For fans of the podcast (which is being resurrected soon and will likely involve video), you know Paul and I spoke with Kiefer, the progenitor of Carb Backloading. As I stated on the podcast, I'm generally of the opinion that CBL is perfect for getting fat and contracting Type II diabetes, and I'm skeptical of its real-world applicability. The majority of the people I know who tried it either felt like Gary Busey after a week-long Jack and coke (Columbian marching powder, not the Beetus-bringer) binge the majority of the time but leaned out a bit or felt like Busey and got fat. No one I've seen, however, thrived off the diet. As such, my skepticism seems to have been justified. When I learned of a Duke grad in strength training world who shared my psychotic, balls to the wall training approach and had the credentials to back his opinion of CBL, I felt compelled to drop an interview bomb in his lap to hash this whole thing out. Thus, without further adieu, the interview:
Alex, looking perfectly ridiculous on a bicycle.
Alrighty, it's interview time. In the interest of dogmatic adherence to the typical structure of an interview, why don't you brag about yourself a bit.
My name’s Alex Viada, and I run a company called Complete Human Performance. We’re a small coaching company with one primary focus- building world class strength AND top level endurance in ALL our athletes. We’ve never felt those two goals are mutually exclusive, just damn difficult to put together. There are a lot of guys and girls out there who love throwing around huge piles of iron, but either for professional reasons (military, police, fire, etc.) or personal reasons (enjoy mountain biking, trail running, marathons, etc.) need excellent endurance. Most of the crap you read out there either tells you that you can’t do both, or throws out this minimalist garbage that says you can train for Ultramarathons and Ironmans by doing 30 minute sprints and metcons. The former is flat out wrong, the latter, well, let’s just say one of the best known founders of one of those systems has successfully DNFed every race he’s done since switching to a minimalist program. For us, everything we do is proven- based on solid, no BS training routines that are backed by actual sports science and plenty of results. Basically, we take on people who want to do it all, but have been told they can’t… and help them shut the naysayers up.
Personally speaking, well, I’m a lousy athlete [ed.- yes, all 4:20 milers are terrible athletes], genetically speaking (sorry dad). Never been very strong or fast, was quite honestly just a “smart kid” growing up. Played a lot of sports in high school and succeeded mostly on determination, and I never had much of that. When I tried to gain weight, I ended up fat. When I tried to cut, I ended up skinny fat. Currently, at 33 years old and 220 pounds, my best raw squat is 615 (695 single ply currently), best bench is 445 raw (485 shirted currently), and deadlift 705 in gear or without (as of five weeks ago). I currently run a 4:23 mile, have done 4 marathons, 1 Ultramarathon, 1 Ironman triathlon, and 1 half Ironman in the last three years, regularly compete in mountain centuries (100 mile bike rides through the mountains), and drink entirely too much high gravity beer. On the education side, graduated from Duke University with a degree in biochemistry, am a USA Triathlon certified coach, and an NSCA-CSCS. Eleven years of coaching experience, but worked in the clinical trial world for 8 years as well, which gave me an excellent bullshit detector and made me a real skeptic.
Seems to me the average marathoner weighs about 130lbs and would struggle to bench their bodyweight.
Careful with the jogging- I hear joggers have had a problem with spontaneous combustion up North. For some reason I thought you were a grad student- I guess because you still lift in Duke's gym, where the next strongest person is my 130 lb girlfriend.
I was going after my Msc in physiology from NC State, but honestly the program was pretty mediocre. Either switching to biomechanics or transferring to UNC when I got the time to reapply. Work and life gets in the way, man. Either way, wasn't going to mention something in progress.
Understandable, I suppose. Now, I've heard a rumor that you rock a supertotal that's even more ridiculous than combining real lifting with clog-wearing trick lifting. What's your version of a supertotal- what I heard about you doing passed the Carrot Top-on-angel-dust-fellating-a-rabid-badger level of insanity.
My supertotals (and there are a few I use to judge progress) are always zero. In other words, take a measure of strength (weight) and pit it against a measure of speed and endurance (time), with the goal of them canceling each other out. My most frequently used supertotal- run a marathon in less than your bench press. Bench 400? Run a sub 4:00. Bench 350? Run a sub 3:30. For the ladies, it’s 2.5 times your bench versus your marathon. Most people, with proper training, should be able to do this. My personal goal this next year or two is run a 100 mile ultra in less than my PL total, but this will take some serious work… for now I’d like to be the only guy who’s qualified for Kona (Ironman world championship) with a 700 pound deadlift.
That's fucking ridiculous. I would rather masturbate using Freddy Krueger's glove than run a marathon. I heard you recently did a meet, tore your quad, and still did the marathon anyway. Why the fuck would you do that? How'd it turn out?
Ha. It went pretty damn badly. I sustained a pretty serious quad tear on my opening squat during a meet three weeks out from a 50 mile ultramarathon. Missed what was supposed to be my longest training run… 8 days out from the race I was thrilled that I could finally walk without limping and that the swelling had gone down enough for me to wear regular pants. 6 days out I successfully jogged a mile. The race itself was brutal- I couldn’t run or walk downhill, (I had to sidestep slowly), and by the end of it there was so much swelling in my calves and ankles (from pooled blood and fluid) that I couldn’t feel my right foot. Finished about 2.5 hours slower than I’d planned, but got it done. As for why, well, look at it this way- You learn more about yourself and your tolerances pushing through and competing under crap conditions than when things are perfect. Most folks who’ve been at this long enough are always injured in some form or another, and if you let it hold you back, you’ll never leave the house. Besides, I work with disabled athletes as well- some of these people have less than half an intact limb and they’re out there running a hundred miles. I can suck it up for 50 with a bit of swelling. Finally, I’m a cheap, stubborn son of a bitch, and having folks tell me that A) I should just stay home, and B) No, I couldn’t get a refund on the entry fee, meant I had really no choice.
This picture makes more sense, and is less uncomfortable, than jogging.
I don't give a shit if disabled people can hop on one foot and sing the national anthem for an entire marathon- I'm still not fucking running. Alas, down to the meat and potatoes- I hear you and Kiefer have heat. How'd this happen?
Man, truthfully speaking the guy probably has no idea who I am- I don’t have heat with him in particular, just with bullshit science and those who make a buck off it. All these diet and health gurus are interchangeable, whether they be dangerously hardcore or bulletproof executives- they learn just enough about a topic to sound authoritative, then put down half-baked theories that would get torn apart by a first year biochem major, back it with a whole bunch of references that they either haven’t read or don’t really understand, then say shit like “This works, and you can’t disagree because I know science and I’m over 200 pounds.” My real beef with this is that nobody seems to question this stuff- they just fall into the pack and go “wow, this works”. Of course it works- eat next to nothing all day except some eggs and protein powder, pound coffee until you’re tweaked to shit, then only stuff yourself with sugar after your evening workout? I know a whole bunch of sorority girls who went all through college like this. Controlling cravings through fasting then binge eating at night makes it hard to take in enough calories for most folks, so they lose weight. Miraculous.
Look, I have nothing against the guy personally- I don’t know him. Could be the nicest guy on earth, and he’s certainly earnest about the field. What I don’t like is bad bullshit science being repackaged and sold. I’ve picked apart a lot of his stuff, but… hey, it’s the internet, what are the odds he’s seen any of it and felt the need to respond? Pretty low. It’s not about debunking anyhow- most of what I write isn’t an attack on people trying to come up with new ideas, it’s just stating the facts. People can draw their own conclusions from there. If that makes some popular diet or amazing new underground renegade magic bullet systemic manipulation whatever the crap sound like bullshit, then, hey, maybe it is bullshit.
This picture has nothing whatsoever to do with Carb Backloading.
Goddamn, you're going strong to the hoop. So you're saying the idea of carb backloading is, in essence, bullshit?
The concept might have some merit when it comes to helping people restrict calories, control cravings and take in an overall solid nutrient profile, but there’s no magic to it. The concept of clinically significant modulated tissue response using your body’s natural hormones is bullshit. Which, yes, basically undercuts the entire premise. If the tagline was “CBL- it’ll make you less hungry during the day and you’ll lose weight”, I’d say GREAT. But no, it’s pages and pages of hyperbole and in-text citations to 20 year old studies on diabetics.
Christ almighty, I'm sure half of my audience has already rage-quit this article and has some half-formed, incoherent, all-caps diatribe against you and your family forming on their fingertips. Half of Supertraining now wants you dead. As such, it might behoove you to tell us with what, specifically, you disagree?
Oh man, I’d be doing you (and myself) a disservice if I tried to condense this into anything shorter than a novella. We’re talking basic, basic stuff, things like the clinical insignificance of morning growth hormone pulses (i.e., the pulses are far too low to really affect muscle gain or fat loss in any meaningful way), a seeming lack of comprehension regarding digestion times and insulin peaks (particularly digestion of large meals- CBL as designed will have most people waking up with carbohydrates still digesting in their small intestine), flaws in understanding receptor kinetics and response to hormones (i.e. the entire concept of Modulated Tissue Response…and I’m not dignifying that with the trademark symbol, assumes you can cause selective expression of certain receptors in muscle as opposed to fat via resistance training and insulin regulation, but fails to understand that this selective expression is upended the moment you ingest ANY glucose.. unless you’re diabetic…. Which is why most of that cited research on diabetics here is not really relevant.). This last part is the biggest problem, for me. Any entire system based on a shaky foundation is, to me, completely suspect… and the foundation simply doesn’t hold water. Sort of like chiropractors. Sure, you can seem to know what you’re talking about and can be right about a lot of things, but your entire field is based on quackery bullshit… so I’m not trusting you over a more reputable source.
Mexican chiropractic medicine seems a tad extreme.
You're the only other person of whom I know who knows that the founder of chiropractic/osteopathy was a med school dropout and out-and-out quack. Mention that in some circles and people get very stabby in a hurry. That motherfucker thought he could cure cancer by cracking the joints in peoples' skulls... nevermind the fact that they fuse when you're a child. That science shit is SCARY.
Oh man. The founder claimed you could heal people with magnets. There are some good chiropractors out there who are really trying hard to become more scientific and restrict their practice to conditions that they might actually be able to treat, but… if they really wanted to be legit, they’d go into orthopedics. I think about it a little like Scientologists- you might seem like a rational, reasonable person who might occasionally have some good insights on life, but underneath it all your beliefs are batshit crazy. The only things I’d have a chiropractor treat outside of lower back pain are fibromyalgia and chronic Lyme disease [ed. aka Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever / Valley Fever for those of you outside of the NE United States. I've no clue what they call it overseas, but I don't even know if they have ticks overseas]. Because nonexistent illnesses respond well to useless treatments... (I’m going to catch some heat for this one).
Ok, so now just about half of the women in the United States want you dead, too. You're making a lot of friends here. So, in your opinion, is there any fact behind Kiefer's work, or do you just consider Carb Backloading to be a work of fiction?
There’s fact behind it somewhere. Look, the guy did some homework. Problem is, he did what most first year bio grad students do before they figure out how to really examine research- he looked at a few mechanisms in isolation, then figured these would translate to the real world. Problem is, this ignores the reality of the human body. I spent enough time in pharma to know that out of every 10,000 “can’t fail” perfect mechanisms discovered by some very very smart people (driven by money, so they got incentive), only 1 of them turns out to be applicable in the real world. Most of these ideas sound great in theory, but when the systems involved are examined in more detail and all the body’s various homeostatic safeguards kick in, the ideas fall apart. When you read this stuff (CBL), it’s really a lot of selective interpretation of data (Hell, his own references contract his statements and conclusions), hand-waving about MTR, and other “Trust me, I’m a scientist and I’ve read 40,000 studies”. Bullshit.
A) Your PhD is in an entirely unrelated field, probably about as diametrically opposed to biochemistry as you can get.
B) Really READING a study, understanding it, analyzing it, reading its references, examining the mechanisms in question, cross referencing its conclusions, and otherwise being able to draw YOUR OWN conclusions from it takes HOURS and HOURS- there’s a reason that post docs have journal clubs to help them understand new research. You do the math here. If the 40,000 figure is true, then this most likely equates to about two or three minutes spent scanning each abstract and looking at pretty graphs.
AAAAANNNNNNND now physicists want you dead as well, which is not all that awesome because they've apparently been building death rays with which to kill Obama. Soon, the Japanese will send giant robots after you and you'll have to hide in the Nazi base on the dark side of the Moon. Before you depart this Earth in a fiery blast of physicist-fueled rage, could you expand a bit on the insulin peaks? I've been arguing this point with people since I first saw a powerlifting face those cookie sandwiches with the frosting in between the cookies postworkout. To me, that shit seems like a recipe for the beetus.
Yeah, absolutely. I think selective citation of clinical studies have done people in this community a tremendous disservice. When people think insulin peaks, they think insulin spike, post workout anabolic windows, thirty minute periods of high levels that can be taken advantage of to shuttle nutrients into the body, etc. The major problem- this is NOT how the body works the majority of the time. Insulin spikes, followed by a return to baseline, are the norm in studies that test insulin response to foods because these are conducted on FASTED SUBJECTS. These are people who have ZERO food in their guts who then take in small quantities of carbohydrates, which allows researchers to study the dynamics of glucose and insulin response. For MOST of us, our insulin levels look like a sine wave that’s always above zero- they’re constantly rising and falling throughout the day in response to a semi-constant release of nutrients in the gut (insulin oscillation). And it is a semi-constant release- very few of us are EVER in a truly fasted state, since food digestion is measured in multiple hours, not minutes. Look at it this way- say I take in 500 grams of PURE sugar, as would be an ideal post workout carb meal as per CBL. What ACTUALLY happens? First of all, most of that will sit in the gut for hours- transporting sugar across the intestinal lining requires both ample amounts of water and ample amounts of sodium- too little of each and it just sits in the stomach (ever seen a distance runner puke up pure Gatorade even when totally dehydrated? This is why- that sugar’s just sitting in the stomach sloshing around for hours, holding water there to maintain osmotic balance). What then happens is a relatively slow absorption of sugar for the next 8-10 HOURS. Yes, you get a huge insulin spike that then REMAINS elevated all night. Fact is, post-training is one of the WORST times to take in huge amounts of sugar, since not only are you probably slightly dehydrated, but your gut is also operating on low power mode (since your muscles are receiving most of the blood), further delaying gut emptying time. Hence, you get a fat insulin spike that lasts for hours and hours. You want a recipe for insulin resistance? There you go.
I am not a fan of the post-workout carb-up either, but I imagine the hordes of people screaming for your blood are calling bullshit for lack of citations while stuffing their faces with Twinkies. While you're pissing everyone off, though, would you mind expanding on Modulated Tissue Response as well?
Sure. So the general idea here is that you can, and I quote, “give each tissue of the body a specific instruction, either through diet, activity or both.” Generally speaking, this is a natural part of how the body works- each system operates under a set of rules and feedback mechanisms, and depending on the conditions it can operate in different ways.
Now there are two primary mechanisms that CBL discusses:
- The overnight increase in insulin sensitivity, and
- non-insulin mediated glucose transport into muscle cells.
For keto dieters, gates for glucose might as well be the gates of hell.
As for number 2, there’s an even bigger problem with this. When you’re exercising, your body is burning glycogen (even at low intensities, some is being used). At high intensities (as when weight training), your muscles are using glycogen as its primary fuel source. In response, your body releases small amounts from your liver as glucose and dumps it into the bloodstream, with the goal of getting this sugar to the working muscles. This is a small amount of sugar- not enough to cause an insulin response. Now, as an adaptation, your muscles themselves, when stimulated by high intensity activity, signal their OWN cells to “open their gates” to glucose WITHOUT needing insulin to tell them to- this is precisely to facilitate uptake of this liver-sourced glucose by the muscles that need it most. The CBL argument is then, post exercise, you can take advantage of this selective response by flooding the system with sugar, and the muscles will take up a huge amount of it before insulin is released… thus avoiding an insulin spike and minimizing fat storage. Bzzt. False. The reason this is so studied for diabetics is because they do NOT release insulin naturally (or, in the case of type 2 diabetics, do not respond to it), so ANY non-insulin related expression of glucose receptors is beneficial- it’s one of the few ways the body can clear sugar from the system (which is toxic in high amounts). For NON-diabetics, this isn’t a concern. And, in fact, within SECONDS after taking in simple sugars, whether post workout or otherwise, your body releases JUST AS MUCH insulin as any other time of day. Insulin expression is not governed by the amount of receptors open on muscle cells, it is released a) by high levels of glucose in the blood, and b) on its own in pulses throughout the day. The few seconds that a handful of muscles have their glucose transporters open before the floodgates open are in no way clinically significant… you’d be talking maybe a few extra grams shunted into muscles as opposed to fat cells. The reason is simple- there’s only so much glycogen storage capacity in your muscle cells, and even prolonged high intensity weight training won’t do much to drain these stores. All they really need is a few grams to fill them up again, and any extra glucose simply floats on by, right to the fat cells it was destined for all along.
These are basic, BASIC fallacies. It makes the book hard to read.
Well then. Fatties are wheezing with rage and conspiring to kill you. Before they heave their sweaty bulks out of their chairs and begin their labored-breath struggle towards their front door and vans equipped with chair lifts, I figure we can cover your endurance stuff. You kind of sound like a powerlifting version of J. Stanton from Gnolls.org. He's a huge fan of doing shit like hiking a mountain fasted and then going directly into the gym to deadlift to max. Frankly, I think it's lunacy, but more power to you guys. After all of the nonsense about the SEAL who ran a bunch of marathons while looking muscular, your take is refreshing in that you actually lift serious weights. Since people are going to ask, how do you combine training for the two sports?
Funny you asked! I actually have a series up about it on my website (So you want to run and be strong parts 1 and 2) that outline the framework. I basically use a complex/parallel form of periodization for my lifting (alternating upper and lower max effort and dynamic effort/hypertrophy days), similar to Westside, but with more emphasis on straight weight and the competition lifts as opposed to frequent rotation. For the endurance training, it’s basic block periodization (a la Verkhoshansky). What really makes the system work, though, is that the programming is all integrated- the lifting and endurance pieces are not treated like separate components, every workout is programmed in with full consideration to the others. This is usually the downfall of most combination attempts- few coaches or trainees are accustomed to, say, taking the duration or intensity of last week’s trail run (with ten minutes of hill repeats) into full consideration when deciding on the intensity and rep range of the second accessory lift during the next lower body day. Lastly, I try to keep the systems as separate as possible- there is ZERO reason for me to incorporate barbell complexes or high intensity conditioning into my lifting workouts (as these do not benefit my endurance training as much as, say, running or biking), and there is zero reason for me to incorporate “strength” intervals into my running or cycling. (Pedaling in a high gear may increase leg strength for a typical cyclist, but I’d rather squat 600 for a few reps).
Cycling appears to be working for Lokelani McMichael, however.
Agreed on the squatting. Frankly, I'm still confused by your psychotic obsession with "endurance", but everyone has their faults. How off base did you think I was, then, in my "Run and You Will Only Die Tired" series?
I thought it was pretty damn excellent- one of the best systematic breakdowns of the limitations of steady state LSD type training, any why the costs FAR outweigh the often limited benefits. I definitely agree with most of your points- I would NOT recommend long duration steady state cardiovascular work for most folks. It makes it hard to maintain muscle, harder to gain strength, and it’s not ideal for staying lean (you’re taking in huge amounts of calories to fuel energy… take in too few, and you’ll drop muscle. Take in too many, and you’ll just get fat. Long distance training doesn’t make your body want to add on lean mass). Add on to the fact that I agree most of us aren’t “born to run”… neither you nor I is built much like a Tarahumara.
There are still a few cases where I DO recommend low intensity steady state cardio, though, which tends to spark some disagreement.
- First is, surprise, if low intensity steady state activity is the goal. Put simply, if you’re looking to run a marathon, you have to run long distances. Doing nothing but high intensity training may improve peripheral vascularity, stroke capacity, etc. etc., but doing enough volume here would result in ANY athlete burning out. The long slow distance work is actually relatively easy to recover from, provided energy intake is high enough, and still results in a number of these same adaptations. Much like you can’t go balls out with heavy max attempts and sets to failure every time you lift, you can’t trash your body every time you hit the track. Other side of this is, if you don’t run long distances, you’ll never know what it’s like to run long distances. There’s a reason why CrossFit Endurance’s founder didn’t finish a single ultra for years after adopting his own routine- there’s NO way 30-60 minutes of cardio can prepare you for what happens to your body after 15 hours on the trail. You need to learn what you can eat, you need to learn pacing, you need to learn how to run after you’re bonked, you need to learn stride efficiency, etc.
- The second is if you’re a top level powerlifter or strength athlete already pushing the ragged edge of your training envelope. If your routine is designed to give you JUST ENOUGH time to recover from your workouts, you can’t afford to throw in additional high intensity work without experiencing some diminishing returns. If you’re tearing your hamstrings to pieces three times a week in the weight room, and every time you get back in there you’re JUST recovered enough to push a little more weight, throwing in sprints or extra prowler pushes will do nothing but hinder that recovery (and if you find you CAN handle additional work, then squat more, you lazy bitch). Far better for this type of guy to do a nice steady walk or slow jog for thirty minutes to get the heart rate up and improve cardiovascular endurance somewhat. The impact to maximum strength and recovery will be absolutely minimal.
Lifters who jog are still weird.
I generally don't stroke my cock as hard as you just stroked my ego. In any event, I figure we ought to wrap this bitch up by having you divulge what diet to you recommend to your clients, and why.
If it fits your macros. I tell them all to basically come up with a diet framework that accounts for about half their calories and gets in the basics of what they need- enough protein, enough good fats, and enough carbs. What they do beyond that, as long as they don’t go batshit crazy high on the calories or starve themselves, is up to them. Calories, macronutrients, and training is 95% percent of this all. Diet timing and hormone manipulation is the other 5%... I make sure they worry about the bigger things first. The only time I really tell them to worry about exact macros and timing is either when they’re trying to make weight or during contest prep. Period, full stop. Thing is, no matter what you end up doing, there’s some diet system out there that probably has, at some point, claimed it’s the absolute best way to do things. Between “8 small meals” old school bodybuilding lore, intermittent fasting, CBL, paleo, Mediterranean diets, the Warrior Diet, etc. etc., you’ve pretty much got the bases covered no matter what your eating habits are.
As I'm sure you know, my diet (the Apex Predator Diet) and Kiefer's Carbnite Diets are similar, and I think they're generally a far saner approach to fat loss.
Agreed. What I read of your diet, it uses ACTUAL well-documented systemic processes to suppress appetite, minimize muscle loss, and still allow you a few days of normal eating to both maintain sanity and account for ANY micronutrients you could be eating. I also like the fact that you recommend cycling calories- between that and the higher protein (which also keeps people eating a bit more), you definitely managed to fix some of the biggest problems I have with CKDs… mainly that people starve themselves and wind up looking and feeling like shit when all is said and done. I have to be honest, I haven’t read nearly as much on Carbnite- after reading CBL I sat under my kitchen table rocking back and forth alternately weeping and screaming at the cats for three days, I don’t think I could handle that again. Neither could the cats.
Goddamn, I am awesome. Well, guys, there you have it- a Duke biochemist powerlifter-endurance athlete's take on CBL. I'm sure you guys will have 11,000 follow up questions, so feel free to bring the heat in the comments. I'll shoot Kiefer an email to see if he feels like making this a debate, and if he does, I'll get you guys front row seats to the battle royale. In the meantime, check out Alex's website here and direct your hatemail to firstname.lastname@example.org.