Do you need supplements on the carnivore diet? It’s complicated. Carnivore diet supplements could be helpful for many of you. Let me explain…
Carnivore Diet Supplements Overview
This shouldn’t be controversial. If you eat what you were designed to, you will be healthy. This is part of the reason the carnivore diet works so well.
Your body was designed (evolutionarily that is, unlike the sculpture that I am) to eat meat and animal products. Fat is what made you a human. Meat eaters are the reason you can read this (incredible) blog post.
Something else that should be uncontroversial: your ancestors didn’t have a GNC they could frequently go to. Thus if there’s a nutrient that they couldn’t obtain, it can’t possibly be necessary for survival or you wouldn’t be here today.
This is a big reason why carnivore diet supplements are often unnecessary.
However, with that being said, there are some cases when a supplement still could be beneficial.
Let me first quell some fears. No, on the carnivore diet you won’t need 100s of pills like a vegan to be healthy. In fact, it’s possible to get all the nutrients you need in whole food form. Finally, no more pills to worry about…
There are also many reasons why choosing a whole food over a supplement is better.
One reason is the concept of nutrient synergy. Foods contain nutrients in combinations that your body has adapted to and thus requires. It’s often the case that in isolation one nutrient isn’t nearly as effective as with another “partner” nutrient — and sometimes it can even hurt you on its own.
It’s sort of like getting in a car with no gasoline…one isn’t good without the other.
For instance, Vitamin D requires magnesium to maximize absorption. So for all the people that are megadosing vitamin D pills, but eating a junk food diet low in magnesium…congrats you’re just making your local pharmacy rich.
This is the case with many other nutrients too and eating a whole food diet will help you to obtain the proper ratios and nutrient balance. Your hunter gatherer ancestors didn’t need a food pyramid — and you will not need one either.
Supplements are called supplements for a reason…they should be an addition to your diet, not the main course. I want to change this paradigm and let food be thy medicine….
With that being said, there are two classes of supplements that could beneficial on the carnivore diet:
- Category 1: Optimize where it’s challenging to get the same nutrients your ancestors did
- Category 2: Help during adaptation
I will preface this by saying that I usually opt to avoid all of these supplements. On category 2, I’d prefer to allow my body to naturally adapt. And in category 1, I try to get the whole food form.
Quick note on RDAS & the precautionary principle: The RDAs are notoriously challenging to interpret. They are a complex mess of recommendations based on a combination of observational studies, epidemology and some mechanistic data with some staticitcal wiggle room applies. Many are outdated. Others are based on speculative health recommendations. And most are based on people on the standard american diet.
With that being said, in many cases they still use the best nutritional evidence available. And a la the precautionary principle, in the case where there’s a good safety profile for a nutrient, I will usually opt to obtain at least what’s recommended unless there’s very good evidence otherwise. Other people will disagree, but in my opinion there’s no reason to play around with nutrient deficiencies as some can irreversibly damage you.
Well on that dark note…let’s move forward.
8 Carnivore Diet Supplements I Often Recommend
#1 Betaine HCL
Category 2 supplement
When you adapt to the carnivore diet, the biggest change will be with your gut health.
Your body utilizes different metabolic machinery to digest carbs, protein & fat. And if you’re not used to eating a substantial amount of protein & fat, that machinery is fast asleep.
It’s time to wake it the F UP. But, like a teenager on a saturday morning, it will not be happy when the alarm goes off. Get ready for some dark arts coming out your back side…
When you’re sliding into first
And your pants begin to burst, That’s diarrhea, diarrhea….”
However, the beauty of our metabolic machinery is that it’s highly flexible (unlike my hamstrings), and can and will adjust to a new diet.
Protein needs to be broken down into peptide and amino acid chains. To do so, your body produces HCL which activates pepsinogen.
This process can be slow at the beginning, and Betaine HCL could provide your body a kick in the ass. As mentioned above, however, I prefer to let people’s bodies adapt naturally and use this as a last resort.
By the way, if you’re interested in getting my help with the first 14 days of your carnivore diet, sign up below for my guide to getting started.
#2 Ox Bile
Category 2 supplement
The additional fat consumption also takes some getting used to. In our fat phobic society, most people are consuming substantially less fat than they will be on the carnivore diet.
But fat made us human…it’s not something to be afraid of. In fact, it should become your new best friend (okay….if fat is your only friend please reach out and I’ll be friends with you).
Bile is one of the most important parts of the fat digestion process. When you consume fats, your gut releases a hormone called CCK. This causes your gallbladder to contract and release bile that is stored there. Bile emulsifies the fats and allows for them to be absorbed with the help of other enzymes.
Your gallbladder is like a muscle. And similar to if you tried to bench press 300 lbs after never getting under a barbell in your life, it cannot handle the initial load and needs to get stronger.
And frankly, this just takes time and patience. Some people supplement with ox bile, but I prefer to let people work up the strength on their own, just like how I tell them not to use a smith machine.
Category 1 and Category 2 Supplement
Magnesium is like a swiss army knife of minerals. It’s involved in almost every bodily function and is one of the main electrolytes.
Two of the main things magnesium is used for is making proteins and using energy. Without energy and protein you are just a vegan…Lol. But really, without energy and protein, you are not alive.
ATP, the fundamental energy currency of your body, is joined at the hip with magnesium. When you don’t have enough magnesium, the effects can be far reaching.
Some symptoms of low magnesium include:
- Low Vitamin D: Magnesium is required to make enzymes for vitamin D activation
- Muscle cramps: this is via the calcium magnesium interaction. Magnesium stores calcium away to ensure that your muscles don’t contract irregularly
- Heart flutters can also occur for the same reason above
- High blood pressure: magnesium helps to get rid of excess sodium
Magnesium is a tricky one on the carnivore diet. The RDA for magnesium is 400 mg /d for men under 30 and it’s 310 mg / d for women. After 30 it increases to 420 mg / d and 320 mg / d respectively.
As I’ve discussed previously, the RDAs were developed in the context of a high carb diet and thus are often biased. In the case of magnesium, it is involved in carbohydrate metabolism. So there’s some reason to believe that the RDA is too high for low carb eaters. Additionally, magnesium in plants is often paired with phytic acid and other anti-nutrients like oxalates that reduce the availability. Another reason to believe the optimal amount could be lower for carnivores.
On the other hand, RDAs tend to make sure we have a stable concentration of the nutrient and are not necessarily focused on optimizing health. On top of that, some things can increase magnesium needs like drinking alcohol (which none of you would ever ever do of course, right??) and sweating heavily.
When there’s uncertainty, especially in the case of a nutrient with a well studied safety profile, I usually opt for the RDA.
The challenge with magnesium is that we cannot measure muscle levels & what’s stored in the bone easily. It could even be the case that you need to top up and then after the amount you need drops . We just don’t really know.
1lb of steak has approximately 100mg of magnesium, so if all you’re eating is 2-3 lbs of steak a day you’re likely coming short 100 – 200mg short of the RDA.
If you wanted to get more magnesium in whole food form you could try high magnesium cheeses or shellfish.
Other carnivores supplement an additional 100mg of magnesium or so a day to ensure they’re hitting targets. Just be careful of magnesium citrate if you want to supplement…or as I call it magnesium SHIT-rate.
Lastly, during keto adaptation and the transition phase, getting excess electrolytes like magnesium can be helpful, especially if adding additional sodium does not help with adapting and keto flu.
#4 Vitamin C
Category 1 (low certainty)
“You eat only meat, you’re going to get scurvy!”. This is the one of the most common things I hear when I tell people I’m only eating meat.
Well, out of the 10s of thousands of carnivores I’ve seen 0 have gotten scurvy… unless the symptoms of scurvy are increased energy, better skin, muscle growth, high libido. If that’s the case, then I want it!
So (briefly) what’s the deal with Vitamin C?
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps prevent damage. It strengthens collagen and is an important component of the immune system. It also helps with a number of neurotransmitters, the skin, eyes and hair.
The RDA was set in 2000 at 75 mg / d, which is beyond what is needed to cure scurvy (as shown by some raw meat feeding studies).
Steak has a bit of vitamin C — maybe 15mg / lb. Beef liver has approx 2mg per 100g. Sources I’ve seen also put salmon roe at around 10mg per 100g. Kidney has around 30mg per 100g. So if you were eating 2lbs of steak and kidney every day, you could probably hit the Vitamin C RDA.
But let’s be honest, most of you aren’t doing that. For those not eating kidney, beef liver and salmon roe should you worry about low vitamin C?
Many of the purported benefits of Vitamin C are based on observational studies. Interventional trials have not supported the benefits beyond what cures clinical issues like scurvy. This study on 40 people, for instance, showed no change in antioxidant status after vit c supplementation.
This study showed that the addition of 600g of fruits and vegetables and almost 200mg of vitamin C led to no improvement in antioxidant capacity and DNA damage. This meta analysis that included over 11,000 participants showed no beneficial effect of vitamin C supplementation on colds .
But it’s also the case that metabolic changes occur in advance of scurvy that you should be aware of .
How all the conflicting data?
In the first place, we have some reason to believe the RDA may be too high — especially for carnivores.
First, the carnivore diet cuts out many anti-nutrients that block vitamin and mineral absorption. Vitamin C is almost identical to glucose biochemically and glucose could reduce availability. Carnitine may also lower the need for vitamin C as it helps with collagen synthesis . Another reason needs may be lower is because we have much higher levels of uric acid than other animals and this can also serve as an antioxidant .
Lastly, glutathione can also recycle vitamin c and there’s evidence a keto diet increases glutathione .
Personally, I’m not worried about vit C…but with that being said I do eat beef liver daily. So if you’re still worried about Vitamin C it may be okay to supplement.
However, if you’re a carnivore with chronic gut issues (like diarrhea) or low energy, one of the reasons could be low Vit C.
Additionally, Endotoxemia can deplete vit c — thus this may be especially important for people transitioning to carnivore diet because of gut issues.
Liver is high in many of the vitamins and nutrients that are absent in other animal foods and plant foods. It compliments a meat heavy carnivore diet perfectly. This is why it’s a core part of my carnivore diet meal plan and Paleomedicina’s recommendations.
Unlike us carnivores today, hunter gatherers didn’t have a butcher shop to go to where they could have someone serve them a perfectly cut ribeye. Instead, they pounded on the entire animal, often times going straight for the liver first.
And for this reason, your body adapted to harmoniously balance nutrients from one part of an animal with the other. On top of that, human bodies adapted to incorporate parts from an animal’s organ into your own. Who ever said laziness was bad??
For example, the B vitamins in beef liver compliment the B vitamins in muscle meat. The copper in the liver balances the zinc in muscle meat. The list goes on…What one is lacking, the other contains.
As you can see in the chart below, steak tends to be fairly low in B1, B2, B5, B6, B7 and B9 — all of which are high in beef liver. Additionally, Vitamin A and minerals like copper, choline and selenium are almost entirely absent in steak.
Riboflavin is another example of a nutrient where needs may increase on a carnivore diet.
Some studies show that cardio and fat burning both increase riboflavin needs. For the bronzed warriors who follow me, sunlight can increase needs too.This is an instance where the RDA may actually be too low because it was conducted on unhealthy glucose burners.
Just 100g of beef liver provides 3.4mg of riboflavin.
It’s for this reason that I think without eating liver on the carnivore diet, you will not be at your optimal health. At least I was not.
If you’re here, you’re not interested in the bare minimum. You’re interested in being the absolute best version of yourself that you can be. And that’s what adding supplemental organs can help do for you. This study, for instance, showed that those who added organ meats to their diet had higher 52% sperm counts and sperm quality even though they were already eating red meat.
The team at Paleomedicina in Hungary has cured everything from Crohn’s disease to Rheumatoid Arthritis with the Carnivore diet. An essential part of their protocol is having at least 400g of organ meats a week.
With 400g of beef liver a week, you’re close to hitting the recommended amounts of every essential vitamin and mineral even without anything else. Couple this with some eggs, bone marrow and grass-fed muscle meat and you’ll be getting more nutrients than 99% of people. As I’ll discuss more below too, liver has been shown to cure fatty acid deficiencies. It also pretty much gave rats anti fatigue superpowers.
There’s a reason why hunter gatherer tribes like the Comanche loved liver:
“Children would rush up to a freshly killed animal, begging for its liver and gallbladder. They would then squirt the salty bile from the gallbladder onto the liver and eat it on the spot, warm and dripping blood.”
And as you can see above, liver could even help with fatty acid deficiencies.
It’s really a magical food with too many benefits to explain in this one post: check out this for some others.
The problem is that until now, it’s tasted like something from fear factor. If you’re interested in the best tasting, most convenient way to add beef liver to your diet (that 1000s of people love now), check out my brand new beef liver crisps. (P.s. you may need to warn people in advance for all the newfound energy you’ll have when you eat these)
Glycine is one of the most underrated amino acids in the world. Sort of like the beef liver of amino acids.
Don’t get scared off by the term amino acid, I’m not getting into complex science here. Amino acids are simply the building blocks of protein.
There are twenty different types of amino acids the body relies on to build and maintain tissues like muscle and bone. Eleven of the twenty are considered non-essential because technically, to stay alive, you don’t need to get them from food.
But merely staying alive compared to thriving are two different matters all together. You don’t want to just have a pulse, right? This is a distinction modern medicine so often ignores. If you want to be just average, then skip this post all together.
True, your body can make glycine but not in amounts high enough to meet the demands of optimal health . Between what we make (approximately 3 g) and what a normal diet provides (between 1.5-3 g), research shows that we are short about 10 g of the glycine we need to maximize our body’s collagen production (*).
Because of the gap between what we need for optimal health, experts argue that glycine should be considered “semi-essential” (*). And eating muscle meat, like most of us are used to, isn’t going to do it.
Additionally, when you consume substantial amounts of methionine from muscle meat, a sulfur containing amino acid, you need to eat more glycine to balance it out (*,*). The whole animal was meant to be eaten together. This is especially true if you have any MTHFR mutations or methylation issues
Excess methionine can cause us to waste glycine, potentially leading to low levels of this amino acid. In contrast to methionine, which we must obtain from diet, we can make a small amount of glycine per day, but studies suggest that our manufacturing capacity falls significantly short of our needs and that we really must have a robust supply from our diet for optimal
The best way to get glycine is by eating tendons and bone broth. But another way is to buy a good glycine powder.
Glycine is a case where nutritional recommendations could be too low for carnivores specifically given the need to balance methionine.
Category 1 & 2
Sodium is one of the trickiest nutrients to manage on low carb and carnivores. Sodium is another essential nutrient and the most concentrated electrolyte in the blood. It helps to maintain blood pressure, contract muscles and maintain the fluid balance around cells.
Kidneys regulate sodium levels very tightly, but this doesn’t mean that sodium imbalances will not cause issues. When sodium gets too high, your brain responds by making you thirsty to excrete extra sodium. If you eat too little salt, your body releases aldosterone which tells your kidneys to retain sodiums. However, this causes your body to make other mineral adjustments to maintain balance. For instance, aldosterone also can signal for your body to waste potassium in the urine . This kicks off a cascade of electrolyte issues.
When people say keto leads to elevated cortisol and adrenal stress, it’s usually from too low sodium.
At a baseline, I try to get around 4 to 5 g of sodium a day (meaning around 10g of salt). During keto adaptation, I usually recommend even more from salting food heavily.
DHA is another example of a challenging nutrient to obtain from red meat — and also one where there’s conflicting information on requirements.
It’s not considered an essential because we can synthesize it. But the challenge is that the synthesization pathway is limited, especially in the context of a high omega 6 diet. According to this study, it’s unlikely your ancestors were forced to synthesize any DHA at all because they got it from their diet.
DHA is critical for the brain and all phospholipid membranes. It appears that all mammalian brains require these two brain components, without which neuronal growth and function cannot occur. In fact, DHA is~25% of all the fat in your brain.
This is why researchers Cordain and Mann hypothesized that an abundant DHA and fatty acid source was necessary for human brain growth. Spoiler alert, that source was not plant foods.
This is why DHA deficiencies tend to make their impact first and foremost on the brain. In fact, DHA deficiency in early life is associated with many mental disorders like ADHD, learning disabilities and hostility .
Some observational studies also link higher DHA with lower risk of dementia and alzheimers .
DHA also plays a potent anti-inflammatory role. It’s an integral part of the cleanup crew, reversing and reducing inflammation after the immune system gets activated.
Recommendations for combined DHA and EPA ntake are around 250mg – 500mg a day , which alone is very hard to obtain from red meat alone. 100g of steak has a negligible amount of DHA and ~12mg of EPA, so if you’re eating 2 lbs you’re getting around 100mg of EPA a day
Even so, this is likely much less than your carnivorous ancestors were getting.
Early humans ate animal brains like kids eat kit kats today, likely because of the high DHA content. This is an example of “like supporting like”. 100g of Ruminant brain had 860 mg of DHA. And for your ancestors residing by the sea, you can see that fresh water fish had around 560mg.
According to Leslie cordain at a diet of 30% plant food, hunter gatherers were eating 2 to 3 grams per day of DHA and EPA — almost 10x RDAs. In some models the intake of DHA and EPA was as high as 28 grams a day.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that this amount is necessary.
Chris masterjohn, in this masterclass on DHA, showed that it was remarkably hard to induce a fatty acid deficiency in an adult without omega 6s and refined sugar. Carnivores….I know you aren’t eating any of those….so maybe needs are lower. Additionally, B6, biotin and magnesium can all help with DHA conversion (and AA conversion) reducing needs further.
But there’s definitely reason to be concerned if you’re eating seed oils. For instance, Feeding rats two percent of their calories as purified linoleic acid depletes the DHA content of the retina by 62 percent in the first generation and 92 percent in the second generation.37
Chris masterjohn also found an interesting study that eating just 0.1% of calories from beef liver were able to cure any signs of fatty acid deficiency . Do I really need more reasons to tell you to eat beef liver?!
It may be because fatty acid deficiency symptoms are actually the result of low arachidonic acid.
To sum up this behemoth section with some takeaways:
- If you’re eating just steaks, you’re not going to hit DHA RDAs. But that may not be an issue, especially if you’re eating beef liver.
- With that being said, there’s low risk to adding some high DHA foods like fish and salmon roe a couple times a week. This is what I do. Just 3oz of salmon has 1.5g of DHA and EPA .
- And if you’re eating a high omega 6 diet, stop reading this post immediately and go fix that.
Phew. You made it.
TLDR: a base level carnivore diet is more nutrient dense than any other diet in the world. Most people will do just fine without any of these carnivore diet supplements.
But if you want to take your health to the next level and to help ensure you’re not causing any issues down the road, you may want to try these carnivore diet supplements.
If you’re interested in the carnivore diet, sign up below to get my free 14 day guide.
And if you’re interested in the most nutrient packed, portable food in the world, check out my brand new beef liver crisps. You may need to apologize to everyone around you in advance for having too much energy.