What are Ketone Supplements?

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Over the past few decades, ketones have enjoyed lots of positive press. And, for most of their life in the spotlight, this specific group of chemicals has been seen as something that you have to force your body to produce. Recently, however, many supplements have started to appear on the market – making all sorts of claims regarding enhanced athletic performance, improved body composition and a host of other supposed benefits. What are ketone supplements, though? Can they actually help you as an athlete?

Defining Ketone Bodies

Generally, your body prefers to run on glucose for fuel. In some situations, however, you might not have enough glucose present in your system to provide the energy that you need. When this happens, your highly-adaptive body also has the ability to burn more fat as a backup. As fats are broken down, though, various compounds are created as by-products.

Ketones – chemically called ketone bodies – are one of the more famous by-products of this process. The exact role of ketones in the human body is still an area of active research. A ketogenic diet – that is, a diet that is low enough in carbohydrates to stimulate the formation of ketones – does have a long history of use in the treatment of epilepsy. Interestingly, it is extremely effective in this situation.

Supplementation

All of this, though, has to do with ketones produced by your own body as a result of low-carb diets. The modern trend is moving away from this restrictive diet toward something called exogenous ketones – which are just supplements. Essentially, these products provide you with ketones extracted from outside sources.

The primary benefit of this approach is that, as mentioned, you don’t have to restrict your diet as much in order to introduce ketones into your system. By taking ketones as a supplement, you can artificially increase your ketone levels which will stop your body from relying on carbohydrates for fuel and will encourage the breakdown of fats.

Put simply, ketogenic diets require a very specific nutrition plan to trigger the production of ketones. Supplementation, though, skips that step.

Claims and Science

But… why? What’s the point of ketogenesis? What do ketones do for you?

As mentioned, ketongenesis is an effective treatment for epilepsy. So, these substances clear do have a powerful influence over your body. Exactly how that all works, though, is still an area of active research. Which is how scientists say that they don’t know.

Still, research has reveal several interesting uses for ketone supplements. Specifically, these substances seems to have neuroprotective abilities – making them useful for the treatment and prevention of Parkingson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

What about athletes, though? How can ketone supplements help you in your training? This issue is a little more complicated to sort out. Interestingly, both sides of the debate each have a primary study that they use to either support or detract from the use of ketones as an athletic supplement.

To suss out the truth, then, you have to consider each of the studies. The first, conducted in 2016, found that competitive cyclists were able to add an average of 2 percent to their distance when taking ketone supplements with their meals. This study, therefore is focused on endurance and shows that ketones could be useful for these athletes. It’s worth pointing out that these endurance-centric activities are generally powered by fat anyway.

A more recent 2017 study, though, asked cyclists to performance short-duration, high-intensity workout while taking ketones. Specifically, the participants fasted and then took ketones before heading out to do hill sprints. The human body typically relies on carbs in these situations. So, how did the subjects perform? Their power output dropped by an average of seven percent.

Action Plan

So, how can you use this information in a practical way?

Ketone supplements might give you the ability to enjoy certain aspects of a ketogenic diet without actually following the diet itself. To be fair, though, studies into this exact relationship are limited. It seems a little illogical to assume that you could continue to eat however you want, take ketones and lose weight. In fact, research into the specific ketones extracted from raspberries has shown that this is most likely an ineffective strategy.

What is clear, however, is that ketone supplements could be useful for endurance athletes. Like runners. During sprints or other short bursts of intense activity, ketones may actually be counterproductive. In each of the above-mentioned studies, the participants took the ketones shortly before their workouts.

If you do decide to use ketone supplements as a sort of pre-workout, follow the dosage instructions provided by the manufacturer. There are currently a limited number of products on the market and ideal dose has not been identified through the research.

It’s important to remember, as well, that long-term ketone supplementation has not been thoroughly researched. There may be effects that have yet been uncovered.

Sources

  1. The Charlie Foundation, What is the Ketogenic Diet?, Article, Nov 17, 2017
  2. Healthline, Checking Ketone Levels, Article, Nov 17, 2017
  3. Hashim SA, VanItallie TB, Ketone body therapy: from the ketogenic diet to the oral administration of ketone ester, Journal, Sep 01, 2014
  4. Cox, et. al., Nutritional Ketosis Alters Fuel Preference and Thereby Endurance Performance in Athletes, Journal, Aug 09, 2016
  5. Trevor O’Malley, Etienne Myette-Cote, Cody Durrer, Jonathan P. Little, Nutritional ketone salts increase fat oxidation but impair high-intensity exercise performance in healthy adult males, Journal, Jul 09, 2017
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