10 Mistakes You’ll Want To Avoid On The Carnivore Diet

17 min read
What You're About To Get Into
– Why carnivore is about finding the optimal take on nutrition, not a passing grade
– The classic pitfalls that trip up fresh-faced meatovores
– Why you might need to play the patient game

Even Carnivore Can Be Screwed Up

How could you possibly mess up a diet where the only test is in finding the right amount of salt for your porterhouse steak? As it turns out, there can still be a few nuances to the most basic of blueprints. People arrive at the carnivore trail with all manner of goals and background, and as such, finding the optimal version requires some tailoring.

Because that’s precisely what carnivore is about. This isn’t about just getting the job done, whether that’s shaving 30 pounds off the scale, adding 20 to your bench press, or simply forming a working relationship with dinner time. There’s a ton of sacrifice that needs to be made from your end, and the results need to reflect such a drastic lifestyle change. 

We’re not aiming for a passing score, we’re shooting for the ultimate diet that can power the brain and body forward with total nutrition. We’re not looking for anything less than optimal. 

This guide will cover the classic mistakes that beginners tend to make on carnivore. If you simply make a point to sidestep these pitfalls, then your diet is going to be damn near perfect.

1. Neglecting Your Electrolytes

They might be brushed under the label micronutrients, but these minerals have a macro effect on the system. Sodium, magnesium, potassium and calcium are vital for keeping a tight ship in the metabolism. Here are just a few of their many duties.

  • Ensuring optimal muscle function
  • Stabilising the nervous system
  • Proper hydration
  • Maintaining stable pH levels

The list could stretch on for a while. When your electrolytes get out of whack, a number of unpleasant side effects can occur.

  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Cramping
  • Muscle weakness
  • Headaches

In other words, that’s keto flu.

The thing with a ketogenic diet, at least initially, is that it can drain your electrolytes. Insulin usually acts to increase water retention through aldosterone, and when insulin is phased out the game, electrolytes are lost amidst the ensuing flush. So that’s what gets you those big scores on the scale over the first few weeks, but it’s also the source of the ailment that forces you to realise that your body can’t cope without carbs.

But if you were to manage that situation by titrating some extra electrolytes in, the crisis of confidence would be averted. Give or take the odd turbulent day, you’d realise that the body has no need for carbs. 

Salt in particular, which is made of sodium and chloride, is particularly important to supplement at this point. A decent mineral salt, like Himalayan or Redmond, would also provide a few extra minerals in trace amounts. Or you could always buy an electrolyte supplement that mixes in decent quantities of those four key minerals. 

Personally, I’ve seen good results by adding a teaspoon dose of electrolytes during workouts, and a half teaspoon before bed. Along with plenty of salt for every steak I come across.

Why You Should Be Eating More Salt

2. Restricting Calories

The carnivore diet is a fantastic tool for forcing rapid fat loss, in fact it’s the best around. Red meat promotes satiety like nothing else, to the point where you could conceivably cut back to 1000 calories and still feel full at the day’s end. But just because you have the option to keep calories that low, doesn’t mean it’s going to be the optimal take. 

With carnivore, weight loss is a happy side effect. The main goal is to provide nutrients in bioavailable abundance, promoting a state of healing and prime performance in the body. In order to achieve this, you need to be piling the steak high. The metabolism gets revved up, the fat burning machinery gets woken from its slumber, and you gain the mythical ability to lose weight despite chewing through a staggeringly high amount of food.

Opting for a heavy deficit, on the other hand, would just signal to the body that it’s in a state of famine. Nutrient deficiencies that existed before the diet, often don’t get fixed. The side effects of those deficiencies then get to persist across the diet. Lethargy, hormone imbalances, gut dysfunction, and the like.

The metabolism chugs along at a suppressed rate, meaning you have to fight harder and dig deeper to produce decent weight loss. The chances of gaining any appreciable lean mass are snuffed out, and there’s going to be some losses. And worst of all, were you to somehow get to the end of the programme, you’d be in a precarious spot to ward off the post-diet weight rebound.

With carnivore, you don’t just want to follow the common-sense rule of eating till you’re full. Make sure you’re getting through big, fat-filled portions. Only then can you rest easy knowing you’re giving the body all the tools to get back to its peak capacity.

Over my recent 12 week carnivore cut, I managed to lose weight continuously on 3200 calories across the vast chunk of the programme. I even added in refeeds over the weekends. And the weight kept dropping, while energy remained fantastic throughout. If I had dropped straight down to 2000 from the beginning, then the metabolism would have plunged with it.

3. Eating One Meal A Day

Fasting comes easy on this diet. You’re eating slow-metabolising energy-dense foods, and ditching the ones that spike and crash blood sugar. A decent meal of steak and eggs could keep you going for hours and hours, without a blip of hunger. It appears the perfect fit for a One Meal A Day (OMAD) approach. More time not eating should net you more fat loss, as well as metabolic perks such as raised autophagy.

But there is a spanner that needs throwing in, and that would be the stress hormone cortisol. Carnivore, as a low carbohydrate diet, is a stressor on the body. Fasting itself is a stressor. The combination of the two can be a little excessive. Acute pulses of cortisol are perfectly healthy for the body, it’s critical for the immune system and enforces daytime wakefulness. However, the dose makes the poison, and excessive streaks of cortisol can wreak havoc on a stress-sensitive dieter.

A Few Symptoms Of Chronic Cortisol

  • Insomnia
  • Tired and wired
  • Water retention
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Poor recovery
  • Muscle loss

More importantly, combining OMAD and carnivore is completely unnecessary. Eat a zero carb meal, and the blood sugar remains stable. Ketones will continue to provide the body with the majority of its fuel needs. You’re not getting kicked out of anything.

I’m not suggesting that you quit fasting altogether while on carnivore, just that you shouldn’t push it too far. Two meals a day with a 16-18 hour fasting window would be far more optimal for the body, by better managing stress levels and allowing more nutrient absorption.

4. Not Having Enough Fat

Chicken breast has never been so hot, and it’s been hamstringing millions of well-meaning dieters. Many people stepping into carnivore will have pre cultivated notions on the importance of lean meats. A flat-iron may look like the superior option to a greasy ribeye. Egg whites over yolks. Butter gets scrapped for salt and pepper. As a result, their first foray into carnivore ends up being a high protein, moderate fat approach.

This kills the diet.

Protein is not an energy source. It’s fantastic for building mass, but it’s weak sauce if you want it for fuel. So with carbs also out of the equation, that leaves us with fats as the macronutrient that can keep the lights on. 

Now we do have tens of thousands of fat calories locked away in various storage depots, but at this early stage, they’re mostly locked away. The body first needs to get fat adapted before it can learn how to make the most of its own fat stores. That’s a process that can stretch over months, assuming you’re not jumping into carnivore from a ketogenic diet.

Till then, you need to be eating fat, and plenty of it. Forget the anti-grease stigma that’s built up over the last century, or the faulty grasp of bioenergetics that assumes only fat gets stored as fat. Humans always were, and still are, fat hunters. If you want to ensure your dalliance with carnivore is accompanied with sustained energy and gradual fat adaption, paste your ribeyes in butter.

5. Overdosing On Chicken And Pork

There’s a good reason why beef always beats out bacon. Assuming you’re not lucky enough to be near a farm that doesn’t like stuffing their pigs with seed oils. 

Ruminants, like cattle and sheep, have the edge over monogastric animals, like chicken and pigs, due to the former’s intricate digestive system. When cows go to town on grass, they can effectively recycle the green stuff several times by shuttling it back and forth between the mouth and stomach. Then the rumen, the first of their four guts, uses specialised enzymes and bacteria to break down the mesh into detoxified, bioavailable nutrients.

If the cow feeds on grain, the result won’t be too different, thanks to the converting capabilities of the rumen. You’re still getting plenty of healthy saturated fat, as well as negligible amounts of toxic Omega 6.

With a side of bacon, it’s going to be less forgiving. Monogastric animals store food much as they’re fed, meaning grain-feed translates to high amounts of Omega 6. When these animals aren’t on a species-appropriate diet, they produce poor quality meat.

I’m not going to go as far as to say that you should ditch these meats entirely, and subsist on ruminants alone. The dose still makes the poison, so it may be that simply moderating your bacon portions will let you sidestep any suppression or sides. But for people looking to rescue their Omega 3:6 ratio, it might be worth going clean for at least a few months.

6. Too Much Liver

This is going to look confusing coming from someone who argued that everyone needs organ meats. Let me try and explain my way out of this one. Liver is far and away the most nutrient varied and dense food on the planet. So it deserves a special place on the carnivore palette, especially when the main goal is always to provide the body with an abundance of nutrition.

But you can always have too much of a good thing. Guzzle down gallons of water, and you may be at risk of dying of dehydration. Eat a half-stick of butter, and you’ll probably be paying the loo an explosive visit. Eat liver by the pound, and you’re flirting with hypervitaminosis and copper toxicity. 

The symptoms include

  • Nausea
  • Vision problems
  • Insomnia
  • Inflammation

The thing is, you only need small amounts of liver to net its amazing perks, because it’s so incredibly nutrient-dense. A few ounces a week will more than cover your needs. You could even take a week off, and be none the worse. The human liver does a great job of storing away nutrients for later use. 

7. Eating Too Late In The Day

There are plenty of carnivores, including me, who struggled to get decent shuteye on this diet. Sleep comes deep, but fractured, and the evening meals don’t help. Meat takes a while to digest, and the process is intense. Not in the same way where a bowl of oats turns your stomach into knots, more in the sense that the gut machinery is being forced to do overtime. 

This can really hamper your chances of getting a good night’s sleep, because the gut is effectively diverting resources from the usual recuperative duties. For this reason, I much prefer pulling my feeding window into the morning hours, allowing me to wrap up my last steak serving by 5pm. That leaves me with at least 4 hours for the stomach to wind down before bedtime, and food ceases to be a factor in my episodes of insomnia.

So while many like to break their fast at midday or early afternoon, I’d recommend trying out a big morning meal, followed by successively smaller meals. It lines up nicely with the circadian rhythm, and a zero carb plate will hardly spoil your morning energy.

8. Neglecting Organ Meats

While you might want to be cautious while dosing out liver, it’s still an incredibly valuable source of micronutrients. And when you’re arriving at this diet with various imbalances and deficiencies clogging up the system, organ meats are the perfect addition for getting you up and running.

Liver, heart, kidney, brain, the list can stretch on for a while. Be adventurous and get ready to ask your local butcher for some strange favours. Think of organ meats as the medicine of the carnivore template. Each of them have their own unique collection of nutrients, and they can be used as a way to target underlying issues in the system. Eastern medicine has the notion that you eat the organ to treat your corresponding one, and that ancient wisdom isn’t far off the mark.

Organ meats can also serve to balance out any inflammatory effects stemming from the vast amounts of muscle meat you’re consuming. Collagen from beef heart, for instance, can counter methionine levels in muscle meat. Copper in liver, can oppose the zinc in your steak. 

But organ meats, while extremely functional, can also be delicious. It just needs the right recipe, along with a mind that’s not expecting the worst.

Liver Pâté Recipe

9. Not Waiting Out The Side Effects

Carnivore is an elimination diet, and it’s the best one around. That means you can expect a profound upgrade to your physical and mental wellbeing, but it may be a grind to get there. You’re ridding the body of toxins, and getting off the sugar train. You can expect to suffer through a few withdrawal symptoms, especially the first few weeks.

A metabolism that’s been worn down over years of misguided food choices, isn’t going to be repaired overnight. That process can put plenty off, leading them to believe that there’s simply no way they can survive without their favourite carbs.

That’s where you need to be diligent enough to ensure that the diet is stacked up in an optimal fashion, and resilient enough to embrace the suck that’s going to assault you over the transition phase.

But there is a silver lining to this. You should only need to do this once. Becoming fat adapted can take time, but once it’s a functioning part of the metabolism, it’s there to stay. Just as long as you don’t follow up your carnivore foray with a year of nostalgic binging. 

So if you’re struggling, keep going. You’re on the right track. Complete fat adaption can take a matter of months, but the worst of it will be over in a few weeks. As for detoxing, that can take longer, but that’s going to be entirely down to the individual. Lowering the body’s Omega 6’s, oxalate dumping, there’s a ton of variables here. It could be a month, a year, potentially even longer. But if you’re enjoying the feel of being carnivore, then that problem takes care of itself.

Personally, I adapted within a week to carnivore, but the process was sped up by the fact that I’d already spent a few months chasing ketones.

10. Banning All Supplements

The carnivore diet is stacked with diverse and dense nutrients, catering for practically all your requirements. With a few doses of organ meats, you can complete your RDA quotas. Meat alone is often enough to power you to peak health. But that’s not always going to be the case, and it’s not something you want to take as a rule. Don’t be dogmatic for the sake of it. I’ve made a habit of adding low toxicity carbs to carnivore, and it’s not something I lose sleep over.

While meat will tick the vast majority of your boxes, there can be cases that call for an extra supplement or two. 

  • Betaine HCL can help you digest that half-stick of butter
  • Caffeine can spike your morning cortisol and set you up for a healthy daily rhythm
  • Spore probiotics could rebuild a damaged gut
  • L-Theanine can wind you down for the night
  • Vitamins provide a surplus of nutrition that can help repair serious deficiencies

Cavemen didn’t have supplements, but they also didn’t have to deal with modern environmental toxins and chronic stress levels. It’s a different playing field, and you can’t always go with what is ‘ancestrally appropriate’.

So don’t be afraid to bend the rules. Because there aren’t any.

Wrapping Up

Like I said, there’s not much to it. Don’t combine carnivore with restrictive dieting, do go crazy on the salt, and play the patient game. In terms of complexity, there’s nothing you can’t figure out within the first few weeks. The results might start as a trickle, but they’ll soon transform into a torrent. You just have to be mindful of a few potential pitfalls, and you’ll be there for the podium finish.

More Articles On Optimising Carnivore

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How To Use Saturated Fat To Ramp Up Fat Loss

The 10 Best Foods On The Carnivore Diet

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