The Carnivore Diet Experiment
Well, that was interesting. I did a complete reset in January 2021 as far as diet and some other lifestyle changes. Full disclosure, I am not a nutritionist or dietitian but rather just a curious, open minded person who has never been afraid to experiment on their own body.
Admittedly, I did a minimal amount of research, just mainly exploring other people’s experiences and anecdotes from internet searches, social media accounts, and podcasts. I am going to share my month-long journey with the Carnivore Diet, also known as the “meat diet” or “lion diet” in some circles. Please do your own due diligence if you decide to jump down this rabbit hole – it can seem a touch extreme. I’ve dabbled with different diets the past 7 years or so, namely Paleo and Keto sprinkled in with periods of throwing caution to the wind as far as what foods I was consuming.
There is no denying that food affects performance, mood, energy levels, body composition, and just overall health. Nutrition and diet can be quite subjective depending on your ancestry, genetics, metabolic health, and generally what your lifestyle goals are. Someone who is trying to lose 100 pounds and someone else who is trying to gain 20 pounds of muscle mass will probably have different diets. We don’t need to get into the minutia of it all, this isn’t really about the pros and cons of different diets. Everyone’s food journey is different, and the above-mentioned factors certainly play a part in that.
So, what the heck is the Carnivore Diet anyway? The name basically describes the basic tenets of it. You eat animal products and a lot of them. There are a few schools of thoughts on the specifics of what you’re “allowed” to eat. The stripped-down version endorsed by Shawn Baker of MeatRx.com is mainly red meat and some dairy. No fruits, vegetables, or plant products of any kind. He’s a big dude and eats upwards to 5 pounds of steak a day.
Paul Saladino, who wrote “The Carnivore Code”, has a bit more of a balanced approach which incorporates organ meats and a limited quantity of the budding fruits of plants (think avocado, blueberries, and the like). Again, diet is subjective and there’s no one size fits all approach to it. I chose the stripped-down version because I’ve yet to read Saladino’s book, which is staring me in the face as I type this. I will jump back into this diet again after reading his book and implementing what I learn from it.
My ancestry traces back to people who came from cold climates. Climates that aren’t very suitable to lush vegetation, so it would make sense my bloodline probably survived primarily on fat. Namely, animal fat. From my own personal experience playing around with macro nutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates) – I’ve found I function better overall with a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. With a certain level of diligence and understanding, one can train their body to become fat adaptive, which basically means your body will use fat as a primary energy source.
The standard recommended US diet is more suited to a bodily energy system relying more on carbohydrates as fuel. Quite simply, think of periodically throwing logs in a fire as it relates to using fat as a primary energy source as opposed to frequently squirting lighter fluid on a fire as it relates to using carbohydrates as energy. Over time it’s possible to train your body to be able to switch back and forth between energy systems. For example: doing a high intensity WOD may require the body to pull some energy from the carb camp, and on your rest day the body can primarily rely on its fat reserves.
By now you may be wondering what my experience on this diet was like. I would say I was about 95% disciplined throughout the month of January. I did not give up coffee, which is derived from a bean and therefore is not carnivore friendly. I also drank Zevia every night with my last meal, which is a calorie free soda that has Stevia as an active ingredient. Stevia is a plant, so again I cheated here too. I imbibed alcohol on one occasion, drinking about 6 tequila and sodas as I devoured a 20 oz bone in rib-eye, a dozen oysters, and a handful of jumbo shrimp at the Stockyard in Brighton during a belated birthday dinner with my uncle. I also ate some caramel edibles one Saturday night. Oh, and there was that bowl of chili I ate that had beans and veggies in it. So maybe I was about 90% disciplined. But it was good enough to really experience the effects of the diet.
I started on January 2nd , after a holiday binge of eating every delicious treat and processed food you can imagine. I went all out before starting this and had a great time doing so. I prepared the start of my adventure by stocking the fridge and freezer with lots and lots of fatty cuts of steak, 80/20 ground beef, bacon, cheese, butter, and eggs. Also had a stockpile of sardines in my pantry.
After the first couple of days, I started feeling an extreme burst of energy – waking up at 3:45 AM most days, going to the gym, and then coming home to begin a very productive work day. In fact, I woke up at 3:30 today full of piss and vinegar, and excited to get this down on paper. No afternoon crashes, no naps, no cranky mood swings. Generally feeling quite happy and optimistic. Mental clarity and focus had me feeling like I was on drugs most days. And this persisted all month. This was in conjunction with getting to bed by 9 PM, abstaining from alcohol and marijuana (besides the previously mentioned two occasions of indulgence), cutting TV viewing down to 4-5 hours/week, and a daily practice of meditation, reading, and writing.
I do believe the diet helped facilitate establishing these other habits. Lifestyle changes are funny that way. It wasn’t all gumdrops and rainbows though, there were a few drawbacks. That first week involved a lot of bathroom adventures, let us just keep it at that. It can also get quite expensive eating 2-3 pounds of steak every day. I would go to the supermarket once or twice a week and literally buy every single piece of steak that was on sale. As delicious as a big juicy rib-eye steak is, it can get a bit boring so my “treat” became pork rinds. A pork rind, if you don’t know, is a crunchy fried pig skin with salt. I kind of got addicted to them and am currently weaning myself off. But the biggest downside for me was that my performance at the gym started to suffer. It may be possible to consistently do CrossFit WODs being carb restricted, but I did not find that to be the case in this experience.
There is a hypothesis that over time your body can start converting fat to act as glycogen, but I didn’t have the patience to test out that hypothesis past the month of January. I also did lose some weight, 9 pounds total and 6 pounds of that was water weight. Weight loss was not a goal going into this but more of a side effect because carbohydrates retain water.
In closing, I think the Carnivore Diet is a great way to reset your system. If you have goals to shed some excess body fat this may be the way to go. Essentially your body just becomes a walking granola bar, munching on itself as needed. But you need to eat a lot of fat. Like tons. Butter, cheese, and a whole bunch of animal fat. And be very liberal with your salt consumption and water intake. If I wasn’t trying to squeeze in 4-5 WODs a week, I would probably stay on this diet because of how it made me feel overall. I plan on reading Saladino’s book and diving back into this again with some slight adjustments to help fit my overall lifestyle goals better. Oh, and once February 1st hit, you better believe I crushed two delicious double cheeseburgers covered in ketchup resting between some soft fluffy buns, a large pizza, and a hot chocolate to boot.