Ketone nutritional supplements: Good or bad for athletic performance?

October 11, 2017, University of British Columbia

In the quest to improve physical performance, many athletes are turning to untested nutritional supplements. But in the case of one recently available and popular class of supplements—ketone salts—research from UBC's Okanagan campus suggests it may inhibit, rather than improve, athletic performance during high-intensity exercise.

"Ketone salts are relatively new to the market and there's not much research on their impact on performance," says the study's co-author Jonathan Little, assistant professor in UBC Okanagan's School of Health and Exercise Sciences. "We know from one previously published study that ketone supplements may improve long-duration endurance performance but we're interested what happens during short-duration and high-intensity workouts, like running a 10k or cycling up a hill."

"It turns out that ketone supplements actually impair high-intensity exercise performance."

Ketone salts work by artificially elevating blood ketone levels, similar to what happens naturally during periods of starvation, and forces the body to rely on burning fat as a fuel, explains Little. Burning fat is a more effective long-term fuel but is more complex to process and isn't as readily accessible for quick bursts of muscle activity as is a fuel like glucose.

"Elevated blood ketones seem to inhibit the body's use of glycogen, the stored form of glucose, and favours burning fat instead," adds Little. "That means that the body's quick-burning fuel cannot be accessed during high-intensity bursts of activity and athletic is dropping off as a result."

In his study, Little recruited ten healthy adult males with similar athletic abilities and body mass indices. After a period of fasting, they were asked to consume either beta-hydroxybutyrate ketone salts or a flavour-matched placebo, in a randomized order, and then engage in a cycling time trial. Power output on the day participants consumed ketone salts was seven per cent lower than on the day when they consumed the placebo.

"Often these supplements are marketed as a means of improving but in this case, the research tells a very different story," says Little. "On top of that, the long-term impacts of artificially increasing blood ketone levels—essentially tricking the body into thinking it is in a state of starvation—is completely unknown."

"I hope this helps athletes navigate the science of supplements rather than relying on label marketing alone."

Little's research was recently published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.

Explore further: Ketone drink gives competitive cyclists a boost by altering their metabolism

Related Stories

Ketone drink gives competitive cyclists a boost by altering their metabolism

July 27, 2016
A drink developed for soldiers to generate energy from ketones rather than carbs or fat allowed highly trained cyclists to add up to 400 meters of distance (2% increase) to their workouts , a small UK-led study reports July ...

Ketone monitoring infrequent in patients with type 1 diabetes

January 27, 2017
(HealthDay)—For patients with type 1 diabetes (T1D), self-reported ketone monitoring is infrequent overall, according to research published online Jan. 18 in Diabetes Care.

How calorie restriction may prolong life

May 3, 2017
A new review proposes a theory to explain how calorie restriction can extend life across a variety of species.

New 'food group'? Ketone esters improve endurance exercise and cognitive function

August 17, 2016
New research published online in The FASEB Journal shows that in rats, a substance called a ketone ester significantly increase exercise endurance, cognitive function and energy levels in the heart at high workloads. Ketone ...

Researchers develop novel ketone supplements to enhance non-toxic cancer therapy

June 10, 2015
A team of researchers from the Hyperbaric Biomedical Research Laboratory at the University of South Florida (USF) doubled survival time in an aggressive metastatic cancer model using a novel combination of non-toxic dietary ...

Deep dive: Research combats oxygen toxicity in navy divers

December 8, 2015
For the first time, ketone esters-oral supplements useful in epilepsy treatment-are being studied to fight seizures caused by hyperbaric oxygen toxicity, a life-threatening byproduct of breathing too much oxygen that impacts ...

Recommended for you

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.