The carnivore diet had received plenty of attention in the media over the last few months, thanks to a selection of athlete and celebrity fans (Joe Rogan and Jordan Petersen‘s devotion to the diet might ring a bell). But what is the carnivore diet and does it have any health benefits?
What is the carnivore diet?
The carnivore diet typically includes just meat or seafood (any animal flesh) and water as the drink of choice. Some modify this slightly to also include extras such as butter and eggs, but the idea is to exclude all carbohydrate foods. This means no fruit, grains, nuts or seeds!
As you can imagine, it’s a very restrictive diet as there is only one food group to choose from. A typical day of eating might look like steak for breakfast, salmon and eggs for lunch, steak again for dinner, and fish roe and bone broth as snacks. You can choose your portions and meat choices to suit your preferences, but this day on a plate gives you a rough idea of how it is followed!
Will the carnivore diet benefit my performance?
Its proponents claim the carnivore diet has helped with weight loss and mental clarity. But at this stage, the carnivore diet is not a well-researched diet. There are no research studies currently published on the health, safety or benefits of the diet, only anecdotes and case studies that are not the highest level of evidence in nutrition research. We do know from these case studies that it could be a beneficial diet for some people, but also that it might not be the right diet option for others.
We also don’t know the effects of following the diet long-term. What we DO know from nutrition research however, is that a varied diet that includes foods from the wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds food groups can be beneficial for our health and performance.
The Mediterranean diet, for example, includes all of these food groups, plenty of variety and it’s been linked with improved health outcomes. The bottom line is that we don’t really know if the carnivore diet is beneficial for performance and health, but we do know that other dietary patterns are. Putting our science hat on, we can see that there isn’t a clear benefit in choosing this dietary pattern compared to other diets that are more varied in food choices. It’s always important to seek individualised advice when it comes to your diet choices for performance, as everyone is different, so there is no such thing as a right or wrong diet!
What are the risks of following the carnivore diet?
For athletes there are a range of risks associated with the carnivore diet that are worth being aware of so you can make an informed choice. Some of these include:
- Higher risk of nutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamins that are not found in very high amounts in meats such as vitamin C and folate.
- Low fibre intake which could impact your gut microbiome. If you want to find out more about the gut microbiome check out one of our previous blog posts here. Fibre is an essential nutrient to feed our gut bacteria which in turn helps to keep us healthy and allow our body to perform at it’s best. A lack of fibre in the carnivore diet could impact the function of the gut which may lead to other health issues.
- Additionally, the lack of fibre means that bacteria in the gut will die off. Instead, bacteria that feed off proteins will thrive but might be linked to increased cancer risk.
- This diet could have a negative impact on bone strength due to the high acidity. While the body tightly controls pH levels, a highly acidic diet followed over a long period of time might impact bone health which then poses a high injury risk for athletes.
Overall, the carnivore diet isn’t well-researched, and has only been found to be beneficial anecdotally. If you’re an athlete looking to optimise your performance through nutrition, book in an appointment with our team to find an individualised approach suited to you!