I turned carnivore for a month, here is what happened

I turned carnivore for a month, here is what happened

Updated: Jul 09, 2024Veronika Larisova

Growing up in Eastern Europe in the 1980's and 90's, I enjoyed a meat-rich diet, and in my early 30's, I was nearly a full-fledged carnivore. My meals back then consisted mainly of meat, fish, eggs, and fermented dairy, with occasional berries, leafy greens, and coffee.

However, my nutrition education at the time emphasised the importance of fruits and vegetables for gut health, prompting me to incorporate more of them into my life. But is eating plants really necessary?

My curiosity was piqued after attending a talk by Dr Anthony Chaffee, which led me to interview him and join How To Carnivore and embrace the carnivore diet for a month.

 

Why did I want to try Carnivore?

As a nutritionist, I believe in firsthand experimentation to gather my own data, especially since I found limited information on healthy individuals switching to a carnivore diet.

Most available studies focused on unhealthy people using the meat-only diet to improve their health. The thing is that when you eat mostly ultra-processed junk, your health will improve on any wholefoods diet, whether it’s carnivore, omnivore or vegan. Just cutting out all the junk and replacing it with whole foods will do that.

For over a decade before this experiment, I followed a balanced diet of organic fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy, and my carbohydrate intake was already low. I avoided grains, bread, pasta, rice, ultra-processed foods, and alcohol for the most part.

I thought I was healthy; my blood tests last year were the best in my adult life! However, despite the healthy lifestyle, my most recent blood test results weren’t so great, and I wondered whether the carnivore diet could bring them back up to reasonable levels.

 

What did I eat on Carnivore?

I went into a full carnivore mode and cut out all plant foods and drinks, including coffee. I looked forward to the variety and started with meat, fish, eggs, and fermented dairy (organic kefir and yoghurt).

I ordered all my meat and fish from the Butcher Crowd for the quality, simplicity and convenience. They delivered a box of meat to my doorstep every Monday, and although it was so big I couldn’t finish it in one week, it cost me less than organic veggies, fruits, herbs and condiments.

I marvelled at all the time and money I had saved on shopping and meal prepping. I would bring a raw steak to work, and it took me exactly 6 minutes to cook it in beef tallow. I’d snack on boiled eggs and yoghurt or kefir.

Because I love hot drinks, I drank lots of bone broth, which I usually made myself. I cut out the dairy after one week because it gave me sugar cravings. From then on, I stuck to red meat, liver and eggs.

Surprisingly, I didn’t feel like eating fish or other meats, which I usually love. I was super happy with a fatty steak and eggs. Admittedly, I also snacked a fair bit on the Chief Carnivore Biltong and Chief Carnivore Bar samples at work, and I had dined out with friends at least twice a week at Macelleria in Bondi. 

 

A day on my Carnivore plate

 

Mid-morning till midday:

Sipping on a bone broth and snacking on Chief Carnivore snacks when at the office (2-3 days per week) or one boiled egg

Lunch

Scotch fillet or Rump (300-400g) cooked medium rare in organic beef tallow.

Dinner (around 5 pm)

Another cut of steak (250-300g), fried chicken liver, or occasionally wild-caught fish/seafood. All cooked in beef tallow.

 

How did I feel on Carnivore, and what were some of the measurable results?

  • I had better mental clarity and sustained energy throughout the day. I didn’t crash in the afternoon and wasn’t exhausted in the evening despite getting up at 4-5 a.m. daily and working and training until 5-6 p.m. nonstop. However, I must admit that I also feel like this on my regular diet when I cut out caffeine.
  • According to the Oura ring, I fell asleep easier, my sleep quality was better, and I woke up fresh and sharp every morning. Once again, I feel like that when I cut out coffee, regardless of my diet.
  • After cutting out dairy, I had no cravings and experienced less hunger. I could have easily eaten one meal a day, but the Chief Carnivore range samples were way too tempting!
  • I found the carnivore lifestyle much easier, cheaper, and more time-efficient, as it didn’t involve shopping and meal prepping.
  • I had a bowel movement every 1-2 days instead of 2x day and did not experience bloating or stomach cramps. As much as I love veggies and coffee, they often make me bloated and crampy.
  • According to my Oura ring, I had a significantly higher HRV, lower resting HR, reduced stress levels and faster recovery.  Interestingly, the improvements were similar to when I did a 5-day water-only fast. Can this be a result of deep ketosis? I didn’t measure my ketones, but considering I ate zero carbs and my diet was 75% fat, it’s likely I was in ketosis most of the time.
  • I gained 1kg muscle in 1 month without changing my strength training routine, which is remarkable for someone my size.
  • To summarise all the measurable positives before I get into the details, I had improvements in blood and gut tests, increased lean muscle mass, higher HRV, and lower stress.
  • Because I was not inflamed to begin with, I didn’t experience any dramatic weight loss.  Water weight loss is common when switching to the carnivore diet due to reduced inflammation and a loss of the excess water that binds to carbohydrates.
  • I felt better during a 50km mountain race, with less fatigue during and after, remarkable energy, a speedy recovery, and no post-race soreness (more on this later). 


Checkout my interview with Dr Shawn Baker for more and read on for my detailed results.


My blood test results on Carnivore

My blood and gut test results were taken only five weeks apart, and DEXA scans six weeks apart. Despite the relatively short time frame, I had a few significant changes, some minor ones, and some biomarkers remained the same.

It is also important to remember that I retested my blood and gut only three days after an ultra-marathon race, which explains increased inflammatory markers and elevated liver enzymes.

The table below outlines all my blood marker changes. Although some are still relatively low, they have improved and are within a reasonable range across four weeks. I’m especially pleased about my hormones and iron saturation. The only exceptions are higher liver enzymes and CRP, which is totally normal after an ultra-race and cholesterol. However, the cholesterol topic is controversial and to my knowledge, it’s OK to have high LDL as long as the ratio HDL: LDL is good, which mine is.

Furthermore, according to some recent studies, high LDL is linked to longevity. I discussed my cholesterol ‘issue’ with five doctors, including Dr Anthony Chaffee, Dr Shawn Baker and Dr Pran Yoganathan, and neither seemed concerned about it. As I understand it, high LDL can be problematic in some people, but it’s a complex issue that needs to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

BLOOD MARKER Before After
Cholesterol 5.4 9.2
Triglycerides 0.4 0.4
HDL 2.3 3
LDL 3 6
Non-HDL Cholesterol 3.2 6.2
CRP 0.3 3.3
Iron 18.1 19.8
Transferrin 2.7 3
Ferritin 48 53
TIBC 60 66
SHBG 172 129
FAI 0.6 0.8
Calc free testosterone 5 6
Liver enzymes   All elevated

 

Gut test results on Carnivore

I was shocked to see my gut test results. Despite eating fermented foods and organic vegetables every day, I had lots of gram-negative bacteria (a sign of inflammation) and a very unfavourable ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes. My pre-carnivore gut test looked like it belonged to someone who eats lots of ultra-processed foods, sugar and no fibre. To explain in a very simplified way, people with more Firmicutes yield more calories from food and tend to be more inflamed.

In just four weeks, the ratio switched over, and I now have more Bacteroidetes than Firmicutes. And that’s without consuming any fermented veggies or fibre! Go figure.

 

DEXA scan results on Carnivore

I tested my body composition at Measure Up six weeks apart, and the results weren’t quite what I had expected. In such a short time, I gained 1kg of lean muscle and 1.5kg of fat, equalling around 2% of body fat! I’ve also gained a very insignificant amount of visceral fat, and my bone mineral density declined slightly, which scared me as I used to suffer from osteopenia.

Although no solid research indicates that a no-carb diet causes osteopenia or osteoporosis, my bone density results were the main reason for reintroducing some vegetables after the challenge. I will retest myself again in 2 months to see if the carnivore diet was causing the decline.

 

Running and racing on Carnivore

For the first 2.5 weeks on the carnivore diet, I felt terrible and heavy, and my performance declined. I was slow and didn’t have enough energy to run long distances. I only ran 8-10km a few times per week, which was an issue as I was preparing for the UTA 50km race.

I remember going for a run towards the end of the third week and suddenly feeling light and fast again. I guess that’s when I switched to being fat-adapted. I was still nervous about running 50km without proper training and carbs.

I worked at the event expo two days before the race, so I wasn’t resting. I stood on my feet all day, every day, and all I ate was a cold steak and boiled eggs. I also drank lots of bone broth because it was freezing.

Considering my lack of preparation, I felt surprisingly great throughout the race and finished in a decent time. I was energetic and upbeat and didn’t feel as fatigued towards the end as usual.

I had one sugar-free natural electrolyte, two litres of water and half of Chief Carnivore bar (coming soon). I wasn’t hungry, and all the food at the checkpoints was not appealing.

The most surprising was how I felt after the race. Usually, I get hungry, exhausted, cold and sometimes irritable. And I always have stomach pain from consuming endurance gels even though I only use the natural ones. This time, I felt none of that.

I was not hungry or tired, so I drove the 100km back to Sydney, unloaded all the expo stuff at work, and then went home to do all my washing and cleaning. I was on the go until 10 pm, full of energy, and woke up with no DOMS, which is unheard of! Usually, I’m pretty sore for a few days post-race, especially if I don’t train properly.

Can it be simply because I had enough protein and fats for the performance and recovery compared to the regular fuelling with lots of carbohydrates and minimal protein? Was low inflammation a contributing factor? These are only my speculations based on what I know about human physiology and nutrition.

 

The verdict on Carnivore

I enjoyed the carnivore diet for its simplicity, time efficiency, low cost, and lack of cravings, bloating, and stomach cramps. I was pleased with my gut and blood test results, lean muscle gain and running performance, but the decline in bone density and increase in body fat worried me a bit.

Because I did the challenge in May, when it’s not too hot or cold, I enjoyed it very much. However, I can’t see myself eating steak and drinking bone broth in the middle of the Australian summer!

My main takeout is that I need much more protein than I’ve been eating and perhaps less veggies, fruits and dairy to prevent bloating, cramps and cravings. In the future, I will turn to the carnivore diet short-term (4-6 weeks) when I’m time-poor when I need to settle my gut and before ultra marathon trail races.

Next time, I will change the fat-to-protein ratio and have a little less fat and less food overall to prevent weight gain. As a runner, I need to stay fairly light. Gaining 2.5kg in just one month made me feel heavy and slow on the uphills. However, if I ever attempt to run a road marathon really fast, I will definitely carb-load just for the race.

As for my daily diet, I’ll stick to low carb, meat-based diet with a small amount of veggies, low-sugar fruits, fermented foods and Chief Collagen and Carnivore Bars. 

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Comments (3)

  • Wow, thankyou for that. It was very interesting on how it panned out for you.

    Pam
  • Great article. I was wondering also how soon after the race you did your repeat DEXA? Whether some visceral fat accumulation was possibly from the race itself as an inflammatory process also? I know Dr Sean O’Mara also talks about visceral fat in marathon runners – I am also a nutritionist and eat a similar type diet so found your changes interesting.

    Charis Brown
  • So glad to hear you didn’t fowl energetic until 2.5 weeks. I’ve been feeling very fatigued. My son has done this and is doing it again and his energy kicked in around the 3rd week. I am only 5.3 and liking the drop in 1kg. My visceral is the same but I dropped a bit of muscle as well as fat. I do regular InBody assessment to keep on top of any changes. I was born in the mid 1940’s…

    Helen McKenna

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