Carnivore & Honey, Review

Follow up analysis of re-introducing carbohydrates for performance and recovery.

Carnivore & Honey, Review
Photo by Arwin Neil Baichoo / Unsplash

In August I wrote "Carnivore and Carbs... Again" and as such a review of the process's pros and cons is in order.  I should note ahead of time that I don't have clear data, so much of what's below is anecdotal.  Take that for what it is, and as always TFYDS.

The TLDR;

  • Training volume and intensity can necessitate, or at least be aided with carbohydrates as a supplement.
  • My experience was that I was less fatigued by hard efforts and saw improvements in my HRV.
  • Beware, your brain likes sugar and we're dancing with the devil here.

Training Necessitated Carbs:

The pedantic debates on social media are never ending.  I take everything at face value.  Whether it's Robb Wolf, Paul Saldino, Shawn Baker, Anthony Chaffe, or anyone else; I listen and then compare what they're saying to my own experiences.  Specifically, the first two mentioned (Robb and Paul) have the most similar build and training regimen to mine.  Not surprisingly then we have similar deviations from a (purely) "carnivore" diet.

Erin Blevins and Robb Goodwin also have very similar training regimens to mine, and guess what, we all supplement with carbs.  It never fails, some pundit always chimes in:

"Look at Baker!"

How about, I look at you since you're the one talking?!  Instead of telling me what someone else (reports?) to do, tell me what you do; or better yet show me.  Then show me you're willing to have an intelligent and nuanced conversation.

Shawn actually does post many of his workouts, but it's unknown what kind of cardio-respiratory effects they have for him.  This is the brief conversation I had with Luis Villasenor of LMNT (1).

"Austin!  Put your money where your mouth is!"

Well, funny you should ask:

https://www.savagezen.co/nonprophet-endurance-newbie-2/

Specific to what I pointed out with Luis is that lifting something heavy is a phosphate driven process (i.e. ATP).  That is, it's anaerobic-alactic.  More "lactic" or "glycolytic" systems (Zone 2 - 4 heart rate) rely mostly on sugar while low intensity efforts (Zone 1) rely on fat.

To Luis's point, a more "fat adapted" and "experienced" (with a given energy system) athlete can drive the crossover threshold higher (2, 3, 4).

If you recall my initial point (5) it wasn't just training intensity, it was the volume (illustrated above), in conjunction with other energy systems (sport / grappling training).  While carbs may not be "necessary" they may be "optimal."  So, let's get in to that.

Remember, it's not "necessary" to be a badass either; you can "not die (6)" by staying really sick for a long time.


HRV Outcomes:

One very notable outcome was the change in my average and weekly high HRV scores.  According to data collected by Whoop (7)  the modal (most common) HRV score for men is 40 while the mean (average) is 65 – notably skewed by "high performers" and professional athletes who use the tool.

04/23/2021

As of April 2021 you can see that I never broke 60, even when "fully rested."  Whoop reported the HRV range for 45 year old (men and women) to be 35 - 60.  So, by this data my heart was about 10 years older than it should be (yikes!).

10/08/2022

Two months into my recent endurance endeavor (8, 9) you can see a notable change.  After a stretch of hard training (and maybe lackluster sleep) my HRV tanked below 30, but the average throughout the week was around 50 with a "rested" high around 70.

10/16/2022

I saw more of the same as time went on.  This data pushes me to the mid-high range for my sex/age on Whoop's data; particularly when rested.  We should note though that there are some confounding variables to be aware of.

10/23/2022

I don't have a very detailed data set here, so there are a couple things to note:

  • While my training got harder and volume compounded (which would theoretically drop HRV), you could argue that acclimation to the training itself (experience) contributed to the rise in HRV – perhaps more than the addition of carbohydrates.
  • It was around this time in the endurance program where "recovery" became non-negotiable, so I was prioritizing sleep more as well.  However, over time I think this panned out – that is, I  more or less returned to the approximate prior sleep habits.

Admittedly and transparently, I can't separate out these confounders.  The sleep seems less credible.  I could test this by making myself sleep like s**** and continue to eat supplemental carbs to compare data, but I'd rather not keep feeling, recovering, and performing well.

What I can do though is make a follow up update to this post with HRV data as my secondary training focus shifts away from endurance and towards strength – just give me a month or so!


Running With the Devil:

... que Van Halen

Sugar is addictive (10) – okay, sugar elicits a dopamine response and our brains are wired to pursue the anticipated reward said dopamine is signaling.  Many people (in carnivore, keto, and vegan lands) have an "all or nothing mindset."  This is actually part of why Robb Wolf speculates that "Paleo didn't save the world" – it's often easier to abide by a singular (overly simplistic?) rule.

Simple rules – like don't eat the X – are easier to follow and they give people a crutch to fall back on.  This similar mindset is also common in addiction.  However, no-one is going around telling folks to "moderate" their methamphetamine use like "health experts" tell people to moderate sugar intake.

The problem here is that "a little goes a long way", but some people with "addictive personalities" cannot tolerate "a little" because it's never just a little.  How many benders or alcoholic relapses start with "I'll just have one..."?

The personal anecdote from me is that I did find myself craving more sugar during this time.  Most days it wasn't a problem.  However, there were more days than I'd like to admit where I caved to the candy jar in my office.

I mentioned confounding variables above, so I want to point one out here as well.  Said "addiction" was compounded when I didn't eat enough, particularly fat, earlier in the day.  The recipe for disaster then was, repeatedly:

  • Skip breakfast +
  • Light lunch +
  • Work late +
  • Tempting oodles of sugar nearby

All of those things can be avoided and mitigated with a little effort.  As is often the case, we can usually recover or "tough it out" by correcting a single mistake.  Catastrophe, however, strikes when 2, or 3, or more mistakes start to compound.


Conclusion

I will continue to advocate people TFYDS – think for your damn self.  It's been my experience here that supplemental carbohydrates were helpful.  Fiber, in the case of fruit, was not.  I didn't feel terrible, just awkwardly full and not particularly nourished.

For me, adding 100g or so of honey back on days when I'm spending 2-3 hours at more than 60% MHR was a net win.  I don't have "hard data."  I do have some data (above), and a subjective experience of feeling less fatigued on multi-session training days though.

There are risks involved – with everything.  Choose wisely.  Know the risks.  A measured risk is necessary for virtually any type of success.  That doesn't imply foolishness.  It implies that you are smart enough to do "real" science.

That means learning, forming an original idea, testing, measuring, and analyzing the outcome to inform the previously stated "learning" process.

So, the question of "to carb or not" largely implies, as do all important questions:

"To what end?"

and:

"Under what conditions?"

with the final trump card being:

"What were the (health / performance / other) outcomes?"

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