What is the Carnivore Diet?
How to Get Started on the Lifestyle

What is the carnivore diet Featured Image

Imagine sitting down at a dinner party with friends and food is being served. There’s usually always one vegan at the table who receives a specially prepared extra helping of leaves.

At this stage, someone next to the vegan jumps in and says he’ll trade all his veg for the vegan’s share of meat. This will raise a lot of eyebrows and even the odd ridicule when that person also claims to be on an all-meat diet.

Personally, I don’t have to imagine this kind of situation as it happens to me on a regular basis.

I’ve been practicing the meat diet on and off for a few years now, and it has revealed a lot of eye-opening things about digestion, health, and mental focus that really surprised me.

So, if you’re intrigued about digging into a nice juicy rib-eye for breakfast, then sit tight and start getting excited.

What Is The Carnivore Diet?

All Meat Diet

As the name suggests, this diet is all about eating meat and other animal products. Basically, if the food came from something that could fly, walk or swim, it’s fair game, and you can have it morning noon and night. [1]

Basically, that means beef, pork, chicken, fish, and turkey are all very dominant foods in my refrigerator.

For a lot of people that might sound like heaven, but there are some very strict rules -- even if they are not officially documented. You really are very limited in what kind of macros you can focus on.

So, it might sound easier than you think.

When I explain this at dinner parties (under the evil looks of the vegan at the table), I often get asked how this is any different to keto or paleo? While there are some overlapping similarities, there are a few differences.

Keto, for example, is high-fat, medium-protein and low carb, which is possible as a vegetarian as well. Paleo does focus a lot on meat as well, but there is a lot of green stuff on your plate that wouldn’t be allowed here.

Since I have started this diet, I have definitely found that there are increasing number of people who have been converted. I’ve actually been introduced to quite a few people in my neighborhood through my butcher (who is one of my newest best friends).

A lot of the popularity comes from the fact that it’s very effective at providing the nutrients that bodybuilders need in large quantities, i.e., protein and energy (we’ll get into all the benefits further down).

If you’re still interested, then let me introduce you to some basic rules.

How To Get Started On The Carnivore Diet

Get Started On The Carnivore Diet

But over the past year, I have spent a lot of time with dieticians to come up with better meal plans and put it all together in 5 relatively simple rules.

A meat only diet is a lifestyle choice that is easier said than done.

1. What To Eat

Basically, if it was alive and contains protein and fat, then it probably passes the test.

For the most part, this will be a list of meats, but adding some dairy products is also allowed.

The list of things that are not allowed is definitely a lot longer, and we’ll get to that shortly.

Here are some examples:

  • Red Meat: Pork, Beef, Lamb, and Game
  • White Meat: Turkey, Chicken, Fish, and Seafood
  • Organ Meat: Liver, Kidney, Bone Marrow, Heart
  • Eggs: Chicken, Duck, and Goose Eggs
  • Dairy: Butter, Cheese, and Cream

Surprisingly for most people, these will provide all the nutrition you need, including vitamins, minerals, and protein.

2. How Much To Eat

The simple answer is to eat as much as it takes to feel full. Meat is an incredible filler, and you’ll be surprised how little it will actually take to keep you going for many hours.

From talking to other dieters, the average carnivore diet meal plan probably has about 2 lbs of meat per day.

During the first month, it’s likely to be a lot more as your digestive system and appetite adjust and you fight other food cravings.

Once you have adjusted, you can start to keep track of your calories and your activity. Then the question becomes: do you want to build muscle or just lose some weight?

If you head to the gym every day and want to bulk up, then 4 or more lbs is not uncommon.

3. When To Eat

I generally recommend sticking with 3 meals per day.

After about 2 weeks, your metabolism will adapt and become more efficient at sourcing energy from fats. This actually means that you should not be avoiding the fatty cuts of meat, as you’ll need them to fuel your body and brain.

Start your day off with a good dose of protein and then keep the protein levels up throughout the day.

This is especially important if you’re trying to build muscle and spend time at the gym every day.

4. What To Drink

The simple answer is water and plenty of it.

Coffee and tea, including herbal teas, are also OK, as long as you don’t sweeten them with any type of sugar.

What you want to avoid is any type of drink that contains carbs like sodas, fruit and veg juices, and energy drinks.

5. How To Cook Your Meat

Basically, prepare it in a way that you enjoy most.

Eating different meats throughout the day should not become a chore.

For beef, try to move towards the medium-rare end of the scale as this ensures more of the protein remains intact. If you don’t like that slightly bloody effect, then go for well done and slowly move towards rare over time.

For pork and poultry, it’s vital that you fully cook it from a health and safety point of view. Ideally, you should invest in a meat thermometer, as this will help you get all your meats cooked just right.

Lots of fish are also safe to eat raw, but it can be an acquired taste. Try it out, and if you don’t like it, then prepare it to your liking.

What Foods To Avoid On The Carnivore Diet?

Foods To Avoid

Basically, anything that isn’t meat really.

To be more specific, this means normally classified healthy foods like fruit and veg. For most people, this will be the biggest adjustment.

You should also avoid sauces and most seasoning. Salt and pepper are fine, but the focus should be purely on meat as nature provides it.

Highly processed meats are also best avoided, and this includes a lot of sausages. Many of these products contain things like cereal, starches and even sugar -- so avoid them unless you’re 100% certain it’s pure meat.

Unfortunately, you also have to avoid alcohol including beer and wine. These are very heavy in carbs and will cause all sorts of problems for your diet efforts.

How Often Should You Eat?

How Often To Eat

Here’s the only rule you need to follow, and there is no right or wrong way to approach it. Eat as often and as much as you need to feel full. If you like to spread things out over the day, then stick with 3 meals.

On the other hand, if you like adding some fasting periods then go with 2 or even just 1 meal.

Personally, I prefer 2 to 3 meals as it helps me spread out my protein intake to support my work at the gym.

6 Things To Consider When Starting The Carnivore Diet

We’ll get into the detailed benefits shortly, but there are a few things you need to consider before jumping into this drastic lifestyle change.

While the instructions that you have to follow are simple, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy task.

1. Living Without Eating Plants

Living Without Eating Plants

Even for the biggest meat and BBQ lovers out there, completely avoiding plant-based foods is a lot more difficult than it sounds.

If you’ve ever kept a food journal, then you will have regularly added snacks like an apple or banana, or just a simple granola and nut protein bar.

And that cookie with your afternoon coffee is also gone.

It literally is all about meat consumption and avoiding any kind of carbs altogether.

2. Stick To Three Meals A Day

Stick To Three Meals A Day

When you start out, then I would advise you to keep eating 3 meals per day, if that is your current routine. It helps you spread out larger volumes of animal products than you’re used to.

This is also my recommendation for anyone in a bulking phase at the gym. If you’re hitting the weights heavy, then you need to provide your muscles with a constant flow of protein.

For weight loss goals, I have heard of a lot of people who use intermittent fasting. You can achieve this by eating just 1 or 2 meals per day with long periods of just water in between.

3. Drinking More Hot Beverages

cup of tea

If you quickly get bored with drinking water, then adding hot beverages throughout the day is a good option.

Just keep in mind that caffeine dehydrates you, so you would still need to increase your fluid intake.

What I’ve started doing is buying different types of herbal teas which are caffeine free.

Green tea might be an acquired taste, but it is very beneficial for your whole body due to the number of antioxidants.

4. Cook Meat To Desired Taste

a pile of meat being cooked on the grill

When you’re new to a meat-based diet, then stick to your normal taste.

If you like your beef rare, then you’re already getting the most benefits, as less cooking means that less protein is degraded by heat.

But if you currently eat your beef well done, then stick with that for now and gradually move towards the rarer end of the scale.

For pork and poultry, you should always thoroughly cook it, but avoid getting to that completely dried out stage. Use a meat thermometer if you’re struggling with this.

5. All Kinds Of Meat Are Your Friend

All Kinds Of Meat Are Your Friend

Don’t just head to your butcher and ask for pork chops and striploin steaks. Change things up a lot between beef, pork, lamb, fresh fish, and even organ meat.

By switching things around on a daily basis, you will make sure that you maximize your intake of vitamins and minerals.

This also makes sure you get the full spectrum of amino acids so that your body has everything it needs.

6. Athletes Have To Be Patient For Results

Patient Man

High-performance athletes will definitely struggle in the first couple of weeks.

This is because your body no longer gets its energy from glucose which is sourced from carbs.

Instead, your body will have to adapt to processing more fat.

It’s not so much a lack of calories, but more the type of calorie intake you now have.

Improvements in both physical and mental energy will come though.

For some athletes, adding some plant products in the first weeks may be an option, just to keep the raw energy levels up to perform at your best.

The carnivore diet and ketogenic diet both permit protein and fat while restricting carbs, but the carnivore approach is considerably more extreme. Because you aren’t eating any plant foods at all, your carb intake is virtually zero.

Sean Hyson

Editor in Chief for Onnit.

Getting Started On The Diet: The Different Levels

the different levels of the lifestyle

When you make very drastic changes in your diet, then it can become quite overwhelming.

While the rules for us carnivores are relatively simple, there are some small elements to keep in mind.

For that reason, I suggest working your way through a few different levels.

Level 1

At level 1 the main rule is that if it’s meat, then it belongs on the plate. No stringent rules yet on the types of meat, cuts or the level of processing.

You will also be allowed tea and coffee, eggs, full-fat cream, butter, and cheese, just to give yourself a little diversity.

Table salt, pepper, and some electrolyte supplements are also allowed and will help make your food taste more familiar and reduce the effects of any dehydration.

It’s still a drastic change, but not quite as full-on as the final level. This gives you more of a chance to physically and mentally adapt.

Level 2

After 2 to 4 weeks at level 1, you can take the next step and remove all non-meat products. From a dietary perspective, you’ll now be taking in meat and water and nothing else.

You should now also remove any highly processed meats like pastrami and salami, as well as any dairy products. Salt and pepper are still allowed, but avoid using too much.

The idea is to take another big step towards joining true carnivores.

Level 3

Once you’ve completed another 2 to 4 weeks at level 2, you can move onto level 3 where the only allowable meat is grass-fed beef. You can switch between cuts as much as you like, and also get some organ meat from cows as well.

This will be considerably more expensive, but the quality and nutrient richness of pasture beef are just far superior.

If this does become too expensive, then just make sure you stick to beef and avoid pork, fish, and poultry.

Beyond Level 3

Stick with level 3 for about 30 days and start to observe the changes in your digestion and metabolism.

We’ll get to the benefits shortly, but you will start noticing things like increased physical and mental energy.

At this stage, you can slowly add in some of the things you removed in level 2 and 3.

You should still mainly focus on grass-fed beef, but having some regular changes like lamb and seafood will help you to stay motivated.

The aim is to identify those meat sources that make you feel bloated or sick.

Eventually, you should end up with a list of products to stick with.

Choosing What Level To Get Into First

Generally speaking, I suggest you start at level 1.

But, if you’re not a caffeine addict, then you can jump straight to level 2. I have had friends try to jump straight into level 3 and just struggle too much with the new restrictions.

Try to spend at least 30 days between levels 1 and 2 before you take that final step.

What Are The Benefits Of The Carnivore Diet?

6 Benefits Of The Carnivore Diet

Pretty much every time I get into a conversation about my diet people completely trash it and say I’m crazy taking on all that cholesterol and fat, and that I’m eating my way into an early grave.

Once I show them before and after photos of a few friends and me, and actually explain some of the health benefits, they do start to question their preconceptions.

1. Weight Loss

This is top of the list for any type of diet, but what’s particularly interesting here is what actually happens in your body.

Because you have switched to a high-protein and zero-carb food intake, your blood sugar levels will completely stabilize.

With no more carbs to be converted into fat, your body actually has to switch into a state of ketosis.

Basically, your body will burn fat from your food as fuel, and if there isn’t enough in your food, then you will burn any stored fat.

As a result, you will lose weight, and you will do this rather quickly.

2. Improved Heart Health

I know what you’re thinking. How could massive amounts of saturated fats be healthier for your heart than low meat or even a vegetarian diet?

It’s common wisdom that fat and heart attacks go together, right?

As it turns out, there are a couple of reasons to believe that this is a misconception.

One study [2] in particular has turned this theory on its head and instead points the finger at sugar as the main cause for heart disease.

And then, there is the so-called “Inuit Paradox” [3], where the people of Northwestern Alaska practically only eat fat and blubber with hardly a vegetable in sight.

Despite this, they have a 10 times lower risk of heart disease.

Today, when diet books top the best-seller list, and nobody seems sure of what to eat to stay healthy, it’s surprising to learn how well the Eskimo did on a high-protein, high-fat diet.

Patricia Gadsby

Discover Magazine

3. Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is one of the biggest issues for obese people as it causes havoc with the digestive and vascular system.

For the last 50 years, meat has been blamed for pretty much every ailment including inflammation.

But, a recent study actually compared the standard low-fat and high-carb diet to a high-fat and low-carb diet in a group of obese adults [4].

The results were actually the opposite to common beliefs showing far greater reductions in inflammation in test subjects with a high-fat diet.

4. Less Digestive Problems

One of the most common questions I get is how I handle all the bloating?

We all know that a lack of fiber will cause constipation, and you’ll soon be reaching for some form of medication to get some relief.

As it turns out, scientists have actually been able to show that decreasing fiber while constipated has very positive effects on the digestive system [5].

It’s certainly not something I have had any issues with.

5. Better Mental Focus

The metabolic changes on a meat-only diet are basically the same as the ketogenic diet. Your body switches from using easily accessible glucose to ketones for fuel.

While you might think that easy fuel is better for the brain, the exact opposite is the case.

The problem with glucose is that you constantly go through fluctuations of peaks and troughs.

However, once you switch to ketones, your body metabolizes fat from your diet or those unwanted love handles.

And, it’s these ketones that give you a lot more mental clarity.

6. Easy Diet Plan

If you have tried different diets, then you’ll know that it’s pretty much always about eliminating foods, counting something else and then adding a sprinkle of magic supplements.

They are rarely easy to understand, and rather difficult to stick to.

With the carnivore diet, it’s completely different.

If a product came from animals, then it’s pretty much on the menu.

As you progress, you do restrict it a little, but you don’t need to overthink it.

Are There Side Effects To The Carnivore Diet? 

4 side effects of the diet

Any time you make drastic changes to the foods you consume, there can be unwanted and unexpected side-effects.

1. Keto Flu

Just like with the keto diet, when your body switches from glucose to ketones, you go through an induction phase where you might feel like you have the flu.

Stomach upset, aches and pains and fatigue are all common and normal, but also temporary.

Improvements will come in a matter of days and you will fully reverse these symptoms.

2. Lack Of Vitamins

There are certain vitamins that are abundant in fruit and veg that are in short supply in meat.

As well as that, cooking food will degrade the vitamins and minerals, so you’ll always get less than the optimum amount from meat.

One solution is to use supplements which are beneficial no matter what diet you follow.

3. Dehydration

In the first few days, as your body drains all blood glucose, your body will tap into glycogen reserves. And every part of glycogen binds to 3 parts of water.

That water is released and processed by your kidneys.

It’s very likely that you’ll lose half a gallon of water in a few days.

Hormonal Rebalancing

Some people can have some initial mood swings that aren’t necessarily related to low energy levels.

As your metabolism changes, there can be some hormonal rebalancing.

However, the outcome will be a healthier immune system and stable hormone levels.

What Are The Mistakes To Avoid When On A Carnivore Diet?

5 mistakes to avoid

When I first started out I was probably a bit too confident that it would be easy.

How many mistakes could you make when preparing and eating meat, right?

As it turns out, there are a few things to avoid.

  1. 1
    Sneaking in some fruit and veg:
    To be honest, I didn’t fully understand ketosis, and I thought as long as my main source of food was meat, I’d be fine. 
    It’s called a meat-only diet for a reason, so stick with meat.
  2. 2
    Only buyi​​​​ng lean cuts
    Meat from all animals is available in lean and fatty cuts. 
    You don’t have to eat pork belly every day, but don’t be afraid of the fat. It’s what will provide you with fuel.
  3. 3
    Drinking too little water
    This is actually a problem for most Americans on all types of diets.
    But, because you’re eating less volume and most fruit and veg is predominantly water, you will have to drink more.
  4. 4
    Not eating enough
    The carnivorous diet is not just about a little bit of meat. You need to eat until you’re full. Even if you want to burn fat, your body will need plenty of energy just to keep going.
  5. 5
    Not adding salt
    Electrolytes are vital for the salinity of your blood. When you just eat meat, you can suddenly see a reduction in salts, so don’t be afraid to use it as a seasoning in your meal plan.

What Is The Science Behind The Carnivore Diet?

Science Behind The Carnivore Diet

It might sound like some sort of cliche, but a full carnivore diet is actually based on some science.

How Does It Work?

Fatty meat, lean meat, fish and poultry are all high in protein and basically zero carbs.

In the now normal western diet, the body turns all carbs into blood sugar, no matter how much energy you actually need.

Any excess glucose is then stored in the form of fat, which is why so many people are obese these days.

Carnivore dieters essentially remove all carbs, so the body has to switch to a different method of sourcing energy. And it very cleverly does so by switching to a state called ketosis.

Here dietary and stored fat is transformed into ketones, which are actually a preferred and much more efficient fuel source for physical and mental activity [6].

Carnivore Diet: Before And After

Before And After

I could show you pictures from forum posts where people have shared their results, but I thought it would be a lot more honest to show you my own carnivore diet results.

I was never obese and went to the gym regularly, but I always struggled with weight fluctuations.

I also found it difficult to bulk up, which didn’t seem to be down to what I was doing at the gym.

As you can see, I lost fat and built up some muscle in the process too. It seems to have fixed my bulking problem.

I also noticed some initial weight loss in the first two weeks of about 2 to 3 pounds.

However, I found out later that it was probably just fluid from reduced glycogen reserves.

Carnivore Diet FAQs

FAQs

Is the carnivore diet safe?
Yes, the carnivore diet is safe, and there are numerous cultures on earth that remain on a meat only diet all year.
Recent studies have also shown that sugar is the more likely culprit in heart disease, rather than saturated fats.

Will the all-meat diet cause nutrient deficiencies?
No, an all-meat diet will not cause nutrient deficiencies, as long as you mix things up.
You still need a lot of vitamins and minerals for your digestive and immune system, but by adding some fish and seafood and not overcooking your beef, you’ll still be able to get these nutrients.

Does the carnivore diet work for athletes?
Yes, the carnivore diet does work for athletes.
However, you have to expect a dip in energy, stamina, and performance in the first few weeks. Once your body fully enters ketosis, you’ll be able to get all the energy you need from fat.

How long does it take to adapt to the carnivore diet?
It usually takes about one week to adapt to the carnivore diet and enter full ketosis.
Dependent on how strict you are and how much you exercise, this can take as long as 2 weeks.

Can I include supplements while on the carnivore diet?
Yes, some supplements can be included while on the carnivore diet.
However, you have to avoid any products that contain carbs. I would suggest taking some mineral and vitamin pills, at least until you have your meal plan sorted.

You may also be able to resolve digestive problems like bloating, gas, and constipation and overcome depression, fatigue, joint pain, and other maladies.

Michael Matthews

Fitness Expert

Conclusion: Who Should Try The Carnivore Diet? 

Who Should Try The Carnivore Diet

Whether your goal is fat loss and you want to build up some serious lean mass, this diet could well be the solution you’re looking for.
 
I’ll be the first to admit that it’s rather drastic, and I did have some struggles along the way.
 
But, as you will understand at this stage, there are some real and scientifically proven benefits of getting your body to switch to ketosis.
 
Yes, you could try the keto diet, but it’s a lot more complicated than sticking to the carnivore diet food list.

You also don’t have to stay with this diet forever.

I personally have a cyclical approach to it and regularly spend 3 to 6 months on a more “normal” diet.
 
You do need commitment, and some planning is required as well.
 
And of course, there are going to be dozens of questions from friends and family.

But with all the above information you will be able to follow the carnivore diet and squash any objections you encounter. 

Keep following Carnivore Style for the latest about the diet.