The Step by Step Guide to Building Muscle on a Meat-Based Diet
What’s your goal?
There are a lot of ways of training to build muscle. Strength training, olympic lifting, and crossfit can all build muscle, but they also all provide different results.
What kind of training you should choose depends on your goals.
For example, some people train with the primary motivator of body composition – i.e. bodybuilding, the vanity side of fitness. Others care more about how much weight they put on the bar. Neither is right or wrong – but the training styles to accomplish those goals are quite different.
Even if your goal is your body composition, incorporating some aspects of strength, explosive movement and some metabolic training is important, but hypertrophy should be the main target of your gym sessions. It’s important to know what your goal is.
But whether your goal is to look good (bodybuilding) or put as much weight as possible on the bar (strength training), the nutritional approach with the Carnivore Diet is fairly similar regardless and can help you reach your goals.
Staying focused on your dietary intake is important, whatever your goal.
First, you need to know your goal. People often say “I want to build muscle and lose fat.” That’s great, and it’s possible on the carnivore diet. But ideally, you should have a primary driver – either fat loss or muscle building.
An easy way to decide:
- If you are overweight – focus on losing body fat while also training in the gym – this is a great time to master execution (more on this later…)
- If you are lean – focus on building muscle – the rest of this article is for you.
But before any of this – First Things First…
Adapting to the Carnivore Diet – Homeostasis
The first thing you have to do is get adapted to the Carnivore Diet. Without this, none of the rest matters. Tinkering with the Carnivore Diet too early causes more harm than good. Read about John and Sally.
They are very different, but they both have one thing in common – they have to get adapted. Often people come to the Carnivore diet for fat loss. And when they gain weight they are shocked, upset, confused. They didn’t understand that they were a “Sally.” You may be a “John” and everything is smooth sailing. But whether your goal is fat loss, muscle building, mental performance, or disease reversal the FIRST STEP is adapting to the diet.
You need to reach a new homeostatic setpoint.
During adaptation, there is a myriad of changes. Hormones are flying and fluids are re-balancing, your body is healing.
You have to let the healing and balancing process happen before so your body can stabilize and you have a solid foundation to build upon.
Adapting to Training on the Carnivore Diet
Training tends to suffer when starting the Carnivore Diet. Generally speaking, the more glycolytic the activity, the longer it takes to adapt.
For example, long-distance running isn’t super glycolytic and people tend to adapt quickly to this highly aerobic activity. Crossfit, however, is quite glycolytic which takes more time to adapt to.
An example from the gym: People tend to adapt quite quickly to strength training because it mainly uses the creatine-phosphate energy system. Whereas, something like bodybuilding, where time under tension of a particular set may be 1 minute or longer, takes more time to adapt to.
For many, perhaps most people, the following is unnecessary.
Just following the Carnivore Diet often results in muscle building without any tinkering needed. Some people seamlessly achieve a body composition that makes them happy (generally beyond what they even thought possible). The following is for people who want to build muscle beyond that which the body would not naturally want to carry. It is for people where the muscle achieved during their adaptation period has stalled.
So with that caveat (that most people don’t need to do this to achieve their muscle-building goals! Just follow the diet!) here’s how you can tinker with it to add on some more muscle.
Steps to Build Muscle on The Carnivore Diet
Assuming you have given your body the necessary time to adapt to the Carnivore Diet and reach a homeostatic set point, let’s go through how to build muscle on the carnivore diet.
Step #1: Daily Baseline
You should have a “ballpark” feel for how much you eat on a daily basis. Once adapted to the Carnivore Diet, appetite regulates. You have a daily “normal.” You should have a good feel for how much this is.
For example, you eat ~3lbs of meat per day. And this meat is mainly fatty cuts, and your macros are around ketogenic ratios (70:30 fat:protein calories or 1:1 fat:protein grams). No need to count or worry about exactitudes, just ballpark it. If your diet isn’t keto ratios that’s fine, just know what it is.
Also if you eat “Level 1” foods (cheese for example), know how much on average. The whole point is to know what your daily average consumption is. If you don’t know, then you probably haven’t done the Carnivore Diet long enough to even be messing with this.
Step #2: Small Increase Over Baseline
Once you know your baseline food consumption, you want to increase this. Add a bit more food.
We recommend this food contain at least some protein. Don’t just add butter. Add meat. Add eggs. It doesn’t have to be a significant amount, in fact, it shouldn’t be. Add in 200-300 calories, and don’t worry about counting every day. Just add a bit more on top of your baseline.
#3: Progressive Increase
Then every month (or every 6 weeks or whatever you feel is a good pace) increase consumption again.
How many weeks you go in between increases is not as important as the idea of progression. Every so often you should add in a little more, another 200 calories or so.
Continue this month after month. Do not rush this process as it will make it harder to keep progressing down the road.
What you don’t want to do is go from eating 3lbs meat/day to 5lbs/day in one month because progressing on top of 5lbs/day is not going to be easy. You’ll be too full to continue to progressively eat more. Plus, a big jump like this will likely result in more fat gain than you want. Then you have to eat to maintain body fat levels plus the extra on top of that to fuel new muscle growth.
Slow progression is the key.
You probably shouldn’t even think about supplements until you get to the point of saying “I really can’t eat any more.”
At Meat Health, we rarely advise supplementing on the Carnivore Diet. When it comes to achieving health and the attainment of most people’s goals, supplements do more harm than good. Bodybuilding can be an exception.
Carrying around a lot of muscle isn’t something the body necessarily “wants” to do. Muscle is energetically expensive to maintain, so if your goal is to keep building muscle and you’re hitting a wall, some supplements can help.
Once again, not until you get to the point of not being able to eat more whole food would whey protein become recommended. However, it can be advantageous for a couple of reasons. First, it helps increase total consumption without getting overly full.
In addition, it is quite insulinogenic. For most people, this is a bad thing, but for bodybuilders it’s beneficial. Insulin is one of the most anabolic hormones we have, and it can also stimulate appetite. A win-win for muscle building.
What you should do if supplementing is add 50 grams of whey protein post-workout. Then, maybe an hour or so later, eat your normal post-workout meal.
If you add in whey for several months and need to increase consumption further, and you can’t do it with more whole-food, then I’d try adding in some more protein powder.
Try a combination of beef collagen peptides and whey and add it before bed. The collagen will provide a more diverse amino acid profile while the whey keeps a high concentration of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s).
Red meat is really your best source of creatine. But if your creatine stores aren’t “topped off” then supplementing with creatine can be a cheap and easy way to help the muscle-building process along.
Besides whey protein and creatine, you shouldn’t need anything else. In this podcast, Kevin Stock mentions a few things like beta-alanine and caffeine which can enhance performance, but these are not needed.
What about Carbs?
People often ask, “don’t I need carbohydrates to maximize muscle gains?”
The answer is always vague because it’s extremely complex, “Maybe, but probably not.”
Research by Stuart Phillips, one of the world experts on protein, shows that protein and carbohydrates combined don’t provide any additional benefit than protein alone when it comes to rates of muscle protein synthesis or decreasing muscle protein breakdown.
Where carbohydrates may provide a benefit is in the speed of glycogen replenishing and perhaps recovery. (r) So for CrossFit athletes or people who train the same muscles twice a day, carbohydrates may benefit you. In most training scenarios, muscle glycogen and recovery without carbs is not a problem.
An amazing thing happens when you get fat-adapted. Dr. Voltek showed in his research that athletes replenish glycogen at the same rate as high carb athletes once fat-adapted. They also showed that they had glycogen stores comparable to high-carb athletes. (r)
Mistakes Building Muscle on a Carnivore Diet
The biggest mistake people make is using a scale to try and gauge progress. Muscle building is a marathon, not a sprint.
Putting on even a few pounds of muscle in a year is GREAT. Measuring this by a scale is impossible/pointless.
If your goal is just to get the number on the scale to go up, that’s probably not a good goal (unless you are trying to hit a certain weight class for a competition or something).
If the scale is moving up quickly it’s more likely a sign of fat gain than muscle. And, for most people, the goal would be to limit putting on fat while maximizing muscle gains.
Some fat gain is okay and should be expected. If you don’t gain any fat you are either under-eating or not maximizing muscle gains that could be had.
Ditch the scale. Trust the process. Commit to the marathon.
Broadly speaking, too much cardio is going to interfere with maximizing your muscle gains. Some cardio can be good, and can actually help stimulate appetite. So keeping in some cardio is fine, but we do not recommend progressively increasing it.
How to Workout and Build Muscle on the Carnivore Diet
Addressing a workout plan is way outside the scope of this post. As mentioned, there are many ways to train. Every single person is different and has different goals, so they should be on a different plan. So it’s impossible to try and standardize something here.
But one concept that you should take with you is progression. There are many factors to manipulate progression in workouts. You can increase the weight on the bar, the time under tension, the reps, the density, etc…
Our recommendation is to find a trainer (or invest in education) that understands 2 things:
- Progression (and the variables)
It’s not easy to find a trainer that really understands both of these. But it’s so important. Getting a good trainer is worth their weight in gold.
If you’re consistent in the gym, but doing things wrong, it’s not a question if you’ll get hurt, it’s when.
So whatever modality of training you employ, execution should come first.
If you’d like to learn more about how to create health and fitness (including building more muscle and losing fat), I’d highly recommend watching the Meat Health Masterclass: