Carb Backloading Diet For Hard-Gainers Looking To Add Muscle

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Boost your muscle building efforts with these detailed eating plans for hardgainers by Nick Ludlow. Included are sample diets ranging from 3,000 to 4,500 calories per day.

To all my hardgainer brothers and sisters of iron interested in increasing muscle mass and minimizing fat gain, this article is for you. The concept of carbohydrate backloading is quite simple – you wake up and intake caffeine, high protein, high fat, and eat no/low carbohydrates until after your afternoon/evening workout. Following this workout you can begin consuming meals until bed time with high protein, high carbohydrate, and low/no fat foods.

For many hardgainers looking to increase muscle mass, consuming their caloric requirements in the traditional intermittent fasting window of 8 hours can be extremely difficult. The principle of carb-backloading for hardgainers (laid out below) doesn’t follow a strict intermittent fasting protocol, but rather incorporates periods of under and over-eating, macronutrient cycling, and supplementation to:

  • Increase muscle mass
  • Improve energy around workout periods
  • Minimize fat gains
  • Optimize recovery

Below are 4 eating schedules that incorporate food and supplementation recommendations based on caloric needs.

I believe that food quality also influences the results of any nutritional protocol, so the diet plans below aren’t an excuse to eat complete garbage. This practice is quite common on backloading diets. Carb backloading should not be used as an excuse to overeat preservatives, empty sugars, artificial colors and flavors.

In this article I provide a backloading protocol that emphasizes minimally processed foods as well as a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, these meal plans are a framework – if you don’t like the foods suggested or caloric intake, adjust based on your preferences, lifestyle, and goals.

Carb Backloading

3000 Calorie Meal Plan

  • 7:00 – Wake Up
  • 8:00 – Liquid Meal #1 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 1 to 2 cups of coffee, 1 serving multivitamin, 2-3g EPA/DHA fish oil (depending on the brand, this will be ~50 calories), 0.5 serving whey isolate, 1 tbsp. coconut oil. You can either take the whey isolate separately or mix it in to your coffee; I typically let the coffee cool for a few minutes before adding the whey as sometimes it curdles and creates a very odd texture. Nutrition: 230 calories – 13g protein, 19g fat, 1g carb, 1g fiber.
  • 10:00 – Liquid Meal #2 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Zero Carb). 1 to 2 cups of coffee (if you’re watching caffeine, you can opt for decaf here), 0.5 serving whey isolate, 1 tbsp. coconut oil. Nutrition: 180 calories – 13 grams protein, 14g fat, 1g carb, 1g fiber.
  • 12:00 – Solid Meal #1 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 5oz cooked boneless ribeye steak, 4 cups of raw spinach, 2 medium fresh tomatoes, 1 ounce of feta cheese. Nutrition: 500 calories, 35g protein, 34g fat, 16g carb, 6g fiber.
  • 15:00 – Solid Meal #2 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 4 large eggs, 1 tbsp. olive oil, 2 medium stalks of broccoli, 1 ounce of parmesan cheese. Nutrition: 620 calories, 44g protein, 43g fat, 18g carbs, 6g fiber.
  • 17:30 – Pre Workout. The Essentials: 5g creatine monohydrate, 200mg caffeine. The Tried and True Stack: 5g creatine monohydrate, 200mg caffeine, 2400mg beta-alanine, 300mg/kg of body weight sodium bicarbonate, and 15g BCAAs). Nutrition: Essentials Stack: 0 calories, Tried and True Stack – 60 calories, 15g protein, 0g fat, 1g carb.(Dosage recommendations taken from Examine.com).
  • 18:00-19:30 – Resistance Training using Moderate to High Volume and Intensity. Intra-workout (Low Protein, No Fat, Moderate Carb), 15g BCAAs and 40g dextrose or waxy maize starch or maltodextrin. Nutrition: 220 calories, 15g protein, 0g fat, 40g carbs. *Although many deem an intra-workout beverage as optional, it’s an excellent way to sneak in protein, carbohydrates, and calories for a hardgainer. The liquid nature of this meal will provide calories and hydration, all while being easy on the stomach.
  • 19:45 -22:00 – Carbohydrate Backload Window (Moderate Protein, Low Fat, High Carb). 2 large red bell peppers, 6 ounces of cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, 2 cups of fat-free milk, 3/4 cup jasmine rice (this is the raw, uncooked measure), 1 medium baked potato. Nutrition: 1,250 calories, 85g protein, 8g fat, 207g carbs, 13g fiber.
  • 23:00 – Bed. I like to give my stomach an hour or so to begin digesting before I hit the hay; those new to backloading carbohydrates may feel overly stuffed or bloated before bed eating a majority of their calories before bed. Your body may take 7-10 days to adjust, but in the meantime, to prevent unnecessary water retention, be sure you’re consuming 25-40 grams of fiber per day and not guzzling crazy amounts of water during the backloading period as you may find yourself waking up multiple times during the night to use the restroom. However, if you keep the backload window relatively low fat and high carb, I’ve found that my digestion is regular and I sleep like a baby.
Nutrition for the Day
  • Using the Essentials Pre-workout Stack: 3000 calories, 205g protein, 118g fat, 283g carbs, 27g fiber
  • Using the Tried and True Pre-workout Stack: 3060 calories, 220g protein, 118g fat, 283g carbs, 27g fiber

Barbell curls

3500 Calorie Meal Plan

  • 7:00 – Wake Up
  • 8:00 – Liquid Meal #1 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 1 to 2 cups of coffee, 1 serving multivitamin, 2-3g EPA/DHA fish oil (depending on the brand, this will be ~50 calories), 0.5 serving whey isolate, 1 tbsp. coconut oil. Nutrition: 230 calories – 13g protein, 19g fat, 1g carb, 1g fiber.
  • 10:00 – Liquid Meal #2 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 1 to 2 cups of coffee (if you’re watching caffeine, you can opt for decaf here), 0.5 serving whey isolate, 2 tbsp. coconut oil. Nutrition: 300 calories – 13 grams protein, 28g fat, 1g carb, 1g fiber.
  • 12:00 – Solid Meal #1 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 2 medium raw tomatoes, 4 cups raw spinach, 1 ounce feta cheese, 6 ounces boneless ribeye steak.Nutrition:  565 calories, 41g protein, 39g fat, 15g carbs, 6g fiber.
  • 15:00 – Solid Meal #2 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 2 medium stalks broccoli, 1 ounce parmesan cheese, 1tbsp olive oil, 4 large eggs. Nutrition:  620 calories, 44g protein, 43g fat, 18g carbs, 6g fiber.
  • 17:30 – Pre Workout. The Essentials: 5g creatine monohydrate, 200mg caffeine. The Tried and True Stack: 5g creatine monohydrate, 200mg caffeine, 2400mg beta-alanine, 300mg/kg of body weight sodium bicarbonate, and 15g BCAAs). Nutrition:Essentials Stack: 0 calories. Tried and True Stack – 60 calories, 15g protein, 0g fat, 1g carb. (Dosage recommendations taken from Examine.com)
  • 18:00-19:30 – Resistance Training using Moderate to High Volume and Intensity. Intra-workout (Low Protein, No Fat, Moderate Carb). 15g BCAAs and 50g dextrose or waxy maize starch or maltodextrin. Nutrition: 260 calories, 15g protein, 0g fat, 50g carbs.
  • 19:45 -22:00 – Carbohydrate Backload Window (Moderate Protein, Low Fat, High Carb). 2 large red bell peppers, 6 ounces of cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, 2 cups of fat-free milk, 3/4 cup jasmine rice (this is the raw, uncooked measure), 2 medium baked potatoes. Nutrition: 1535 calories, 92g protein, 9g fat, 275g carbs, 21g fiber.
  • 23:00 – Bed.
Nutrition for the Day
  • Using the Essentials Pre-workout Stack: 3500 calories, 218g protein, 138g fat, 360g carbs, 35g fiber
  • Using the Tried and True Pre-workout Stack: 3060 calories, 232g protein, 138g fat, 360g carbs, 35g fiber

Ripped Muscular Physique

4000 Calorie Meal Plan

  • 7:00 – Wake Up
  • 8:00 – Liquid Meal #1 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 1 to 2 cups of coffee, 1 serving multivitamin, 2-3g EPA/DHA fish oil (depending on the brand, this will be ~50 calories), 0.5 serving whey isolate, 1 tbsp. coconut oil. Nutrition: 230 calories – 13g protein, 19g fat, 1g carb, 1g fiber.
  • 10:00 – Liquid Meal #2 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 1 to 2 cups of coffee (if you’re watching caffeine, you can opt for decaf here), 1 serving whey isolate, 2 tbsp. coconut oil. Nutrition: 355 calories – 25 grams protein, 28g fat, 2g carb, 1g fiber.
  • 12:00 – Solid Meal #1 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 2 medium raw tomatoes, 4 cups raw spinach, 1 ounce feta cheese, 6 ounces boneless ribeye steak.Nutrition:  565 calories, 41g protein, 39g fat, 15g carbs, 6g fiber.
  • 15:00 – Solid Meal #2 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb), 2 medium stalks broccoli, 1 ounce parmesan cheese, 1tbsp olive oil, 4 large eggs. Nutrition:  620 calories, 44g protein, 43g fat, 18g carbs, 6g fiber.
  • 17:30 – Pre Workout. The Essentials: 5g creatine monohydrate, 200mg caffeine. The Tried and True Stack: 5g creatine monohydrate, 200mg caffeine, 2400mg beta-alanine, 300mg/kg of body weight sodium bicarbonate, and 15g BCAAs). Nutrition: Essentials Stack: 0 calories. Tried and True Stack – 60 calories, 15g protein, 0g fat, 1g carb. (Dosage recommendations taken from Examine.com)
  • 18:00-19:30 – Resistance Training using Moderate to High Volume and Intensity. Intra-workout (Low Protein, No Fat, Moderate Carb). 15g BCAAs and 50g dextrose or waxy maize starch or maltodextrin. Nutrition: 260 calories, 15g protein, 0g fat, 50g carbs.
  • 19:45 – Backload Meal #1 (Moderate Protein, Low Fat, High Carb). 2 large red bell peppers, 6 ounces of cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, 2 cups tomato sauce, 6 ounces dry-measure whole wheat pasta. Nutrition: 1135 calories, 82g protein, 13g fat, 179g carbs, 34g fiber.
  • 21:30 – Backload Meal #2 (Moderate Protein, Low Fat, High Carb). 2 large bananas, 4 ounces dry-measure oatmeal, 2 cups fat-free milk. Nutrition: 840 calories, 35g protein, 9g fat, 162g carbs, 18g fiber.
  • 23:00 – Bed.
Nutrition for the Day
  • Using the Essentials Pre-workout Stack: 4000 calories, 255g protein, 152g fat, 427g carbs, 66g fiber
  • Using the Tried and True Pre-workout Stack: 4060 calories, 270g protein, 152g fat, 427g carbs, 66g fiber

Muscular physique

4500 Calorie Meal Plan

  • 7:00 – Wake Up
  • 8:00 – Liquid Meal #1 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 1 to 2 cups of coffee, 1 serving multivitamin, 2-3g EPA/DHA fish oil (depending on the brand, this will be ~50 calories), 1 serving whey isolate, 1 tbsp. coconut oil. Nutrition: 280 calories – 25g protein, 19g fat, 2g carb, 1g fiber.
  • 10:00 – Liquid Meal #2 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 1 to 2 cups of coffee (if you’re watching caffeine, you can opt for decaf here), 1 serving whey isolate, 2 tbsp. coconut oil. Nutrition: 355 calories – 25 grams protein, 28g fat, 2g carb, 1g fiber.
  • 12:00 – Solid Meal #1 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 2 medium raw tomatoes, 4 cups raw spinach, 1 ounce feta cheese, 6 ounces boneless ribeye steak.Nutrition:  565 calories, 41g protein, 39g fat, 15g carbs, 6g fiber.
  • 15:00 – Solid Meal #2 (Moderate Protein, High Fat, Low Carb). 3 medium stalks broccoli, 1 ounce parmesan cheese, 1tbsp olive oil. 5 large eggs. Nutrition:  735 calories, 55g protein, 49g fat, 27g carbs, 9g fiber.
  • 17:30 – Pre Workout. The Essentials: 5g creatine monohydrate, 200mg caffeine. The Tried and True Stack: 5g creatine monohydrate, 200mg caffeine, 2400mg beta-alanine, 300mg/kg of body weight sodium bicarbonate, and 15g BCAAs). Nutrition: Essentials Stack: 0 calories, Tried and True Stack – 60 calories, 15g protein, 0g fat, 1g carb. (Dosage recommendations taken from Examine.com)
  • 18:00-19:30 – Resistance Training using Moderate to High Volume and Intensity. Intra-workout (Low Protein, No Fat, Moderate Carb). 15g BCAAs and 50g dextrose or waxy maize starch or maltodextrin. Nutrition: 260 calories, 15g protein, 0g fat, 50g carbs.
  • 19:45 – Backload Meal #1 (Moderate Protein, Low Fat, High Carb). 2 large red bell peppers, 6 ounces of cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, 2 cups tomato sauce, 6 ounces dry-measure whole wheat pasta. Nutrition: 1135 calories, 82g protein, 13g fat, 179g carbs, 34g fiber.
  • 21:30 – Backload Meal #2 (Moderate Protein, Low Fat, High Carb). 2 large bananas, 6 ounces dry-measure oatmeal, 2 cups fat-free milk. Nutrition: 1050 calories, 42g protein, 13g fat, 200g carbs, 24g fiber.
  • 23:00 – Bed
Nutrition for the Day
  • Using the Essentials Pre-workout Stack: 4500 calories, 285g protein, 163g fat, 505g carbs, 75g fiber
  • Using the Tried and True Pre-workout Stack: 4560 calories, 300g protein, 163g fat, 505g carbs, 75g fiber

Meal Plan Notes

  • Food nutrition information obtained from the USDA Nutrient Database (http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list).
  • Supplement nutrition information obtained from the Muscle & Strength supplement store.
  • Total carbohydrate intake across liquid meals #1 & 2, solid meals #1 & 2, and pre-workout should be less than 30g of net carbs (carbohydrates minus fiber), which typically allows for the trace carbohydrates found in nuts and green vegetables.
  • For backloading to work optimally, a well-designed weight routine with progression and enough volume to deplete glycogen is REQUIRED. After an intense workout, your body’s carbohydrate stores will be depleted and once you begin consuming carbohydrates post-workout, your body will suck them up like a sponge, ensuring the nutrients aid in muscular recovery rather than fat storage.
  • The food laid out in the backload window doesn’t all have to be eaten in one sitting, but rather can be consumed over the duration of the backloading window.
  • If you consume a meal an hour or so earlier/later than the times provided, don’t sweat it – this is merely a framework to save you time and increase your chances of success.
  • The schedules above are well-suited to workout days involving resistance training. On rest-days or low intensity steady state cardio days, I typically decrease the carbohydrates, keep protein constant, and adjust fats up/down based on how I feel and look in the mirror.