The Ultimate Checklist For Starting Carnivore

20 min read
What You're About To Get Into
27 tips for getting the best out of carnivore
The importance of fat
Foods you may need to avoid
Why you need to be weight training

The Guide to getting it right

carnivore guide

This guide is for those who are about to, or contemplating the idea of, hopping on the carnivore train. And this might all seem a bit unnecessary, because carnivore is a hard diet to mess up. You’re effectively hemmed in and forced to pick from a half dozen ingredients, each of which contains the full spectrum of amino acids, along with a host of micronutrients. Meanwhile, you’re barred from eating inflammatory, nutritionally bereft foods. 

Try as hard as you like, it’s going to be virtually impossible to overeat with this setup. Weight loss should be a formality. All that systemic inflammation you’ve accumulated over the years takes a big hit. 

One way or another, however you put this diet together, a stint at carnivore is largely changing you for the better.

But there’s plenty of wiggle room sitting in the corridor between ‘serviceable’ and ‘optimal’. An all-meat affair possesses incredible potential. To put it simply, carnivore can elevate your mental and physical performance to a transformative level. Just as long as you manage to dial it in.

So before you go all-in on buttered steak, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind. They’re not all strictly necessary, but from my experience, each of them should assist your quest to build your best version of carnivore.

1. Start Strict, For At Least 30 Days

Carnivore functions brilliantly as a hard reset, being the ultimate form of an elimination diet. And in order to make it work, you need to stick to the no-plant rule, while treating a few potentially inflammatory animal products with suspicion. Doing so will give the body complete respite from trigger foods, cutting down on systemic inflammation, and allowing it the chance to heal itself.

The gut microbiome will also be taken through a major shift, with carb-reliant populations being starved out of existence, potentially eliminating cravings altogether. All this can be yours, as long as you have the discipline and willingness to give carnivore a serious attempt.

2. Ditch The Sweeteners

Certain artificial sweeteners, like stevia and erythritol, may be technically zero carb, but they can still tangle with your microbiota in unexpected ways. Meaning you don’t get to purge the cravings altogether. 

Beyond that, zero-calorie sweeteners continue to capitalise on and reward your search for sweetness. Whereas, if you were to ditch them altogether, the brain can then start to switch towards other rich flavours. Like the savoury depth of a buttered ribeye. In other words, you get to have healthy cheat meals.

3. Add In A Coffee Detox

Coffee gets a strange pass in the carnivore community, despite being a plant product filled with plant toxins. Maybe some people would rather not give up their morning fix. Caffeine can have significant effects on performance, by raising alertness and reducing the perception of effort. So for those waking up feeling like they’ve been mauled by a grizzly, a strong brew may be the one thing getting them out the front door. 

With all that being said, much of that morning stupor might have been self-inflicted through coffee in the first place. As a potent stimulant, caffeine is perfectly capable of disrupting sleep cycles and thereby reducing the quality of your bedtime.

So, I hate to say it, but there’s a strong case for ditching caffeine and eroding the body’s reliance on the world’s favourite drug. At least for the first 30 days. You’re virtually guaranteed to see improvements to sleep, reductions in anxiety, and eventually, better daytime wakefulness.

4. Two Meals A Day

If you’re going to jump on the ancestral diet, then you might as well ditch the thoroughly modern three-meal setup. Humans are thoroughly adept at going long stints without feeding, just as long as we’re not relying on nutritionally bereft foods that spike and crash our blood sugar. 

Three meals can be hard to fit in on this diet, since you’re going to feel incredibly satiated after a healthy portion of high-fat red meat. Whereas one meal, although popular with the keto crowd, doesn’t allow adequate protein and nutrient absorption. Which leads us nicely to the two meal template, ideally spaced 6 hours apart for reasons we’re about to get into. 

5. Don’t Go Crazy On The Fast

As a low-carb diet, carnivore will jack up your cortisol. As does caffeine, heavy lifting, cardio, and intermittent fasting. The body certainly needs cortisol, and in healthy amounts, but the dose and timing make the poison. As the chief stress hormone, cortisol promotes alertness and wakefulness, and spearheads immune function. That’s when it’s produced in acute pulses. When allowed to outstay its welcome, the system can be skewed towards dysfunction and inflammation.

To put it more succinctly, you have to be choosy about self-inflicting stress. When it comes to fasting, 16-18 hours is more than enough hormetic damage to produce positive adaptations. Were you to push it further, you’re running the risk of pushing cortisol too high. 

As far as fat loss goes, you’re already low carb and fuelled by ketones. There’s no need to overdo it.

6. Don’t Restrict Calories

There needs to be a distinction between dieting for fat loss, and opting for starvation.

In the optimal carnivore diet, weight loss is a happy side-effect, a consequence of a healthy, functioning metabolism. By consuming nutritionally dense and diverse foods, and eliminating sources of inflammation and antinutrients, the body is given both the breathing space and building blocks it needs to resurrect the fat-burning pathways and purge existing inflammation.

The problem here, is that it’s incredibly easy to undereat when you’re selecting exclusively from said dense and diverse foods, since they’re all extremely satiating. Shooting low on the calorie count may induce greater initial weight loss, but you’re continuing to signal to the body that you’re in a state of famine

Eat to satiety, and even then, make sure you’re getting enough in. Let the body heal.

7. Keep A 1:1 Fat To Protein Ratio By The Gram

The days of chicken breast are done. And you don’t want to be wading into the carnivore space with flat-iron steaks and 5% mince either. Because that would make you feel miserable. Protein isn’t an energy source, it’s a building block. The role of fuelling the body should be left to carbs and fats, and we’re missing out on the former for several good reasons. 

That means you’re going to need to make sure that you’re loading the body with enough fat to maintain steady energy levels across the day. If you’re insulin sensitive, fat-adapted, and experienced in intense lifting, you could potentially get some extra fuel from gluconeogenesis (protein to glucose), but it’s still a less efficient way to go about it. Especially since, assuming you tick those three boxes, you’re also going to have less body fat to use up. 

So to play this safe, aim for a gram of fat for every gram of protein. Even if that gets you a little low on your protein requirements, there’s an argument that those requirements would be lower on a ketogenic diet.

Check out examples of the 1:1 ratio in my collection of carnivore recipes.

8. Use A Pure Fat Source

Getting that hallowed 1:1 ratio is going to be a tall ask if you simply opt for meat and eggs. You end up having to be very choosy about the cuts you’re allowed, and classics like sirloin just won’t cut it. But if you were to take your pick of a few pure fat sources, the ketone life becomes much easier, and you gain a delicious condiment to go alongside your mineral salt.

Can’t deal with butter? Go with beef tallow or suet. The latter of which is a perfectly acceptable snack.

Read – How To Use Saturated Fat To Ramp Up Fat Loss

9. You May Need Digestive Enzymes To Absorb Fats

As you can imagine, chances are you’ll be having to eat and digest far more fat than you’ve ever attempted before. At least, on a regular basis. And if the stomach isn’t in good nick, this can lead to a classic side effect of the carnivore diet, loose stools.

Normally, this uncomfortable issue resolves over the first few weeks, and you get to return to a healthy consistency. But sometimes they won’t, and that often turns out to be an issue with a lack of bile acids. That’s easily fixed if you down a few caps of Betaine HCL before mealtime.

10. Skip The Probiotics To Begin With

The gut microbiome is a fascinating area of research, and it’s still very much in its infancy. We know that our little gut bugs have the power to shape our physiology and psychology, but we haven’t quite yet figured out how to weigh in on this phenomenon.

There are plenty of probiotics on the market, and you might well find great results with one of them. I’d just caution against using them during the opening month of carnivore, since you’re effectively purging various populations of gut bacteria by robbing them of their daily grub. 

Trust me, you’re probably better off without them. Let the dust settle, then figure out whether you need further protocols.

11. Consider Supplementing Magnesium

Supplements on carnivore may feel akin to blasphemy, because our meat-chomping paleolithic ancestors certainly didn’t have the luxury of swallowing a couple of multivitamins with their breakfast. 

But that was then, this is now, and while we’re biologically barely indistinguishable, the world’s soil has been rapidly depreciating in value. Since that’s where our food gets its minerals. Magnesium in particular is a critical electrolyte that’s necessary for muscle function, blood glucose regulation, immune support, and a bunch more. Activity tends to deplete it pretty steadily, so we may well need to add a few tablets in there to support a healthy lifestyle.

12. Prioritise Red Meat

A meat-only diet already lends you a self-selected list of superfoods. But there still happens to be one that trumps the rest, and that’s ruminant meat. Beef, lamb, goat, venison, and bison, if you can get your hands on them. What you’re getting, besides delicious flavour, is an array of essential macronutrients and micronutrients, alongside a distinct lack of antinutrients and inflammatory triggers.

And what’s better, they’re affordable enough to dish out in mammoth portions.

13. Moderate Pork And Poultry

Compared to ruminant meat, pork and poultry don’t offer quite as many micronutrients, and that knocks them down a peg. Beyond that, these two second-place meats lack a special converter that gets rid of toxins and replaces them with highly bioavailable nutrients. That would be the rumen, the first of a ruminant’s four stomachs. You could throw Omega 6-rich grains at cows, and they’d still come up with meat that’s rich in saturated and low in inflammatory seed oils.

You don’t get that with bacon, unless you’re lucky enough to scope out genuine grass-fed pork. Chances are it’ll be pretty high in Omega 6, contributing as much as 20% of the total fat content. So add it to your breakfast sparingly, and with caution.

14. Stick To Organic Eggs

Eggs can be a tricky one, despite being an all-in-one multivitamin with a virtually ideal fat to protein ratio. They just don’t jive with some people, and some of that could well be down to the egg whites, which can inhibit biotin absorption, as well as containing lysozyme, which can cause inflammation in the gut. Whites aside, shopping for organic eggs would be your best bet for reducing Omega 6 content, for the reason stated in the previous tip. 

You need these monogastric creatures to have their best possible diet, and ‘free range’ means practically nothing. Look for ‘organic’ instead, and while you’re there, feel free to skip the whites, as I did in my brisket and yolks recipe.

15. Get The Small Fish

Salmon and mackerel are prized for their Omega 3 content, and that’s understandable, with it being an essential nutrient that’s difficult to obtain elsewhere. The issue here is that these foods come packed with heavy metals, and that can disagree with people who are relying on this diet for its detoxing potential.

But the bigger the fish, the higher the heavy metal content, since they add up across the food chain. So in this case, picking the bottom feeders can help minimise the risk of toxins. Anchovies and sardines are your best bet for a natural source of Omega 3.

16. Watch Out For Dairy Intolerance

Dairy products, especially milk, can be a prime source of inflammation. Lactose and casein won’t jive with many people. So you do need to tread cautiously. Some people can handle raw milk with no fuss. Others can’t even deal with butter, which can still have traces of those compounds.

I’d recommend avoiding milk, yogurt, and cheese for the first month. These are rich sources of saturated fat, whole proteins, fat-soluble vitamins, and calcium, so it’s worth trying to bring them back into the fold at some later point.

17. Get Collagenous Meats

Otherwise known as meat fiber. Collagen, and in particular glycine, is great fuel for the skin, hair, even the gut microbiota. It also helps balance out potentially inflammatory levels of methionine arriving with the huge quantities of muscle meat you’ll be eating. To cap it off, collagen is extremely satiating. Try eating a pound of ribeye, then attempting a pound of brisket the following dinner. It’s going to be a struggle.

This doesn’t mean you have to hunt out chicken feet in bustling Asian markets. Just pick any meat that’s cut from an active muscle. Brisket, braising steak, chuck roast, diced casserole beef, are a few classic options that are readily available. 

18. Eat 2-3 Ounces Of Liver A Week

Muscle meat covers most of your RDA bases on a carbless diet, but there are still a few boxes that need checking off. Vitamin A being a prime example, and that’s something that’s provided in excess in a tiny portion of beef liver. Alongside a ton of other pivotal micronutrients that are hard to find in muscle meat, including copper. Liver truly is the superfood to top all other superfoods, and if you’re squeamish, you don’t need much. A few ounces of liver over a week would be more than enough. 

Whereas having a pound a day might help you with your food budget, but it would put you at risk of running up side effects from hypervitaminosis, like with Vitamin A toxicity.

Check Out My Liver Recipe

19. Consider Trying Out Other Organs

Liver isn’t the only organ that can power you through to a state of total nutrition. 

Heart contains CoQ10, a powerful antioxidant that also plays a critical role in mitochondrial function. 

Kidney has the DAO enzyme, which helps break down histamines. 

Brain is a great source of DHA, thereby improving brain function. Who could have guessed?

Organ meats can be used to tick off the RDAs, or target specific problems in metabolism. Get friendly with your local butcher, or find a decent online vendor. Just don’t be squeamish when it’s finally on the cutting board.

20. Salt To Taste

Despite being blessed with the title ‘deadliest ingredient in the food supply’, salt is a key player in metabolism. If you’re on low carbs, even more so. Besides being an essential cog in fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle function, salt also counteracts the side effects of low insulin. When insulin drops as a result of the lack of incoming carbs, aldosterone also drops, which can cause the body to flush out water, and with it, electrolytes. Leading to the dreaded keto flu. Making sure you get your daily salt quota won’t just make up for losses in salt, it’ll also help you retain the other key electrolytes.

On top of that, salt also helps protect the body from the side effects of excess cortisol, which would normally be counteracted by insulin. So it might be convenient to just think of salt as insulin’s replacement.

Why You Need Salt 

21. Get An Electrolyte Supplement

Unfortunately, salting to taste won’t be enough for many carnivore recruits, especially the ones sensible enough to take up a regular exercise regime. Which depletes your electrolyte reserves that much faster. A decent electrolyte blend (sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium) would be a great assist during workouts, and potentially before bed.

As you adapt to this diet over subsequent months, chances are the body will get better at retaining those electrolytes, so you’ll be able to decrease the dose until you find the sweet spot. Until then, if you don’t want your performance in the gym to drop, start supplementing.

22. Add In Mineral Water

Your mineral requirements go much further than the four chief electrolytes. There are 13 essential minerals in the diet, alongside a good chunk of extras that we haven’t quite yet figured out. This can make the optimal diet quite tricky to attain, but there is this one trick that most people aren’t aware of. 

Mineral water, alongside a good municipal source of hard water, contains traces of many of these minerals. Quenching your thirst with these options over the course of a day, in combination with red meat and organs, places you in a great position for reaching the apex state of nutrition.

23. Lower Cortisol In The Evenings

As I mentioned in the warning against excessive fasting, your cortisol levels will be elevated on this diet. That’s absolutely fine, just as long as you’re sticking to the daily cortisol rhythm. If it’s high in the morning, great, you’re going to be filled with unquenchable energy. But if it doesn’t go through a steady decline by the evening, you’re into the sleep-breaking ‘tired and wired’ dilemma.

If you’re susceptible to stress, as most of us are, you should consider arranging your daily routine to support and enforce the cortisol cycle. Training in the evening might be a bridge too far. You may need to add in specific habits, like meditation and warm baths, to bring down cortisol and body temperature.

Don’t skip this part. Quality sleep is an essential pillar that you can’t do without.

How To Fix Your Sleep On Carnivore

24. Brace For Withdrawal

The first few weeks of carnivore can be a bumpy transition, especially if you’re not already fat adapted. When the body’s had a lifetime of reliance on glucose as its primary energy source, it’s going to struggle to make the switch towards fat metabolism. That means it will take weeks, potentially months, before your body’s true potential on a carnivore diet. At first, it’s going to be a struggle, and you’ll be wading through energy purgatory, where the body can’t use glucose, and can’t make the most of fat.

In the meantime, you’re also likely to see some blowback from starving the little critters inhabiting your intestinal tract. Cravings may occasionally reach a fever pitch, as the gut bugs fight for survival. 

This is going to be a drastically different landscape for most, so side effects are to be expected. Just take them as symptoms of a body that’s in the process of healing. Be patient, and you’ll soon be coasting.

25. Add Progressive Strength Training

If you’re going to take on the ancestral diet, you might as well live the lifestyle. And while our cavemen brethren weren’t necessarily strapping rocks to the end of logs, they certainly went through their fair share of physical exertion. 

Weight training represents the most effective use of your time for said physical exertion, and it’s unmatched for its ability to assist in fat loss. If you want to be lean, muscular, insulin sensitive, and free of chronic stress, lift heavy weights.

14 Key Ingredients For Building Muscle

26. Increase Training Intensity Gradually

As mentioned earlier, there will be a few speed bumps in the initial transition to carnivore. Your performance in the gym will probably take some tanking, before you eventually gain your true powers. So you may want to restrict training intensity initially, by increasing rest intervals and not making everything a compound lift. Prioritise your big lifts, so that you don’t lose strength, and fill the rest of the session with isolation exercises and machine work.

27. Take Measurements, Pics, And Scale Weight

There’s no use taking on and wading through a monumental transformation if you don’t have the pictures to back it up. But even if you’re not into social media fame, it’s worth using a few markers to track progress. Scale weight doesn’t tell the whole story, whereas measurements and pictures can better reveal changes in fat loss and muscle gain. So for maximum benefit, you may as well use all three.

Read – Tracking Guide

Wrapping Up

This list will be your best friend for the first 30 days of carnivore, and potentially more. When it’s working, there’s little reason to shift gears. The only real adjustment from here would be to bring the carbs back in, and that’s a question to tackle further down the line. Till then, get your eggs in line, as well as the steak, the fats, the organs, the salt, and trust the process.

14 Key Ingredients For Building Muscle

How To Build Muscle On Carnivore

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