How to Build Muscle on the Carnivore Diet

How to Build Muscle on the Carnivore Diet

How to Build Muscle on the Carnivore Diet

how to build muscle on the carnivore dietBefore discussing “How to Build Muscle on the Carnivore Diet” I should answer the frequent question: “Can you build muscle on the Carnivore Diet?

Yes. Yes you can.

But you need to take an intelligent approach.

If you have a chance to listen, I discussed this in a podcast episode on Kevin Stock Radio.

How to Build Muscle on the Carnivore Diet

What’s your goal?

There are a lot of ways of training to build muscle. Strength training, olympic lifting, crossfit all work. They all can build muscle. But all can give different results as well.

What kind of training you do depends on your goals.

For example, I’ve trained for over two decades with a primary motivator of body composition – i.e. bodybuilding. The vanity side of fitness 🙂

Others care more about how much weight they put on the bar. Neither is right or wrong – but the training styles are quite different.

Yes, I incorporate some aspects of strength and some explosive and some metabolic training but hypertrophy is the main target of my gym sessions. It’s important to know what your goal is.

But whether your goal is to look good (bodybuilding) or put as much weight as possible on the bar (strength training), the nutrition approach with the Carnivore Diet is fairly similar regardless.

And that’s what we’re going to focus on here.

But you need to know your goal. Often people say “I want to build muscle and lose fat.” That’s great. And it’s possible. But ideally you should have a primary driver – either fat loss or muscle building.

An easy way to decide:

  1. If you are overweight – focus on losing body fat while also training in the gym – this is a great time to master execution (more on this later…)
  2. If you are lean – focus on building muscle – the rest of this article is for you.

But before any of this – First Things First…

First Things First – Adapting to the Carnivore Diet – Homeostasis

The first thing you have to do is get adapted to the Carnivore Diet. Without this, none of the rest matters. Tinkering with the Carnivore Diet too early causes more harm than good. Trust me.

Read about John and Sally.

They are very different, but they both have one thing in common – they have to get adapted. Often people come to the Carnivore diet for fat loss. And when they gain weight they are shocked, upset, confused. They didn’t understand that they were a “Sally.” You may be a “John” and everything is smooth sailing. But whether your goal is fat loss, muscle building, mental performance, or disease reversal the FIRST STEP is adapting to the diet.

You need to reach a new homeostatic setpoint.

During adaptation there are myriad of changes. Hormones are flying and fluids are re-balancing. The body is healing.

You have to let the healing and balancing process happen first.

Adapting to Training

Training tends to suffer when starting the Carnivore Diet.

Generally speaking, the more glycolytic the activity the longer it takes to adapt.

For example, long distance running isn’t super glycolytic and people tend to adapt quick to this highly aerobic activity. Crossfit, however, is quite glycolytic which takes more time to adapt to.

An example from the gym: People tend to adapt quite quickly to strength training because it mainly uses the creatine-phosphate energy system. Whereas, something like bodybuilding, where time under tension of a particular set may be 1 minute or longer, takes more time to adapt to.

It took me at least 8 weeks, probably closer to 12, to regain my training capacity.

For many, perhaps most people, the following is unnecessary.

Just following the Carnivore Diet often results in muscle building without any tinkering needed. People seamlessly achieve a body composition that makes them happy (generally beyond what they even thought possible). The following is for people who want to build muscle beyond that which the body would naturally want to carry. It is for people where the muscle achieved during their adaptation period has stalled.

So with that caveat (that most people don’t need to do this to achieve their muscle building goals! Just follow the diet!) here’s how you can tinker with it to add on some more muscle.

How to Build Muscle on The Carnivore Diet

Assuming you have given your body the necessary time to adapt to the Carnivore Diet and reach a homeostatic set point, lets go through how to build muscle on the carnivore diet.

#1: Daily Baseline

You should have a “ballpark” feel for how much you eat on a daily basis. Once adapted to the Carnivore Diet, appetite regulates. You have a daily “normal.” You should have a good feel for how much this is.

Let’s say, for example, you eat 3lbs of meat per day. And this meat is mainly fatty cuts. And your macros are around ketogenic ratios (70:30 fat:protein calories or 1:1 fat:protein grams). No need to count or worry about exactitudes. Just ballpark it. And if yours isn’t keto ratios that’s fine, just know what it is.

Also if you eat “Level 1” foods (cheese for example), know how much on average. The whole point is to know what your daily average consumption is. If you don’t know, than you probably haven’t done the Carnivore Diet long enough to even be messing with this. First things first.

#2: Increase Over Baseline

Once you know your baseline food consumption, you want to increase this. Add a bit more food.

Now I recommend this food contain at least some protein. Don’t just add butter. Add meat. Add eggs. It doesn’t have to be a significant. In fact, you just want to add in maybe 200-300 calories. Don’t worry about counting. Just ballpark it. Add a bit on top of your baseline.

#3: Progressive Increase

Then every month (or every 6 weeks or whatever you feel is a good pace) increase consumption again.

How many weeks you go in between increases is not as important as the idea of progression. You want to add in a little more. Another 200 calories or so.

Continue this month after month.

What you don’t want to do is go from eating 3lbs meat/day to 5lbs/day in one month. Because progressing on top of 5lbs/day is not going to be easy. You’ll be too full to continue to progressively eat more. Plus a big jump like this will likely result in more fat gain than you want. Then you have to eat to maintain body fat levels plus the extra on top of that to fuel new muscle growth.

Slow progression is the key.

#4: Supplements

I wouldn’t even think about supplements until you get to the point of saying “I really can’t eat any more.

This should be 6, 9, 12+ months down the road. In the podcast I talk about how this may be a good time to do a short “cut” before continuing with a progressive muscle building focus.

I rarely advise supplementing on the Carnivore Diet. When it comes to achieving health and the attainment of most people’s goals, supplements do more harm than good. Bodybuilding can be an exception.

Carrying around a lot of muscle isn’t something the body necessarily “wants” to do. Muscle is energetically expensive to maintain. So if you’re goal is to keep building muscle and you’re hitting a wall, some supplements can help.

Whey Protein

Not until you get to the point of not being able to eat more whole food would I recommend adding in whey protein. But it can be advantageous for a couple reasons. First, it helps increase total consumption without getting overly full. In addition, it is quite insulinogenic. For most people this is a bad thing, but for bodybuilders its beneficial. Insulin is one of the most anabolic hormones we have. It can also stimulate appetite. A win-win for muscle building.

What I’d do is add 50 grams of whey protein post workout. Then, maybe an hour so so later, eat your normal post workout meal.

More Protein

If you added in whey for several months and need to increase consumption further, and you can’t do it with more whole food, then I’d try adding in some more protein powder.

I would use a combination of beef collagen peptides and whey. And I’d probably add it before bed. The collagen will provide a more diverse amino acid profile while the whey keeps a high concentration of branched chain amino acids.

Creatine Monohydrate

Red meat is really your best source of creatine. But if your creatine stores aren’t “topped off” then supplementing with creatine can be a cheap and easy way to help the muscle building process along.

More Supplements

Besides whey protein and creatine, I don’t think you need anything else. In the podcast I mention a few things like beta alanine and caffeine which can enhance some performance. But I really don’t think these are needed.

What about Carbs?

I often get asked “don’t I need carbohydrates to maximize muscle gains?” My answer is always vague because it’s extremely complex “Maybe, but probably not.”

Research by Stuart Phillips, one of the world experts on protein, shows that protein and carbohydrates combined don’t provide any additional benefit than protein alone when it comes to rates of muscle protein synthesis or decreasing muscle protein breakdown. Where carbohydrates may provide a benefit is in speed of glycogen replenishing and perhaps recovery. (r) So for crossfit athletes or people who train the same muscles twice a day, carbohydrates may benefit them. In most training scenarios, muscle glycogen and recovery without carbs is not a problem.

Also an amazing thing happens when you get fat-adapted. Dr. Voltek showed in his research that athletes replenish glycogen at the same rate as high carb athletes once fat-adapted. They also showed that they had glycogen stores comparable to high carb athletes. (r)

How to Build Muscle on the Carnivore Diet – What to AVOID

The Scale

The biggest mistake I see people make is using a scale to try and gauge progress. Muscle building is a marathon, not a sprint.

Putting on even a few pounds of muscle in a year is GREAT. Measuring this by a scale is impossible/pointless.

If you’re goal is just to get the number on the scale to go up, I’d argue that’s not a good goal (unless you are trying to hit a certain weight class for a competition or something).

If the scale is moving up quickly it’s more likely a sign of fat gain than muscle. And, for most people, the goal would be to limit putting on fat while maximizing muscle gains.

Now some fat gain is ok and should be expected. If you don’t gain any fat you are either under-eating or not maximizing muscle gains that could be had.

Ditch the scale. Trust the process. Commit to the marathon.

Cardio

Broadly speaking, too much cardio is going to interfere with maximizing your muscle gains. Some cardio can be good, and actually help stimulate appetite. So keeping in some cardio is fine, but I wouldn’t recommend progressively increasing it.

How to Build Muscle on the Carnivore Diet: Workouts

Workouts

Addressing a workout plan is way outside the scope of this post. Like I mentioned, there are many ways to train. If I were still personally training, every single person would be on a different plan. So it’s impossible for me to try and standardize something here.

But one concept that you should take with you is progression. There are many factors to manipulate progression in workouts. You can increase the weight on the bar, the time under tension, the reps, the density, etc…

My best recommendation is to find a trainer (or invest in education) that understands 2 things:

  1. Execution
  2. Progression (and the variables)

It’s not easy to find a trainer that really understands both of these. But it’s so important. I’ve spent decades in the gym, and I did things wrong for a long time, and have had to pay the price.

Getting a good trainer is worth their weight in gold.

If you’re consistent in the gym, but doing things wrong, it’s not a question if you’ll get hurt, it’s when.

So whatever modality of training you employ, execution should come first.

Recommendations:

I’m not affiliated with either of these, but for training advice, I have 2 “go-to” places I turn to:

Bodybuilding

Ben Pakulski’s program Hypertrophy Execution Mastery is fantastic. His partner in it Joe Bennett is also phenomenal. You are in good hands with these two guys. Both focus on actually understanding the role of a muscle, how it contracts, and how you can set up and execute properly to maximize muscle growth, and perhaps more important, avoid injury.

Functional (Strength, Power, Olympic)

One of my best friends, Dr. Aaron Horschig, is a physical therapist and runs Squat University. He has a great book on squatting and just overall great stuff on biomechanics. If you want to do things right, check out Squat University.

P.S.

Here’s the companion guide:

30 Replies to “How to Build Muscle on the Carnivore Diet”

  1. I have talked to a couple guys who consume steak/eggs and whole milk/whey protein shakes and got on board. Any specific recommendations on which whey protein fits best into this diet? I have been consuming some isolate/Progenex and OptimumNutrition/ standard protein and either overloaded myself with too much whey over a few months(felt really good and happy about it) or accidentally consumed some Syntha6 last week and had an allergic reaction.

    1. That’s a great question that I didn’t address (a lot of whey proteins have a lot of additives that I think are best to avoid).

      Wild Foods is a brand (i’m sure there are others too) that does a great job. Grass fed, non denatured, high quality protein.

    2. I’ts also a good idea to find whey powder with a transparent label. Look for a brand that gives you the full breakdown and quantity of amino acids in the whey. Leucine should make up around 11% of the protein in the powder. This denotes the protein in the powder is all whey and hasn’t been spiked with other, individual amino’s (like glycine or taurine) to trick the lab’s nitrogen tests. Also, look for grass fed and cold filtered whey. It’ll contain peptides like glutamylcysteine, lactoferrin, beta-lactoglobulin, immunoglobulins, alpha-lactalbumin and glycomacropeptide, which are all good for your immune health, blood pressure and not to mention, they are anabolic in of themselves. REAL whey, like meat, can be a very healthy food.

      1. Thanks Tom (much better answer than I gave!)

        And while I don’t think most people need to add whey to their diet, for some people it does make sense and those are great recommendations.

        Unlike a lot of dairy, good whey protein doesn’t have many of the offenders like lactose and casein that people have trouble with (https://www.kevinstock.io/health/should-you-eat-dairy/) but it is quite insulinogenic – which is an important consideration.

  2. The most important stimulator of muscle growth is training, recovery and growth is supported by diet. Excellent article Kevin, let’s see how I go on my journey from 75-80KG at age 57!

  3. Kevin, as a beginner, do you have a preferred routine that you like? I’ve been doing ketogains 5×5 and it’s great but I don’t seem to progress as well as I’d hoped and I’m looking for something a little different.

  4. Hi Kevin. Just found you on YouTube. I’ve been paleo for the last few years. Lost almost 100 lbs .I still had some issues with sleep arthritis and psoriasis. Found carnivore diet Shawn Baker etc .I’ve been carnivore for 31 days now .mostly beef with occasional fish. I’m in Greece and fish is plentiful plus beef is pricey here so I’m doing the best I can. In the last 31 days I have only had 3 bowel movements? I’m 64 years old. I get lots of fresh air .swimming and sailing fishing etc .Any suggestions?
    Thanks a lot.
    Manny Tiliakos

    1. First, congrats on all the success!

      Second, I’d recommend reading the 30 day guide (you can download it here over on the left) – there is a whole section about digestion that I think you’ll find helpful.

      Fish is great, though I’d try and make sure you are including fatty fish – that should help.

  5. Hi Kevin, I wanna be carnivore but my parents aren’t letting me unless I incorporate some greens like spinach and cucumber. Will this be detrimental, how so? I’ve been high carb for all 18 years of my life and experienced many health issues especially when it comes to digestion. Will this mostly carnivore diet still benefit me even while including these greens?

    1. Hi Marko – I think I responded to your question on Twitter today – but just to re-iterate here:

      I think it’s better to view a “meat-based” diet as a diel rather than a light switch.
      When viewed as a light switch (either on or off), it assume you get benefits or you don’t.
      Reality is much more like a dial, where benefits and detriments exist on a scale.

      That said, some people experience detriments like a light switch (for example, someone with Celiac’s disease, if they eat gluten, it can be tremendously painful).
      Here’s some things to be aware of that I think will help answer your question:

      1. https://meat.health/health-dangers-of-a-plant-based-diet-2/
      2. https://meat.health/knowledge-base/the-carnivore-diet-as-an-elimination-diet/

  6. Hi Kevin! i just found your website and its definitely the most helpful website I’ve seen so far about carnivore diet! i have a question related to muscle gain, and any advice will be appreciated from anybody!
    I am a 31 year old female personal trainer, I’ve been weight and power lifting for the last 5 years and have gained a pretty good amount of muscle mass over the years. I have been having unexplained health issues during 2018 – nausea, vomiting, constant dizziness, anxiety, elevated alt, anemia etc, oh and also – a terrible doctor! after finally getting fed up with it and switching doctor’s I’ve been diagnosed with Celiac disease which explained all of the symptoms (as of 2/4/19, biopsy and all). anyway, i started carnivore on 2/15/19 -only few days, feel good so far other than some minor issues like acne which i hope will go away. the main reason i started this diet – to avoid gluten completely as well as cross contamination, cure my chronic anemia and extreme hair loss etc. MY QUESTION (AND CONCERN) IS : unlike most of the people here, i WANT to gain weight and muscle, i don’t care if i gain fat. During last year I’ve lost 18 lbs, 9 of them were muscle which literally makes me cry when i think about it (i know for sure because i track my BF and other numbers with INBODY scan like a maniac) – due to undiagnosed celiac and zero absorption. Gaining muscle and getting my strength back is my main concern, i used to squat 295, deadlift 355 and bench 160, that’s all a history and i feel extremely weak. i understand you recommend slowly increasing amount of food which i’ll try as i continue this diet. right now i’m about 1500 cal and feel very full, can’t make myself eat more – and i used to be the girl who eats more than everybody at the table…my workouts suck, zero energy or motivation – any advice with that? you say you don’t recommend supplements, but will creatine help or something like that? any ideas or advice?
    thank you!
    (ps; at my peak strength i used to weigh 163-165, i’m about 146 right now, 5,5″.)

    1. Hi Julia! Glad to hear you’ll be staying away from gluten 🙂 and sorry about the muscle loss – I can relate.

      If you haven’t seen the 30 Day Guide to Going Full Carnivore (https://meat.health) I’d start there.

      To answer some of the more specific questions:
      -feeling weak early on is very common, it took me 8-12 weeks to adapt to my bodybuilding training
      -I recommend eating until satisfied. I’ve found that the longer I’ve been carnivore (as well as others) appetite regulates (I remember going from ravenously hungry to little appetite to eventually a regulated appetite).
      -You can take creatine if you wish, though red meat is the best source of creatine and if you’re eating this way, supplementation will likely have little benefit (that said, it’s quite safe to supplement)
      -One “supplement” I do recommend early is SALT 🙂 I’d use it generously early on.

  7. Thank you so much for taking time to reply! I will definitely add more salt and might try creatine before my workout just to see if there’s any change. When I first joined the gym I was trying all kinds of stuff like preworkouts, bcaa, creatine – none of it helped much and I stopped. But I’ll try creatine just out of curiosity. Also, can’t wait for your blood work!
    Mine was similar in some way as far as elevated alt and BUN, but low ferritin, but that’s because of celiac, so I’m curious to see if that changes.
    Thanks again!

  8. Is using beef protein isolate an option? I am losing way too much weight following this. I’m 49 days in and lost 25 pounds I didn’t have to lose in the first place. I do however pretty much always feel amazing so while I’m very concerned about the weight loss, I would like to find a solution to continue. Also, I am eating at least 3 pounds a day, up to 4. Beef only. I did first 35 or so as you recommended then now on only beef.

    1. You can, though I don’t think it’s ideal.

      If you are losing fat and feeling amazing, personally, I don’t see the issue.
      But if you want to gain, you likely need to be eating more. And like mentioned in the article/podcast there are some strategies to help do this.

  9. Hello Kevin

    How do you eat more? By eating more meals, or by eating more on each meal? I am more than happy with just 2 meals, but I think I would feel not as good if I increased my food intake by 25-50% on each of the two meals. And I don’t want either to eat more than 2 times/day. What are your thoughts on this?

    1. I remember when I first started eating this way, I’d eat ~1 lb beef/2x day. I was satisfied and it was great. But I wanted to put on a bit of size so then I started eating 3X/day usually 1 lb in the first and last meal, but I added a mid day “snack” of maybe 0.5-1lb. That lunch then turned into 1lb, so I was eating 3 lbs/day. Then I increased the size of each of these meals just a little bit over time. Now I’m eat 1.5-2.0 lbs/meal 3 meals a day (4-5lbs meat/day on average).

      But if you don’t want to eat more than 2 meals a day, you really only have one option – eat more at those meals.

  10. Luar biasa, artikel anda yang sangat membantu saya karena semuanya dijelaskan secara lengkap dan menjawab semua pertanyaan saya. Terima Kasih Kevin

  11. Hi Kevin, i’ve been on carnivore for 4 months now and have lost about 17lbs. I now weigh 133lbs. At first I loved the weight loss, but now I am concerned that i’ve lost some muscle mass and my skin has lost some elasticity too. i only have 2 meals a day but I don’t feel hungry enough to eat 2-3lbs of meat a day. I would estimate I eat about 1 1/2 lbs of meat + 3 eggs and maybe some cheese in a typical day. Would it help to supplement with whey protein and collagen maybe add some creatin too? I’m 65, have always had a good level of fitness, but due to severe arthritis have had to have both hips replaced a month ago. I’m well into recovery and out walking every day. I’m going to add some strength training to my regime. Thanks for all the time you put into answering all our questions!

    Jill

    1. For most people I don’t think whey protein is a great idea (it can spike insulin and cause some blood sugar swings – like hypoglycemia) – but in some cases it is helpful in getting in more protein and building LBM – so I would say it’s worth experimenting with. Taking a couple grams of creatine a day is usually not necessary (due to all the red meat eaten which is the best source of creatine there is) – but I also don’t think it would hurt.

      I think adding resistance training will be the biggest thing though (which can subsequently increase appetite) and am glad to hear you are planning on that!

  12. Hi Kevin,

    After adapting very well to the carnivore diet with practically none of the side-effects and my digestion/GI tract feeling better than ever, I’m led to believe that a meat-based diet is the way to go for me – however, I’ve noticed that my mood and sex-drive have decreased somewhat and my muscles look “flat”, whereas when I “cheat” and eat some carbs, my mood/libido seem to improve and my muscles look fuller again?

    What’s your take on this? Should I persevere with carnivore, or should I do a “modified” carnivore diet where I include some carbs? And if so, how much? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks, and keep up the good work

    1. One of the problems with “cheats” is that they may be the very reason you are “flat” with a libido that has not recovered. Because they can prevent you from fully adapting and gaining the metabolic flexibility you are wanting.

      It takes some time for the muscles to fill out and for some peoples libido to return. Carbs can delay this and for some people prevent it (thereby staying in this “yo-yo” middle ground – been there – not a super great place to live).

      1. Ok, so any idea roughly how long it would take for the muscles to fill out and the mood and libido to go back to normal again?

        As I said, I’ve adapted to Carnivore level 1 really easily from keto and have been strict for 6 weeks, but I have been suffering with the above problems since starting carnivore and they’ve only resolved once I ate a load of carbs (of course, the carbs have screwed me in other ways though!)

        Wouldn’t these things have improved after 6 strict weeks on level 1?

  13. Great article Kevin – especially on how not to waste cash on supplements that probably give marginal if any benefit.
    I’m 4 weeks into the carnivore diet (after a year of keto) and sure as heck hoping the energy levels return soon as the mental battle to stay on it is quite intense.

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