What You’re About To Get Into
- The need for both fasting and feasting in a healthy diet
- These competing actions define the human metabolism
- You can’t be in a deficit for long before running into issues
- An optimal diet should use both strategies
The carnivore diet is exceptional when your goal is to lose a significant amount of bodyfat, it has all the elements you’d want. Low insulin levels which breaks down the barriers against fat mobilisation. A drastic reduction in cravings, and an increase in satiety. When you’re struggling to shift weight after throwing the kitchen sink’s worth of dieting strategies, the carnivore diet is the ultimate plan B. But does it work so well when your goal is to build muscle?
Your Optimal Diet Needs To Work Across Both Seasons
There’s a simple, overlooked principle that needs to be underlined in the dieting world. I’ll warn you straight off the bat, this particular article isn’t actually going to answer the question of carnivore’s ability to support a strength programme. Because first up, we should explore whether it’s really necessary.
For the most part, the carnivore challenge is taken on with fat loss mind. Muscle gain lags off in the distance, and that’s a big issue. In fairness, this is pretty much the case with all diets across the board, barring the odd powerlifting makeover like The Vertical Diet. For putting on weight, people tend to just choose the all-you-can-eat approach.
Diets Are A Lifestyle And Lifelong Commitment
It’s an understandable, but flawed way of viewing an actual diet as a short-term affair. You drop weight, hit whatever redemption arc you’ve got planned, then get the hell out of there. The challenge is over and the eating pattern defaults back to the status quo.
It’s so much effort for so little gain. Framing the diet purely as a weight-loss tool is just going to rob you of any potential long-term benefits from eating those foods. You might spend three months grinding your way down to sub 10% bodyfat, all for a brief window of time where you look fantastic and feel terrible.
And I’ve got nothing against the summer shred approach, I’m just as committed to the tradition as the next guy. The problem is in what follows, or doesn’t follow. The diet must go on.
MTOR And AMPK – Your Yin And Yang
Here’s a practical way of looking at this if you’re after the full spectrum of health, where you can look and feel the part. There needs to be a balance to all the hormonal cascades that take place during periods of weight loss and weight gain. You can’t stretch a caloric deficit all the way across the year and not risk a serious case of suppression across your metabolism. The reverse is also true, and that’s the mechanism that leads to fat gain.
These competing processes can be defined as energy storage (anabolism) and burning (catabolism). They are the metabolic actions of building up and breaking down, each spurred by the throwing of a switch.
MTOR – The Anabolic Pathway
MTOR is activated by the presence of insulin and the amino acid leucine, signaling the body to store energy. This could be muscle, but it could also be fat storage. Most of the time it’s both. While MTOR is on, you’re not burning off anything, and there’s none of the elixir of autophagy going on either.
AMPK – The Fat Burner
Now for the opposite scenario. AMPK is the switch that throws on the catabolic pathway, signalling to the body to begin breaking down stored energy for its fuel needs, as well as activating autophagy, which is associated with longevity. So the term ‘catabolic’ shouldn’t be seen as negative. The same is true with cortisol. The broken down energy could come from muscle or fat stores, and there’s always going to be a loss of both across a diet.
So which one do you choose?
The answer should be both. As long as your goal is to combine the look with the energy, or what I’d label as the optimal diet. The solution is as simple as it gets, match the periods of famine with phases of feasting. Sustained deficits can be followed by periods of overfeeding, that reverse the downstream effects of AMPK-mediated pathways.
This is why you can’t diet forever, or fast forever, without getting into a limbo where you’re busting your guts to keep moving forward, but you just don’t have the energy to get over the line. Months can be wasted in a deficit, and the downstream effects can see imbalanced hormones that continue to put you in a state of suppression, even once you call it a day and push back up to a surplus.
Looking at it from the other side, spending too much time in a happy surplus can buildup levels of insulin resistance that take even longer to fix. This is one of the leading causes of mortality, and obviously should be treated with caution. Even the dreamiest of bulks need to wrap up on schedule.
Why Refeeds And Carb-Ups Work So Well
Even within the timeframe of a weight-loss phase, MTOR and AMPK can be used for best effect. A fast of 24-36 hours, for instance, could be met with a large meal that loads you with an excess of calories and forces the body into a state of surplus. This would alleviate the suppressive effects of AMPK, such as chronic cortisol, and upscale MPS (Muscle Protein Synthesis). Along the same vein, you have the chance to throw in carb-ups, refeeds, backloads, even taking the week off.
So your choice of a diet should work across both formats. Now you could hypothetically use keto or carnivore for a few months of weight loss, then switch to some standard carb-fuelled for gaining weight. But this is also a waste of time. You’re taking the time to learn the ropes of low carbohydrate dieting, letting the body switch across fuel states, then moving back just as the real results start to come in.
When you’ve spent several months perfecting your routine, the next step should be to push further on. Staying hypothetical, let’s say this ketogenic diet has worked wonders melting the fat off you. You felt as good as you could expect for being in a prolonged state of starvation. Now imagine what that diet could do when you have calories to spare, and plenty of them.
And Back To The Carnivore Question
If the carnivore diet is worth its salt, then it should support the bulking phase just as well as it furthers fat loss. In other words, a diet that excels at both famine and feasting. And that’s for part 2, where we can actually deal with the question. I like to set the scene…
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