“The biggest problem is that the vast majority of studies are not experimental, randomized designs. Simply by observing what people eat—or even worse, what they recall they ate—and trying to link this to disease outcomes is moreover a waste of effort. These studies need to be largely abandoned. We’ve wasted enough resources and caused enough confusion.” —Professor John Ioannidis, MD, 2018.
― Shawn Baker, The Carnivore Diet
You are a carnivore; you might not know it yet.
This guide aims to help you understand your true carnivore nature so you can decide what version of a carnivore is correct for you.
Humans must eat animals to thrive.
There are many reasons why humans are primarily carnivores. In this guide, I'll share actionable tips and the ancestral reasons why a carnivore-based diet is the most natural human diet.
We will also explore the many ways to start and stay consistent with a carnivore diet.
A note before you dive into the beautiful world of carnivore eating.
While I cover this in the Carnivore Styles section, I wanted to clarify some confusion about the carnivore diet I see passed around.
You see, most people have come to define a carnivore diet as a zero-carb, animal-only diet.
But I disagree with that.
To me, carnivore is mostly animals, not only animals. This is a significant distinction.
The pure carnivore that most people talk about is a great way to start carnivore since it serves as an elimination protocol. There are other ways to do carnivore, though, which is something everyone considering carnivore should know.
This will open up a carnivore-based diet to more people and thus reach more people with this life-changing information.
I follow a flexible carnivore style. When I started carnivore, I did include dairy. I still need to add a few plant foods to my diet here and there. Some claim this is not a true carnivore diet, but that's nonsense. The fact is, every studied hunter-gatherer we've ever encountered ate plant foods.
This doesn't necessarily mean plants are good or bad. There's much more to it than that.
But it does give us a first principle we can use to make intelligent decisions. Humans throughout our evolutionary past ate plants at least sometimes.
All plants are different, some worse than others, so create a list for yourself of foods you might want to test adding back into your diet.
I think most people will have some flexible carnivore style, and that's OK. The foundation will still be high-quality animal foods. So when I believe a carnivore diet is the foundational human diet, I am not saying a PURE carnivore diet is necessarily the best.
The majority of calories coming from animals, for most people, is the ideal diet.
So with that disclaimer out of the way, proceed to the first installment of the carnivore guide here.
Carnivore Diet Facts
Our guts are as acidic as scavengers, like a vulture. The theory is this allowed us to digest rotting meat after taking down a big kill and needing to get as much nutrition out of a rotting mammoth caucus, for example.
There are no essential plants in nature, yet there are essential nutrients we have to get from animals.
Protein and fat are the most conducive macros to a healthy metabolism. Carbs wreak havoc and cause issues with insulin, etc.
Most plants are inedible by humans. Eat them, and they will kill you. Edible plants represent a tiny percent of the plant kingdom, and in most cases, they must be cooked, soaked, fermented, or otherwise processed for human consumption.
Plants contain many toxins that attack the human body. Animals do not.
Humans can not survive on a plant-only diet. Humans can survive on an animal-only diet.
Our big brains grew from gaining greater quantity access to nutrient-rich animal foods. This resulted from many factors, but our energy-hungry brain would never have evolved if we kept eating plants the way primates do today. Gorillas and chimps spend hours each day chewing since this is what allows them to break down tough plant cellulose. They also possess an extra gut fermentation chamber that aids in breaking down plant matter. As humans became proficient hunters, leaving these plant adaptions behind was part of our evolution and something, to this day, that separates us from our primate cousins.
The argument that our ancestors lived shorter lives is inaccurate. There was no 911, modern medicine, or hospitals. A superficial infection could have been a death sentence. Also, many babies died during childbirth, and childhood mortality rates were high due to living in the harsh wild. These numbers skewed the avg lifespan down tremendously. A book worth reading on the fallibility of statistics is: ”How to lie with statistics.”
All modern observed hunter-gatherers eat a natural, wild diet and have virtually no current western disease. And all of them ate animal foods as their primary source of nutrition.
Carnivore Diet Macros
Before we get to the carnivore macro recommendations, you should note that these are pure suggestions and can serve as a place to test for yourself.
What your body actually needs is highly dependent on your personal health and goals.
A strict carnivore diet is nearly zero carbs. If you are using raw dairy, that changes things.
If you are a flexible carnivore, that also changes things. I’ll do my best to offer some guidance for each in general terms, but for the sake of this piece, I will focus on strict carnivore for the macro suggestions.
Strict Carnivore Macros
- Low range: 15%
- Medium range: 25%
- Upper range: 35%
15% is lower than I’d recommend, and higher than 35% is higher than I’d recommend.
I think it’s safe to say that a solid goal for most people is 25% of calories from protein. To build muscle, you could experiment with 35% or more of your calories from protein. Just make sure you pay close attention to what your body is telling you.
Since this is a strict carnivore, your fat intake represents the remainder of your calories after reaching your protein intake.
So this will be between 85% to 65% of calories if following the ranges above.
Personally, I’m aiming for 35% of calories from protein and the rest from fat. (Since I’m a flexible carnivore, I sprinkle in a few carbs here and there, maybe 2-5% on average.)
That’s basically it as far as macros on a carnivore diet go. The key is optimizing your protein. Then you just fill in the gaps with a healthy fat.
Let’s do a quick example from my life.
I’m a 5’9” and 155lb male. I live an active lifestyle.
I’m guesstimating that my maintenance level is around 2200 calories a day.
This is what my diet should look like at three different macro mixes:
- 25% protein = 550cal / 137g protein
- 75% fat = 1,650cal / 183g fat
- 30% protein = 660cal / 165g protein
- 70% fat = 1,540cal / 171g fat
- 35% protein = 770cal / 192g protein
- 65% fat = 1,430cal / 158g fat
After doing this math, I think I’m closer to the 25% mark for protein intake most days. I want to get this up to about 30% at least. I also think I’m probably somewhere around 2000 calories a day rather than 2200 (I will know for sure this next week since I'm going to track it).
I personally believe my sweet spot for year-round lean body composition is around the 30% mark. I also think trying a 35% protein experiment would be worth it to see if I can get more fat loss benefits and satiety and hunger control effects.
For the typical person, 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is a good target. Anything under 0.5 grams per pound of body weight would be lower than I’d suggest anyone do.
I know some in keto may disagree, but I think many people hit weight loss stalls on keto because of a fear of protein.
Just remember these ranges are starting points that you can use to find the optimal ratio for your body.
How Many Calories Should I Eat on Carnivore?
First, ask yourself if you're intermittent fasting.
Fasting determines protein, calories, and general satiety based on your biology and habits. If you fast for 24 hours and then gorge on a meal until you feel sick, you should not do that. Either way, it will be challenging to figure out your ideal calorie or macro intake.
I do an 18-20/6-8 IF window, which means I don't eat anything in the morning and instead break the fast later in the day with my largest meal. I then have one smaller meal later in the day.
If you aren't utilizing fasting, you'll want to progress toward doing so. This will help you find your ideal body set point and what your body needs from a calorie perspective.
Next up is the whole food distinction.
Are you eating most calories from whole food, like a complete steak, shredded pork, etc.?
If you are, you'll have a much better time getting close to your ideal daily calories since you won't be eating highly palatable, easy-to-consume, and overeat foods.
For example, suppose you decided to drink 1000 calories of heavy cream vs. eat a huge steak. In that case, your body will respond so differently in either case, and it's going to be less likely you'll feel complete fast enough with the cream example, which can lead you to overeat other foods.
Finally, you have to drink plenty of water during the day. This will help manage your appetite and keep you feeling full throughout the day. This will help you from binging once you break your fast.
How Much Protein Should I Eat on Carnivore?
How much protein should you eat? Let's find out.
My disclaimer before we begin is this: this is my strategy and not a standard definition for everyone. Depending on biology and goals, each person will have different protein and fat intake levels they do best on. This is why it's so bloody important to test for yourself.
Some hunter-gatherer populations get around 50-60% of their calories from protein. Let's use 50% as a baseline. This would be considered high by most modern diet standards.
So assuming you need to get 50% of your calories from protein, let's look at what that looks like within the standard 2000 calorie-a-day recommendation. One thousand calories divided by four cals per gram of protein would put you at 250g of protein a day.
Now I'll use myself as an example. I wonder if 2000 cals a day is what I eat. It might be slightly lower on some days and higher on others. But as a 155lb male with under 10% body fat, eating 250g of protein a day requires a dedicated effort on my part. I've never eaten that much in my life. So without actual testing, I can use guesstimating based on what I usually eat daily.
My primary meal on a carnivore diet is a steak, probably around 8oz. If this is a ribeye, it will be around 55g of protein. If it's a strip, it's about 52.
With this meal, I'll often eat some butter, maybe an egg yolk or two, and if I have it, more steak, say a 10oz-12oz steak if I'm lucky to have a massive chunk of meat that day. A 10oz ribeye clocks in about 67g of protein, so let's round to 60g for my typical first meal.
Before we continue, you should know I'm using some reverse engineering here based on what I'm doing now and what my body tends to crave. I'm not making a concerted effort to eat more protein; this tends to be what I have available, which could be skewed by the meat I'm buying and having available. For example, I can down way more protein from steak than from ground meat. (Maybe because ground beef can be a bit boring at times.)
For you, take your typical first meal and reverse engineer it like this. You'll get a good picture of where you should be granted you are following a proper close carnivore diet and have the rest of your life somewhat dialed in (significant assumptions here, I know).
That's meal one: about 60g of protein could be a reasonably high estimate. Since I've learned from experience that humans tend to overestimate things in life, I'm going to knock this down to about 50g a day meal, one average protein intake for me.
After meal one, I usually have a 4-6 hour window of no food before my typical meal 2. Meal two is generally smaller as I rarely have much of an appetite after meal 1 (one of the beautiful things about carnivores, by the way).
Meal two is often something simpler, like ground beef with some melted cheese, or if the family is cooking something, I'll focus on pulling the protein from whatever they are making and keeping most of the other ingredients on the side, say sweet potatoes + whatever vegetable they might have prepared.
Since I'm usually sharing and/or not as hungry, let's assume my protein intake is around 35g, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less. 35g for meal two is reasonable.
This puts me at about 85g of protein for the day, which, if I'm eating a 2000-calorie diet at 155lb body weight, puts me at about 17% protein intake.
I'm surprised it is that low. Of course, I still need to test these, so I need to do some tracking to better estimate what I'm eating right now.
Another point is I've realized I get a bit hungry later in the day if I eat less protein at meal two. As a baseline, I should aim to get about 20% of my calories from protein, or about 100g a day. I am confident that that would be my target protein intake daily at my body weight and activity level.
I am lifting weights, but I don't have any goals relating to bodybuilding, for example, so I'd probably increase this number a bit more if I had a goal like that, say 25-30% of calories from protein.
Sharing this with you made me realize I need to increase my protein intake a bit more. This isn't scientific by any means, but I'm using my best data to form a hypothesis about how much protein I should be eating.
50% of calories from protein is on the high end of the spectrum, 15% is a bit too low, and 20-25% is an ideal sweet spot. Eating somewhere in these ranges is the most ancestrally way.
Finally, I feel comfortable with this assessment for myself because of how hard it is to eat more protein. I feel full after eating these meals, making protein the centerpiece of each meal.
It's always: where's my chuck of protein as the basis for every meal I'm eating?
Yes, I'm doing a carnivore-based diet, but that might confuse some people into thinking it's more protein than it is (or has to be).
I'm surprised: I thought I was eating more protein than I was. And while I need to increase my uptake a bit, I'm not far off from my most optimal intake.
What about you? Are you eating a similar amount of protein or something else? Are you trying to lose weight or build muscle? How are your personal goals directing your protein intake?
Carnivore Diet + Fruit: What You Need To Know
"The Kitavans eat only once a day (about 8 pm). It is also forbidden to eat fruit unless a person is doing physical work. This means Kitivans have one brief insulin spike and rely on fat metabolism to provide energy for the next 22 hours."
Your biology determines how your body responds to carbs, starches, and fruit. If you have darker skin and are more connected to living near the equator, you probably do better with carbs than those with ancestors that lived in northern regions where the fruit was scarce the majority of the year.
It's all about testing for yourself—how much and what kinds of fruit your body tolerates.
What They Don’t Tell You About A Carnivore Diet
I've been doing a carnivore diet for over 120 days now. There are a few things they need to tell you that I want to highlight today.
I lost a few hours of work productivity yesterday because of a poor decision to eat Five guys burgers, no bun, and some fries in addition to a side of gluten-free mod pizza. The GF pizza was good, but it sure did hit me hard.
My back started to hurt on the drive home. I felt sluggish and sleepy. I could barely sit up at my desk to work. I eventually had to go outside and walk around to try to "get through" this.
When you're following a carnivore diet, cheating hits you harder. I've heard from others that cheating becomes more accessible during the initial 90-120 adaptation phase, so we'll see. It could also be person-dependent.
Eating out is more expensive and complicated.
Now I see this as a manageable negative since my goal is never to eat out at restaurants.
But there is a point where I want to eat while traveling, for example, and not have to only opt for $50 a steak restaurant.
You'll think about food entirely differently
This may be a good thing depending on your social circle and how aggressive your family is in commenting on what you do. It could create rifts and divides.
So you can find some strategies to mitigate this, like shrugging your shoulders and moving on rather than trying to argue every time someone comments on something they don't understand.
Going out won't sound as good as it used to
I used to go out and work at a coffee shop and then eat my first meal at Whole Foods, Chipotle, or Tacodeli. If you are lucky to have a place that sources high-quality local meat, you could still have something to look forward to when you're out and about.
If you don't, you'll spend more time at home since that's where you'll prepare your meals. This could be a good thing if you need help simplifying your routine. Plus, there are other things you can do, like go to a party, read, or take a walk, that doesn't always have to revolve around food.
If you drink alcohol, you'll likely struggle
I don't drink, so I can't offer advice in this regard, but I suspect there will be some issues you may have to deal with. Or you could use carnivore to clean up your entire life, and then this would be an asset.
Carnivore Diet Science: What They Get Wrong
There are many things to consider regarding the carnivore diet and nutrition science. Today we cover what nutrition science for humans looks like when performed well and when not performed well.
How science is supposed to work:
You take observational data. Surveys or analysis of other research.
You experiment with a hands-on interventional study.
You tabulate your findings from part 2 and use them to create more studies to collect more data while getting closer and closer to what might be "truth."
Then, after all is said and done, you're still saying "maybe" or "could be" for the most part.
Instead, what nutrition science has become is this:
Fund a study; often, great food or pharma does this. These studies take other studies, usually survey-based or observational, or cherry-picked data sets, and "analyze" this data.
They then call this analyzed data "research" and aim to publish whatever correlations they "find" in a paper.
Some other peers review this data. Maybe they know how the study was performed, and perhaps they don't. Maybe they look into the analyzed source studies, and maybe they don't.
The more likely this "research" matches the status quo, the more likely it is to be published.
This "published research" gets cited by talking head experts on TV and clueless journalists looking for clickbait headlines.
The public eats it up. Then if you challenge this research, which any good scientist does because that is what good science is, you get called a science denier, or you get demonized or shunned.
And this is why we have a 50%+ obesity rate in America, with over 1.5 million Americans dying yearly from lifestyle-related PREVENTABLE diseases. Yet, the medical establishment still perpetuates BAD IDEAS, like not eating red meat or limiting salt consumption. Many of these nonsensical health "recommendations" are found in modern-day research.
Fundamentally, the problem with all nutrition science applies especially to the carnivore diet since most nutrition research is already flawed and wrong.
The Pros and Cons of a Carnivore Diet
A complete guide to carnivores wouldn’t be complete without a list of the pros and cons.
Since I’m personally following a flexible carnivore diet, I lean toward the pros more than the cons because my results are so worth it. That said, there can still be certain cons to a carnivore diet that may affect you more than others, so this list will help you be prepared.
PRO: The carnivore diet is simple
The carnivore diet is absurdly simple.
There are a few reasons for this.
First, there are fewer foods you eat on a carnivore diet.
Sure, there are countless animals, but the majority of what most people eat falls into one of the following categories:
- Wild game
It gets even more straightforward because the options are often limited within each category of these primary animal categories. For example, I stick to ribeye steaks, strips, and sirloins. Sometimes I’ll do a roast.
With shellfish, I stick to clams and oysters. Fish is usually salmon, sardines, cod, or mackerel.
The simplicity of the carnivore diet is an obvious pro.
CON: Lack of variety
So this follows the pro just mentioned. The flip side of a simple carnivore diet is that you may get sick of eating the same things repeatedly.
Personally, after eating a steak every breakfast for 60 days, I noticed my appetite starting to crave other things. This has led me to a more flexible approach, which we will discuss more through this guide.
In the world we live in today, with the sheer amount of addictive and enticing foods vying for our eating pleasure, it takes resilience to ignore these options constantly.
This is not an excuse to eat them, and you will decide how flexible you want to be only our carnivore diet, but either way, it’s something to be aware of
PRO: Carnivore diet kills cravings
I’ve had a sweet tooth most of my life. Whenever science can invent an ice cream that’s just as sweet, without the sugar, I could see myself having a bowl every day.
Since going carnivore, I’ve been able to kill my inner sugar monster nearly.
I haven’t ultimately killed it since I’m still eating Rebel ice cream as my regular “cheat”—it’s so good, be careful; they are addicting.
The first 60 days of going carnivore eliminated my hunger pangs. I was to a point where I wasn’t eating enough calories even. So I figured out how to do steak meal one and ground beef meal 2 to ensure I was eating enough protein.
For most people, this would be an excellent problem to have. So definitely a major pro of the carnivore diet.
CON: Gaining weight might be difficult
Now, this may not be a pro for some people. For others, it is.
In this case, if you eat enough fat, you could likely gain weight following this strategy.
And if you are trying to build muscle, and optimize protein, then filling in the rest of the gaps with fat would get the job done.
If severe weight gain is a need, there could be a case to be made for including certain carb-dense plant foods to assist. After all, these foods naturally lend to fat gain.
Eating animal protein and fat makes you less likely to overeat, your hormones stabilize, and it’s generally much harder to gain weight.
So from a maintenance perspective, the carnivore diet is perfect for not worrying about your health.
CON: Carnivore can be expensive (depending)
I'm not yet ready to claim that a carnivore diet is more expensive.
It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.
Of course, you can expensively do a carnivore diet by eating tomahawk ribeyes every meal, but that doesn’t mean carnivore is expensive.
Some tips if budget is a concern:
- Invest in a Crockpot or Instapot and buy large roasts.
- Buy in bulk when deals come from your favorite online suppliers and your local grocery store. Here are my two favorite online suppliers right now.
- Practice intermittent fasting and eat one or two meals a day. This makes your diet stupid simple and cheap since you have zero food waste, not to mention the amount of time you save.
CON: Adjustment period
How close you are to eating the standard American diet will determine how hard the transition is for you.
It depends on many factors, but generally, it’s going to come down to whether your body has a hard time adjusting your gut microbes to eating primarily animals and away from the plants and grains, and other foods you were eating.
Some people complain of disaster pants and other digestion-related troubles like constipation. I’ve not had much experience with this, but I’ve been eating animal proteins for years, and they’ve always been a constant. So adjusting for me was minor.
No matter how hard it is for you, there are a few things you can do to adjust to the East as possible.
- Drink a lot of water
- Consider using a digestive enzyme or HCI product with your meals
- Take electrolytes
PRO: Carnivore diet is health
This blanket category includes hundreds, if not thousands, of benefits.
From autoimmune issues to skin issues clearing up to improved digestion to thwarting off inflammation connected to every modern disease, a carnivore diet is likely helpful in one way or another.
Remember, for legal reasons, you can’t claim any diet cures disease or anything like that. I’m not claiming that about carnivores.
Imagine this: if you can eat in a way that reduces inflammation, will that positively or negatively affect your long-term health?
So if you try a carnivore diet and start feeling better, performing better, and testing better, you have the answer for yourself.
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."