fbpx
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.

If you’d like to learn more about how to create health and fitness (including building more muscle and losing fat), I’d highly recommend watching the Meat Health Masterclass:

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

  1. Hi Dr Kevin, Really thank you providing this such a inside. I just started Carnivore diet couple days ago. Actually been 3 days. I was eating only grass fed beef and eggs. Have you ever have headache when you just started?

  2. Hi Kevin,

    I have been eating a carnivore diet for about a month after being keto for 6 months. I am not strict and would like to tighten things up, but am having some trouble finding information regarding peri-workout nutrition. Currently I drink a pre-workout protein shake consisting of grass fed whey isolate, MCT oil, coffee, creatine, beta alanine, taurine, LCLT, and citrulline malate then weight train 30 minutes later. I eat my first full meal after weight training. About 3 hours later I eat my second meal, then I train martial arts an hour after that. I do this 4 days per week. On the other 3 days I just eat the two meals. I would like to eliminate the protein shake completely. Should I weight train fasted, or move my first meal to an hour or two before I lift? Or should I just add a meat snack 1 to 2 hours before lifting? Thanks in advance for any advice you can provide.

    1. Hey Keith, I kind of addressed this in your last question, but for example, I train best in the afternoon, I feel the best if I eat a meal of just meat approximately 2-3 hours before to allow for digestion.
      I don’t like eating anything right before a workout, but I also don’t like to train fasted. If you top priority is fat loss, then perhaps training fasted in the A.M. is a good approach, if it is to maximize muscle, fasted generally isn’t the best unless you feel the best training fastest. The ACTUAL training session is more important than the peri-workout – so maximize your energy / digestion / how you feel and then consider peri-nutrition secondarily.

      1. Thank you for the response. This is exactly what I was looking for. Sorry for the repeat, I didn’t think the first post went through.

  3. I’ve been nose to tail carnivore for about a month, lifting heavy 4 times per week in the afternoon, plus martial arts in the evening. Currently I use whey protein isolate preworkout, but Im considering eliminating it. My protein shake is my first meal of the day, then I follow my workout with a nose to tail meal. I eat a second meal usually 3 to 4 hours later, then go to my martial arts workouts. If I eliminate the protein shake am I better off lifting fasted, or should I eat a meal before weight training?

    1. Really depends on your goals as well as how you feel while training.
      To maximize muscle growth, I don’t think fasted resistance training is optimal, however, if you feel the best lifting fasted then that is usually the way to go.
      There are pros/cons of whey pre-workout, but again, if it helps you train with more intensity / feel good then likely pros outweigh the cons (if, of course, your singular goal is optimizing muscle – and not something else like a certain health outcome)

  4. Great info! I’ve been eating clean and low carb (55-65 net carbs/day on average) with intermittent fasting for over a year now. For the last 6 months I’ve been resistance training with the X3 band system with the goal of putting on mass, but haven’t seen the results I hoped to. I’ve seen some strength gains but minimal size/body fat changes.

    I still weigh 175 and I think I’m getting enough protein (165-175 g/day: lean meats, eggs, MAAP Fortagen supplement). I also mountain bike for 1-2 hrs 1-2x/week.

    The only time in my life where I’ve put on noticeable size was in college when I was eating a buffet meal and higher carbs. I love the mental energy and health benefits I have when doing IF and low carb.

    *I’m wondering if my results are affected negatively by not being fully fat adapted via keto/carnivore but also not fully fueling with carbs. Is that a good theory or am I low enough carb to be well fat adapted. I also know I’ve got some odd liver enzyme genetics per some genetic treating I had done. Any thoughts? Thanks!

    1. IF is not ideal for putting on muscle, also 4 hours of cardio a week is quite a bit and will also hinder maximizing muscle gains.
      I do think carbs, in the right place, for the right person, at the right time can enhance muscle building, but in your case I think there are numerous other things that could be optimized before going that route (and yes not being fully adapted can also hinder growth)

  5. What do you recommend to mix the whey protein with (water/water&heavy cream/etc.) and since it has zero fats, do you add some fats (e.g. fish oils)?

    I’ve been mixing water and heavy cream but recently noticed that heavy cream has 3g of sugar for every 100ml and I’ve been using 200ml in my post workout shake!

    1. Hey Mike, very loaded question, as I don’t even recommend whey protein for most people.
      For those that it might be ok for, I’d mix with water.
      Regarding fat content with it, no I wouldn’t, but there is a long story/explanation – and it really relates to this minority group of people who may benefit from whey protein (say minority that may benefit from some carbs).

      1. The thing about whey protein, is it’s much less expensive than piling on more meat.

        Could you please share the “long story/explanation” on fat content and how to find out if I belong to this minority group of people?

  6. Hey great article. I’ve been full carnivore for just over 6 months and resistance training for about 3 of those. I’ve been scouring the internet trying to find info about meal frequency and so I was happy to find that you addressed it the comments.

    Is there an ideal fat ratio for building muscle? Or any thoughts you might have on the subject would be helpful. Thanks in advance!

    1. I don’t think the ratio is as important as total protein and total caloric intake.
      But as long as you are hitting “minimums” / “targets” with regard to these, whether you have additional protein or fat is something I’d recommend experimenting with.
      For example, in order to eat in a caloric excess some people find that eating more and more protein too satiating and can’t eat in a progressive surplus, whereas others are the opposite.

  7. I am a 33 year old female mother of 3, always been very lean. I’m trying a Carnivore MD style nose-to-tail carnivore diet. I don’t workout apart from taking my 3 kids hiking for 1.5 hours daily (during quarantine). On this diet, is that sufficient for building fat/muscle? I’m not interested in body sculpting or anything, just being a bit less lanky/lean. 🙂

    1. While I do recommend resistance training, it sounds like for your goals – yes – you’re on the right “path” 🙂

  8. Hi kevin very nice article. So when you adapt, can you get back to the same level of glycolyctic level that I had before eating like this.

    I am just wondering because I tried eating low carb and having a banana or raw honey before my martial arts training.

    Do you know people that are doing high cardio activity like sprinting or martial arts on this diet?
    Do you think it hurts the diet if you carb load a little bit just for 1 training?

    Looking forward for your reply, thanks in advance.

    Have a good one.

    1. Yes and I know many other people who train very hard, very glycolytic activity, and do great.

      The carb loads could impede adapting but some people do fine with that approach too.

      1. But doesnt every time you introduce carbs or sugar put you at risk Cholesterol wise? I know th enew theories on LDL size and HDL/TG ratio being better markers but I read that thast because the damaged LDL comes from carbs/sugar/stress/oxidization. So having an extremely high Chol while introducing these things briefly would be a risk no? I always think this if I say want to have a drink with friends maybe once every 3 months. Feel like im walking the tightrope if I do this.

  9. Hi Kevin,

    First of all, I would like to apologize for the long message. And thank you for everything that you do.

    I’m a new carnivore. I started experimenting with diet around 2 years ago because of the several health issues acquired basically from a very nasty lifestyle. The sleeping habit, smoking, drinking, and mostly fast food. I couldn’t even tell if what I had was eczema, psoriasis – maybe both. But my skin was extremely dry and I had red rashes at some point. (Went to the derma once and did not bother returning because I know they couldn’t give me the solution I was looking for.)

    I also experienced anxiety attacks.

    I first tried the vegan diet in early 2018 which lasted maybe 3-4 months. Cleared my skin, but I know did not heal my gut. Sticking to one diet though proved difficult for me as life got busy. So I just tried to eat as clean as possible. But having no choice but to eat outside most of the time I know there are still some ingredients on my food that was bad for me. So I still had some skin issues. BTW, I was also a huge coffee addict and kept drinking even when it gave me panic attacks.

    Then I first tried carnivore on November 2019 and only lasted about a month at that time which was partly due to the holidays. The other thing that got me adding back some carbs and veggies was my period which got scary heavy while I was first on carnivore (felt dizzy).

    This time I noticed my skin is getting very dry again, but my major concern right now is the hair loss (which I first noticed just before I started the carnivore diet on November).

    Knowing that the carnivore diet is the most optimal, I began my second attempt just this March and most of my health issues seem to be fixing themselves now.

    But I am still having CRAZY hairfall! So I’m just hoping if you could shed some light on this matter. Is it normal to experience this at first? All I see from fellow carnivores’ testimonials are hair growth, and no one seems to have experienced the same as me.

    Could you share your thoughts on this? Could I be missing something?

    Looking forward to your response. Thanks in advance and hoping you and all your loved ones are safe.

    Kind regards

    1. Hi Sandie some people do experience this early on, not just with carnivore but ketogenic diets in general. It tends to be a temporary issue as the body regains a degree of metabolic flexibility (the ability to more efficiently use fat and ketones for energy). If you haven’t read the 30 day guide which you can download on this website – I highly recommend that as it gives some insights into other transition symptoms as well.

Leave a Reply