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Supplementing with Ketones: The Performance and Health Supplement of the Future?

Kevin Kuhn: Classified Nutrition

Author of Hormonal Nutrition

I’m sure by now you’re at least somewhat familiar with the concept of the ketogenic diet.  If not, basically all you need to know is that it is the exact opposite of the “low-fat” diet craze.  In other words, the goal of the ketogenic diet is to remove carbohydrates from the diet to the greatest extent possible and replace those carbohydrate calories with fat calories.

The potential benefits that can result from eating this high-fat diet are well documented and continue to be studied.  From an athletic performance perspective, the potential benefits from being in a ketogenic state (or supplementing with ketones) includes:

  • Sparing glycogen and glucose during training,
  • Reducing muscle protein breakdown,
  • Reductions in oxidative stress, and
  • Maintaining or even promoting brain function and cognitive focus and concentration during times of physiological stress.

These are not new concepts though.  In fact, the concept of the ketogenic diet has actually been around since the 1920’s, with bits and pieces of the ketogenic concept going all the way back to Hippocrates in 400 BCE.  The main benefits of ketogenic eating come from the fact that this type of diet replicates certain aspects of starving.  Re-read that last sentence.  That’s right.  Your body does specific things when you fast, or starve, that help keep you alive.

Among these “defense mechanisms” is a surge in the utilization of stored body fat, and therefore ketones, as the predominant fuel and energy source for the whole body.  The issue with that is that specific parts of the body, like your brain and nervous system, for example, have a hard time transitioning to running on ketones.

When the body goes into ketosis because of a lack of food, the transition to running on ketones happens as stored glycogen is used up, which takes about 2-3 days.  When someone goes full throttle on a ketogenic diet, it typically takes 2-3 weeks of feeling like crap before his or her body feels “normal.”  For the majority of people, taking a 2-3 week hit in their over-all feeling of well being simply isn’t worth it, not to mention the nose-dive in your training and performance during this transition.

For some athletes, however, the ketogenic diet is a way to “free” their body up from the need to eat and supplement with carbohydrates before, during, and after training.

Supplementing with Ketones

Despite what popular media and influential industry gurus say about a ketogenic diet and ketone supplementation, there is still not a full consensus as to whether or not supplementing with ketones will benefit everyone, and if supplementing with ketones will benefit every type of athlete.

Until we have some research data from actual human studies on ketone supplementation and athletic performance and recovery, we don’t have any definitive answers.  So it is with this lens that we have to critically evaluate and extrapolate whether supplemental ketones are worth trying.

So what are some of the characteristics that we “know” about a ketogenic state that may provide benefit for athletes?

First, we know that oxygen is necessary to breakdown and utilize carbohydrate, fat, and protein as fuel sources.  Ketones are not any different in this regard, with the exception that the body requires much less oxygen to utilize ketones.  That means when ketones are used as a fuel source, cardiac stress and respiratory stress is greatly reduced, as well as a potential reduction in the oxidative stress the brain has to deal with during states of intense physical exertion.  It is for this reason that the ketogenic diet and supplemental ketones are very quickly gaining traction within the endurance sport community.

I’m sure that immediately brought up a question in your mind.  Will supplemental ketones benefit the power athlete?  The answer is…PERHAPS!  The research as well as anecdotal evidence is trending in a positive direction.   This is the case whether you are on a ketogenic diet and want a little help ensuring that you stay in ketosis, or if you are not on a ketogenic diet but want to take advantage of the some of the benefits of a ketogenic state.

It is very plausible that supplementing with ketones can have enough of an impact on reducing oxidative stress that the body does not have to repair as much overall muscle damage from training.  In addition, research has shown ketones to possess anti-inflammatory properties within different systems in the body.  This could be a huge benefit and recovery boost for individuals who want the potential benefits of the ketosis but have difficulty adhering to such a strict removal of carbohydrates.   Supplemental ketones may just provide the best of both worlds.  The research has yet to be published, but the anecdotal data looks very promising!

Classified Nutrition will be launching our very own KETONE product very soon!  We feel this is a very unique opportunity for us to take a scientifically grounded step forward into the future of performance and recovery nutrition.  Check out our website ClassifiedNutrition.com within the next few weeks for more details about KETONES!

About Kevin Kuhn

Kevin Kuhn, M.S.Ed., CSCS, MFS is a Kinesiologist and Sport Nutrition Coach in Dallas, Texas, as well as the Vice President of Research and Development for Classified Nutrition (ClassifiedNutrition.com).  Before moving to Dallas in 2012, Kevin was the head strength & conditioning coach for the Indiana Invaders professional running club in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Kevin specializes in athletic performance with great interest and experience in running-specific strength & conditioning, corrective exercise, and exercise and sport nutrition.  Kevin has been certified by the National Strength & Conditioning Association as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and as a Master Fitness Specialist by the Cooper Institute.

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3 comments

  1. So does that mean that a ketogenic diet might actually IMPROVE recovery despite the absence of carbs?? And what about delivering fast energy to fuel high intensity exercise like sprinting amd jumping?? I know several power athletes who claim to feel better, more energized and never sluggish on a ultra low carb!! Well, if thats the case, a ketogenic diet (or the supplement mentioned in the article) might be the secret of the future word record breaking performances…at least i hope so lol!!

    • It may be able to do just that, but only time will tell. I think it depends on the total volume of sprinting and jumping. It all comes down to the speed of ATP production and delivery. Carbs deliver less ATP per gram, but at a fast rate, while fat/ketones provide more ATP per gram, but it takes longer. Therefore, I think high volume paired with high intensity training would probably be accomplished better with carbs than without them.

      For some athletes, it is just too difficult to live their lives in a ketogentic state. I know of some Olympic lifters who felt more recovered between workouts, but their performances and training were somewhat lacking while on a ketogenic diet. At this point, I think it is something each individual will have to determine if the risk is worth the potential reward. That is where supplemental ketones may provide the benefit without the need to restrict carbs. I’m not convinced that getting rid of carbs will result in the best performance for every type of athlete, but on a case by case senario, it may be the best fit for specific athletes. Perhaps combining high quality carbs and supplemental ketones is the best way to go!
      Thanks for the question!

      • Thanks for the reply!! I agree, but i think everyone should try going keto for some time not only to see if that helps him, but also for his system, to start using carbs more efficiently by burning more fat overall!! Would you suggest a sprinter (100 m and under) or a jumper going low carb if he feels ok with it?? They dont require much glycogen since the energy comes mainly from creatine phosphate and they can just take longer rests in practice…what do you think??

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