Exogenous ketones are undoubtedly one of the most popular discussion for points for anyone on the ketogenic diet. I mean if you can make the ketogenic diet that much easier- why wouldn’t you? The Ketogenic Diet is a well researched area and super smart people like Tim Ferris, Dr Peter Attia, Dr Dom D’Agostino and many more are all discussing it, looking at research and experimenting in their own lives to see how it can apply in their life.
Anyone who has looked at it even for 10 minutes, will know the incredible health benefits it can produce, like improved mental acuity, accelerated fat loss, improved trigycleride, blood sugar and cholesterol profile and so much more.
But is there a way to fast track the process? Is it of benefit to triathletes like you and me?
For the basics on how the Ketogenic Diet can apply to athletes, read my colleague Charlotte Campbell’s book which takes the current research and applies it to our sport. This article will focus on the role of exogenous ketones.
Exogenous ketones are basically synthetic ketone supplements. They are made in the lab for you to ingest to fast track your progress. Endogenous ketones are the ones your body makes naturally through the process of ketosis.
Why the obsession with exogenous ketones?
Firstly remember that to achieve dietary or nutritional ketosis you need to severely restrict carbohydrate intake (fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrate per day) so that the body becomes adapted to using ketones to fuel muscles and the brain instead of sugars. Ketosis is a natural state of being for humans every morning when we wake up after not eating for 10- 12 hours, after prolonged exercise or when eating a low-carb, ketogenic diet.
Ketones are produced from burning fat, which is why the ketogenic diet has phenomenal results with weight loss. Instead of continually topping your body up with sugar, the body adapts to accessing energy from the fat stores that we all carry around.
From a triathlon performance standpoint, fat loss immediately improves your power-to-weight ratio, and lowers the energy cost of locomotion. Even if your ability to produce power does not improve, you will go faster and be more economical when you lose weight. (Hence the well-known super skinny physiques of most Tour de France cyclists)
By prioritising fat burning instead of sugar burning, becoming fat-adapted also makes endurance athlete virtually bonk-proof as they can access a virtually unlimited supply of energy. As you know, we all have access to only 1500-2000 calories in the form of carbohydrates available, which is why endurance athletes need to chug down so many sugary drinks, bars, and supplements through a long distance event. However , even the skinniest triathlete has over 30,000-40,000 calories available in the form of body fat. It just makes sense to be able to access this energy source easily.
Keeping your carbohydrates down below 50g per day on a long term basis can be a challenge for many people (especially athletes). What about if you increase the ketones in the body by taking supplemental (exogenous) ketones?
When you take exogenous ketones, your body immediately starts using ketones for energy just like you would if you were in a deep state of ketosis through a diet. Essentially, an exogenous ketone supplement provides you with an instant supply of ketones to burn, even if you’re not necessarily in a state of ketosis prior to ingestion.
As well as experiencing fairly instant results, taking exogenous ketones also helps reduce the temporary “keto-flu” like symptoms that may occur when you first start to enter ketosis.
Of course, there is the other side. The critics point out the limitations of minimising carbohydrate as fuel. To be honest, I have been super cautious about this as well. After all, we have all been taught for years how important carbohydrates are for long distance performance from the “pasta parties” and carb-loading before a race, to the abundant supply of energy drinks at an event and marketing in the Triathlon magazines.
Here is Dr Attia discussing the ketogenic diet and his experience with his endurance performance:
I lean towards a cyclic ketogenic diet, where we do teach the body to be fat-adapted and be able to access this important fuel source. However long term carbohydrate deprivation is very hard to sustain. So cycling in and out of strict ketosis depending on your race calendar and training demands makes sense to me. Reducing my reliance on sugary drinks, definitely make sense to me. If I can take exogenous ketones to quickly and reliably get back into ketosis this seems like a win-win.
What are exogenous ketones?
Exogenous ketones come in different forms. What is the difference between them?
There are three different types of “ketones” that your body runs on: Acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone. Beta-hydroxybutyrate is the active form that can flow freely in the blood and be used by your tissues, so that is the one on which most exogenous ketone supplements are based.
Most of the population should use a ketone salt, where the ketone is bound to a salt- typically sodium, calcium, potassium or magnesium.This makes the taste more acceptable and minimises any gastric distress.
Ketone esters are the raw ketone. It is the most effective at raising ketone levels but there are sometimes nasty stomach issues and the taste is unbearable.
Oils help boost ketones indirectly. Salts and esters can be used immediately for energy whereas oils must be broken down then processed into ketone bodies.
Most of the ketone supplements that claim to taste great are likely:
- containing an extremely small amount of ketones in the product or
- they have significantly disguised the taste with tons of filler. Eg raspberry ketones actually have nothing to do with ketosis!
So be careful and choose wisely.
Exogenous ketones make the idea of “dual fueling” a compelling idea. An athlete could potentially supplement with exogenous ketones and thereby conserve limited carbohydrate stores for high-intensity efforts (Cox, 2014)
Will exogenous ketones enhance the performance of triathletes or any endurance athlete?
The high fat-low carb strategy has been shown to increase the utilization of fat for energy, especially in the long-term (20 months) fat-adapted athletes. There does not seem to be any conclusive evidence that using fat instead of sugar will make you faster as an athlete.
However, it makes you metabolically flexible, meaning your body can easily rely on whatever fuel source is available. In my opinion, this is smart training. To only rely on sugar as a fuel source is leaving yourself exposed. Why not train your body to run primarily on fat- a fuel source of which we all have plenty- then top up when required with carbohydrate? You also improve your health and increased risk of lifestyle diseases by reducing excessive sugar intake.
I like the concept of a cyclic ketogenic diet.
It may be limiting on peak performance protocol to be on a severe ketogenic diet permanently. As athletes, there are times when we benefit from carbohydrates. I like the idea of switching to a hard core ketogenic diet at certain times of the training calendar. Then allowing carbohydrates back in when appropriate in order to maximize training quality and performance outcomes.
If you are too low on carbohydrates, you may miss out on the turbo charged boost you need for high intensity efforts- to catch up to the group, to climb the hill, to sprint for the finish line. Anaerobic glycolysis is the metabolic pathway that rapidly produces energy by partially burning carbohydrate to meet short, high-intensity efforts.
Hard efforts are required even in long distance events if you are performing at your best. It is important to have ALL your fuel sources available.
Exogenous ketones make this process a lot easier and may become a useful additional fuel source for endurance athletes. There is some suggestion that Tour de France riders have begun using exogenous ketones, though currently this has not been proven or confirmed.
The leading cause of athletes to pull out of long endurance races (DNFs) is stomach problems. If you can ease the burden of requiring excessive fuel during the race, you will dramatically reduce your risk of this happening. When your blood is shunted to working muscles and you are becoming dehydrated over the course of the event, the digestion in your gut is slowed. During long spells of exercise, changes in blood volume, heat stress, and hydration status can slow or halt gut motility causing bloating, and nausea.By reducing reliance on sugar during the race, you also avoid other potential problems like stomach cramps and gastric distress.
Don’t exogenous ketones taste bad?
Historically – yes! If you have listened to a podcast with Tim Ferris and Dr Peter Attia, you will remember the episode when Dr Attia likened drinking ketone esters to almost undrinkable jet fuel
However, if you stick to high quality ketone salts, you will be fine. Still, when you first begin, go easy, and gradually introduce it to your diet.
Here are some ways to take the ketone salts and make them palatable.
Personally, I have a scoop in the morning with my coffee. It tastes fine and I hardly notice it. Although I am using it for athletic performance benefits primarily, I do notice an improvement in mental concentration and focus which is an awesome side benefit. I like Perfect Keto because it is properly researched and contains no fillers or added crap – just high-quality beta hydroxybutyrate (BHB).
Is taking exogenous ketones 100% necessary to experience benefits of ketosis?
No, you do not need exogenous ketone supplements to gain the incredible benefits of the ketogenic diet. It just takes longer to get there and you need to be stricter with your diet. Dieting can be hard. Exogenous ketones makes it a lot easier. Dr Peter Attia found that exogenous ketones did improve output and stamina for prolonged athletic activity
Is taking exogenous ketones a short cut?
Yes, you will get the same effects of the ketogenic diet by adding ketones to your diet instead of waiting for the natural metabolic processes to produce them. In the ideal world, you will produce them naturally, but we do not live in the ideal world!
If you use them wisely, they will give you excellent athletic performance results and accelerate your results from your ketogenic journey.
Exogenous ketones help compliance
It is super easy to kick yourself out of ketosis. Even the strictest athlete might occasionally crave a slice of cake or join in some carbs socially. Hence the benefits of a cyclic ketogenic diet and taking exogenous ketones supplements mean you can plan ahead for the days when you let your carbohydrates raise up then later switch straight back into ketosis.
When you take this product, your body immediately starts using ketones for energy just like you would if you were in a deep state of ketosis. This means you can have the benefits of ketosis whenever you want.
Anyway, I am getting great results and really like the Perfect Keto products.
Try Perfect Keto
I do not think you should use exogenous ketones to replace a good diet.
I do not think you should use exogenous ketones instead of getting into ketosis. The best results will come if you do the ketogenic diet properly at first, teach yourself to become fat adapted, then allow yourself to cycle in and out of ketosis and use exogenous ketones as a tool to speed things up.
But if you use them sensibly to assist and optimise an already good diet, then you are on to something. Exogenous ketones can lessen the misery of a low carb diet and help you sustain the benefits over the long term.
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