Ketone nutritional supplements: Good or bad for athletic performance?

October 11, 2017

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

New insights into controversial diagnosis of adolescent chronic fatigue

October 23, 2017
Crucial new research could provide some clarity around the controversy surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) in adolescents. The research by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute published ...

Do boys really have a testosterone spurt at age four?

October 23, 2017
The idea that four-year-old boys have a spurt of testosterone is often used to explain challenging behaviour at this age.

New prevention exercise programme to reduce rugby injuries

October 23, 2017
A new dynamic 20-minute exercise programme, performed by rugby players before training and pre-match, could dramatically reduce injuries in the sport according to a benchmark study published today (Sunday 22 October).

Our laws don't do enough to protect our health data

October 23, 2017
Have you ever wondered why your computer often shows you ads that seem tailor-made for your interests? The answer is big data. By combing through extremely large datasets, analysts can reveal patterns in your behavior.

Expert: Be concerned about how apps collect, share health data

October 20, 2017
As of 2016 there were more than 165,000 health and wellness apps available though the Apple App Store alone. According to Rice University medical media expert Kirsten Ostherr, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates ...

Three million Americans carry loaded handguns daily, study finds

October 19, 2017
An estimated 3 million adult American handgun owners carry a firearm loaded and on their person on a daily basis, and 9 million do so on a monthly basis, new research indicates. The vast majority cited protection as their ...

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.