Leangains vs Carb Backloading – Is Carb Backloading a Scam?

Leangains vs Carb Backloading

It has been a long time. I have not written an article on “leangains” for what seems to be ages. In fact,  I have focused on general intermittent fasting articles. Yet I still have one question that is asked more than others, that is what is the difference between leangains vs carb backloading, and is carb backloading just another scam?

Therefore, this article is about two different diets. We will discuss the leangains intermittent fasting diet made popular by Martin Berkhan, and the Carb Backloading Protocol (sometimes shortened to “CBL”), by John Kiefer, for short.

So let us discuss leangains vs carb backloading and why in the end I am personally biased towards the more complicated diet over the simpler solution.

Terms used in this write up:

  • Leangains – a type of intermittent fasting diet. Calories as well as carbohydrates are cycled based on your activity for the day. Meaning that every day you are not eating for a set period (this is the intermittent fasting portion of the diet), and on workout days you will eat more carbohydrates after your workout in order to “feed the muscle” while burning fat (if you are in a calorie deficit).
  • Carb Backloading – a type of diet that cycles carbohydrates (eating more carbs on days where you workout). This diet does not require you to fast, but you instead eat no carbs until after you workout, preferably in the evening time.


How I Discovered These Diets

I started Leangains for the first time a long time ago. It was around May of 2012 and I had read some random articles by Martin Berkhan before starting in the winter of 2011, but passed it off as another fad diet. Not eating? I would lose my gains! Of course, I have come to learn this is very wrong, and that I needed to give it another look. I am glad that I did.

initial fat lossRegarding weight loss, I had just come off a pretty successful initial weight loss from around 30% bodyfat (the photo here is three months into that weight loss) to nearly 11-12% and was tired of standard dieting.

The science behind the “leangains protocol” seemed to be solid, so I read as much as I possibly could (literally printing reams of articles from leangains.com – the iPad had barely launched in spring of 2012) before deciding to take the diet seriously and see what results I would get.

Let’s be honest, to say that I saw success would be an understatement. This was one of the easiest diets that I had ever attempted. Sitting at a desk all day and not worrying about snacking, only about working was wonderful, and the lack of hunger from the diet made it so easy that I thought I was cheating somehow.

I stayed on it, but like many dieters, always would read about different diets and was always aware there could be a next “best thing” to try out.

Of course, I needed to have faith in my diet plan (as discussed in this article), and while leangains worked like a charm, I became aware of another diet that could possibly be the “next best thing.”

Flash Forward And Enter Carb Back Loading (CBL)

If I was successful with Leangains, why then would I ever do anything else? Specifically John Kiefer’s Carb Back Loading protocol?

There were a few reasons. Chiefly, I had been asked about it a few times and wanted to be able to answer the questions after having real experience in practicing the diet, but also because the variety and freedom from counting macronutrients daily appealed to me after years of tracking my food.

I started the diet last fall and stuck to it for a good ten weeks, doing what the book  would called “Strength Accumulation” before stopping to take a break over the winter as I decided to do a more traditional weight gain with a standard calorie surplus.

Differences between Leangains vs Carb Backloading

Although this article is not meant to be a tutorial on either diet, there are a few key differences and some similarities between carb back loading and leangains. The biggest difference being that in an intermittent fasting diet restricts food for a set period of the day, where carb backloading allows you to eat all day. The biggest similarities however are in how carbohydrates are treated.

Leangains, which is an approach based mainly on verified science has you eating carbohydrates on your training days, in the evening or the end of your fasting period. The idea is the feed your muscle and set up the possibility for growth or at worst, the least amount of muscle wasting possible while dieting. While sticking to leangains, you will not eat during a set period each day, and your food comes in a pre determined fasting window. It is typical intermittent fasting with the main difference being eating more carbs on your workout days.

Leangains has you tracking your food to set up the best possible results, and so practitioners are encouraged to log meals and ensure they are hitting their targets daily.

Carb backloading on the other hand has no such rules. It actually has hardly any rules at all. Instead, the sales page has a lot of different scientific sounding terms on it which makes it seem like it really should work because… Well, because science right?

Carb Backloading. Where Science Meets Sales

Take a look at this taken from the same sales page:

carb backloading science claims

Real Science Does Not have “Trademark” Symbols, Right?

So, as you can see Carb Backloading claims to have a lot of different science to back it up. Call me critical if you would like, but it seems to me that real science does not have “Trademark” symbols next to it. This is the mark of advertising, and while there is nothing wrong with good old fashioned capitalism, I do not like it when marketers try and confuse their audience with a marketing and sales pitch dressed up as research proven scientific evidence.

My Observations on Carb Backloading

So here I am again, Early September of 2017,  after success with leangains as a diet tool, and experience with carb backloading, and standard diets) as well as some Lyle McDonald stuff that I will write about in the future) under my belt.

What I found intriguing about Leangains was the idea of slowly recompositioning my body and changing myself by losing my body fat and keeping or hopefully even gaining muscle.

What I think everyone finds intriguing about carb back-loading is the idea of doing the very same but never counting your calories and essentially eating junk on a daily basis as long as you’re not going overboard.

But that becomes a problem doesn’t it? Even the diets creator John Kiefer once said himself that he was disappointed after the bodybuilding communities and fitness communities started using this as a reason to eat excessive amounts of toaster pastries like Pop-Tarts.

Especially when you’re not tracking calories this can become a big problem.

Many dieters used Carb Backloading as an excuse to eat junk

Carb Backloading and Strength Gains

For those of you looking to get stronger, you will be happy top read that you can gain strength on carb backloading. This should come as no surprise, however you need to be careful as you are not counting calories and may find your strength gains plateau over a period of some weeks. Training and eating immediately after is something that bodybuilders and strength/power athletes have been doing for years, and the CBL program has you eating the majority of your calories post workout.

I saw gains all around in strength, but at what cost?

Carb Backloading and Body Composition (Fat Loss, Muscle Gain)

While I did gain some strength using the carb back-loading protocol, I lost virtually no body fat whatsoever and might even have gained some. My personal goal has always been to develop an all around physique while getting stronger, and carb backloading did not deliver on the claims of losing fat while gaining muscle (all the while, feasting nightly).

This could be of course blamed on me. I am sure that supporters of carb backloading will tell you that it is all my fault, and that I did not follow the diet closely (not true, I am very good at following diets), or did not train hard enough (again not true).

I still found it was not worth my effort in the fat loss and looks department to want to use it again for these purposes.

The case AGAINST Carb Backloading

John Kiefer is incredibly well spoken and is a great sales person. He makes a long and logical case for why everyone needs to purchase his diet and how the magic of “GLUT4” will make everyone leaner, stronger, and healthier all while they eat their favorite carb laden foods every night.

When I researched the Carb Backloading diet originally, I found a great thread on Bodybuilding.com’s forums. I am as surprised as you are that I found great information there but remember that in the early early days of online fitness, this was one of the only places to get information on bodybuilding or sports nutrition.

The thread is located here, and I have posted an exact mirror to this as a PDF file that you can view on the Internet Archive, download here

Final thoughts against Carb Backloading

  • I simply cannot account for a diet that does not COUNT for calories. I would never ever hire a coach for weight loss or diet that did not have me somehow even ball park estimating calories in some way.
  • Regarding the previons point, I found myself again counting calories on CBL, so why bother with this diet?
  • The loose structure of the diet and weight training protocol’s listed in the book are really there to drive you back to him for more interaction, but the LACK of structure bothered me more than anything else.
  • There were constant allusions to an updated version of the same work mentioned everywhere as I looked for new information. I am all for updated data, but this was always accompanied with the phrase “available at a reduced price,” which is a little too much of a sales pitch for me.


At the end of the day, I am a man of science and faith in studies. Do a google search for “proof carb back loading works” and you will find scant evidence aside from stories of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu eating pies post training back in their prime to back it up.  While I am most certainly not doubting Arnold and Franco did eat this way, they also openly used anabolic steroids to diet, which puts their bodies in a different position than natural dieters.

Pointing back at the “science” that Kiefer’s studies themselves contradict, there are literally hundreds of different studies on the BENEFITS of an actual fast on different aspects of human physiology. To see more, check out our comprehensive article on intermittent fasting located here.


  • Multiple and well rounded scientific studies show different benefits to human beings.
  • Tried and true workouts that have worked for countless people.
  • Structure that comes form a foundation of science (there is that word science again) to justify the purpose of the way of eating (the “diet”)
  • A community that is more communal and connected vs a “brand” that is blindly adhered to by a network of people that were marketed to.

AND MY JOURNEY CONTINUES20140530-075850-28730292.jpg

As of September 2017, I am adhering to LEANGAINS once again, but am always open to the idea of finding something or someone with information that help me become better and more effective.

Overall though, I love the diet and lifestyle. A little structure for me goes a long way, and I am glad to share it here on the blog.

If you want to follow along, please feel free to subscribe. I will be updating every few days to once a week depending on when time permits, and will be also doing video logs of my progress.

If this helped you, share it on social media and if you want, check out my newsletter for free stuff, including the diet tips I wish someone told me when I first decided to get lean.

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