Here we are! 30 days of carnivore complete. As strict a plan as I’ve ever done. An entire month of nothing but meat, eggs, electrolytes and water. No snacks, condiments, herbs, vegetables or caffeine (bar the single ‘cheat moment’ of the journey). The details of this plan can be found in my ‘starting carnivore’ article.
The experiment was that of a total elimination diet in a bid to achieve consistent, all-day high energy — as when trying to eat a varied diet, it makes it pretty darn difficult to narrow down what may be negatively impacting you.
More recently, I had come around to the idea that vegetables may prove harmful to some with a compromised gut. A history of high anti-biotics use had me wondering whether I would indeed be better off without the histamines, oxalates, lechtins and syllicides that are found in many vegetables. So off I went, lugging a wheelbarrow of beef and a satchel full of pink himilayan sea salt, sauntering into the distance…
Where were my wings?
I record a daily score out of 10 for my perceived energy/mood, and the above chart tells a clear story: my time going carnivore resulted in the worst month of energy I’ve had all year. The single key goal for this experiment was hoping to fly through a month with high energy — a goal I’d happily go any length to achieve, even if that meant cutting out literally every other ingredient I’m used to eating, as I did here.
On the surface, it would appear that the experiment was a failure, contrary to popular claims of #meatheals. But as ever, the story is never that black and white.
When you have restricted your diet down to quite literally meat and salt, and find you’re still suffering — it can only prompt you to cast a skeptical eye at these two remaining ingredients. There was a moment where I considered living out the rest of my days consuming nothing but pockets of air and surviving off nuggests of wisdom. But there were two leads remaining…
I considered the meat I was eating and learnt of the claims that grass-fed meat is far superior to grain-fed due to better omegas balance and higher nutrient content. Some respected figures go as far as to deem the difference significant enough to warrant considering grass-fed “pratically a different food”.
Others stand behind the idea that even the worst meat is better than eating vegetables. Nonetheless, I prioritised grass-fed meat, opting for organic ribeye steaks over regular supermarket minced beef. I then turned my attention to my electrolytes, where I discovered…
The Power of Salt?
Read any book on Keto, listen to any podcast, watch any YouTube video and the #1 tip you’ll come across is: get on top your electrolytes. It’s a crucial piece of advice, one which I’ve been quick to tout the minute I had any friend or loved one suffering when initially having significantly reduced their carbs.
I’ve practiced what I’ve preached. From electrolyte pills and powders, to liberal use of pink himilayan sea salt — I’ve acknowledged the significance and had it covered. Or so I thought. I took the time to measure how much sodium I appear to actually be getting daily, and in total — it seems I have long been floating around the 2g mark.
Many sources recommend a solid 5–8g of sodium daily. More if you are intermittent fasting, even more so if you are active. One reason for this is based on the fact that lower consumption of carbs, results in lower levels of insulin, thus lower retention of water — which results in the kidneys flushing out electrolytes.
In going carnivore (also known as zero carb), I would have further still reduced my insulin levels, flushed out yet more sodium, and this could have been a key factor in why the past month has had me suffering more moments than usual of feeling spaced-out, brain foggy, iritable and low in mood.
Come day 26 of the experiment, having re-visited ‘The Salt Fix’ by Dr James DiNicolantonio, I ramped up my sodium intake — from 2g daily to around 6g. I did this in what appears to be the only feasible manner — by dumping grams of salt into water and consuming over the course of an hour or two. With still water, you’re left with a drink resembling warm sweat. In a bottle of sparkling water, you’re left with what I found to be a perfectly refreshing drink.
Almost immediately it seems the clouds began to part, energy climbed by the day and so electrolyte deficiency appears to be an anchor I’ve been carrying for a lot of my low-carb journey. This can be seen at the far-right of my energy chart, where the erractic fluctuations began to stabalise.
The potential significance of such a realisation had me reflecting on why it could be so easy to have got wrong thus far. The reasons are aplenty, and worthy of consideration for anyone adopting a low carb approach:
- Salt is not sodium. For every gram of salt, you are only getting ~0.4g of sodium — with the rest being chloride. Sodium and salt are often spoken of interchangably, but the difference in this context is crucial and could be a factor as to why you are getting half of what you may think you’re taking in.
- Supplements might not enough. A scoop of electrolyte powder from BulkPowders contains a mere 200mg of sodium, same for “Electrolyte Plus” tablets from MyProtein. Two products which had long been my staple. Mineral water contains neglible sodium for our purposes, potassium pills are limited to 99mg. It’s simply not feasible to get in the 5–8g range via supplementation along.
- A carnivore mantra is: Eat Beef. Drink water. There’s fierce debate on this, but the consensus appears to be that you should get by just fine without needing to think about supplementation. Perhaps longer term adaption would reduce the need or extra effort with regards to electrolytes, but I wasn’t willing to wait around much longer to find out.
- As with every other conventional wisdom we’ve got wrong, it’s tricky to stray from a path which is prescribed by the government, NHS, doctors and everyone around you. Salt here is no exception and it’s taken time to accept that the liberal use of salt and supplementation may still not have been enough.
- Through my low-carb journey, my blood pressure had steadily climbed, reaching the upper-ranges of what could be considered healthy. This appeared to peak soon after starting the Carnivore diet, and initially had me react by reducing my electrolytes further still. It felt a gamble to ramp up my sodium towards the end of the experiment — which to my surprise, brought my blood pressure down to my lowest reading in the past year.
Today was as big of a surprise as any other on this keto carnivore journey, where I'm now on day 27…
This does pose an important question: why should a healthy diet full of whole, unprocessed foods require such supplementation of electrolytes? Common theories for this include the fact that due to farming practices, our soil is relatively depleted of the electrolytes which were once rich. Secondly, our ancestors would very likely have consumed copious amounts of blood from animals, which would have been loaded with minerals.
Despite my frustrations with energy, I’d consider myself having been adequately functional the past few years. But we’re not here just to survive, our goal should be to thrive — and it’s tapping into this increased performance and optimal health that may well require paying extra attention to our electrolytes.
Curious about my poop, sleep or blood? Of course you are, you lovable rogue you. Read on for various observations from my month of carnivore:
- The unfounded fear of Protein — Contrary to the fear of excess protein generally found in the Keto community, I found that I was comfortably in ketosis throughout the experiment. It would seem that the increased protein was offset by the near total reduction of carb consumption that comes with going zero-carb. An awesome article by Amy Berger covers gluconeogenesis and provides a reassuring read, highlighting that the conversion from protein to glucose is not supply-driven, but demand-driven and doesn’t ‘just happen’.
Lunch today tasted amazing, but was about 1 patty too much 😬 hit up @gbkburgers with the work…
- From effortless to boring — The simplicity and convenience in eating nothing but meat was liberating. But as the days turned to weeks, and without feeling amazing as hoped, I soon started to yearn for variety. Once having realised how sodium deficient I appear to have been, I counted down the minutes to the end of the experiment, where I would be able to consume whole food sources for the likes of potassium, through almonds and avocados for example.
- Poop problems — All that I had read of the carnivore diet suggested that fiber was unnecessary, and that although poopage movements may be less frequent, you’ll otherwise have no troubles. This did not happen with me, and although indeed infrequent, my movements varied between the extremes. One occurrence had my movement resembling a dribbling tap of foamy water, the next felt the equivalent of trying to poop a tennis ball. I do wonder to what extent a potential sodium deficiency may have had here.
- Sleep, cycles and heart rates — My sleep on carnivore was pretty regular, but I did find a repeat of experiences that hit me roughly once every two weeks. Firstly, that getting a limited amount of sleep (say ~4 hours), can have me surprisingly energised the day following. Secondly, there have been moments where I’ve woken mid-dream, and felt particularly groggy for the entirety of the day. This may be down to where in a sleep cycle I awaken. In the case of limited sleep, it appears sleep deprivation can result in an increase in cortisol and adrenaline — explaining the relatively wired state.
- low energy > frustrated and stressed > hungry — As with losing weight, I find fasting to be another case where it’s not so much a case of willpower, but of managing hormones and removing the barriers to success. In the multiple crashes of energy I had over the past month, fasting was near impossible, with the resulting stress/frustration ramping up my hunger. Whether this is sub-conscious comfort eating and the deep-rooted association between “food = energy”, or whether it can be explained hormonally (frustration causing a cortisol spike, thus increased insulin levels, thus less access to fats) is unclear.
- Ket-oh the variety! — I used to feel that the ketogenic diet was restrictive, that our options are limited and that we’re making a sacrifice in opting for adherence. The carnivore diet has reset my threshold as to what ‘normal’ can be and having returned to grabbing a keto haul for my weekly shop, I feel absolutely spoilt for choice.
The 10 days before committing to a full carnivore diet, I eased into the diet by including nuts. In this time I lost a lot of water weight, and so was surprised to see the weight continue to plummet well into the experiment. I tracked all that I ate in MyFitnessPal, with the 30 days macros looking at follows:
Carnivore blood test results
It had been about a year since my last set of blood tests, and coming to the end of my carnivore experiment seemed as good a time as any other to send off half my body-weight in blood to the awesome crew at Thriva.
I got a wide set of tests done this time around, including cholesterol, liver profile, vitamin D, testosterone and more. Here they are in full, with a few comments on the more interesting results. These can be compared with results from my previous results of having been 3 months into Keto.
Resources of the month
- Carnivore Diet: Why would it work? What about Nutrients and Fiber? — A must-watch from the awesome “What I’ve Learned” YouTube channel. A balanced, thorough and scientific run-down on the why and how of the all-meat diet.
- High Salt Diets & Athletic Performance w/ Dr. James Dinicolantonio — a great discussion of the significance of salt, and how many of need more than we are currently getting. Fascinating watch.
- More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Protein & Gluconeogenesis — a must-read from the awesome Dr Amy Berger on why we shouldn’t fear protein. A great deep-dive, take note!
- Syed goes Keto — Setting out not just for weight-loss, but health-gain, my close buddy Syed Ansar has a myriad of health issues to overcome, but thankfully a drive every bit as large as the challenge. There’s little made public just yet on his Instagram at @syedansar1562, but there’s a killer documentary in the works for which I have no doubt in it’s power to inspire others going forward. Stay tuned.
I’m confident that the carnivore diet could prove to be powerful by avoiding problematic foods that may be holding you back, and by providing all the nutrients you need (particularly with the inclusion of organ meats) in a manner most bio-available.
But, in the case where you do not have an auto-immune condition that is directly alleviated by going carnivore, then it would seem that you’d be better served by a keto/paleo diet for the wider variety of foods sources from which to get your nutrients and as a diet that is easier/more convenient to sustain.
I do feel that by staying on top of electrolytes, and allowing enough time for adaption — most could soar on the carnivore diet. Some concerns do still remain for me: such as the idea that you could develop further tolerances through prolonged elimination of foods that may not bother you much at present.
I plan to keep carnivore as a heavy influence in my diet going forward, but will otherwise keep it strictly keto for the foreseeable future. I’ll keep a close eye on the carnivore scene, peering over the fence and awaiting a moment where the grass appears just about greener enough to climb back over. Ideally backed with more in the way of scientific research, which is understandably lacking at present.
Keep my spot warm carnivore crew.