Is a Carnivore Diet Good For Endurance and Strength Athletes?
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Don’t you need carbohydrates to be an endurance athlete? What about glycogen storage? Muscle mass and strength? We surely need carbs for that, right? Actually it appears not so much!
Both endurance and strength athletes have been thriving on an all-meat diet and we are talking about athletes that partake in ultra marathons, Crossfit, MMA, rugby, rowing, powerlifting, football, basketball, and weightlifting…just to mention a few.
The Carnivore Diet comes with many potential benefits not just performance based as outlined in:
Talk on the Street
Carnivore Diet proponent and author of “The Carnivore Diet”, Dr. Shawn Baker responds in his book when asked, “how do athletes perform on a carnivore diet?” by saying, “they appear to flourish!”
Dr. Shawn Baker himself is a world-class athlete and has been on a carnivore diet for about 3 years now, (at the time of writing this article.) We should also note he doesn’t use protein powder We should also note he doesn’t use protein powder
He says his athletic performance has improved significantly as he has been able to set three indoor rowing masters world records and six American records all the while on a carnivore diet.
Ever since the carnivore diet made a splash in the mainstream he has been consulting top tier athletes in various sports. The athletes have reported positives in the following:
- Overall Performance
- Improved Recovery
- Faster healing from injuries (unlike injury-prone vegans.)
Dr. Baker does mention though that athletes will most likely see a drop in performance during the transition or adaptation phase of the diet which is very similar to the keto flu.
If the carnivore diet is new to you are if you need some more info then check out our article titled, “The Carnivore Diet 101: A Meaty Resource.”
Dr. Baker goes on to mention that each athlete is different and during adaptation they may experience different levels of athletic depletion due to a few factors like under-eating or the type of sport they are in.
Some only need a week or two to adjust while others it could take months.
Dr. Baker says, “…a person coming from a high carbohydrate diet who engages in a highly glycolytically demanding sport such as Crossfit may take longer to adapt. A person who was previously on a ketogenic diet and competes in powerlifting might have an easier transition.”
Adaptation is key and the carnivore flu is no joke which is why we have some remedy suggestions found in these posts:
The Keto & Carnivore Connection
Now the carnivore diet is in an infant stage right now as minimal scientific studies have been completed but because it appears you are able to go into ketosis while on a carnivore diet we can look at data from ketogenic diet studies.
These studies are fascinating:
- The Human Metabolic Response to Chronic Ketosis Without Caloric Restriction: Physical and Biomedical Adaptation
- Nutritional Ketosis Alters Fuel Preference and Thereby Endurance Performance in Athletes
- Metabolic Characteristics of Keto-Adapted Ultra-Endurance Runners
Dr. Paul Saladino covers these studies in his book, “The Carnivore Code.”
He believes when a carnivore dieter or ketogenic dieter are fat-adapted, (after the adaptation phase of the body-switching from using sugar/carbohydrates as an energy source to fat as an energy source), that athletes are able to use fat for fuel which is, in turn, more efficient from a metabolic point of view during an extended performance.
He reiterates by saying, “studies of ketogenic diets in endurance athletes suggest a performance advantage…and show that after a 6 to 8 week adaptation period, rates of glycogen storage and replenishment are equivalent with those on of carb-focused athletes.”
From Study #1 above, the researchers point blank say, “compared to highly trained ultra-endurance athletes consuming a high-carbohydrate diet, long term keto-adaptation results in extraordinarily high rates of fat oxidation, whereas muscle glycogen utilization and repletion patterns during and after a 3-hour run are similar.”
Strength + Endurance + Carnivore Diet
For the strength and endurance athletes and Crossfitters we can look at the carnivore diet an awesome source of energy. These sports require copious amounts of both glycogen and creatine.
Creatine is a substance that your muscles use for energy, usually during weight lifting sessions or endurance exercises.
Weight lifters usually say to have at least 5 grams per day. The cool thing is you can get that by eating around 2 pounds of beef which is right in line with what most males eat during a carnivore diet per day.
Ben Greenfield sells a clean creatine supplement through his brand KION. Here is the link that will take you to his store:
However, Dr. Paul Saladino believes our creatine stores are easily topped off when on a carnivore diet, and as soon as one is fully adapted the glycogen store and replenishment look just like those athletes relying on carbohydrates.
What About During Long Endurance and Strength Competitions?
I have to resort to Dr. Paul Saladino’s book again, “The Carnivore Code.” He mentions that during the extended training sessions or things like marathons or Iran Man competitions that one would need to refuel during the activity or race.
Running out of glycogen stores could be detrimental to the race or competition.
While competing or training it’s kind of hard to whip out a Rib Eye. DOH! Now what?
Dr. Saladino believes it may be best to use a “clean” source of carbohydrate to replenish glycogen. Something like dextrose or honey but not the highly processed gel crap.
One of the most respected forms of honey, “Manuka New Zealand Honey.”
How to Replenish & Refuel After Training?
This one is simple. Dr. Saladino says that if your training wasn’t too long and you didn’t deplete your glycogen levels that carbohydrates most likely aren’t needed. Just eat your carnivore diet as scheduled and that should replenish glycogen stores.
Un-phased by Keto or Carnivore Adaptation?
Some researchers did a 12-week study to compare a high carb diet vs. keto diet and how it affects different forms of exercise and training.
- Effects of a 12-Week Very-Low Carbohydrate High-Fat Diet on Maximal Aerobic Capacity, High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise, and Cardiac Autonomic Regulation: Non-randomized Parallel-Group Study
This study pretty much showed that there wasn’t a decline in performance during the ketogenic adaptation period.
The conclusion of the study said, “The 12-week VLCHF diet did not impair high-intensity continuous or intermittent exercise lasting up to 25 min, nor did it impair maximal cardiorespiratory performance or autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity.”
Elimination Diet Factor
After reading the studies and the books by Dr. Shawn Baker and Dr. Paul Saladino I was thinking that the carnivore diet itself may help with athletic performance due to the elimination factor.
So many of us are nutritionally deficient due to inferior diet practices and some of us could be suffering from plant foods. The reason I like the carnivore diet is due to the elimination of such plant foods.
Personally I have more energy, my digestion is improved and after working out I am able to recover more quickly.
This brings me to the question…by eliminating plant foods and allowing your body to recover and therefore have better digestion, autoimmune corrections, and generally better health would one become a better athlete?
I hypothesize that this could be one reason one would perform better, longer, faster, and harder!!!
Some of the Carnivore Athletes
Because of the rise in popularity of the carnivore diet, more and more professional athletes are trying it out and reporting their experiences.
Zach Bitter-Ultra Marathoner
I watched a YouTube video with Kevin Stock and Zach Bitter where they discuss the Carnivore Diet and its relation to endurance performance. Here are a few takeaways!
Zach is a world-class ultramarathoner and co-host of the Human Outliers Performance Podcast with Dr. Shawn Baker. His endurance is amazing and can run 7-minute miles for 12 hours straight on less than level trails.
- World and American Record Holder
- 3 x National Champion
- 3 x Team USA World 100km
Previous to his carnivore diet he would consume a low fat/high carb diet and eat so-called “healthy grains” and fruits and veggies. He felt he always needed carbohydrates.
When he went carnivore it took him 3-4 weeks to fully adapt. Once adapted he was able to sleep better and have more consistent energy levels.
He suggests runners try carnivore when they are on their offseason in order to adapt without performance issues.
For him he feels eating large meals 1-2 times day is best as apposed to eating six times a day with smaller portions as this may mess up bile production in the body and stress certain digestive processes.
Zach broke his running records on a keto diet but now mostly eats a carnivore diet. The transition to carnivore doesn’t have to be hard either.. The transition to carnivore doesn’t have to be hard either.. On a normal day he eats at least 2 pounds of meat and on hardcore days he eats up to 4 pounds.
He also mentions that he feels you can replenish glycogen stores easily with fats and proteins.
Pete Jacobs-Iron Man Champion
Pete Jacobs is a world-renowned Iron Man competitor residing in Australia. He has had a very interesting journey, one that has led him to the carnivore diet for both recovery and performance.
I watched the HVMN podcast on YouTube to get a bigger picture of what Pete went through as a younger competitor and why he is now a carnivore.
Pete had fatigue and digestive issues as a teenager. Pre-carnivore and during his health challenges he had competed in around 30 Ironman races. Here are a few of his issues:
- Psoriasis (he believes from leaky gut)
- Fatigue lasting months at a time
- Muscle Weakness
- Would be able to work hard for 6 weeks then fatigue would set in for 2 months
- Tried to find out what causes the problems with every test known to doctors but nothing could figure out what was wrong
Never giving up on his search for better health he began going low carb in 2017. Around 2018 he began watching “Low Carb Down Under”, which led him to Dr. Paul Mason who in turn introduced him to the carnivore diet.
After going carnivore his health has improved. He continues to compete and is even doing better. He wonders how well he would have done in the races pre-carnivore. Most likely he would have had better results as a few races he had to hit the bathroom which destroyed his times.
Carnivore Strength Performance
I think over time as the carnivore diet becomes more popular we are going to see top-level athletes change their dietary regiments and go zero-carb which may provide better training and performance results.
Dr. Paul Saladino says, “whether or not we choose to use carbohydrates will depend on our sport of choice and goals, but I believe that most will not need them once they have allowed time for keto-adaptation.”
“If strength gains are our main goal, eating more frequently throughout the day to trigger mTOR as much as possible would be a reasonable strategy.”
Personally my opinion is that a carnivore diet may provide overall health benefits as plant-based foods are no longer holding you back. It’s possible that most of the health problems resulting from eating plants and processed foods allow the body to recover and in return perform better from an athletic perspective.
The low carb situation is like icing on the cake and not having to worry about glycogen storage issues and replenishment makes it a no-brainer.
Now I’m not a doctor so don’t take this as medical advice. I’m just sharing that this crazy way of eating helps me and I can train just as long and hard as anyone.
Either way thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this article and it’s shed some light on your world!
Need Community Strength?
Check out the Facebook Group “World Carnivore Tribe”. this group is amazing. Any time I have a question or if I need motivation I go there.
Or if I need inspiration I check out the carnivore diet testimonials at MEATRX. They also offer very affordable coaching programs!
Completely New to the Carnivore Diet…check these out!
- The Carnivore Diet 101: A Meaty Resource
- 21 Essential Carnivore Diet Products You Need on Your Shopping List
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. Consult with and ask your doctor about any diet or medical-related questions. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition.
The Human Metabolic Response to Chronic Ketosis Without Caloric Restriction: Physical and Biomedical Adaptation
Nutritional Ketosis Alters Fuel Preference and Thereby Endurance Performance in Athletes
Metabolic Characteristics of Keto-Adapted Ultra-Endurance Runners
Effects of a 12-Week Very-Low Carbohydrate High-Fat Diet on Maximal Aerobic Capacity, High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise, and Cardiac Autonomic Regulation: Non-randomized Parallel-Group Study
The Carnivore Diet by Dr. Shawn Baker