Getting Everything Optimal
It’s been nearly a year since I jumped ship from keto to carnivore, and I’ve been spending most of that time trialling out different variations of the diet. You might say the rules are pretty clear cut, and there’s no reason to get fancy when your dinner ranges from steak to steak and eggs. But if you’re going to take up a diet with the long term gains in mind, then it’s worth seeking out the optimal version.
The carnivore diet, at its best, can overhaul a weakened metabolism, turning on the fat-burning hardware, while spearheading emotional wellbeing. But these changes require time, and it’s going to come quicker if you’re set your eggs in the right places. This FAQ will build on the previous episodes, which focus on the opening stages of the diet.
As for this article, it can act as the introduction to the long-term landscape of carnivore, produced by my experience of 10 months on a carnivore diet that occasionally posed as carnivore-esque. But in all seriousness, I like to dabble in the science behind diets, so this will also be a crash course in the mechanisms at play on this totalitarian meat affair.
Are There Downsides To Fasting On Carnivore?
In the last FAQ, I did make the case that carnivore fully supports intermittent fasting, and that 18-22 hours sync up perfectly well on this diet. Well, I’d like to slightly amend that now with an asterisk. I’ve previously gone through the yin and yang at play in the metabolic mechanics of fasting and feasting. To give you the tailend of it, pulling too enthusiastically on either lever can lead to dysfunction.
Commit too much to feasting, obviously, and you get fat and slow. But fasting also has a point at which it can become toxic, in the sense that excessive use can lead to chronically elevated levels of cortisol and other hormonal imbalances. On the standard diet mixed with fasting, this isn’t a realistic threat. As long as you’re not jumping into it with a brain that’s already jacked up on chronic stress.
The problem here is that carnivore very effectively mimics the mechanisms of fasting, by keeping the body in an insulin-deprived state and raising cortisol. Think of it as low-grade fasting, except that it also actively tackles the nutrition side of things. Which fasting doesn’t do.
What this metabolic crash course means, is that excessive fasting can be a step too far while running the carnivore diet in the background. Cortisol rises with fasting, and it doesn’t have carbs to bring it down during the day.
Dieters who are already susceptible to stress, can end up having a terrible time. With cortisol staying chronically elevated, a good night’s sleep becomes a fantasy, and other hormones like testosterone never reach their natural levels.
But this is just in the context of excessive fasts, and I really can’t consider 16-18 hour fasts as particularly stressful to go through. Fasts of that length would have been perfectly normal, perhaps even a little short, in the context of an ancestral lifestyle. Besides trying to return to our mammoth-chasing heyday, a short fast allows the digestion some much-needed time off. Fats and proteins are incredibly taxing on digestion, and jumping from one meal to next can lead to an entire evening sitting on the throne.
My beef would be with the longer fasts, such as OMAD, and ADF (Alternate Day Fasts). Not only do I think those lengths aren’t necessary with carnivore already doing plenty of work against insulin, but lowering the meal frequency means there are huge doses of nutrition coming in with each meal. Perhaps more than your digestive system can handle. Then there’s always the worry that your body can only absorb so much protein per meal. It seems sensible to lay off the gas a little, and settle for two or three meals per day.
Do You Need To Eat Organ Meats?
Many people would rather just add another ribeye to the plate, and by all accounts there are people who’ve been successfully sticking to the diet while only eating muscle meat. But since this is a question of extracting the best possible results, then organs can’t be neglected.
Just looking at this from the perspective of hitting your daily RDAs, there are several micronutrients lacking in the steak-only version. Vitamin A, E, folate, copper, selenium, and glycine being notable examples. Shortcomings that can be easily plugged by a few portions of organ meats like beef liver.
The thing is, you don’t need mammoth portions of these organs, and that’s just as well. You might have to fight the gag reflex when you encounter kidney for the first time. However, first impressions don’t last, and the body will soon latch onto the fact that these novel foods are dripping with critical nutrition. An acquired taste eventually follows.
Hitting your RDAs is understandably an important part of establishing the diet for the long term. But there’s plenty more that organs can sell you. They were consistent frontline features of the ancestral diet, making them in effect part of our species-appropriate diet. They are incredibly cheap just as a way to bulk up the dinner plate, while doubling as performance supplements with their wide range of nutrients, enzymes, and peptides.
And a potential hitch with the carnivore diet, is the excessive methionine contained in muscle meat. Methionine is an essential nutrient, but too much of it can tip the scales in the direction of oxidative damage and inflammation.
Glycine partly exists to balance out the effects of methionine, blunting the inflammation while lending itself to skin and tissue repair. The problem is that a steak diet doesn’t contain much glycine, so organs, or supplementation, gives you an important peace-of-mind.
To find out all about the history, benefits, choices, and recipes of organ meats, head to the guide below.
Is Grass-Fed Meat Better Than Grain-Fed?
Before we get into this, there’s a point to be made that grass-fed doesn’t mean much. Farmers can keep the calves on the fields till they’ve been weaned, then move them on to grains. They might keep them on grass for 80% of their lifespan, then feed them to the brim with grains at the end. Both of these get marked down with the hallowed grass-fed label. So you’re best off seeking out the grass-finished versions.
As for the benefits of picking grass-fed, grass-finished meat, they will typically have more slightly more Omega 3, less of that nasty Omega 6, and be relatively leaner overall. It’s not a seismic difference, as ruminants have the wonderful habit of converting junk into bioavailable nutrition.
The real difference is on the ethical side of things, as cattle raised on grass tends to be a sustainable form of agriculture. The case can even be made that it’s a net positive on the environment, with the impact on fertilising the topsoil.
Can You Do Carb Cycling On Carnivore?
If you were to find a way of weaselling carbs back on a carnivore diet, then this whole premise falls apart. At least if you’re a stickler for rules. The truth is, there are performance benefits to including carbs in this template, and you don’t have to cancel the diet to get there.
Carnivore, at its heart, is about giving animal foods the prime slot on your dinner plate, while ditching the plants that have been wrecking the system. So as long as you hold up the former, you can look for carbs that don’t bring the pain back. Sugar can be seen as inherently toxic, but I’d rather see that as dose-dependent. Just as caffeine is useful in sensible amounts, while leading to crippling dependence when taken with reckless abandon.
Sugar, like caffeine, is a supplement. Used wisely in a carnivore diet, it has the potential to curb rampant cortisol while providing extra explosiveness and glycogen mass to power heavy training sessions. That’s why I’ve coined them as power carbs.
In the context of boosting training, carbs could be used during workouts, at the end of the week in a big batch, or both. But you could always simply use them to break up the monotony of buttered brisket.
A few examples of low-toxicity carbs are dextrose, white rice, butternut squash, avocados, and the rest of the fruit kingdom. As for how to time and dose a carb cycle, try keeping the refeed day to just one day in the week, at around 150-300 grams. Because using them too frequently can put a dampener on the whole fat adapted thing.
Much of carnivore’s benefits, as a ketogenic diet, is found in reopening the evolutionary pathways for fat burning. Pathways that have been shut down by high amounts of carbs and seed oils. So by taking them out of the system, the body can slowly return to being a fat-burning machine.
You can see where the problem is with carb refeeds. Used excessively, especially during the first couple of months, causes the body to swing back and forth between fuel systems, rather than completing the adaptation. It puts you in an energy purgatory, where there aren’t enough carbs coming in, and much of your fat stores haven’t yet been unlocked.
As for the fear of carbs wrecking ketosis, using 16-18 hour fasts will still give you elevated ketones towards the beginning of the day, and you can always leave the carbs till the early evening. The ketone count might not be as strong as the standard Atkins version, but you’ll still get some of the brain-boosting perks.
How Long Do You Need To See Results
Obviously, not everyone climbs into the diet with the same goalpost in mind, and some will be happy with a quick summer cut that can be wrapped up before cocktails invade the menu. But for those looking to grind it out and overhaul the metabolism, this is going to be one for the long haul.
Becoming fat-adapted – The body has to start producing more ketones, and then learn how to extract their full potential. This will virtually wipe out episodes of hypoglycemia, and the cravings, brain fog, mood and energy swings that follow in its wake. Fat loss itself is much easier as a result.
Effects – Stable energy levels, better mental performance, reduced hunger.
Timeline – 8-12 Weeks
Weight loss – The standard results of weight loss aren’t actually much different from the normal rates. You’ll settle around the range of losing 0.5-1% of your body weight each week. The real magic with carnivore, is that the results never let up. It’s a sustained spell of fat loss, without the usual bumps and stalls that are part and parcel of the diet window.
That means you shouldn’t expect to lose weight faster, which has its own set of unwanted side effects. But you absolutely can expect more losses over the span of months. Without the carbs, the body has no option but to draw from its own fat stores. And the longer you spend in that state, the better it gets at pulling energy. In effect, you then have tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of calories just ready to be used at any time.
Effects – Sustained weight loss without any stalls.
Timeline – 12 Weeks to 1 Year
Taming the gut – We play the roles of hosts for the trillions of bacteria nestled away in the digestive tract. As such, much of our problems, including the whole realm of autoimmune disorders, can be traced to underlying gut dysfunction. On carnivore, bad bugs are starved out, irritants get removed, and the gut finally gets a chance to heal itself.
The timeline can vary from 6 weeks to as much as 6 months, and over that course you can expect the gut to gradually plug the gaps and settle into a healthy state. Cravings practically vanish, autoimmune symptoms recede, and emotional wellbeing takes a turn for the better.
The catch is that those symptoms might well return when you try and bring plants back into the fold, so you’ll have to play it by ear.
Effects – Vastly reduced cravings, better management of autoimmune disorders, and better mood
Timeline – 6 Weeks – 6 Months
Do You Need Any Supplements On Carnivore?
As I’ve covered in the supplement guide, they are mostly useless in the face of a well-formulated diet. And carnivore, with organ meats in tow, ticks off almost every RDA box with ease. As long as we don’t consider a good rock salt as a supplement, there’s no definitive need for any supplements.
But if we’re looking for the best possible results, with no stone unturned, than it’s worth noting that the soil has been depleted of magnesium. Which leads to less in meat, and that shortcoming is compounded by the fact that magnesium gets drained by intense exercise. With that mind, it’s worth throwing in a magnesium supplement such as glycinate, at the tail-end of the day. That should give a slight boost to sleep and recovery.
Magnesium Effects – Boosts to recovery, sleep, and exercise.
Dose – 400mg
Collagen is another potential supplement for balancing out the methionine in a meat-heavy diet, especially if you’re getting much of the organs and chewy bits in. Given that both are incredibly cheap, you can pick either a collagen powder, or opt for glycine.
Collagen Effects – Tissue repair, skincare, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory
Dose – 10-15g
Vitamin D3 is beginning to get a ton of publicity, and with good reason. It’s the most bioavailable of the Ds, and has been implicated in immune function, dental health, energy, mood, and much more. It can be produced in small amounts from meat, and obviously from contact with sunlight. The issue is that in this day and age, most of us just won’t have a chance to replicate the outdoor ancestral lifestyle. Supplementation may well be necessary to make up for the modern shortcomings.
Vitamin D3 Effects – Immune health, dental health, energy boost
Dose – 5000+ iu
You Don’t Have To Be A Stickler For The Rules
These days, everyone needs their own special diet, because we’re all so jarringly different from each other. At least that’s where liberalism is taking us. But that Cinderella story doesn’t quite mash with the facts. We all are products of the same evolutionary chain, and as such, we share the same species-appropriate diet. But it is nevertheless true that everyone’s going to react a little differently to a pure carnivore diet. So it’s worth going in with a flexible plan.
You might not have to stay on carnivore for the long term, there’s always a chance you’ll be able to bring back low-toxicity carbs back into the fold. But again, some people will always have adverse reactions.
You might want to stick exclusively with red meat, or you could end up branching out to take on dairy, poultry, fish, and pork.
You could keep the organ cuisine at a distance, or you might need to eat them on a weekly basis to avoid the side effects of nutritional imbalances.
The truth is, there are plenty of variations of the classic carnivore diet, and you shouldn’t feel the need to stick by an arbitrary set of rules. You can always start with the straight and narrow, then experiment as you begin to find your feet. That’s part of the fun of taking on novelties. If everything is predictable, motivation tends to go stagnant, and you lose any forward motion.
I’ve built a template for a diet that uses both carnivore, and power carbs, which you can check out below.
Carnivore Diet Coach And Personal Trainer