The Carnivore Diet
The ketogenic diet has taken a lot of heat from critics who say that people who exercise must eat carbs to supply fuel, but science has shown that not only is it possible to work out on a low-carb diet, you can even perform at an elite level. But take away ALL carbs and all plant foods and it could be a very different story. The short answer is that we don’t know exactly how a long-term carnivore diet would affect muscle mass, endurance, or overall performance yet.
I and many carnivores report making some of the best gains of our lives on the plan.
Shawn Baker is a world-class indoor rowing competitor and deadlifts 250kgs plus at over 50 years old. He could well be a genetic outlier. Without adding body weight, I have made dramatic strength gains on the diet. Below are some of the improvements I have made on one-rep max in various lifts tested.
Front squat: 80kg to 110kg
Deadlift: from 135kg to 155kg
1km time trial : from 4:36 to 3: 30
Many other gains in gymnastics, endurance and plyometrics.
With keto, I felt great mentally, but I never felt like doing much physically. On the carnivore diet, I just feel like a warrior. This has both its upsides and down sides as work outs tend to be more intense with more rest needed. I get in around 100 to 150g of net protein per day. I still take in a good amount of fat. My exercise regime includes cardio, weight training, cycling, swimming and running. There are days where lifting is easier than the running or swimming and I have learned to live with that for now. I cannot put it down to the diet or increase in muscle mass.
To be fair, I have been following a very low carb diet for four years and the adaption to carnivore was simple.
If you are an athlete or gym rat, you may do better to modify the carnivore diet. I would occasionally add starchy vegetables that are prepared whole. I find that for higher intensity workouts requiring a higher heart rate above threshold that some starchy carbs do help.
Carnivore Diet Benefits
Eating meat, meat, and more meat may sound like a nightmare to your doctor, but it has some strong advantages backed both anecdotally and by research.
- Weight Loss
As with the ketogenic diet, failing to take in carbs always keeps your blood sugar low. You don’t get insulin spikes, so your body has no reason to store incoming calories as body fat. Additionally, the limitations on what you can eat make it almost impossible to get a calorie surplus without a concerted effort.
- Better Heart Health
A good way to determine how you are responding to your diet is through your health
On a very low or carnivore diet you can expect you triglycerides to drop below 1 ml/mol, HDL to rise above 1.8 and fasting blood sugar to drop to below 5.5.
- Lower Inflammation
According to some vegans, fat-rich animal foods promote inflammation to a degree that’s on par with smoking cigarettes. The truth, however, is that they can lower it. A 2013 study in the journal Metabolism compared subjects who ate a high-fat, low-carb diet to those following a low-fat, high-carb diet. Calories were restricted in both groups, but the high-fat eaters had lower markers of systemic inflammation after 12 weeks. As a result, the researchers concluded that high-fat eating may be more beneficial to cardiovascular health.
The liver produces C-reactive proteins (CRP) in response to inflammation, so measuring CRP levels can indicate how much inflammation is in your system. A level of 10mg/L or less is normal, and 1mg/L or less is good.
Simply cutting plant foods from your menu can lower inflammation by itself. “If you had a food sensitivity to some of the plants you were eating and had low-grade inflammation,” says Brian St. Pierre of Precision Nutrition, “then removing them will make you feel better.”
Lower inflammation can mean less achy joints. Plus: “There’s some evidence that eating more gelatinous proteins, as you find in bone broth, collagen, and gelatine can improve cartilage health.
The biggest advantage I see is in athletes with histamine intolerances and auto immune diseases. Carnivore seems to heal the gut lining at a rapid rate.
- Higher Testosterone
Diets high in fat have been shown to boost testosterone levels. In fact, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men who followed a high-fat, low-fibre diet for 10 weeks had 13% higher total testosterone than subjects who ate low fat and high fibre.
- Fewer Digestive Problems
We’ve been told how important it is to eat fiber our whole lives and have been sold everything from bran muffins to Metamucil to make sure we get enough. But carnivore dieters think its more trouble than it’s worth, and science may prove them right.
A 2012 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology investigated the effects of reducing fibre intake in people with chronic constipation—the complete opposite of what most doctors would recommend. Subjects were told to consume no fibre whatsoever for two weeks. Then they could increase their fibre intake to a level they were comfortable with or follow a high-fibre diet. Incredibly, most of the subjects were doing so well that they opted to continue the zero-fibre plan. The study lasted six months.
Those who ate high fibre reported no change in their condition, but those who ate no, or small amounts of fibre noted significant improvements in their symptoms—including reduced gas, bloating, and straining. Furthermore, the ones on zero fibre increased the frequency of their bowel movements!
- Increased Mental Clarity
Just as with the ketogenic diet, carnivore dieters report thinking more clearly and having better focus almost right away. Again, as with going keto, there is a break-in period where your body has to figure out how to fuel your system without carbs, so you’ll probably feel lethargic and moody at first. You may have difficulty sleeping and even develop bad breath (an early sign that your body is making ketones), but you can ride it out. Within a few days, or just over a week, you could feel sharper than ever.
- Simpler Dieting
There’s one thing about the carnivore diet that no one can argue: it’s not complicated. You eat animal foods when you’re hungry, and that’s it. If you’re the type of person who gets confused counting calories or macros, is tired of weighing portions on a food scale, or isn’t sure what’s gluten-free and what isn’t, a carnivore diet will all but relieve you of having to think.
Does the Carnivore Diet Create Nutrient Deficiencies?
The risk of life-threatening illness aside, the carnivore diet—somewhat surprisingly—doesn’t seem to lead to many, if any, serious vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Red meat alone contains copious amounts of iron and zinc, and seafood and dairy supply vitamin D, which usually has to be added to plant foods.
In rebuttal, carnivore supporters make the argument that, in the absence of carbs, your body may not need much vitamin C, thereby making small intakes sufficient. Stephen D. Phinney, M.D., Ph.D., author of The Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living, has speculated that the ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate—which your body will produce when you remove carbs from your diet—replaces the need for vitamin C, at least in part. On a balanced diet, one of vitamin C’s roles in the body is to form collagen, but Phinney says that the amino acids you get from a large meat intake get the job done without it
Another popular carnivore diet question: what happens to the gut biome? That is, the balance of bacteria that help digest your food and prevent disease. Surely, those critters must require some carbs. Or not.“I have zero dysbiotic flora [the bad bacteria] on this diet
All meats and dairy products should be organic and pasture-raised whenever possible. If your decision to go carnivore is based on reducing the symptoms of an auto immune disease, then dairy is out altogether.
You may end up hating life, no matter how cool the idea of eating burgers and bacon all day sounds to you now. A strict animal diet means no beer, no avocados for your Fajita Night… and, in fact, no fajitas at all (tortillas are a no-no).
I don’t believe that any diet should be afforded cult status but that we should be fueling to get the best health, weight, serum lipid and performance results in that order of priority.
I personally still insist on a refeed day once a week where I have absolutely no rules.