A few years back, I had a coworker who was an admitted food addict. This guy’s food addiction, however, possessed an ironic twist: it had one element that’s considered a cornerstone of ‘lean eating habits’ and other elements that were so contrary to healthy eating that they completely cancelled out any benefits of that positive element. If the guy had just adopted the principles of ‘healthy food choices’ and ‘carb tapering’, he’d have probably been lean at sixty-plus years of age instead of fat.
The somewhat veiled (but positive) habit my former colleague displayed was that he ‘grazed’ on small portions of food throughout the day. Interestingly, this was an apparent manifestation of his addiction; he liked to starve himself in the morning and get through his evening work hours by ingesting “hits” of food, much like a cigarette smoker would hit on his or her burning tobacco sticks. Since small meals consumed throughout the day have long been touted as a fat loss tactic, this one positive habit probably spared him from outright obesity.
But his food choices were of the worst variety – a junk food diet with an emphasis on processed carbohydrates and sugar-packed sodas. As if that weren’t indulgent enough, he’d ingest these ongoing treats in a body-fat-producing pattern – one exactly opposite of the “carb tapering” design: He’d eat nothing for breakfast in the morning and then increase his carbohydrates throughout the day. I guess one could say he was “carb tapering” with the taper going in the wrong direction.
This is often an unintended practice for fat gain, however insidious, even when food choices are much healthier than those of my former colleague.
‘Carb Tapering’: “The most important meal” saying is true
So what is ‘carb tapering?’
It’s a word someone’s created for the practice of eating most of one’s carbohydrates early in the day and then reducing their intake as the day wears on. It’s a terrific technique for helping shed and/or control body fat without feeling hungry or the psychological perception of ‘deprivation.’ It simply consists of shifting the macro-nutrient content of meals from ‘carbohydrate-dominant’ during the first half of the day to ‘protein/fat-dominant’ in the second half.
Using a ‘carb tapering’ technique starts with adhering to that old “it’s the most important meal of the day” principle: Eating a hearty breakfast. It’s amazing how many people don’t do this. It seems they have differing degrees of my ole’ colleague’s addiction – let the blood sugar run down to mere traces until lunch time and then enjoy the “high” of spiking it in the early afternoon. This habit seems especially prevalent among people with ‘sit-down jobs’ as they don’t feel the sensation of hunger from expended blood sugar until their morning hours are behind them.
Interestingly, ‘carb tapering’ can help alleviate this problem. The sensation of morning satiation (feeling full) most often comes from eating carbohydrates late at night. When we go to bed with high blood sugar, we naturally awake in the morning with high blood sugar (relatively speaking). It’s at least high enough at that point so as for most people to NOT feel hungry. This, of course, makes ‘tapering’ in the wrong direction (like my buddy) a self-perpetuating bad habit.
Carb Tapering’ and Your Leaner Body
The oft-cited reason for carb tapering being an effective fat loss technique is a sort of circadian effect on metabolism. In other words, we’re told to taper off carbs as the day wears on because metabolism slows down at night. Although metabolic rate does slow down while we sleep, my common sense can’t detect why it would slow down any time prior to that. Thus, my reasons for being an advocate of carb tapering put circadian metabolic changes during waking hours at the bottom of the list – if not being in a superficial category altogether. In contrast, I think carb tapering’s effectiveness is for two main reasons:
- Carbohydrates are used most efficiently when most of them are consumed prior to when we need them for our greatest energy expenditure.
- High blood sugar is antagonistic to nocturnal human growth hormone (HGH) release while HGH is the body’s most powerful fat burning hormone.
The first reason is fairly intuitive. Carbohydrates are our body’s preferred energy source. If our greatest daily energy expenditure takes place in the first three-quarters (or at least two-thirds) of our day, the most efficient use of carbs would occur if they’re consumed prior to and during this time – ideally in the first half of the day. That way, they’re at the ready and used up as they’re needed.
The second reason is more esoteric. About 50% of the body’s daily release of HGH happens during the deepest cycles of nightly sleep. Plenty of evidence suggests that high glucose levels can hamper the release of this fat-burning hormone.
‘Carb Tapering’ and the Cumulative Effect of Blood Sugar
One day when I asked my former work buddy if he ate breakfast in the morning, he shared an oft-repeated sentiment:
“Ya know… I just don’t feel hungry in the AM. I don’t start eating ‘til later in the day”
“Maybe that’s ‘coz you’re still eating when we leave this place at night”, I replied. “On top of that, you’re actually eating high carb meals in the late hours. That’s a prescription for not feeling hungry the following morning.”
I then pointed out something I’d noticed about him. His productivity at work was about doubled toward the end of the work day than it had been at the beginning. Why shouldn’t it have been? By quitting time, he’d cumulatively built up adequate glucose levels in order to finally be firing on all cylinders. Again, he was “carb tapering” with the taper going in a counter-productive direction.
I wonder how many of you have become consciously aware of the cumulative effects of daily blood sugar. As a bodybuilder, I’ve personally become sensitive to these things. Thus, I notice greater hunger between my first meal of the day and my second one as compared to my second meal and any subsequent ones.
My point is that this is all the more reason to “eat breakfast like a king” and “eat dinner like a pauper” (as they say). Above all, make sure you don’t inadvertently (or otherwise) have this idea completely reversed.
Some people contend that the principle of ‘calories in/calories out’ is the only one that matters for fat loss. But those of us who’ve experienced the benefits of carb tapering know better.