What I’ve Learned From My Carnivore Bulk

9 min read
What You're About To Get Into
– The progress I’ve made so far
– How carnivore has changed my take on optimal bulking
– Making adjustments to electrolytes and power carbs
– Stepping into barefoot lifting

The Progress I’ve Made So Far On Carnivore

Weight loss can be a grind, especially when you’ve got a few years of extra mileage to cover. But muscle gain is a different ballgame. There might first be a year or two of honeymooning, then the pace trickles to an imperceptible crawl. After seven years of desperately clawing away at the natty ceiling, I figured I was just fated to stop short at 92kg, a weight I initially reached way back in 2015. 

Shovelling in 6000 calories couldn’t get me to clear it. Doubling my training frequency did nothing. Powering up the heavy compounds and setting personal bests for what felt like every week through 2019, that didn’t work either. I’d begun to be at peace with the knowledge that I’d reached the dreaded drop-off in natural bodybuilding. But carnivore is a whole different ball game, and I’ve got every intention of taking this bulk as far as the scale will let me. 

At this point, my raw morning weight is perched at 98kg, almost a stone higher than my previous highest. And with the gyms in England finally reopening, I might even be able to push for triple digits. There has been noticeable fat gain, the belly wobbles every now and then, but it’s not enough to put me off. As long as I don’t get out of breath walking up a flight of stairs, I’m classing myself as metabolically healthy.

As of now, I’ve set zero personal bests in the weight room on carnivore. Unfortunately, the home training kit maxed out at 80kg. With the gyms back in business, that can change, but I probably need to escalate things gently. If I don’t hit a new max within a month, then we can call this bulk a bust. 

Nine Months Of Carnivore - Update
Average Calories – 4600
Average Fasts – 15 Hours
Carb-Ups – Morning Meals
Steps – 11,000 Per Day
Weight Gain – 78Kg to 98Kg
Waist – 30 to 33 Inches
Chest – 40 to 43.2 Inches
Arm – 14.2 to 16.1 Inches
Hips – 39.2 to 44.3 Inches
Thigh – 24 to 27 Inches
Cravings – Forgotten what it feels like
Mood & Energy – Entirely depends on how long my body decides to sleep

My Past Mistakes In Muscle Gain

Until that happens, I couldn’t be happier with the progress. My training hasn’t changed much from a year ago, but the diet has become a different beast. Carnivore does tend to be used for weight loss, and often as a last resort when nothing else seems to be working. But I feel there are plenty of prospective bodybuilders sleeping on the potential of carnivore as a mass gainer. Personally, it’s changed my view somewhat on bulking. With hindsight in tow, I’ve probably shot myself in the foot over the past few years. There have been a few common traits that haven’t worked to my advantage.

Spending far too much time in deficits. When the stubborn fat refused to budge, summer diets would stretch into winter cuts. One of them managed to continue for seven months before I decided six-packs were mere fiction, and pulled the plug. This was in spite of some pretty complicated regimes, including a variation of Lyle Mcdonald’s Ultimate Diet, where four days of the week were spent in a 50% calorie deficit. It was at that point that I gave up trying to science my way to shape, and began to take up the life of a caveman.

All that time in stagnation central meant my hormones were constantly shot from periods of extended starvation. Testosterone has been shown to go down significantly in natural bodybuilders dieting down for competition, and strength takes as much as six months to recover. And although I never got in stage shape, I was within a few digits. The longer I spent in a deficit, the longer I had to spend just getting back to baseline during a gaining phase. 

Switching to a cut too early. In the same vein, I also was a little eager in pulling the switch as soon as spring came sniffing. After my first honeymoon bulk, which lasted over a year, the rest haven’t gone past seven months. It would take 3-4 months just to get back to some sort of strength baseline, leaving only a few months for actual progression. I’ve made decent enough progress over those pre-carnivore years, but I can’t help but feel I left a few miles in the tank. 

Too many carbs and seed oils. My first bulk diet was your bog-standard chicken and rice bowl with a power shake thrown in the evening. It worked, but at the cost of making me feel pretty miserable. Not to mention the extra work left over for the next cut. 

Even in more recent years as I dived deeper into nutrition, I was still adding protein balls that were loaded with peanut butter. Nuts are high in Omega 6, which is inherently inflammatory and obesogenic. Not something I’d want to be having in mammoth doses, but I’d get through nearly half a tub a day. 

You only have to go back a year to find the recipe.

As for the carbs, that was the lever I used to pull to ramp up the calories. Protein would be kept steady, fat would largely be in the form of peanut butter, and carbs were free real estate. I think I was having 600 grams each day over the first year. In those serving sizes, that was an influx of sugar guaranteed to put me on the energy roller coaster. I’d practically go comatose after big meals.

My take on carbs for muscle building has changed drastically since then, to the point where I use it exclusively as a performance supplement. Fast carbs titrated in and after training, and only in quantities that don’t result in energy swings.

The Latest Adjustments – Bringing The Salt Down

I’m still figuring this whole carnivore bulk as I go along, despite being nine months in. I’ve found that the more I ramp up calories, the more screws seem to go loose. Put it this way, virtually none of my current issues would be happening at 2000 calories. 

Sleep is still the big bad that hasn’t been tamed, and that’s after getting near-perfect oura sleep scores back in the weeks leading up to the bulk. But I’m narrowing down the list of suspects. 

PorkAs a high Omega 6 source, I dropped bacon about four months in. There’s always the chance of finding grass-fed pork in my local area, but I don’t rate my chances. They’re a dying breed.

Dairy – With their potential issues for lactose and casein intolerance, I ditched yoghurt and cheese around six months in.

Butter – Technically dairy, but I fancied my chances since the casein effects tend to be quite mild. But after getting flare-ups with sinusitis, I finally gave up on my favourite steak side a few weeks ago.

Salt – After digging a little deeper into our salt heritage, and considering its ability to mess with the heart rate, I stopped sprinkling on salt a week ago. Simply put, there’s no evidence that our paleolithic ancestors used salt shakers, or searched out salt blocks. Since my diet is a pretty close match to theirs, I figured I might as well follow suit.

I still add a few teaspoons of electrolytes to my workout cocktail, and beef contains around 80mg of sodium per 100g. So I won’t be at risk of shooting too low. 

At this point, my sinuses do feel much clearer, whereas before I’d often wake up in the middle of the night with clogged up nostrils. Since I always have a mouth tape on, that can make breathing a little tricky.

Ultimately, the biggest culprit is the sheer quantity of calories I’m consuming. But since I don’t appear to be gaining weight on anything lower, that can’t be helped. Some things are more important than sleep.

Average Daily Intake

4700 Calories
250g Carbs
280g Fat
280g Protein

I have been putting more effort recently into bringing my temperature down in the evening. Hot showers, stretching sessions, meditation, anything that can de-escalate the heart.  The temperature usually syncs up nicely with the circadian rhythm, peaking in the afternoon, and coming down by sunset. But with all those highly thermogenic calories, it doesn’t go down easy. Considering we’re inching closer to the two-week British summer, it’s not going to get any better.

Attempting Barefoot Lifting

Having researched and written an article on running barefoot, I’ve decided to try the lifting route instead. I picked up a pair of Vibrams, which seemed to be the best options for the indoor version. There’s practically nothing separating the soles of the feet and the ground, allowing direct feedback during an exercise. The ankle gets worked through a greater range of motion, and the little muscles that support the arch also receive plenty of love.

This has been a long time coming, because my left foot often buckles slightly at the bottom of a squat. If I can improve that stability even a little, that’s bound to result in a bigger lift. And because I like the feel of the ground so much, I’ll probably wear them to bench day as well.

I haven’t written a specific guide to barefoot lifting, but you can check out the running version I published last week. The advantages there are much the same, along with some extra caution for the high-impact nature of running.

The Primal Perks Of Barefoot Running

In the meantime, I’ll go get that three-digit scaleweight. Then it might finally be time to call curtains and commence food deprivation once again.

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