I’m Not Dead Just Yet
It’s been another two months since I posted my last physique update, and it’s struck me that I’ve been part of this carnivore cult for a fair while now. As things stand, it’s still perched high as the second-best thing that’s ever happened to me. Which is probably a fair reflection of the sheltered life I’ve been leading up to this point.
Not to say the all-meat diet has been the perfect ride. The bouts of insomnia that was starting to emerge way back in September has only proceeded to get worse from there. Every now and then I’d wake up feeling smug in the knowledge that I’ve finally cracked the code, followed by that hope getting dashed the next day.
But with my lack of bedtime prowess being shoved to the side, it’s been a dream run. Despite carnivore being the perfectly designed weight-loss tool, I’ve got no intentions of dropping it during the year-long bulking phase I’ve hatched up. There are just too many perks weighing in its favour. On a cognitive level, with energy, strength, even immune function. So I’m happy to continue to iron out the chinks, and finally block out those bouts of insomnia.
Which shouldn’t take too long. My approach to nutrition has always been a blend of research and experience, there tends to be a lot of chopping and changing over the first few months. At this point, I shouldn’t be far off putting a tie on it.
The Mission – Turn Carnivore Into A Muscle-Building Machine
Carnivore can rear its majestic head and straddle the red carpet when the goal is to shed the pounds fast and easy. On a technical level for fat loss, it’s got every going in its favour. Each incoming calorie is jampacked with nutrition, lending hours of satiation after the most modest of meals. That’s combined with high nutrient quality, as meat is by the far the bioavailable and easily absorbed food source on the planet. If cravings form the classic failing point of a diet, then carnivore stands out as the cream of the crop.
I decided to take a stab at carnivore over the last few weeks of my spring to summer lockdown cut, and the effect was crazy. I could happily eat under 1500 calories for days on end without feeling a hint of hunger. But at that point I’d already dropped 12kg on a ketogenic diet, so I had to back out rather than risk arriving back at the gym looking like Captain America before he stepped into the anabolic box. As much as I’d rather be seen as a personal trainer of wisdom and knowhow, it’s a little early to commit fully to that role.
Luckily the gyms decided to reopen in sync with the end of my cut, and I was able pile the calories up, and to shoot to 85kg in two months of strict carnivore bulking. Brisket, liver, butter, not exactly the foods that people binge on in the post-diet rebound.
See The Two Week Update – Bulking On Steaks And Weights
Bulking came incredilbly easy at first. My bench press started off at 80kg, a small matter of 65kg below my pre-lockdown best. So I’d likely lost some muscle, perhaps considerably, and the first two months made for quick regaining.
Then progress started to peter off, with the scale refusing to budge. This was when I caved in slightly and brought the carbs back in. I still much preferred the energy and productivity of strict carnivore, so I kept it that way Monday through to Friday. Then over the weekend, I’d eat enough sugar and starch to launch the brain into a sugar coma. It didn’t feel great, but the weight was sparked into motion again.
You could make the case that I stopped being carnivore at this point, but I was still effectively following the principles of the diet by avoiding toxic carbs and having huge chunks of steak with every meal. Whether that’s carnivore, carnivore-ish, or plain meat-based, it doesn’t matter too much.
Two Month Update – Combining Carbs With Carnivore
The Start Of The Stalls
Unfortunately even this stopped working further along the bulking line at 87kg, still 3kg short of my pre-lockdown weight. I increased my daily red meat quota to three pounds, started eating half a stick of butter alongside it, and added 50g of dextrose to sip across workouts. That brought my calories to 5000 calories, but that once again stopped working at 88kg.
That’s a lot of food to not be gaining weight on, and that’s also where I started to notice the downsides of scaling up red meat and butter. The issue was that both foods are extremely effective at preventing weight gain. When I ate in excess, the body just decided to raise thermogenesis and waste the excess calories.
There’s a lot of science behind this, and that’s something I’ll be writing an article on soon, but the cliff notes here is that saturated fat taps into a biological mechanism that causes the mitochondria to uncouple and give off heat rather than be absorbed. Then there’s always protein, where 30% of it gets wasted during digestion.
This is where my sleep decided to tank, and my oura ring numbers hit their all-time lowest. The extra calories were heating me up so effectively that I routinely forgot to turn the heating on, but that was also causing me to struggle to fall asleep. When I did, my brain would make sure I woke up at 2 am completely wired.
See My Article – Six Hacks To Instantly Improve Your Sleep
There’d be many nights where I’d wake up with hours to go before my alarm, then be unable to go back to sleep. I’d then have the choices of either staring up at the ceiling for an eternity or get up and go stare at a wall till the caffeine kicked in. In fairness, once I got going, the days weren’t so bad even on four hours of shuteye. But this was clearly a little suboptimal for getting through life. On the upside, it helped me to start setting the alarm at 5 am instead of 6, because at least then I’d be getting five hours.
I’ve been running down the list of culprits since then. Three pounds of steak couldn’t have helped, but I couldn’t put it down to the diet alone. My oura sleep scores were sky high before the gyms re-opened for the first time, and that was on a pure carnivore diet. I’m just dreadfully wired and stress-prone, which happens to be the biggest reason I avoid carbs. It’s a character flaw I’ve been in the midst of dealing ever since I stepped into the gym as a 19-year-old. 2020 has been a strange one for me, where I’ve been able to push forward, stay motivated, but inevitably pick up some residual anxiety here and there. And that’s likely a situation everyone can relate to.
Bringing The Carbs Back In
So looking at the bright side, a carnivore diet doesn’t end up in fat gain no matter how much you load up on butter-soaked ribeyes. But it’s not great at forcing muscle growth past a particular point. If you’re just in it for a functional athletic look, then that’s not a problem, you’ll get there easy enough. Pushing the boat further, where people ask you for advice on what steroid to put in their sandwich? That’s where carbs have to come in.
So I’ve stretched out the definition of carnivore a little more by including a serving of white rice in the evenings. The weekend carb-ups weren’t a big hit with me, and I’ve reigned it in since then to avoid any sugar crash episodes. Interestingly, the evening carbs don’t seem to help my sleep in any meaningful way, in fact it was trending downwards when the lockdown struck again.
This puts a wrench in my hypothesis that all those months of carb restriction had driven up cortisol, leading to disturbed sleep. Not that cortisol isn’t to blame, it very likely is, it’s just more likely to be a spurred combination of other factors. Some aren’t even the bad kind. I’m training harder than I ever did before, and I do notice sleep takes a hit on days where I hit the weights later in the day.
But the little bit of suffering seems to be working out. The weight gain train seems to be moving again, and I’m perched up at a dizzying weight of 91kg. Now the next mission will be to solve the insomnia, even if I have to drop the calories and ease off the max-muscle pedal to get there.
With the fresh lockdown being rolled out, there are really no excuses for not getting sleep back on track. The hope is to settle into a bedtime routine that I can keep going once my office reopens. The days of fasting till 2pm are long done. I’ve pulled the bulk of my calories to earlier in the day, just allow digestion to settle before the late evening hours.
I’ve also been gradually adding to my sleep stack, which looks pretty deadly right now.
It might seem like a random cocktail, but I’ve picked them out pretty carefully to act as a potent downer in the evening. Normally, cortisol punches high in the morning, before declining in time to allow the body to switch to slumber in the evening. That’s the healthy kind.
Now cortisol isn’t inherently a bad thing that we need to give the cold shoulder. It’s a stress hormone, and it’s pivotal for daily functioning. The problem comes when it’s either failing to peak in the mornings, or settle in the evenings. Given that my energy is usually fantastic at daybreak, and that it’s jolting me awake at 2am, the pulse isn’t the issue. What I need to try and do is bring that line down in time for bedtime. That’s where the downers come in, by fixing any electrolyte imbalances, and tickling my GABA receptors. That should be some help against runaway cortisol numbers in the evenings.
If you’re looking to manage your cortisol, you’re probably best off making sure it spikes in the morning, before suppressing it in the evening. Supplements can work, activities like exercise and yoga definitely work, but it really comes down to creating the perfectly average daily routine.
How Good Is Carnivore At The Muscle-Building Game?
It can seem like a carnivore-ish diet is a lot of work compared to the easy nature of shovelling in chicken and rice. But when it comes to all-round potency, red meat dominates. While being a great source of bioavailable protein and saturated fat, it also covers the complete micronutrient spectrum when organ meats are brought along for the ride.
The resulting nutritional cocktail means you don’t just gain weight through consuming more calories, that’s a goal achievable with any diet. The difference-maker is that you now can ensure the extra pounds are coming in the form of muscle, rather than the usual mix of lean tissue and fat mass.
This means you won’t have to double the time needed for your next cut. A summer shred doesn’t have to outlast its welcome and stretch into the winter. I’ve long been a proponent of lean bulking, and it works best for so many reasons. You don’t hate yourself during those winter months, you’re comfortable getting naked in any situation, and there’s no risk of getting trapped in the realm of the forever bulk.
To weigh things further in favour of carnivore, topping up on all the nutrient requirements allows the body to recharge and run the way it’s designed to be, rather than having to deal with a constant barrage of inflammation. Cognitively, you’re at your best. Emotionally, you’re achieving a flat line. Which I feel trumps the usual hypersensitive rollercoaster people get drawn into on a daily basis. Peak nutrition is a powerful tool in all areas of life, packing on muscle is only one of them. It just happens to be one I’m a big fan of.
That gives me enough goodwill to deal with the bad, which is the fact that saturated fat can be highly thermogenic, and in mammoth doses can do too good of a job warming the body up. This is partly what I’d put my sleepless nights down to. Over the next few weeks I’ll drop my calories enough to see whether it has any effect getting my precious sleep scores up.
As for the problem of white rice, I’ve only tried it for 2-3 weeks, and I’ll continue to use it in the evenings, at least for now. Otherwise there’s no chance the scale is moving up any further. I’ll die on the hill believing that a pure steak, butter and eggs diet can’t result in fat gain, no matter how steep the calories are. In terms of muscle, it appears as if the body reaches a setpoint and settles there. After which, carbs have to be used, sparingly. It might kick me out of ketosis, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
The Perks Of Carnivore For Bulking
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Carnivore Diet Coach And Personal Trainer