The carnivore diet, also called the zero-carb or all-meat diet, still thrives in the fringe realms of biohackers and those looking for last resort solutions to health problems they are facing.
Its effectiveness will likely remain veiled in controversy and debate in the medical community solely over its polarizing tenants.
Proponents and critics alike have made extensive claims about this diet — which more often than not, are highly exaggerated statements based on a half-assed research attempts.
Many of the questions that have appalled the general population about the diet, where you primarily eat meat, still remain largely ignored and unanswered by mainstream medicine.
If you are or have ever been curious about the carnivore diet and its effects on bodybuilding and fitness, this article should help answer any of your questions questions, including:
Is this restrictive diet regime any good for bodybuilding?
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Does a carnivore diet actually cure arthritis or depression like it claims?
Could you live all life on steak and eggs?
Would zero-carb diet help me lose weight?
Can I gain lean muscle mass without carbs?
For the length of this article, we will discuss how eliminating carbohydrates from your diet may benefit your efforts at gaining mass.
But before we get into this. Please keep in mind — and this should be said more often — human beings are complex machines with internal processes that don’t always sync up with each other, so there is no universal diet that can be plastered on every individual.
Many of the benefits had by those following carnivore diets cannot be guaranteed. You have to carefully choose what works for you and what doesn't. Listen to your body. And speak to your doctor.
Golden rule of being cutting-edge: Experimenting is necessary.
Keeping this in mind, the first thing you should do is to visualize what you want. What do you want a diet to do for you? How restrictive of a diet can you handle? How fluid is your routine? And most of all, how bad do you want it?
This is a preliminary exercise to speed you up in attaining the goals you have. It has nothing to do with the effectiveness of zero-carb diets, or any diet for that matter.
Let’s see if you have answered the first half of the question: Do you want to gain muscle with this diet?
Excellent, we are halfway there.
Now let’s peel off the second layer of this question and see what the zero-carb diet is and how it can help you in gaining muscle.
The carnivore diet is a diet based on entirely animal products— meat, fish, eggs and certain kinds of dairy. No fruits, vegetables, grains or seeds. Anything that does not come from animals is prohibited.
The biggest reason for this emphasis on removing plants from the diet is based on the fact that many plants have defensive mechanisms that over time wreak havoc on our bodies, especially in our gut and thus, our immune system.
This diet was commonly referred to as the “egg and steak diet” in the 1940’s, long before it was ever called the carnivore diet.
Foods that are okay to eat are beef, chicken, pork, lamb, turkey, organ meats, salmon, sardines, bone marrow, and fish. Small amounts of heavy cream and hard cheeses are also allowed but often cause issues in people with dairy intolerance.
Other forms of dairy, like milk, have high amounts of sugar, which will lead to lower levels of ketosis. For this reason, milk isn’t recommended, although it is accepted.
This might come out to you as an extremely limited diet so you would likely be surprised to learn that this way of eating (WoE) isn’t new to us humans. Many civilizations before us had diets that were either completely carnivorous or had negligible plant contents in them.
The Inuits, Chukotka, Masai, Samburu, and Rendille warriors all fed themselves on meat, fish or milk. Were they weak people who could barely stand up and were riddled with heart diseases? No. Thus this alone lends large credibility to the fact that carnivore diets can be completely life sustaining.
But is it effective for muscle gain? That’s what we are after.
Contents of This Post
- 1 Bodybuilding on the Carnivore Diet — a glance at the past:
- 2 Don’t I Need Carbs to Build Muscle?
- 3 Is the Steak & Eggs Diet Enough For Building Muscle?
- 4 The Biggest Mistake Most Bodybuilders Make
- 5 Bodybuilding on the Carnivore Diet
- 6 Supplements That Help Increase Muscle on Carnivore
- 7 Using Creatine While on the Carnivore Diet?
- 8 Why Zero-Carb Diets Works in Muscle Gain
- 9 Conclusion
Bodybuilding on the Carnivore Diet — a glance at the past:
Vince Gironda, the Iron Guru, is considered the absolute champion of carnivorous diets among bodybuilders. He was of the opinion that steak and eggs were enough to sustain a ripped body, and he showed the world that he was right.
Dozens of fertile hen’s eggs, raw cream or half-and-half milk, and steak cooked with butter fueled the workouts of Gironda and many of his disciples.
There’s a reason that this fanatical genius was sought by esteemed professional bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
His gym was home to many greats who came to train under him, including the likes of the first Mr. Olympia winner, Larry Scott, and Golden Era greats like Mohamed Makkawy, Lou Ferrigno, Frank Zane, and Don Howorth.
Don’t I Need Carbs to Build Muscle?
We need two things to make muscles: fat and protein. Carbohydrates have no role in the structure of the muscle. Their only relevance to muscle is that they get converted to glycogen, which can then be stored inside the muscle tissue, even though they are still not a part of the muscle fiber.
Jacking up on carbs may help you in looking ‘big’ quite quickly but it does not contribute to overall muscle growth unless you are being fueled by it.
Our bodies use two sources for fuel, glucose and fats. The glucose that we primarily operate on is derived from carbohydrates. This is why the traditional muscle-building techniques call out for an overloading of carbs and proteins so that our body can get enough fuel which in turn would be used to stimulate the muscle.
That stimulus is a signal for the muscle to adapt. That adaptation results in larger muscles because the body is preparing for that strenuous load to be placed on it again.
What happens when our body can’t find anymore glucose? It goes into ketosis — our liver starts converting fat in the diet, or that stored in the body, into ketones that provide a steady flow of energy. Simply put: an alternate energy stream is adopted.
It might take 2 or more weeks for the body to become fully adapted. Your workouts workouts will likely suffer during this time due to fatigue.
This is not because your body is short on fuel, the body simply hasn't made the adaptation from using carbs as the main source of energy to using fat and ketones.
As carbohydrates are essentially eliminated when you’re following the steak and egg diet you’ll find yourself losing a large amount of water weight. This happens because water molecules bind to carbohydrates and allow your muscles to appear more full and big.
Your physique, generally within the first week, will look less bloated and muscle tone and fibers will become more defined. A decent drop in scale weight within the first week is often confused for losing a large amount of fat, however as you’ll find, the majority of this is water.
Is the Steak & Eggs Diet Enough For Building Muscle?
Yes it is. Steak and eggs provide you with enough macro and micro-nutrients that are required for a lean body. Here's the nutritional information for 306 grams of sirloin steak (around 11 ounces):
- 744 calories
- 0 carbs
- 43.5 grams total fat
- 17.1 grams saturated fat
- 18.1 grams monounsaturated fat
- 1.6 grams polyunsaturated fat
- 389 mg omega-3 fatty acids
- 1126 mg omega-6 fatty acids
- 82.5 grams protein
In daily values:
- Vitamin E: 7%
- Vitamin K: 6%
- Thiamin: 15%
- Vitamin B6: 86%
- Vitamin B12: 81%
- Folate: 6%
- Niacin: 110%
- Pantothenic Acid: 16%
- Riboflavin: 23%
- Iron: 29%
- Calcium: 6%
- Magnesium: 17%
- Phosphorus: 64%
- Copper: 12%
- Potassium: 29%
- Zinc: 99%
- Selenium: 128%
Aside from vitamin A, C, and D, it’s clear that steak gives an incredibly large amount of protein with a good combination of saturated and unsaturated fats.
Here is the list of nutrients in an egg:
- 90.2 calories
- 0.4 g carbs
- 7.0 g total fat
- 2.0 g saturated fat
- 2.9 g monounsaturated fat
- 1.2 g polyunsaturated fat
- 75.9 mg omega-3 fatty acids
- 1077 mg omega-6 fatty acids
- 6.3 g protein
Research shows that apart from Vitamin D and E, these two can provide us with every nutrient we require. And since this eliminates cookies, sodas, cakes, candy, pastries, and similar high-carb foods, it is good for health in two layers.
These foods are low in beneficial nutrients and often high in calories. Thus, they should be eliminated in any diet. In fact, limiting refined carbs and sugary foods is often associated with being a cause of diabetes.
According to Brian St. Pierre, R.D., Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition, plant foods aren’t essential in the human diet, unlike essential fatty acids.
“What do we actually need to live? We need protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals in certain amounts. Animal food — meat, especially can cover those needs”
The Biggest Mistake Most Bodybuilders Make
Many bodybuilders fall prey to thinking more stimulus is always better. So they spend 2 hours a day, 6 days per week busting their asses in the gym. They workout so hard on leg day that they can barely walk out of the gym or up the stairs.
This is one of the STUPIDEST things bodybuilders do.
The objective of working out is to provide the muscle with a stimulus to grow. This stimulus causes the muscle to adapt to the expected new workload.
All you need is this simple adaptation signal. When you stress the muscle too much, you are doing more than sending a signal to adapt, you are completely damaging the muscle fiber.
By damaging the muscle, the muscle no longer is only concerned with adapting and growing, it is now concerned with simply repairing the excessive damage inflicted upon it.
Muscles take days to heal. So by the time it has healed to its original state before the workout, it is subjected to another workout, causing the same damage again.
This process is repeated over and over again and this is why you see guys bust their asses in the gym who be the exact same size 2 months later.
It’s painful to see these guys destroy their bodies and get nowhere.
The guy who can barely walk after leg day will not put on any more muscle because the body isn't able to adapt in this case, it is simply trying to repair all the excessive damage imposed on it.
This principle is how body builders like Mike Mentzer brought a revolution to the world of bodybuilding and created amazing physiques with HIIT exercises and long recovery periods.
Mentzer actually derived this philosophy from Arthur Jones who showed that it was possible to pack on over 60 lbs of muscle in under 1 month. Jones’s study turned the world of bodybuilding upside down and left many wondering how it could even possibly be real.
Bodybuilding on the Carnivore Diet
I recommend following the Arthur Jones approach if you are serious about putting on muscle. If you aren't, then just read the articles on bodybuilding.com and be content wasting loads of money on supplements and see abysmal results.
Tim Ferriss actually followed the Arthur Jones approach and put on a significant amount of muscle in a short period of time. For this reason and because of the results I’ve experienced myself through following his muscle building section in The 4 Hour Body, I suggest following this method of lower volume for your training routine.
This may sound easier than working out for 2 hours at a time, but when you are actually working out in this method, you are pushing your muscles so hard that at times you might tear up.
The dietary component is of course different from Jones’s if you are a carnivore, but the idea of eating A LOT is the same.
When not exercising much, most carnivores get by on about 2 lbs of meat per day. Of course your demand for energy will be much higher if you are looking to pack on muscle. You should aim to eat at least 3 lbs of muscle per day starting off.
If you are just starting on a carnivore diet, your plan will be a little bit different.
When you shift from a non-carnivorous to a carnivorous diet — as explained earlier — a shift in your appetite curve occurs. It’s a momentary dip and usually flattens out quite quickly.
Keep in mind that the new ‘normal diet’ you now have of carnivore diet may/may not be similar in volume to your previous diet.
This is completely normal and there is no need to force yourself to eat as much or as many times as you ate before.
All you have to do for this step is to calculate your average consumption. Calculate your calories and protein grams. It’s okay to round off values or ignore things that you don’t understand. We are looking for fuzzy numbers anyway just so we can track consumption over time.
Simply weighing your meats and writing it down is enough.
If you are trying to pack on muscle, you will need to provide a stimulus to the muscle and provide the body with the resources it needs, which translates to being in a caloric surplus. This is why you need to track how much you eat, so that you know whether you are eating enough or not.
When you first begin implementing this diet, go ahead and follow it when you feel hungry. There is no need to eat when you are not hungry at this point because there are so many other stressors going on.
As soon as you are adapted and see results plateau, increase how much you are eating. It may or may not be a significant increase, it just has to be a bit more than before. You certainly shouldn't move from 3lb of meat to 5lb in one day but you can always increase the number of eggs in your diet. Add one egg. Add a little more butter. A little more meat.
And you have to do this continuously in small intervals. As soon as this new diet becomes accepted by your digestion system, increase it. Don’t force the increase to be every 2 weeks or 1 month. Go naturally, follow the golden rule and follow what works for you.
This progression might be over the course of a few months. Continue slowly, this way you can maintain body fat while increasing the amount of muscle you have. This provides enough resources for the body to adapt from the stimulus given to it.
Supplements That Help Increase Muscle on Carnivore
The next question that comes to mind is whether taking supplements on a carnivore diet is okay or suggested? There are varying opinions on this.
Some suggest that meat and eggs are enough to provide the resources necessary. But chances are, if you are not eating a nose-to-tail diet, you will hit an “I can’t eat anymore” point where, supplements can provide a huge advantage in getting all the nutrients and resources you need.
You should use the following supplements on carnivore to ensure you have all the necessary nutrients you need:
Creatine provides extra energy for the muscles and has a potent benefit on cognitive abilities. The next section speaks more about this supplement.
Beef Liver Pills
Liver is a superfood, but many people do not have safe sources to get this superfood from or they simply do not like the taste.
Unless you are eating large amounts of beef liver, you are likely missing out on many vitamins. Organ meat supplements, especially beef liver pills are a great option for those looking to avoid eating organ meats, as for many, they are certainly an acquired taste…
These fats keep the machinery of the body lubed up and running well.
Sourcing these in the form of a high-quality fish oil or in the form of salmon roe will be your best options if you do not like sardines.
I absolutely recommend salmon roe as it is an uncompromised source of these vital fats.
Unless you are eating plenty of fish in your diet, you are likely missing out on omega 3's.
This is essential if you are to absorb the most protein possible, because otherwise much of the protein being eaten is simply wasted because it cannot be used in the improper ratios received by only eating muscle meat.
It is also good for the skin, nails, and bones.
Essential Amino Acids
These are NOT BCAA’s. BCAA's are a mixture of 3 amino acids and offer little to no value from a bodybuilding standpoint.
EAA’s are different because they are 100% utilized by the body to build and repair. These amino acids have the exact ratios required to be fully available for the body to make use of.
Many on ketogenic diets cite EAA’s as being the sole reason they were able to gain muscle on low-carb diets.
A large percentage of the population is deficient in Vitamin D, which can easily cause issues in energy levels and many other things.
Using Creatine While on the Carnivore Diet?
A few reasons to use creatine while simultaneously being on a carnivore diet are as follows:
When first starting a low-carb, ketogenic diet, you might hit a ‘low energy’ phase (as mentioned earlier) where you may be fatigued enough to feel like skipping training. Incorporating creatine into your routine before exercising could help restore some energy you need for those workouts.
This not only helps in the physical aspect of the workout though. Creatine has a proven benefit on the brain and can help with eliminating brain fog and the laziness caused by fatigue.
Research has suggested that creatine can increase the mental capability or IQ by up to 3 points in vegetarians and vegans. This is not meant to be an attack on those following plant-based diets, but this was an observance in the study.
Creatine does provide a different mechanism to derive energy from though. So by primarily eating red meats and things that contain creatine, you should get enough to saturate your creatine stores.
Supplementing with creatine at 5g per day can help ensure you meet that saturation amount though. High-creatine foods and creatine supplements may be very helpful when performing exercises that require sudden, large bursts of energy, such as weightlifting.
Why Zero-Carb Diets Works in Muscle Gain
When on a carnivore diet, you will often consume more than 250 grams of protein every day. All this protein will have a generally agreed upon positive effect on body composition.
Leads to better serum glucose control, lower inflammation, lowers water weight and enhances body composition look.
High intake of animal fat and cholesterol
Cholesterol isn’t as bad as previously thought. Fat and cholesterol often enhance sex hormone production and the health and function of the brain.
Effect of an elimination diet
The carnivore diet is basically the most essential elimination diet possible. By taking out any plant food that could even possibly cause issues, you allow the body to heal from any damage caused by plant toxins. On the no-carb diet you exclude gluten, lactose (most of the time), fructose, and polyunsaturated plant oils, all of which are well-known contributors to inflammation and GI issues.
Less is more
Meat is satiating — it causes us to feel full. It tastes good but we’re typically not tempted to overeat it. This helps keep your weight in check. It has also been shown to reduce caloric intake by increasing what’s called “food habituation”.
Dr. Layne Norton, the internet famous bodybuilder/physique coach says that, “If I give you a plate of french fries, like 200 grams of french fries, you can get a lot of calories from that.
If I give you 200 grams of meat, even a real fatty meat, it’s not nearly the same. You’re going to be much more satiated from the protein. You can only eat so much meat.”
In the end, it all boils down to what YOU want.
There are thousands of ways to get where you want to go but if you want to get ripped on carnivore diet, we have given you the direction and the instructions.
Keep killing the weights.
This diet is certainly effective in gaining muscle mass, so get out there and get those 20-inch guns.