or deprive their bodies of carbohydrates. For this reason, it’s better to adopt a less restrictive approach to carbs.
- Women should strive to hit their protein goals first, and then focus on carbs and fat; in general, women seem to do well on 100-125g of carbs on training days.
- Rest days can be modified to include more fat and less carbs; 75-100g may be appropriate.
- As with most things, experimenting with more or less carbs will help you arrive at a balance that works for you and allows you to look and perform the way you want to.
- You don’t need to eat pizza and turnovers to carb back-load; go for starches like potatoes and rice, and be sure to include some vegetables. Coconut milk smoothies are also a great option.