I recently posted an article about Carnivore Macros and Calories, and got a follow up question (from the original post) about meal timing and weight gain on carnivore.
The later has been addressed a couple time on Robb Wolf’s Healthy Rebellion Radio. In over simplified terms, this comes down to eating more; of course one of the common benefits of a carnivore / keto diet is reduced appetite. I have not personally used the Ketogains Macro calculator, but have heard some very credible second and third hand reports.
Something that I can contribute to the conversation, and I’m sure this will be unpopular with some, is that liquid calories can be beneficial for weight gain when appetite is an issue. Now, obviously we want the least processed things we can find, but there is a limit to how much our GI can take in at a time; it’s the inverse of trying to get 100g or protein from steak vs. broccoli.
Dairy can be a great option if you’re not sensitive to it (casein, whey, lactose). Tim Ferriss ( 1) and others have talked about old school body builders drinking a gallon of milk / day — whole milk. Again, think calorie density. As I discussed in the macros article, there’s a point of diminishing returns with increasing the calories from fat in our diet (we also start to lack some nutrients by process of cutting out protein sources).
The person that asked this question also asked about meal timing; which I interpreted as fasting related — though they may have been wondering about post-workout / recovery. I’ll address the former first. Robb has talked about this before as well in various forms of “ Longevity, are we trying too hard. “ Again, I’ve posted the unpopular opinion that the MED (minimum effective dose for fasting) is relatively low and that the point of diminishing returns is lower than most people assume as well. What I’m getting at is that a little fasting may provide a hormonal benefit, but your hormesis or autophagy can (should?) come from other sources (e.g. temperature changes and the intensity of your workouts) rather than extended periods of fasting.
This seems particularly relevant if the questioning person is struggling with too little appetite and experiencing chills and feeling depleted — something I’ll get to in a minute. So, what would a MED fast look like? I’d say an absolute minimum of 12 hours; so stop eating a few hours before bed and hold off on breakfast until after your morning workout (for example). What you’re looking for is fasted ketones (e.g. you should not actively have sugar in your blood 100% of the time). I won’t detail the specific numbers here as there are multiple factors involved, but hopefully you’re getting the idea.
The most common fasting protocol I’ve used is 16:8, because it fits nicely into a 24 hour schedule. Essentially, you just skip one meal. For example, skip breakfast then eat lunch and dinner — that would give you about a 16 hour fast. Longer than that and you start getting towards OMAD (one meal / day) territory because it’s inconvenient to try and make two meals within, say, a 4 hour eating window. In short, I fast between 16 and 18 hours / day and eat 1–2 meals / day.* Though recently I’ve been alternating between 12 hour and 24 hour fasts (averaging to 18) because I have an odd work schedule.
On the subject of chills and feeling depleted, I find that the most common reasons people fail on a low / zero carb diet (carnivore or not) are:
- Underestimating caloric need
- Underestimating how many calories previously came from carbs
- Underestimating protein need
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Not wanting to win
For the protein requirements, see the macros article I wrote. In my experience people (athletes included) grossly underestimate how many calories they’re consuming. So, when they suddenly apply a restrictive measure (like carnivore, keto, or simply reducing calories) it feels like they’re dying! This leads right into the carb issue. You may have thought you were only eating 20% of your calories from carbohydrates, but if it was closer to 40%, and you suddenly cut out all carbs, you’ve reduced your total energy intake by a whopping 40%!!! No wonder you feel like death! So, those calories need to come from somewhere (again, refer back to the macro / calories article).
Then we have electrolyte imbalances — primarily sodium. We all know our body wrings out a bit like a sponge when we stop eating carbs. With that water goes water-soluble minerals called electrolytes. On top of sweat and urine loss, this can add up pretty fast. So, most low-carb athletes underestimate their sodium intake Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf have tossed around a 3–5g / day minimum; though depending on your climate and activity level this might be much more. (I average about 8g / day, but in the August Georgia heat it’s closer to 10).
So, in summary:
- Get enough calories
- Get enough protein
- Experiment with dairy for calorie density
- Get enough sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium