The Carnivore Hydra
Discovering the perks of carnivore for yourself would be much like stepping into the mythology machine and fighting the hydra. With each bonus you discover, there are two more to take its place. It can take a while to map out just how far these upgrades can go. So it may be time for me to help out by painting the picture as exhaustively as I can.
I’ve danced around this topic, with several guides that touch on the many angles in which carnivore attacks the modernised metabolism. And now, I may as well bring it all together into one big list of happy promises. Ones that aren’t your usual tally of subjective, unfounded benefits. These are very much based on the hard facts of human biochemistry, and the evolution that’s weaved it into existence.
This holy-grail of a list isn’t going to restrict itself to the reaches of beach-body aesthetics. Nutrition is an input taking place right at the top of the stream that’s feeding into the swirling metabolic currents, and it’s happening constantly. The foods you allow on your dinner plate have the potential to make sweeping changes across your physiology. And they typically do just that, for better, but more often for worse.
The western diet is bursting at the seams with inflammatory triggers. Even the healthy choices end up making things worse. So the vast majority of us stand to make seismic benefits simply by swapping out the carbs for the ingredients that brought us to the top of the food chain. Striated glutes are only a small part of the total package. The muscle, the mind, the metabolism, they all get their own facelifts.
The Definitive List Of Carnivore Perks
The Aesthetic Angle
There’s a lot to cover, but I’m going to take the time to explain my way through each one, because I’ve already made the point that carnivore is science-proof. Now it’s time to back that up. All these perks start to make a bit more sense when grouped into a few overarching goals that people typically target in a fitness transformation. And first up, it’s the beach-ready, confidence-boosting, insecurity-hiding group we can call aesthetics.
These are the building blocks critical in making sure your muscles always have the option to get bigger and stronger. With inadequate protein, a weight-loss diet can quickly go pear-shaped, allowing the body to eat into its own mass to keep the lights on. Fortunately, carnivore is extremely high in protein, to the point people can start worrying about their kidneys breaking up.
Which, as I’ve addressed in this guide, isn’t worth the concern.
Insulin isn’t an anabolic hormone, it’s anti-catabolic. Meaning it can stop your muscle from getting eaten up during a calorie deficit. And since insulin is primarily triggered by carbs, it might appear like carnivore has a problem keeping your hard-earned mass gains intact.
Except the body has a wonderful habit of improvising when under stress, and it’s had a few million years to practice protecting your muscle with no carbs around. Leucine is an amino acid that can tap into the same protein synthesis chain that insulin does. And with all the dangerously high protein on carnivore, there’s going to be plenty of leucine coming.
Improves Fat Burning
Insulin has such a big role in the aesthetics game, and it bats for both sides. In the quest of shredding the blubber, the presence of insulin can block the fat cells from being burnt up for energy. This is also known as lipolysis. Since insulin is readily activated by sugar, the dominant component of the western diet, each meal quickly draws the curtains on the fat loss process.
By taking insulin out the game, carnivore already provides a big boost. But there’s more. As a ketogenic diet, carnivores forces the body to find an alternative fuel source, which is found in the form of ketones. These magical molecules are an ancient survival mechanism made by breaking down fat cells. Which could easily be your fat cells. The more time you can spend on carnivore, the better the body will get at breaking down its own fuel stores to keep the ketone supply chain going.
Targets Stubborn Fat
There’s a good reason why the fat around your abs and thighs stick around long after your captain america delts come through. This area is typically packed with a disproportionate amount of alpha receptors, which act to block the fat burning process when in the presence of insulin. This can stretch the diet several months past its due date.
Carnivore isn’t the only workaround. You could throw in some fasted training, suck it up and diet till next spring, or try carb cycling. But in any case, as an insulin-purge, this counts as another win for this all-animal affair.
Saturated Fat’s Thermogenics
Here’s why you’re better off ignoring the chicken breast and picking up a juicy ribeye. It may have been given the cold shoulder by dieticians and food administrations for the past half century, but it’s coming back with a bang. Not only should all the charges be dropped, it’s also got a handy knack for melting the butter off you. Saturated fat keeps the lipolysis train chugging along, puts the dampener on your cravings, while literally wasting energy. And to make sure you don’t think I’ve dreamt that up on the spot, I’ll quickly explain the bio-wizardry.
Saturated fat contains a high FADH2/NADH ratio, which basically creates a bottleneck effect when entering the mitochondria, the energy depot. That bottleneck leads to electrons flowing back in the opposite direction, generating reactive oxygen species (ROS). That ROS has a satiety signal that causes the fat cells to remain insulin resistant, preventing them from taking up incoming calories. In the meantime, the ROS also leads to mitochondrial uncoupling, which has the effect of wasting energy.
How does that work when you zoom back out and look at real life? Say you eat a big juicy steak that’s loaded with saturated fat. You’ll feel extremely full, and you’ll feel your temperature go up a tick, maybe even a faster heartbeat. That’s the body responding by going full thermogenic mode and wasting calories. That’s money when it comes to speeding up fat loss and getting by on a calorie-lite diet.
Outside of the usual talk of muscle building and fat burning, having a better complexion is a war in itself. There’s always some sort of breakout happening, and we’ve resigned ourselves to putting out those fires with an armada of expensive lotions. But what about fixing what’s causing the fires in the first place?
Your standard fare of acne and hives are the products of inflammation, and that’s likely to be stemming from food that just doesn’t like you. Carnivore does a thorough job of eliminating trigger foods, leaving you with a chance to whittle down on your bathroom cabinet, and stop putting random chemicals on your skin. Which is permeable, by the way.
Then there’s the small matter of the unstoppable juggernaut that carnivore can transform you into. Getting the leg up on beach-ready aesthetics is one thing, but you’d probably want a body that can perform in a crisis. If for some reason you feel the need to break into a run, you’d want to be able to do it without crumpling into a heap and gasping for air.
And to be clear, none of this is insinuating you should step into crossfit. Maybe pick a style that lets you get by without risking life and limbs with each workout. One day, that luck’s going to run out.
It’s a case of simple maths. If you’re by-and-large a sugar burner, then you’ll at any point have roughly 2400 calories of available energy in liver and muscle glycogen reserves. When you manage to run past that, you hit a giant roadblock. Sugar-burners just don’t have the ability to make that transition into fat-burning, it’s a vital part of the human metabolism, but decades of carb chasing effectively robs the body of the ability to make use of its own fat stores.
But the lost bit of biochemistry can easily be regained by taking those carbs out of the system, forcing the body to find its blubber-chugging groove again. A metabolism that can switch into lipolysis (fat burning) now has tens of thousands of calories on hand at all times, nestled away in various pockets. That’s a game-changer for your stamina levels. There’s essentially no bottom in this ketogenic barrel.
The performance section is more of a long-term thing however, as these sweeping metabolic changes can take a matter of months rather than weeks. But once you’re over that line, there won’t be any thoughts of stepping back.
Improves Insulin Sensitivity
This could really be just as easily shovelled into the longevity category. Insulin resistance is a metabolic dysfunction that’s likely caused by the modern danger cocktail of grains and vegetable oils. And it’s more of a spectrum than a binary one, so most people sit somewhere on that line of insulin resistance. That spells out a ton of unwanted effects. Insulin acts as the key to your storage units, and when you’re resistant, that key isn’t turning, and those storage depots are staying shut.
What does that mean? When new sugar calories come in, the muscles aren’t getting fed. At the same time, those calories are floating around unwanted in increasing numbers, building up to an inevitable sugar rollercoaster. That means you go through successive phases of hyper and hypoglycemia, which spells out a performance crash.
So carnivore acts as a direct solution to this problem as the lack of insulin being secreted causes your muscles to become more insulin sensitive, and this can be crucial in the long run as you’ll soon find out.
As an aside, a ketogenic diet induces physiological insulin resistance in order to spare the glucose for the tissues that need it. So that can be confusing for people. What we’re focusing on here, is pathological insulin resistance, which keto does fix. The former is a temporary state that reverts once you begin eating carbs again, the latter is a state of metabolic dysfunction that demands a large-scale dietary intervention. And in comes carnivore to save the day.
Fixes Nutritional Imbalances
The moment you graduate from counting macros to scanning for micros, you start to realise just how daunting the nutritional puzzle is. Hitting your protein requirements is an important piece of the puzzle, but what happens if you slam down four shakes a day to get there?
Without meaning to throw protein powder under the bus, it’s a processed supplement that lacks any additional micronutrients. Without adding up to your daily tally of zinc, iron, B vitamins, and so on, the ship is going to be sailing along at half-mast. Nutritional deficiencies can really throw the metabolism into disarray, and the side effects can range from subtle to chaotic. Low sex hormones, anxiety, lethargy, poor digestion, you get the idea. So the best strategy would be in stacking your plate with foods that are dense and diverse in micronutrients. Then you sleep soundly in the knowledge that you’ve probably done enough to hit your RDAs for the day.
As it happens, pretty much all animals are walking multivitamin powerhouses, especially the ruminants. With a few servings of beef liver, you’ve covered almost all bases. Throw in some fatty fish for the Omega 3, a slice of cheese for the calcium, and you have the whole set. Life can be a lot more tortuous, and expensive, when taking your pick from the plant kingdom.
Carnivore is a source of total nutrition, and part of the reason for that is the bioavailability of the food on the menu. The nutrients in animal products are destined to make it through the digestive tract and become a part of your cellular makeup. Digestion on carnivore is a smooth process, no thrills or spills. Giant meals may fill you up, but they won’t make you look three months from your due date. There’s no need to sit around in a daze for half an hour after dinner. You can hop back up on your feet and get straight back to business.
With that being said, the first few weeks can make for an interesting transition. You may need to let things settle before digestion becomes the dream process I’m painting it out to be.
Intermittent fasting is its own world. Adjusting meal timing is a real way to improve fat burning, insulin sensitivity, hunger control, sleep quality, and immune function, completely independent of the foods you’re choosing. As the first step on my road to joining the carnivore cult, I have a lot of love for fasting.
To keep it brief, going for 16-22 hour stretches without food tips the body into a state of fat loss and regeneration. It does it by flicking the AMPK switch, which acts as the balancing measure to MTOR, the lever for growth. It’s the fasting to your feasting, pivotal in keeping the body in check and giving it the respite it needs to do some spring cleaning.
To call it natural and normal doesn’t do it justice. Fasting is an evolutionary survival mechanism, part of the reason we’re still here millions of years later. You could well argue that you can’t afford to neglect it.
Carnivore, by cutting off MTOR-triggering insulin, is effectively low-grade fasting. Making it pretty easy to go for long stretches without eating, and causing the transition from feasting to fasting to be seamless. Carnivore and fasting perfectly complement each other, so there’s no reason you can’t get away with welding two diets into one.
Those ketones I keep mentioning, because I can’t really get enough of them, aren’t just sources of fuel. They’re potent signalling molecules that have far-reaching effects on the running of the metabolism. More on that later.
In the case of energy levels, ketones hasten mitochondrial biogenesis, thereby improving your ability to produce fuel. The result is around 30% more ATP, the standard unit of energy in the body. You need less incoming calories to produce the same output.
Here’s the angle that can’t be played up enough. Considering our worlds are shaped by whatever’s going on inside our heads, a diet that can fuel a friendly brain space has to net some extra points. Carnivore trounces the competition on this front.
The modern lifestyle is a magnet for stress, and that’s not helped by the fact that we’re wired to spot danger in every bush, or pocket vibration for that matter. Stress left to run free can happily reach chronically elevated levels, at which point you’re a shivering wreck. So we need any help we can in the constant fight to stop stress getting out of hand. Ketones do just that, by improving the neurotransmitter ratio of GABA to glutamate. The former acts as a sedative, while the latter is the gas pedal for your brain. This means ketones can have a calming effect, making you less reactionary.
If you’ve noticed I’ve been using keto and carnivore interchangeably, they very much are, just as long as you don’t make a habit of picking the lean meats.
Next To No Hunger
Hunger is the destroyer of productivity, a constant nagging threat that demands to be brought to the top of your priorities. Obviously you can’t call averting starvation unproductive, but 99% of the time, the hunger we feel is not the real kind. It’s emotional, or somatic hunger. It’s not an immediate need, and may just be a result of the clock striking the snack hour, or some gut bug crying out for fuel. The problem is, it feels real, and that’s why we can’t stop thinking about it.
I’ve already covered how saturated fat suppresses your appetite, but that only takes up one slot on the hunger-purging carnivore cocktail. High protein is extremely satiating, hence why it’s such a big equaliser amongst varied diets. Ketones have their own appetite crushing signals by tuning down ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
And finally, carnivore lacks the carbs that feed a huge variety of gut bugs. When those populations are wiped out, the cravings they produce die with them. Think what that means. You might even forget what cheesecake tastes like.
All this means that hunger rarely shows up on a carnivore diet, and when it does, you should probably get out there and hunt down some calories before your knees give out. That frees you up for hours of pain-free time handling whatever business you choose.
Evolutionary Brain Fuel
The brain is an energy hog, taking up 20% of your energy needs, a disproportionate amount of energy for its size. Keeping it supplied with energy is naturally a priority for enabling stable focus and alertness. Sugar does a terrible job of that, owing to the fact that it regularly cuts out with spells of hypoglycemia after meals. But it’s also the brain’s primary fuel source. What gives?
It’s really another glitch in the modern diet, where sugar has been on a steady upward trend since its initiation during the first agricultural revolution. These days, it takes up a lion’s share of the calories. And because it’s quick-release energy, the body will happily use it before it moves on to slower-digesting proteins and fats. So there’s never a chance to use fats as the primary fuel source for the brain. Which in our pre-agricultural mammoth-chasing days, it most definitely would have been. Because that’s precisely what ketones are designed for: brain juice.
Ketones are made by the body shaving down triglycerides (fat cells) to sizes small enough to get through the blood brain barrier, a netting that stops unwanted substances from getting into your control hub. Once ketones are in play, the body has an uninterrupted supply of energy. Hypoglycemia is averted and the threat of the early afternoon crash is no more.
Relaxing is all well and good, and for some of us, that’s where the entire battle is. But there’s also your ability to focus and dial in on what’s in front of you. The rest of the world falls away, and your task becomes the only thing that matters. Even if it’s just answering a few emails and putting the papers back in the filing cabinet. Doing anything mindfully for long uninterrupted spells is the peak of productivity, it’s the flow-state that’s coveted by athletes and entrepreneurs everywhere.
Carnivore contains an abundance of brain-boosting nutrients that are only found in animal foods. Choline, creatine, carnitine, taurine and DHA, with each of them having their own effects in improving brain chemistry, and enabling you to keep that spotlight going.
At the same time, by cutting out sugar and a few plant toxins that can breach the blood-brain barrier, there’s a seismic reduction in inflammation in the brain. That’s a lot less fog, and another level to your ability to stay focused.
Keeps Your Decision Making Intact
If anyone is already committing to that minimalist lifestyle, then carnivore fits the bill. And if you’re not too fussed on that front, there’s still a lot to pick up from the simplicity of this diet. Our mental prowess is on a steep decline from the first few hours of the day. We typically make about 35,000 decisions over its course, and that gradually erodes our ability to make the right call.
That’s part of the reason why unhealthy snacks are more likely to come back with a vengeance in the evenings, we just don’t have the fight or the world-wisdom to fend them off at that point. So there’s a lot of sense in picking your battles and minimising the choices you have to make over the span of the day. Steve Jobs’ wardrobe was condensed down to black turtlenecks. That was one less decision he had to make. So why not do the same with your food?
Carnivore is as simplistic and straightforward as dieting can get. You’re never wracking your brain to figure out which recipe you’ll use for dinner. Or what aisle to head for in the supermarket. The choices have already been made, and we’re keeping things binary. Do you eat meat right now, or do you eat meat later? That spells out better dietary adherence and a control hub that’s being carefully preserved for more important decisions you’ll have to make in life.
The Immune Boost
Finally, we’ll end by running through the space that lies beyond the horizon. Many diets are marketed almost exclusively as immune-boosters that enable you to keep batting past a hundred. The Fasting Mimicking Diet comes to mind, which funnily enough aims to weave its magic by lowering protein, the macro that’s pivotal in avoiding muscle wastage in old age. The point is these diets are often gimmicks that promise much without the weight of proof to back them up. And while carnivore doesn’t come with long term studies, none of them do, it does have a rich history of several million years.
So let’s go through the mechanisms by which carnivore can strengthen the immune system and put you on the long road.
Fixing Metabolic Dysfunction
This may look like a bold claim, but it’s something I’ve already covered with the insulin mechanism. Metabolic dysfunction is when a process in the body isn’t working as it should, and insulin resistance is right at the core of that dysfunction. Alongside inflammation, catabolic physiology, and oxidation, you have the four horsemen. Together, they form the breeding ground for disease.
If left to run amok, they can take the shape of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, atherosclerosis, obesity, and systemic inflammation, just to name a few. But these are symptoms occurring further down the line, not the things that are causing the mess. Western medicine puts the lens on fire-fighting, looking for the symptoms of metabolic dysfunction, and prescribing pills to temporarily suppress them.
But all this is springing from the diet, as the most persistent trigger of inflammation, and the source of insulin resistance. The tribes in remote holdouts that still practice ancestral living, don’t show any signs of chronic disease. There’s a line to be drawn between the pre-agricultural diet, and the modern version. Carnivore sits comfortably in the former.
This is exactly why vegetable oils should be made unfit for human consumption. Even more so than sugar. It’s highly processed, oxidised, obesogenic, a prime driver of metabolic dysfunction. So you may want to lie low on polyunsaturated-heavy pork and chicken.
The Best Natural Dental Care
Is it possible to avoid cavities without having to brush your teeth for fifteen minutes a day? Absolutely, when you consider that those cavities simply can’t happen without sugar coming in and burrowing holes. This is why when the dentist Weston A.Price did a grand tour of surviving hunter-gatherer tribes back in the 30s, he was blinded by perfect rows of shiny teeth wherever he glanced. And meanwhile, we have to resign ourselves to the constant losing fight with grain-borne coastal erosion.
Activates Longevity Pathways
This is a prime slot for plant extracts, such as resveratrol from grapes and sulforaphane donated by broccoli. They get a ton of good science press for activating the NRF2 pathway, the master regulator of your antioxidant defences. But to get excited about its anti-ageing potential is blissfully ignoring a hard truth: Plants don’t want to be your friends. They don’t have a magnanimous directive to heal your tissues.
Like all other living creatures, they like to fight for their survival. So these extracts are bound to come with caveats, and that arrives in the form of plant toxins. Sulforaphane may raise your antioxidant levels, but it does that by causing the damage in the first place. What they measure in labs, is the body mounting a response to an assault from a foreign invader.
To cap it off, there are ways to naturally turn on those longevity pathways, like NRF2 and AMPK, without needing to bring in any supplements laced with side-effects. Ketogenesis and fasting have the ability to throw those switches through the body’s own mechanisms. There’s really no need to risk it on plant extracts.
Reduces Autoimmune Symptoms
Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks your own body. Rheumatoid Arthritis, IBS, Hashimoto’s, and Multiple Sclerosis are some classic examples of autoimmune conditions. Left to run rampant, they can be crippling. But they very much stem from the gut, or more precisely, a hole in the gut lining.
When a foreign particle can slip through the netting undigested, disasters can strike. A diet that can repair the gut stands a very good chance of at least, ameliorating the effects of autoimmunity. It never goes fully into remission, it’s always there, but you don’t have to suffer for it. There has been a constant flow of success stories from carnivore initiates who saw their autoimmune symptoms vanish within weeks. So in terms of managing your pains and keeping your quality of life intact, carnivore’s a safe bet.
Healing The Gut
There’s more to worry about here than holes in your stomach netting, as high carbohydrate diets can result in an imbalanced microbiome. Fiber is well-known as a prebiotic, the feeder or your gut cells. And while that’s marketed on cereal boxes as a good thing, it spells disaster in a microbiome that’s already populated with harmful bacteria. That’s how you can end up with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), where the bacteria cross from the colon and run rampant up the digestive tract.
That’s also why the best tonic for an inflamed, out-of-control gut, would be to steal away their supply chains. In the meantime, lightening the load on digestion can allow the gut to begin to heal itself. That’s where doctors suggest a low-residue diet, one that has less undigested foods passing through.
The ultimate version of a low-residue diet is carnivore, which also results in large swathes of gut species dying out, markedly for the better. The hype for growing a billion different species in your colon garden is a little unjustified.
What’s more, 70% of your immune cells are located in the gut. By taming the digestive tract, cutting down on the negative feedback being sent to the brain, allowing the immune cells to proliferate, your immunity profile gets a resounding boost.
Allows Deeper Sleep
Sleep can be a mixed bag on carnivore, because the spikes of cortisol can cause some disruption. I’ve certainly had to be careful when eating in excess of 4000 calories. With all the extra thermogenics going on in a carnivore diet, the high-calorie version can do too good of a job heating the body up.
But the ketogenic effect does typically result in deeper sleep, as the brain gets an uninterrupted supply of energy overnight that also works to quell inflammation. So in practice, you may often end up sleeping only 6 hours a night, but wake up feeling completely rested. You can get by with less shuteye than on the standard modern diet. That makes me mark it down as a plus.
If carnivore came with caveats, it would be that it’s laced with too much potential. The sweeping changes across all aspects of physiology make it seem a bit fanciful, and that tends to be the realm of the fad diets that bloom and wither away within the season. Carnivore is certainly controversial, but for all intents, it’s foolproof. What other diet can claim to have a track record of several million years?
You might think paleo, and to that I’d say, carnivore is the ancestral template that paleo claims to be. It just doesn’t go far enough to recognise how dominant meat consumption was in caveman cuisine.
As for how you go about this diet, the rules aren’t ironclad, and you don’t have to walk the tight-rope. There are certainly a few foods you can’t ignore if you’re after the total spectrum of nutrition, but once those are ticked off, there’s always the option to be flexible with low-toxicity carbs.
With that being said, you’re best off sticking to animal-only foods for at least the first month, just to get yourself into a position where you can safely assess the impacts of different plant ingredients on your digestion. Till then, you won’t quite know whether that sweet potato is playing nice or kicking up a storm. And the ultimate diet would be the one that contains the most nutrition and the least amount of inflammation. That’s where carnivore stakes its claim.
If you’re curious to try out some of the carnivore diet for yourself, you’re in luck. The Fit Awakening Online Membership takes you through the complete coaching experience, with customised plans across training, nutrition, and lifestyle. Even better, it starts with a free 7-day trial.