When you change your diet, you can expect to experience irregularity in terms of bowel movement. Constipation is fairly common in the carnivore diet, especially in the early days of starting the diet.
The carnivore diet can be quite a drastic change to your eating habits. A diet of meat and zero carbs is a major change, especially if you’ve been on the standard American diet of high carbs and high amounts of processed foods.
The carnivore foods are nutritious and dense, and therefore lower in volume, so, naturally, you’ll produce less waste. Meat takes much longer to digest, so the regularity of your bowel movement changes. Most people on the carnivore diet have one bowel movement per day, and you shouldn’t confuse this with constipation.
As long as you’re not experiencing bloating or hard stool, discomfort, or pain when going to the toilet, it’s completely normal, and there’s no need to stress about it. Studies say that regular bowel movements range between three times a day to three times a week (a huge range).
If you don’t have a daily bowel movement, it does not mean you are constipated. But if you’re experiencing discomfort or pain whenever you go, haven’t been able to poop for more than three days, or have less than three bowel movements per week, there are a few things you can do to improve your symptoms.
Adequate daily water intake is vital to your overall health, but proper hydration is especially crucial for normal bowel functions. When on the carnivore diet, your body goes into ketosis, which increases urination resulting in dehydration and potential constipation.
If you don’t drink enough water, your body starts pulling in water from your colon to counteract the effects of dehydration. Therefore, there’s no water in your colon to help lubricate and hydrate your stool as it passes through, resulting in dry, hard stool making your bowel movements painful and difficult.
Try to drink enough fluid every day. Daily water intake for standard diets is two liters but due to the carnivore diet’s diuretic effect, drinking 2.5 liters every day is recommended. Heavier and taller individuals may need to increase their water intake further, as even mild dehydration can cause constipation. Check your urine color to ensure it is light yellow rather than bright or dark yellow.
While water is an ideal way to hydrate, it isn’t the only hydrating beverage. Coffee and bone broth can also contribute to your overall fluid intake. In the past, caffeine was believed to increase dehydration risk, but recent research has shown drinking caffeinated beverages with less than 500mg of caffeine per day doesn’t result in dehydration. Coffee induces more colon activity; regular coffee intake can have a 23% stronger laxative effect than decaffeinated coffee and 60% more than water.
If you’re starting to experience unpleasant constipation side effects like bloating, drinking mildly diuretic beverages can help alleviate those symptoms. Drinking hot or warm liquids like tea, coffee, or water on an empty stomach can help induce mild contraction in your colon, easing constipation. It also serves to keep you hydrated and reduce stress levels.
Be careful not to drink excessive amounts of fluid as you risk throwing your electrolyte balance out of sync by flushing them at a higher rate than replenishing them. Use your thirst level to guide you on when to drink fluids, and avoid excess alcohol, carbonated, seltzer, or sparkling drinks.
While the carnivore diet eliminates most inflammatory foods, some carnivore foods can cause inflammation resulting in constipation. Dairy products and eggs are common foods that cause constipation on the carnivore diet, especially if you’re allergic to them.
Though lactose sensitivity is known to cause diarrhea, it can also cause constipation. Consider cutting down on your dairy and egg intake if you have any lactose sensitivity issues or are still adapting to the carnivore diet. This will help ease your constipation symptoms.
The most critical role electrolytes play is in maintaining homeostasis in your body. Electrolytes help regulate muscle and nerve functions and maintain water balance and acid-base balance.
Electrolytes, mainly sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium, are essential for keeping your digestive tract functioning optimally. When you’re on the carnivore diet, your kidneys are excreting these electrolytes faster than you can replenish them.
Potassium plays a vital role in regulating muscle contractions. Low potassium levels can affect the contraction of intestinal muscles, which can significantly slow down food and waste passage. This can cause bloating and constipation.
When your sodium levels are high, your body sucks up water from your intestines to help bring the salt concentration back to normal, which can lead to constipation. Magnesium aids in muscle relaxation, one common side effect of magnesium deficiency is constipation. Too much calcium in your bloodstream can also affect how your muscles receive the signal to contract your colon and make these muscles sluggish, leading to constipation.
To avoid constipation, ensure you’re well-hydrated and that your electrolytes are balanced. A study of 244 women suffering from constipation found that those who drank magnesium-fortified water had a significant improvement than those who only drank low-mineral water.
Stay hydrated, and take foods rich in sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium like liver, low-fat dairy, chicken breast, yogurt, salmon, and clams. Salting your food is another way to up your sodium intake, but be careful not to take too much salt as it can throw off your electrolytes.
You can supplement if you can’t get them from your diet, but remember, potassium supplementation can be dangerous.
Calcium supplements can have a mild binding effect in your stool, making it more challenging and difficult to pass, so calcium supplementation may not be the best idea. Magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide supplements can help with constipation but be sure to start with no more than 200 mg daily to prevent diarrhea or loose stools. Before taking any supplements, it’s always a great idea to check with your doctor first.
The carnivore diet primarily consists of protein and fat. When you consume protein, your stomach releases HCL and enzymes called proteases to break it down into smaller amino acid chains.
When on a diet with low protein intake, your body is used to secreting less HCL and digestive protein enzymes. When you switch to a high-protein diet, your body will need time to adjust to the new high protein digestion requirements. Meanwhile, you can supplement with HCL and give your GI tract a helping hand as it adapts to the new normal.
It’s the same case for fat digestion; when on the carnivore diet, your fat intake increases, and your body hasn’t yet adjusted to increased fat digestion. Bile plays a crucial role in fat digestion.
When you consume fats, your gut secretes a Cholecystokinin hormone that triggers your gallbladder to contract and release bile. Bile emulsifies fat, allowing it to be absorbed. Inadequate bile production will result in constipation since all fats won’t be digested.
To combat this physiological limit, upping your beef liver consumption can help increase choline levels, an essential nutrient that helps with fat digestion. Or supplement with ox bile and help out your gut as it adjusts.
If you want to keep your gut moving and alleviate constipation, staying active can help.
Exercise encourages your digestive tract to keep moving. It promotes healthy digestion and helps treat constipation by decreasing the time it takes for food to move through the GI tract, limiting the amount of water absorbed from the stool. You can take up walking for 10-15 minutes every day or try cycling, yoga, crunches, jogging, and swimming.
Over time, regular exercise can strengthen your digestive tract. Exercise can also help relieve tension, stress, and anxiety, which can all contribute to constipation.
Constipation shows that your gut is adapting and changing. Your bowel movement in the carnivore diet, over time, will be healthy as it takes time for your body to adjust to a new way of eating.
So be patient and implement these tips to ease your symptoms. But don’t try them all at once, as the effect can be too strong. Though frustrating, constipation tends to resolve quickly and will soon be over.