If you are a serious athlete, you have undoubtedly heard the word “ketone” floating around here and there, probably from researching something about weight loss, or from gym small talk. Regardless of where you heard it, one thing is certain—it is a hot topic.
Why The Ketogenic Diet?
Many people are afraid of change, simply put. However, change is the catalyst necessary for improvement, and this could not be truer when it comes to the ketogenic diet. To be clear, the ketogenic diet is not a “fly by night” fad that some guru in Hollywood came up with, but rather a dietary/lifestyle modification that has been in use for more than a century (at least as its proven, documented use shows).
The ketogenic diet was not originally used for weight loss but as a treatment for managing epilepsy. Back in the early 1900s, epilepsy was viewed as “brain diabetes” in the sense that it could not properly make use of glucose for powering the brain. This theory bears substance to this day because it was found that by removing sugars from the diet and substituting with fat, the episodes diminished in frequency significantly.
Which brings us back to ketones, also called ketone bodies. We now know that an increase in these ketone bodies places the body in a unique metabolic state to continue breaking down fats for energy, not to mention they have beneficial effects on cognition, energy levels and regulating emotional states.
Sounds quite promising, doesn’t it?
Which is exactly why, the advent of exogenous ketones, supplemental sources of these ketone bodies (normally only produced by the body), are picking up steam and making performance goals more attainable.
The Argument For Exogenous Ketones
Research on exogenous ketones is still in its infancy, so it would be unwise to definitively claim it as the end to all your troubles getting into ketosis, but they should not be underestimated either because they posses great potential as supplements.
Consider these upsides of using exogenous ketones to aid you in your decision:
Ketone bodies produced via consumption of a high fat ketogenic diet have been documented to have an “anorexigenic” appetite suppressing effect on people via multiple mechanisms, including the body’s satiety and hunger hormones, leptin, and ghrelin.1 Though not to be considered the primary mechanism behind ketones weight loss effects, it is definitely helpful when you eat less.
Ease of Getting Into Ketosis
In order for these ketone bodies to be produced, your body needs to metabolize fat efficiently. This is extremely tough if you do not rigidly control your carbohydrate intake because insulin release will really mess this process up. Though no official studies have been published on this aspect of exogenous ketones, anecdotal reports have indicated that it is easier to achieve a state of ketosis by introducing supplemental ketones. This positively alters metabolism, allowing you a little more freedom to consume a few more carbs or practice a cyclic ketogenic diet (which prioritizes carbs around the workout or a weekly re-feed) while still reaching deep ketosis.
Exogenous Ketones Boost Performance
One of the most sought after effects of ketone body production and supplementation is its boost on performance, at least in respect to certain types of activity. These activities are most likely low-moderate in intensity and performed over a period of time (endurance-like). A study confirming the same was conducted on competitive cyclists.
It was found that cyclist performance improved 2%, which is significant considering total distance covered.2 Though competition level cycling is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, it does consist of sustained levels of energy for a prolonged period of time and could explain the utility of these ketone bodies for lower intensity workouts.
The ketogenic diet has gained lots of popularity among long distance endurance athletes and a relationship can clearly be seen for endurance time activity and ketosis.
Ketone bodies have demonstrated protective effects on the brain by acting as a potential treatment for many degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.3 It is also promising for the management of epilepsy, which was discovered in the early 1900s and was the first way that ketogenic diets were used clinically to treat different conditions.
Studies carried out on mice demonstrated improved survival rates of up to 69% in those suffering from metastatic cancers.4
The Argument Against Exogenous Ketones
Though exogenous ketones hold extreme promise, they are not without their drawbacks (regardless of how minor they are). Supplementation of exogenous ketones, in a similar fashion to ketone bodies produced during ketosis, may result in the following:
Carbohydrates normally hold quite a lot of water, which is why muscles appear fuller when loaded full with glycogen. As carbohydrate stores (glycogen) are reduced, water is eliminated in a similar fashion, normally from increased diuresis (urination). However, water is not the only thing eliminated, as essential electrolytes follow along with the water. This has been documented in a study carried out on children, but the same effect occurs in adults as well.5 Be sure to replace lost fluids and electrolytes with an enhanced water beverage if you are pursuing ketosis.
Keto breath is not halitosis per se, but a kind of unique, off-smelling, overly ripe unpleasant fruit smell. Regardless, it can be quite unpleasant to both the dieting party and those around. This bad breath is the result of the byproducts of fat metabolism, and cannot be avoided if you wish to experience the true effect of ketone bodies. This smell is usually due to the acetone produced during metabolism of fat. It is completely harmless, however.6
Transient GI Upset
GI upsets may occur during the first week or two of getting fat adapted, as intestinal micro flora become accustomed to the new fuel source.
Ketones Support the Process
Exogenous ketone supplements could transform the way effective ketosis is achieved in the next few years. However, do not take this to mean that you can keep eating carbs, drink a ton of ketone supplements, and expect the fat to magically start flying off you. You still need to come extremely close to a true state of ketosis through diet for exogenous ketones to really work their magic. You also need to be in a caloric deficit to lose any weight. What exogenous ketones will do is make your progress a little faster and allow you a bit of breathing space.
- “Ketosis, ketogenic diet and food intake control: a complex relationship“, Frontiers in Psychology, 2015 PMC-NCBI.
- “Ketone drink gives competitive cyclists a boost by altering their metabolism“, Cell Metabolism, 2016.
- “Ketone body therapy: from the ketogenic diet to the oral administration of ketone ester“, Journal Of Lipid Research, 2014 PubMed-NCBI.
- “Ketone supplementation decreases tumor cell viability and prolongs survival of mice with metastatic cancer“, Int. Journal of Cancer, 2014 PubMed-NCBI.
- “Food for Thought: The Ketogenic Diet and Adverse Effects in Children“, Epilepsy Currents, 2005 PubMed-NCBI.
- “Measuring breath acetone for monitoring fat loss: Review“, Obesity Silver Spring, 2015 PubMed-NCBI.