Recently I was asked how much protein I eat per pound on a carnivore diet and every now and then will get asked about macronutrient (carbohydrate, fat, protein) ratios. I made a video on this a while back, but sometimes it’s good to revisit thing as ideas are (hopefully) always growing and changing.
So, I whipped up my best napkin art and back-of-the-envelope math (thanks Robb Wolf for the terminology!). You can view each individual snap on Instagram.
What I wanted to illustrate in the first 4 examples is the difference in grams of fat / protein on a zero-carb / carnivore diet at intervals of; say 2,200 and 3,300 calories. For the record, I’m typically eating a little over 3,000 calories / day and occasionally have a real barn burner well in to the 4,000s.
From the Instagram caption:
Some brief napkin art here showing different macro ratios you may encounter on a carnivore / animal-based diet. The last slide shows relative glucose levels and, as you can see, there’s not a huge difference. As I’ve speculated, the “excess” protein above 30% is likely a “flexible” macro that roughly translates to a still ketogenic level of carbs. Of note on the relative glucose load, readings on a CGM can be blunted with a good whack of fat — which almost always would accompany protein in the wild 100,000 years ago.
When I’ve talked about macronutrient ratios before, I’ve quickly pointed out that while 1g of protein / lb of body weight + 1g of fat / lb of bodyweight is a good starting point, it leaves me far lacking in terms of calories (energy) — hence the disparity between 2,200 and 3,300 calories. An anecdote that I’ve found personally interesting, and valid, is that consuming too much protein (especially after a long fast) in a single sitting is a sure fire way towards diarrhea. I don’t know the biological mechanism, but have retested this many times.
You can see in the doodles that even when bumping those g/lb ratios to 1.5g (for fat and protein); if the total intake is split into two meals (TOMAD) you’re still consuming less per meal than OMAD (one meal a day) at 2,200 calories — with similar macronutrient ratios.
Instagram caption continued…
I’ve made these graphs before showing that the recommended “starting point” of 1g of protein and fat / lb of bodyweight actually leaves me quite lacing I’m calories — typically I am in that just over 3k range and occasionally have a real barn-burner well over 4k (as I’ve posted pictures of). In the case of the later, this where I think carbohydrates could be relevant — as a supplement if you will. Though as we see, we get a good whack of glucose from scaling protein anyway.
Now, here’s what I really wanted to get into. If you’re ingesting a good whack of fat with your protein — which is how it usually comes in nature — then the glucose response (and correspondingly insulin, presuming you’re insulin sensitive) will be more blunted than a bolus of protein alone (ref). So, for the sake of argument, let’s say you get 80g of glucose per 100g protein (the range is 50–80g / 100g). Similarly, let’s take the high protein example for maximum effect in the “low calorie (2.2k)” example, and lower protein (30%) in the 3.3k calorie example. Also, for the sake of argument we’ll equate dietary carbohydrate intake with glucose (no insoluble fiber).
2,200 calories @ 10% carbohydrate and 40% protein
10% carbohydrate = 55g glucose
40% protein = 220g protein = 176g glucose (220*0.8)
Total Glucose: 231g
3,300 calories @ 10% carbohydrate and 30% protein
10% carbohydrate = 83g glucose
30% protein = 248g protein = 198g glucose (248*0.8)
Total Glucose: 281g
Given that we’ve got a 50% increase in calories and only 20% increase in total glucose, I’d say these examples are pretty even — which is what I hypothesized before crunching the numbers. What does this mean? You’re body’s going to get the glucose it needs. You’re either going to give it to it exogenously (carbohydrate consumption) or make it produce it endogenously (extra protein consumption).
I think this is a fascinating addition to carnivore / carnivore-ish (call it #animalbased if you want) ways of eating where someone may be incorporating fruits and honey into their diet. Where I think many folks get into trouble is with that exogenous overdrive. Firstly, they’re probably not prioritizing protein. Secondly, perhaps they’re inducing ketosis by chugging PUFAs (yikes!). Third, they’re reassured by every sports nutritionist ever that athletes “need” carbohydrates — so they’re loading up on pasta and bread far past that 10% figure we calculated.
In the case of the later overdrive, we’re not getting the blunting effects from fat if you also subscribe to the narrative that athletes need to be on a high carb — low fat diet. Now, there may be something to be said for electrolyte balance with the exogenous carbohydrates. Some in the ancestral health space have made this claim, but I haven’t seen good data — of course, their anecdotes are totally valid until proven otherwise.
Geographically, I think there is a case to be made here too. Typically the closer you get to the equator, the more hot and humid the climate is (and the more you’ll sweat!). This is also where we find the most populated occurrences of seasonal fruit growth. When I tested honey before, I didn’t notice any significant detriments (or benefits) qualitatively. I will be testing again with urine salinity strips in the near future.
Hopefully, this gives a little insight and context for you to explore some different options and consider your individual circumstances and needs.