Before we dive into whether or not you should be supplementing with exogenous Ketones, let’s first get a little nerdy, talk science and have a look at what Ketones are and what they do. If you aren’t the science type and just want to know if and how you use Ketones, skip to the bottom of this post. If you geek out on organic chemistry and scientific research, carry on my friends.
What are Ketones?
Simply put, Ketones are the byproduct of fat metabolism (breaking down fat for energy when carbohydrate intake is low). The body usually uses glucose (simplest form of carbohydrates) as its primary fuel source. When there isn’t enough glucose, the body resorts to burning fat for fuel, leading to the production of Ketones or “Ketone bodies.” This can obviously happen if I person is following a very low-carb Ketogenic diet, but can also happen after prolonged exercise or periods of fasting. When blood concentration levels reach between 0.5-1.5 mmol/L we are considered to be in light nutritional Ketosis. Optimal nutritional Ketosis occurs around 1.5 – 3 mmol/L.
The body can produce three types of Ketones endogenously (in the body). They are:
Benefits of Ketosis:
Note: There are more benefits of being in nutritional Ketosis (i.e. following a Ketogenic diet) such as improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, increased satiety after eating and improved lipid profile. A Ketogenic diet may also have therapeutic effects for people with epilepsy, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), type 2 diabetes, some cancers, ADD/ADHD, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, ALS, MS. When discussing implementation of the Ketogenic diet, I prefer to focus on the mental and physical health benefits, rather than using it as another diet to lose weight.
What are exogenous Ketones?
Exogenous Ketones are Ketones made outside your body, i.e. a supplement. Ketone body supplements are most often available in a drink or powder form. There are two different kinds of exogenous Ketones: Ketone salts and Ketone esters.
Ketone salts consist of a Ketone body combined (beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) to a mineral ion, usually sodium.
Ketone esters are raw Ketones (β-hydroxybutyrate (β-OHB) and are not bound to any salts or compounds. There appears to be more research in support of their benefits (compared to salts) due to quicker utilization and a greater effect on raising blood Ketone levels. Ketone esters are less prevalent in commercialized products and likely difficult to market due to their unpleasant taste and possible gastric distress.
“Commercially available Ketone body supplements (salts) provide ~8–12 g of β-OHB and ~1 g of sodium per serving, and serve as a means to rapidly increase circulating Ketone body availability. Recently, Ketone esters [i.e., (R)-3-hydroxybutyl (R)-3-hydroxybutyrate] have emerged as a more practical and applicable way to increase the availability of blood Ketone bodies”. (1)
Ketones are not a quick fix answer to weight loss. Any company that claims Ketones “burn fat” or cause weight loss is lying to you. Ketones can help push you into Ketosis which is a metabolic state where your body uses fat as fuel. Just because you are in "Ketosis” does not mean you will lose weight. If you are still eating in excess, weight loss will not occur. I recommend using Ketones as a way to improve your mental clarity, energy and focus, rather than thinking of them as the newest weight loss supplement.
Who Can Benefit From Exogenous Ketones?
Before we discuss how to use Ketones and how you can benefit, head over to TruBrain to identify your Keto Spirit Animal.
People ON KETO:
Supplementing with Ketones can help in a few ways if you are looking to, or already follow a Ketogenic diet.
If you have read up and are considering starting Keto, you may have heard of the “Keto flu”. During this transitional period, where you body is shifting fuel sources from carbohydrates to fats, it is common to experience unpleasant side effects such as headache, irritability, lethargy, brain fog or fever. Symptoms typically last from a few days up to 2 weeks. By supplementing with exogenous Ketones, you can “push” your body into Ketosis faster and avoid or lessen the severity of the Keto flu.
If you are already following Keto, you obviously know there are certain foods that kick you out of Ketosis. If you eat too many carbs, you can take exogenous Ketones to get you back into Ketosis quickly instead of waiting 2-3 days and possibly experiencing the Keto flu.
People NOT ON KETO:
For some, following a Ketogenic diet is not realistic or desired. Some people may feel less energy on a strict Ketogenic diet. It can be restrictive and challenging and may trigger those with a history of an eating disorder. Exogenous Ketones can be a great way to elevate Ketone levels as a way to achieve the benefits of Ketosis between meals, even if you are following a Ketogenic diet. Ketones are able to cross the blood brain barrier to provide our brains with instant fuel. If you are looking for some mental energy, try taking exogenous Ketones on an empty stomach for benefits such as mental clarity, energy, focus and sharpness. I like to take a scoop around 2-3 pm.
People That Do Intermittent Fasting:
Supplementing with Ketones can help prolong a fast and provide an energy boost. Try taking on an empty stomach or immediately prior to your workout.
Ketone bodies have been suggested to enhance performance in endurance athletes via decreases in central (i.e., neural brain) fatigue and improved cognitive functioning (1).
According to research:
“by serving as an alternative fuel substrate, Ketone bodies may reduce the reliance on glucose utilization and spare endogenous glycogen stores. Alternatively, Ketone bodies may compromise endogenous carbohydrate availability via inhibition of hepatic glucose output and/or a reduction in pyruvate and lactate oxidation resulting from inhibition of pyruvate dehydrogenase activity. Therefore, although carbohydrate sparing may benefit endurance performance, it may be hypothesized that Ketone body supplementation during exercise reduces carbohydrate oxidation, thereby lowering the capacity to sustain higher intensity efforts” (1).
Simply put, Ketone bodies may benefit endurance athletes that perform in an aerobic zone (45-60+ minutes) more so than athletes that perform at higher intensities (anaerobic activities such as sprinting, powerlifting etc.).
Thirty minutes prior to an endurance activity consume some type of quick digesting carbohydrate such as a banana or a gel packet. Immediately before your workout, take one scoop of Ketones.