Alas, every meat lover's dream. A diet that not only allows huge slabs of meat, but encourages it. As I researched, I came across carnivore diet claims and results that ranged from interesting to absurd.
Could such an appealing diet really accelerate weight loss, build slabs of muscle, and reverse chronic conditions plaguing humanity?
3 out of every 5 Americans suffers from at least one chronic disease, and the numbers look similar internationally. Becoming carnivorous may be one exciting potential solution.
I had my doubts. I spent two months scouring articles, videos, podcasts, and interviews for everything related to the carnivore diet. I voraciously consumed it all and after deliberation, decided to go full carnivore for 30-days. Here's what I uncovered from digging into the science, my personal carnivore experience (the benefits and drawbacks), and why I changed my mind.
Disclaimer: Always do your own research and consult your doctor before changing your diet.
Carnivore Diet in a Nutshell
Carnivore is a highly-restrictive, zero-carbohydrate diet focused heavily on meat. Some varieties allow fish and select animal products. At its core, carnivore is an extreme eliminating diet. Removing plants, herbs, spices, chemicals, and artificial ingredients help uncover food allergies, reverse chronic disease, and induces a mild state of performing-enhancing ketosis.
Unlike most diets, carnivore ignores macros and calorie counts. Proponents love it for the binary simplicity: either eat the food or don't. It's naturally high-protein, and advocates strongly recommend choosing fatty cuts of meat (since healthy fats are essential to life).
Following an all-meat diet is a radical departure from the recent trend of everything plant-based. Eating exclusively animal-products goes against modern dietary recommendations and those described by 5,000+ year-old Ayurvedic health wisdom.Life-changing results from thousands of carnivore dieters are causing scientists, doctors, and researchers alike to scrutinize traditional dietary guidelines. Click To Tweet
Thanks to Roger Williams' surprising findings in Biochemical Individuality [Amazon], we know that no single diet works for everyone. The world's oldest health systems concur. Before deciding to try this lifestyle shift, you should know the benefits and drawbacks.
The Benefits of Carnivore
The health and wellness industry today gets a lot wrong. This extreme diet restriction works so well because it counters modern conventional health wisdom:
Resets microbiome. More gut bacteria isn't always better (in fact, SIBO is a bacterial overgrowth). The lack of plant fiber starves bacteria — both good and bad. It's like pressing reboot on the gut microbiome.
Whole food. Carnivore completely eliminates all processed and refined foods. This alone can reverse some of the most pernicious and widespread ailments. Any diet that removes junk foods will deliver results.
Removes anti-nutrients. Plants cannot move. So they produce chemical “defense weapons” (phytonutrients) to deter predators. Nuts, herbs, spices, nightshades, and grains for example. While most research on these chemicals is overwhelmingly positive, they each have side effects. Sometimes significant, and especially in folks not running at 100 percent.
Incredibly simple. No fancy caloric calculations required before each meal. No balancing macronutrients. The carnivore equation is simple: eat animal products until full. You can put that spared mental bandwidth to better use.
Produces ketones. Ketones are a powerful clean-burning fuel source for the brain. An alternative to the free-radical generating glucose abundant in carb-heavy foods. Zero-carb carnivore brains benefit from high ketone levels.
Discover food intolerances & allergies. Holistic doctors often recommend that patients start by cleaning up their diet. But there's a problem. Kale. Not only do many vegetables taste mediocre, but they can harm your health if you're intolerant. Food intolerance isn't as obvious as a food allergy. Intolerance symptoms can take 2-72 hours to show. But it still causes inflammation and a blood sugar spike. Meat is a hypoallergenic reset. Giving you the opportunity to slowly reintroduce foods and notice how you feel.
Weight loss. Restricting carbohydrates keeps insulin low. Hormone-sensitive lipase and fat burning machinery stay highly active throughout the day. Instead of burning carbs from food, your body taps into fat stores. Some carnivores report easy weight loss with no other lifestyle change.
Satiety. Contrary to internet myths, fat isn't the most filling nutrient. Protein is. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a diet higher in protein. Additionally, the gut bacteria making you crave sweets die. Increased ketone production also beneficially modulates a hunger hormone called ghrelin. All this means that you feel full for hours after a meal rich in animal products.
Abundant protein. The FDA's minuscule protein recommendation (50 grams per day) isn't sufficient for tissue growth, DNA repair, and optimal regeneration. Much less, building muscle or losing weight. Proteins are made of blocks called amino acids. Meat has the ideal ratio of these building blocks. Compared to plants, your body more easily uses proteins to rebuild and heal.
Still, it's not for everyone. Well known health experts and ancestral advice advocate against carnivore. Here's why.
The Side Effects & Risks of Carnivore
Our ancestors ate a lot of meat. Evidenced by our carnivore-esque digestive systems. Before the days of pantries stuffed to the brim, calories were hard to come by. A small amount of meat provided more nutrition than heaps of plants. But subsisting on meat alone is a relatively new concept. As such, it hasn't been thoroughly studied.
Carnivore's the wild west of diets. With its boom in popularity, dieters are discovering the side effects of eating nothing but meat.
Socially difficult. While not unique to this extreme diet (keto and OMAD too), life occasionally tests your ability to adhere to a diet. Nothing unravels a diet faster than peer pressure. And social life is highly correlated with health and longevity. If carnivore causes you to fear—or miss—social events, it will do more harm than good.
Poor sleep. Low-carb diets infamously harm sleep quality. The effects can be dramatic, especially in athletes. The brain runs primarily on glucose (sugar). Without carbs, it performs an additional step to convert your meals into fuel.
Increased inflammation. Some dieters report symptoms of inflammation like worsened arthritis from carnivore. I suspect they're cooking in refined, inflammatory, industrial vegetable oils (PUFAs). Similarly, removing a food sensitivity would reduce inflammation. Limited evidence shows worsened inflammation from improper carnivore.
Mood. Carbs indirectly increase the brain's feel-good chemical serotonin. Going zero-carb can interfere with mood.
Genes. Personalized nutrition is becoming more of a reality. Those with APOE4 gene variety are at risk for complications from high animal product intake. Especially from processed meats. APOE4 carriers see cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure shoot through the roof.
Nutrient deficiencies. Meat is a nutrient powerhouse. It contains appreciable amounts of (almost) everything. Especially in organs. Although present, meat lacks the scientifically-recommended levels of nutrients like vitamin C. It's also missing antioxidants and some other phytonutrients.
Gets old. For the majority of the world, meat is a prize. Small quantities enjoyed in celebration. Carnivore zaps that sparkle. Soon meat becomes just another food.
Kills microbiome. Zero-carb is a gut double-edged sword. Inadequate fiber starves your microbiome. Useful if you have bacteria overgrowth or an unhealthy gut. But if you're health-conscious and eat lots of vegetables, you'll kill the good bacteria.
I had a mixed experience from eating nothing but animal product and meat.
The Results of My Carnivore Experiment
I did the carnivore diet to reset. I looked forward to trying an elimination diet. By gradually reintroducing foods, I could pinpoint foods that I eat on a daily basis that don't agree with my body.
My carnivore experience was neutral. I went in excited, and sold on the idea of more meat equals better health. Reminiscent of my high-protein days where I gained 35+ pounds for sports. Only this time I wasn't drinking mass-gainer shakes. Nor stuffing my face with everything in sight.
I calendared in 30 days to begin the experiment and log my progress. Against my better judgment, I ate nothing but animal products. I didn't even sneak in herbs or spices. My diet consisted of:
- Every cut of beef imaginable
- Pork chops
- Liver (small amounts)
- Bone broth
That's it. I did make a few modifications:
- I added a squirt of lemon juice to my beef on occasion to ensure I got enough vitamin C.
- I went in with the intention of eating eggs but cut them out after day 4. They're one of the most common food intolerances.
- I drank coffee a few times when I didn't sleep well and had low energy.
Coming off keto, I expected the transition to be easy. Not quite:
I ate a TON. Your body and microbiome adapt quickly, but the process takes longer than is comfortable. Popular advice says the first three to seven days are the hardest. Well, I ate four pounds of beef the first day. Followed by three on day two, and four again on day three. And on day four I ate five pounds of beef. Later I averaged 4.5 pounds of meat every day.
Grass-fed beef is pricey. At $6-$15 per pound, I quickly racked up a bill. Even conventional beef would cost north of $20 per day, making this an expensive experiment. Of course, there are more budget-friendly animal products which I cover below.
My sleep suffered. Especially after a day of intense workouts, I had micro-wakeups throughout the night. On days I didn't workout, I still woke up but less often. My Oura Ring shows that my sleep quality dropped significantly. And the further I got into carnivore, the worse I slept.
I craved plants. I've always liked vegetables (yes, I know, weird). But I hadn't ever craved them. Well, starting on day six I had my first plant dream. I actually dreamt of eating broccoli. Maybe caused by the nocebo effect. Going against the traditional plant-first paradigm wore me out. I've always preferred the veggies-including carbohydrate backloading or carb nite approach.
I gained muscle. I lift weights regularly. I broke a plateau on my deadlift and squat in week three. Maybe from the extra protein. Or perhaps the primal nature of meat.
I gained weight. Although I felt less bloated from only eating meat, I quickly put on eight pounds. And no, not pure muscle. Weight fluctuations aren't solely about calories. But five pounds of beef cooked in fats put me over my daily requirements. When I returned to my normal seasonal diet, I lost all the weight in two weeks.
I stopped early. The cravings for other foods got to me. My growing disdain for carnivore probably began outweighing any potential benefits of the diet. On day 24, my body told me enough. I stopped. I gradually reintroduced other foods, and immediately felt better. Physically and mentally. But I did notice a few symptoms from the plant-based foods. Perhaps because my body downregulated the enzymes necessary to digest plants, or possibly because plants chemically resist digestion.
Overall, I'll likely use carnivore strategically in the future. I'm replacing my yearly one-month keto metabolic with carnivore. Perfect for winter. This is the time of the year when plants freeze, and our ancestors would have naturally subsisted on more meat.
All Meat Diet on a Budget
Following the carnivore diet costs between $10 and $70 per day, depending on your appetite, the meat, and your resources. While more expensive than most diets, here are a few tips to lessen the burden:
- Buy a deep freezer and buy in bulk. While it will cost more initially, you can stock up when grocers have great deals. Deep freezers better preserve meats too.
- Cowshare. Local ranchers sometimes sell portions of entire animals. For a fraction of the price. And you're not limited to cows. You can buy different portions of pigs, and other animals.
- Buy other cuts. Coveted meat demands a premium. Experienced carnivores quickly learn that other cuts—like “chuck”—can be equally delicious and inexpensive.
- Repurpose cuts. Ground beef is the cheapest. It's fat to protein ratio is great for carnivore. Once you run out of recipe ideas, get creative. One such recipe I came across is ground beef jerkey. Feeling bold? You can mask the offensive taste of organ meats in ground beef.
- Try other animal products. Carnivores eat a lot of beef, but other foods can round out missing nutrients and make the diet more affordable. Favorites include eggs, liver, organ meats, sardines, and pork.
- Go hunting. Hunting connects you with the land and wildlife, enriching the carnivore experience. The primary expense is your time, followed by basic equipment and licensing. Fishing is another even cheaper alternative.
I tried cowsharing. It was quite the experience. I purchased 1/8 of a grass-fed cow, and a week later frantically attempted to fit 170 pounds of beef into my freezer. All in, I paid around $4 per pound for grass-finished, local beef. I got everything from the bones (great for broth), to organs, to the fanciest cuts.
But the meat wouldn't all fit. I distributed the meat across multiple freezers. It was a mess of meat thawing and refreezing (not a good idea). For the best carnivore experience, I highly recommend purchasing a deep freezer.
Carnivore Diet Hacks You Should Know
I recently discovered a “carnivore scorecard” that's essentially the re-imagined food pyramid for those relying exclusively on animal products. Use this infographic to build your carnivore diet meal plan:
Carnivore might be a consequence-free panacea. I have my doubts. If I were to follow it longer, I'd make a few changes to typical protocols:
Supplement with collagen. If you eat connective tissue, organ meat, and follow a “nose-to-tail” version, you'll get plenty of collagen. But most don't. Muscle meat (the typical cuts) lack essential amino acids. Collagen is a special blend of amino acids, essential to long-term health. Glycine, one of the abundant amino acids, is thought to balance the methionine abundant is typically consumed cuts.
Eat quality. If I couldn't get organic, grass-fed meat, I wouldn't go carnivore. Conventional meat is loaded with hormones, drugs, and tiny packets of cellular information called exosomes. Animals living in abysmal conditions pass that extinction stress to you. In fact, researchers can detect these information packets in your bloodstream just 15 minutes after a meal, changing the expression of your genes.
Lightly cook meat. Charring meat produces carcinogens. Usually offset by antioxidants in herbs and spices, carnivores miss this balance. Stick to medium-rare for more flavor and fewer free radicals.
Exercise. To get the most out of carnivore, move more. Take advantage of the free fatty acids and aminos surging through your bloodstream. Your body is in a great environment to thrive from exercise. You'll also build up your energy-generating factories called mitochondria. Refer to my articles on building strength with blood flow restriction training, super slow strength, daily kettlebell training, micro-workouts, or even walking.
Carnivore Diet Questions & Answers
Does the carnivore diet put you in ketosis?
Carnivore is a zero-carb diet that puts you into ketosis. Unlike the ketogenic diet, however, the high protein from meat limits your maximum ketone levels. Through the process of gluconeogensis, the body converts excess protein into glucose. Rest assured that gluconeogensis is inefficient so you'll only convert enough to power the brain and other glucose-consuming systems.
How much meat does someone on the carnivore diet eat per day?
Generally, people eat between 2 to 5 pounds of meat per day on the carnivore diet. As their body adjusts over time they eat less. Carnivore recommends eating to satiety. Factors such as body size, physical activity, stress, and sleep impact meat consumption.
How long does it take to get results from carnivore diet?
Time to get results depends on the desired benefits. People begin feeling better within a week of starting carnivore. But weight loss, diminished cravings, appetite reduction, uncovering food sensitivities, and metabolic health can take one month or more.
Can you gain weight on the Carnivore Diet?
Can you build muscle on the carnivore diet?
Carnivore is good for muscle building due to the high levels of protein in meat. Protein is made up of different building blocks called amino acids. Meat has the ideal ratio of amino acids for getting strong and building muscle.
Carnivore Diet: An Excellent Short-Term Metabolic Reset
Today's pop-sci advocates healthy fats, lots of produce, and tiny portions of meat. Carnivore flips that. As the name suggests, carnivores eat only animal products. It's the zero-carb answer to reverse a lifetime of sugar addiction, insulin resistance, and declining health.
Carnivore is one of the simplest, and most enjoyable elimination diets. Carnivores don't count calories and eat to satiety. People use it to uncover food sensitivities, regain metabolic flexibility, cure cravings, and reset their gut microbiome.Overindulgence in carbs stops body fat burning. Click To Tweet
But the diet is largely unresearched.
Short-term carnivore seems safe. Indeed, various ancient tribes subsisted primarily on meat. And in snowy regions, winter kills plants. These ancestors relied on meat.
Long-term carnivore lacks enough robust research. Even cutting-edge doctors are hesitant to recommend it to patients. The data just aren't there yet. Questions arise over carnivore's impact on:
- Plant antioxidants
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K2
Follow the above tips, eat “nose-to-tail”, and some of these become less problematic.
Judging by the sheer number of success stories, at very least carnivore challenges our foundational understanding of nutrition.
My two favorite carnivore resources: