Carb Backloading: Why Breakfast Is Not the Most Important Meal of the Day

March 13, 2013 | Mitch Calvert

Must See Nutrition Videos

Breakfast, "the most important meal of the day." Nowadays this could be considered the most essential rule in nutrition. If you want to have energy to fuel your day and your workout, better get up and eat your oatmeal. (We've said it: Athletes Eat Oatmeal for Breakfast.)

Fuel with carbohydrates early in the morning and gradually reduce your intake throughout the day, adding quality fats instead. Fitness industry experts have been telling us this for years. But is it really the best plan for optimal performance? It certainly doesn't fit the biological clock our ancestors abided by.

Popular diet trends like John Keifer's "Carb Backloading" have challenged the conventional wisdom with documented results. (Read more on carb backloading.) Keifer says, "Limiting carbs in the first half of the day forces your metabolism to rely on fat for its energy needs. When you limit your intake of food during this time, your body releases body fat for energy."

It's not just about diet fads. A 2010 study reported in the International Journal of Obesity recommends a complete reversal of today's "carbs for breakfast" mindset. The study, entitled "Time-of-Day-Dependent Dietary Fat Consumption Influences Multiple Cardiometabolic Syndrome Parameters in Mice" [1], suggests that consuming a meal higher in fat early in the day helps the body respond more appropriately to carbohydrate later in the day, whereas a high carbohydrate morning meal fixes metabolism towards carbohydrate utilization, impairing the body's ability to adjust metabolism toward fat utilization.

The take home message: avoid insulin-spiking foods (carbs) in the early part of the day, especially if you work a sedentary desk job. Fill up on carbs at night or after exercise, when your body is primed to absorb them properly in muscle cells. A sample menu would include early meals of lean meats, eggs, fibrous veggies and low glycemic carbs like berries, and pasta for dinner. Logically it makes sense. Eating carbs increases the production of serotonin, which makes you sleepy, so the best time to eat them would be a few hours before bedtime.

A counter-argument states that if you work out early in the morning, you need carbs for fuel. But research suggests a carbohydrate load the night before should be sufficient to keep you energized through a weightlifting workout. A 2013 study, "Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?" by researchers Alan Aragon and Brad Schoenfeld [2], recommends consuming 0.4-0.5 g/kg of protein per kg of lean body mass both pre- and post-exercise to negate any potential performance shortfall. That said, they note that endurance athletes need to take in carbohydrate during and after exercise, in contrast to athletes pursuing strictly strength or hypertrophy goals. Essentially, if your morning exercise is a prolonged endurance activity (say a two-hour hockey practice bright and early), then carbohydrate intake prior, during and after is appropriate for optimal performance.

Whether you adopt the Keifer's method or modify it to suit your athletic needs, don't be afraid to try a new approach. You may find your reward from ditching the oats is improved performance. And what athlete doesn't want that?


[1] Bray et al., "Time-of-Day-Dependent Dietary Fat Consumption Influences Multiple Cardiometabolic Syndrome Parameters in Mice." International Journal of Obesity (London). 2010 November; 34(11): 1589-1598.

[2] Aragon, A. & Schoenfeld, B., "Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?" Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2013 January,

Mitch Calvert
- Mitch Calvert, born and raised in Canada, chose a life of health and fitness eight years ago, transforming himself from a severely overweight teenager to...
Mitch Calvert
- Mitch Calvert, born and raised in Canada, chose a life of health and fitness eight years ago, transforming himself from a severely overweight teenager to...
Must See
Dwight Howard Stays in the Gym All Night
Views: 4,811,946
Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 36,976,813
Dwyane Wade Leads by Example
Views: 6,514,069

Featured Videos

A Day in the Life of NBA D-League Star Seth Curry Views: 68,298
Kevin Love's Cone Hop Basketball Shooting Drill Views: 6,362
Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 2: Laying the Groundwork Views: 127,960
Load More


STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers


Latest issues of STACK Magazine


Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice


Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes


Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Perfect Dwyane Wade's Signature Euro Step
Views: 1,308,654
What Ryan Hall Eats for Breakfast
Views: 795,225
STACK Fitness Weekly: How To Do a Muscle-Up
Views: 778,612
Greg Nixon's Hill Training Program
Views: 705,718
Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift
Views: 1,560,472

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like

Why You Need Dietary Fiber

Dietary Fiber We learned recently why carbohydrates are not the enemy and are so important, especially for athletes. One of the main reasons to obtain...

6 Healthy Foods You're Overeating

Healthy Eating at Restaurants: Decoding a Diner Menu

5 Delicious Ways to Make Junk Food Less Junky

10 Athlete-Approved, High-Protein Healthy Cereals

5 'Good Foods' That Might Be Bad for You

11 Food Services That Deliver Ready-Made Nutritious Meals

Healthy (and Unhealthy) BBQ Ideas For Athletes

Terrible Toppings: The 5 Worst Things We Put on Food

Vegetarian Athlete Tips: Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

The Best Foods for Digestive Health

How Undereating Can Make You Gain Weight

12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

STUDY: Eat More Fruits and Veggies, Live (Almost) Forever

9 Athlete-Approved Peanut Butter Sandwiches

How to Eat Organic Without Breaking the Bank

A Sneaky Food Additive Athletes Should Avoid

7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Workouts

Salad Showdown: Which Greens Are the Healthiest?

The Boston Cannons'

The 6 Worst Foods for Athletes

5 Nutritional Power Combos for Athletes

5 Ways Junk Food Can Mess With Your Head

The Cheat Meal Day: Why It's Not So Smart

The Case for Red Meat

5 Non-Boring Ways To Eat Chicken

Why You Should Always Say No to Diet Foods

The Grain Guide: How and Why to Use 8 Healthy Whole Grains

Healthy Makeovers for 3 Classic Meals

Load Up on These Foods at Your Backyard Barbecue

How Friends and Family Affect Your Food Choices

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

Where the Paleo Diet Falls Short

5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

How Marc Gasol Got Better by Overhauling His Diet

Spice Up Your Healthy Cooking With These Lively Combos

4 'Bad Foods' That Might be Good for You

6 Eating Mistakes That Undo Your Workouts

Fuel Up Fast With 4 Smoothies From the New York Giants

Living Near Fast Food Could Increase Your Odds of Obesity

5 Healthy Foods That Got a Bad Rap

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

The Healthiest (And Unhealthiest) Ways to Eat Chicken

5 Foods That Are Stunningly High in Sodium

5 Simple Food Swaps That Make Eating Out Healthier

Small Change, Big Difference: 5 Foods You Should Buy Organic

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

5 'Healthy' Side Dishes That Are Worse Than French Fries