They claim to improve weight loss, help you focus, perform better and live longer. You’d be forgiven for being very excited after reading their claims, because it’s a pretty great list of benefits. Should you rush to your nearest supplement store (or high school friend who’s suddenly contacted you on social media) and throw your credit card at them? Or should you hold off? Here’s the skinny on ketone supplements (read on to find out why that pun is hilarious).
Unfortunately, to get a proper understanding of these supplement’s proposed benefits, we need to go through a few big words.
Our body’s preferred source of fuel is glucose, most of which comes from our dietary carbohydrate. If we don’t provide our body with enough carbohydrate, usually because we’re following a low carb or ketogenic style diet, it will instead shift to create ketone bodies, or ‘ketones’. It creates these by breaking down our dietary fat as well as some stored body fat (if we’re in a calorie deficit). If you limit carbohydrate for long enough, your body makes enough ketones to put you into a state of “ketosis”. This means that your body is now primarily using ketones as fuel, rather than carbohydrate.
Endogenous and Exogenous
If something is “endogenous” your body created it. If something is “exogenous”, it has come from an outside source. This is very important, because this blog is only going to discuss exogenous ketones ie. Ketones from an outside source. The evidence around endogenous ketones (sometimes referred to as dietary ketosis) is a lot more nuanced, and I don’t have time to write that novel at the moment.
Basically, if you’ve heard of any benefits from the ketogenic diet they’re a.) still very new and unconfirmed (unless you have epilepsy) and b.) related to DIETARY ketosis, not ketosis achieved through ketone supplements.
OK THAT’S JUST ABOUT ENOUGH SCIENCE FOR TODAY.
So, Should I Take Some?
Exogenous ketones are really good at elevating the amount of ketones found in your blood. The more important question though is, does this matter? And the pretty overwhelming evidence for this is no. Higher levels of blood ketones from exogenous ketones show no benefit to energy levels, performance or fat loss.
This is often the number 1 reason people take them, so it deserves its own section. Remember before how I said the body breaks down dietary fat and stored body fat to make ketones? Well, if you’re supplementing with ketones, you’ve already got heaps of them circulating in your blood, so there’s really no reason for your body to make more. That means it’s more likely to store it than convert it to ketones. Uh oh. Ketone supplements could actually be slowing down the very process they claim to improve.
I tried to do some reading on this to understand what stops multi-level marketing from just being a pyramid scheme and still don’t understand it. The way these ketone supplement companies are structured very strongly encourages bias, so it’s very unlikely that the people working for these companies are going to provide you with accurate information about their product. Be wary of anyone using anecdotal evidence (ie. their own personal experience or that of their colleagues or consumers) or citing scientific studies (because they’d be referring to rat studies and you my friend, are not a rat.)
Bottom line: Save your money. Eat some carbs. Hit some PRs.
Yours in Health,
The Sports Dietitian Co.