Mar 14

Thoughts on Shawn Baker’s Labs

This week, Robb Wolf had Dr. Shawn Baker on his podcast, The Paleo Solution.

Baker has been a controversial figure for his embracing a meat-only diet (no plants). Naturally, this has made him a favorite target of vegans, particularly youtubers. What makes him especially interesting is that he’s not just an athlete, but he’s actually setting a number of world records for his age class (over 50!) in athletic benchmarks.

Full disclosure: I now know a number of “carnivore” dieters like Amber O’Hearn who I consider friends. But I likewise have a number of vegan friends as well, many of whom I have worked with to improve their lipid numbers.

Throughout his time on this diet, Baker didn’t take any blood tests until just a couple months ago. This first round of tests were then revealed on the podcast and proved to be quite interesting. While there are a number of them that would be worth commenting on, those I want to focus on were about the energy metabolism (no surprise).

The Glucose and Insulin Labs

  • HbA1c: 6.3
  • Fasting Glucose: 126 mg/dL
  • Fasting Insulin: 2.6 mIU/L

The A1c and fasting glucose are certainly consistent with someone who is prediabetic and likely on their way to full-blown Type 2. Well — that is — until you look at the fasting insulin. In what circumstance would you expect a high fasting glucose with a low fasting insulin?

I see them all the time: low carb athletes.

Ironically, I just got done talking about this on Ketoconnect’s podcast (airing in a couple months). In fact, Lean Mass Hyper-responders (LMHR) are actually the most likely to have a fasting glucose in the 90s or even over 100s while also sporting a fasting insulin below 3. Moreover, this profile typically has lower blood ketones (BHB) when testing compared to their more sedentary cohorts. (I’ll have a blog post on this soon)

I myself tend to be on the borderline of a LMHR or just past the line when fully keto. In that context, I often have fasting glucose in the 90s or lower 100s and an A1c of between 5.5 and 5.7. And that’s bad, right? Creeping back toward risk of Type 2 diabetes? I certainly don’t think so given my average fasting insulin of 3 or less.

But wait — Baker is much, much higher, right? Almost 20% higher in both fasting glucose and A1c. Surely he’ll be piling up the insulin resistance as we don’t see these numbers in any other low carbers, yes?

Energy Demand Leading to Higher Glucose Sparing?

This is where I part ways with so many people in and out of LCHF. What got me into cholesterol in the first place was seeing how it was really just “ridesharing” in a larger energy metabolism. So energy delivery and homeostasis on a greater network-level scale is what I continue to find endlessly fascinating. I’ll let the Benjamin Bikmans and Michael Eades of this world tackle the finer details of the mitochondria, I want to know how the Human OS manages to traffic that energy to our cells so effectively in the first place.

Which brings us back to Baker. This isn’t any ordinary guy. He isn’t just working out for recreation, he’s an athlete’s athlete. He’s training to break these various world records in addition to a variety of other workout regimes. So if you observe (as I do) a degree of adaptive glucose sparing as being more common with low carb athletes, what do you suppose it would be like for this human cyclone?

It’s not enough to just think of where his cells are getting their energy, you have to think of how timely it needs to be at a systemic level. Is Baker more of a slow jog in the morning kinda guy? No. Is he more of an exploding HIIT adventurer that is probably keeping high muscle confusion? Yes. The latter suggests more need for glycogen stores in the muscle with a strong rotation of glucose via the liver.

This is why I asked Baker and many other low carb athletes to please do more testing for us if they (heaven forbid) get injured or for some reason can’t exercise intensively for a period of time. I suspect in such cases if all other things were equal, their fasting glucose would drop. This is what happened to me when comparing my morning glucose in and out of marathon season.

The Cholesterol Labs

Baker had the following lipids:

Total Cholesterol: 192

LDL-C: 141

HDL-C: 40

Triglycerides: 54

For these I had the following notes:

  • LDL-C and LDL-P are both on the lower end for a low carber who is as lean and fit as Dr Baker is. I suspect this is due to his emphasis on resistance training, which can reduce LDL scores due to a higher rate of use for muscle repair.
  • Small LDL-P is low at 283, and clearly very Pattern A.
  • HDL-C — 40 mg/dL is low for a zero carber. However, as he discussed with me, he apparently has low HDL running in the family as well as a prior history of it running closer to 30. At some point, he may what to check into his SNPs and see if there’s some pushdown there.
  • HDL-P was highlighted as being low (out of range) at 28. However, I see this frequently with low carbers across the board.
  • Triglycerides — 54 is certainly very correlative with a very athletic, insulin sensitive metabolism.
  • Lipoprotein (a) — 2 nmol/L is one of the lowest scores I’ve ever seen (maybe THE lowest).
  • The score I most care about is Remnant Cholesterol which is calculated by subtracting both HDL-C and LDL-C from Total Cholesterol. His score of just 11 mg/dL is extremely low risk and suggests he has a very efficient fat metabolism. (You can use our reporting tool here if you’d like to calculate your own)

Again, I’m not surprised by the lower LDL-C and LDL-P as I’ve covered this before with my own data. As the theory goes, on one end he’s being powered by fat, necessitating more VLDL secretion. On the other, he’s engulfing LDL-P at a rapid rate for tissue repair, particularly for all that resistance training.

Final Thoughts

Baker, O’Hearn, and the many other “carnivores” are certainly conducting a very interesting, real-time experiment. I’m excited to see how this new data will manifest and what positives and/or negatives will be revealed.

At some point, I plan to do an experiment of my own going meat-only for a month, just as I plan to do likewise with a plant-based diet. I’ll be very curious as to what happens to my blood markers when comparing to my many, many labs before it.

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56 Comments on "Thoughts on Shawn Baker’s Labs"

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Stephanie Holbrook

Thank you Dave for all of your amazing work. I coach low carb/keto/carnivore endurance athletes. We see similar results in regards to triglycerides, insulin and A1C’s.

I enjoy reading our test results. I look forward to seeing your carnivore compared to vegan results.

Simon Hunter
This makes me feel better about my fasting glucose. I’m LCHF but not super low carb (4 years or so). I still eat potatoes and get probably around 150g a day. I’m 45 male 5’10 142lbs. I’ve been chasing a high fasting glucose for a couple of years now. It is always in the 90-110 range (I’ve taken probably a 100 readings). I work out at least 3-4 times a week mostly resistance training. However my post prandial numbers seem pretty decent and my fasting insulin is 2.4. I can’t trust my A1C number because I have to donote blood… Read more »
Shane O

I, like you, find human energy metabolism endlessly fascinating. I just listened to his podcast the other day where his blood tests were revealed. I love Dr Bakers attitude in the face of a lot of back lash he receives. Man, could you be on to another paradigm shifting idea??? High glucose no longer means diabetes?? Of course everything has to be taken in context(diet, exercise, overall health):) As always, great blog post and thanks again for sharing your thoughts.


Nice tight analysis.

A1C likely high due to Extended lifetime of RBC due, in turn, to low sugar damage

As a patreon was hoping you’d hit this and even more so that you try meat only. But I think 4 weeks might be on the borderline: for really locking definitive contrast you might want six…..

Terry Ritter

I have seen studies that show that the standard assumption of 120 days for a RBC in the calculation of A1C can be off as much as +/- 20% in healthy individuals, and even a shorter lifespan for those with diabetic level BG. Doesn’t this kinda cause one pause when worrying about A1C? I am also curious Dave to how you think the “glucose sparing” works. IOW, why does the liver keep BG, and especially FBG, high?

It seems like no matter how bad the reading, you’re finding a way to justify it because people are low carb. High blood glucose leads to glycation and increases risk of atherosclerosis. Zero carb has no historical precedence and makes absolutely no sense from any viewpoint other than orthorexia. What would happen to Shawn if he ate an olive? Would he die? If this guy accidentally had a cup of coffee or some MCT powder (both come from plants) – would he lose strength? Why are all plants bad? We’re opportunistic eaters. Carnivore is dumber than vegan because we in… Read more »
I tend to agree with you –although I’m following a LCHF/Ketogenic/High Protein diet (varies over time) along with intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding. I have lost 66 pounds with this approach. My A1c was 5.7 last time I check but before entering this eating approach I had all the symptoms of metabolic syndrome and (at least) pre diabetes. Most notably, persistent blurry vision which reverted and resolved completely since going keto (and following the other approaches). However, although I have a great deal of “confidence” in that my glucose was out of control I cannot tell for sure because I… Read more »

Re the post prandial, Shawn mentioned that much of the time his glucose was lower, even 80s, and that meals he stayed the same or had minimal increase. His fasting BG was his highest reading of the day, and he mentioned basically being subject to the dawn phenomenon.

However, I agree may high BG may still be of concern despite the atheltics.


Where are you getting he eats Wendy’s? He eats ribeyes most of the time, with a little cheese and seafood. You are clearly vegan by your venomous response. Open that closed, pathetic mind of yours. Look up Owsley Stanley, he ate a carnivore diet for over 50 years. Died at age 76, in a car crash. Plenty of people have been doing this diet for 10+ years with amazing results.

Not to mention entire groups of people. The Comanches, for instance, basically ate 100% buffalo. Would they eat anything else? Sure, if they were starving. I’ve personally found eating more meat, fewer vegetables better even while on a keto/very low carb diet. I still eat a few vegetables, though. I used to eat vegetables at every meal, now I can go days without eating them. Dave, I have a low carb doctor whose theory about HDL (HDL-C, though I find this confusing since HDL is not cholesterol) is that it varies based on the amount of good fats you’re eating.… Read more »

Oops, didn’t see the rest of your thoughtful comment, Bert.

This guy’s post prandial response is steady or negative. In the Robb Wolf interview, i think he said the most it ever rose was 5-10 points.

Bert – concern of mine, too, until i checked out the underpinnings of the HbAic test. Upshot: if your red blood cells live longer than 120 days on average…your values will be pushed incorrectly higher. If your red blood cells live less (say, due to glycation damage) than 120 on average your HbA1c will be pushed incorrectly lower. Diabetics, therefore, have insufficiently revealing A1c scores. And contrariwise, those with very low/no red blood cell sugar damage will have long-lived RBC and incorrectly high A1c. That’s why a secondary test like HOMA or fasting Insulin or is needed. A final note:… Read more »
chris c

Yes anecdotally/observationally some diabetics have HbA1c which differs significantly from their spot readings – the low carbers tend towards higher A1c, suggesting a longer life for the red cells. Interestingly some of them had fructosamine tested and that came in more in line with the spot BG readings.

A1c was always regarded as too inaccurate to be used for diagnosis until a few years back.

This sets off bells for me! 6 months ago I switched from LCHF to VLCD >95% of my diet is meat and eggs, bit of cheese. I might grab some cucumber or celery sticks here and there (mimicking random foraging). Only refined glucose is for treating my hypos (I am T1D) but usually less than 10g-15g carbs per day as needed. Workouts are short and intense, Ted Naiman style which has added significant muscle tone and strength to my 47 year old body. Before switching I was putting up AIC’s around 5.0-5.4. Since going almost all meat, I’ve bumped up… Read more »

Hi Dave,
as always… great post!!
one question on HDL: to my knowledge it primarily serves as an transport molecule for gonads and adrenals and additionally delivers cholesterol to VLDL and LDL. Is this correct?
And is that all it does or do you see different purposes as well?
And btw, if its correct that it supplies to gonads and adrenals, why does not LDL do this? (as it does for the rest of the body)

Dave: great post and I applaud Dr. Baker for sharing this data knowing that it would be the subject for widespread discussion. My limited understanding is that despite his athletic status, the fact of the higher BG levels themselves cause damage to tissue despite the low insulin. Of course all the research I see in this area is in the typical diabetic population and I don’t see research in a carnivore or low carb population happening soon. What are your thoughts on what is causing damage, the BG or the insulin? Both? Is this a case where the body is… Read more »
I’m a low carber myself and am very sympathetic towards the carnivore diet, but for a second I’d like to put diet aside in the case of Dr Baker. It seems to me that a lot of the assumptions here are predicated on the idea that this guy is a peak level athlete, so whatever his markers are they must be healthy. I’m not so certain. While it seems obvious that exercise is good for our health, is it possible that being an ‘athlete’s athlete’ is just another way to put an unnatural amount of stress on our bodies, just… Read more »
phillip kalasz

Thanks Dave! Love your work!

I’m a healthy (no pills) long time low carber, now very low carb higher fat diet; I’m officially an old lady, 70yo, who exercises an average amount, walking 1-2miles 4-5x a week, with once a week weight training; Since I got past 50yo I always have the “Dawn Effect” with my BG up around 100, and it goes higher if I cut calories. Yet, it drops to normal 70-80 as soon as I have any food, and stays there. My very nice (who will never look beyond his training) doctor tries to get me on statins every annual exam, and… Read more »

I took part in the original carnivore 90 day study and had blood work done at the end of the 90 days. I am a 50 year- old male, 185lbs, 6′ tall, and workout 5-6 times per week. The year prior to the study I ate following the protocol outlined by ketogains.

For what it is worth, my labs were as follows:
HbA1c: 5.5
Fasting Glucose: 93 mg/dL
Fasting Insulin: 2.2 mIU/L
HOMO-IR score: .3

Total Cholesterol: 321
LDL-C: 219
HDL-C: 89
Triglycerides: 39


Solve the heart disease question in 1 go with a CAC SCAN. JOB DONE. HE’S RIGHT AGE TO SHOW A HIGH NUMBER. LOW NUMNER LOW RISK..KEEP DOING WHAT UR DOING… u can test all the ldl and hel u want.. CAC SHOWS THE CALCIFICATION

Micheal Adeyosoye
Hey Dave. Id like to share some blood results. Im a 23 year old grad student who’s very active in the gym. Ive been on keto since june last year. I wen to do a blood test to see where Im at. Test 1- January hdl 56 triglycerides 60 ldl 270 total 338 After this, I decided to go on a cut and make most of my fats monounsaturated for around 2 weeks. I went to the gym and HIIT cardio every day. I decided to get a nmr test as well. Test 2 – february hdl 48 trig 109… Read more »
Everyone looks at these high glucose numbers here as a progression to type 2 diabetes (hyperglycemia/hyperinsulinemia/insulin resistance), but what if it’s actually an onset of type 1 diabetes (immune attack on beta cells curbing insulin production)? Contrary to popular belief, destruction of beta cells comes in waves & not all at once. Is it possible that he has lost beta cell function & becoming a type 1 diabetic? Tests should be run like C-peptide & antibody to make sure his pancreas is ok. We don’t have knowledge of what exactly CAUSES the autoimmune destruction of beta cells. I suspect world… Read more »

Hey Dave,

Just did a 6 week run of Carnivore with Pre and post blood work. I’m a pretty lean athlete and would love if you would take the time to give hear your input on my numbers.

Units are mmol/L

Pre (roughly 14 hours fasted)
Cholesterol 4.48
Triglycerides 1.07
HDL Cholesterol 1.50
LDL Cholesterol Calc 2.49

Post (11-12 hours fasted)
Cholesterol 7.31
Triglycerides 1.10
HDL Cholesterol 1.62
LDL Cholesterol Calc 5.19

Angelika Ilina

Thank you, Dave, for this very informative post! I follow Shawn Baker even though I am not a carnivore myself. I’m not sure if I’m a LMHR – my remnant cholesterol is 10; fasting glucose 84; triglycerides 48; LDL 143. Maybe I’m just a low carber 🙂