In this article we are going to be explaining and reviewing keto specific macronutrient supplements. These supplements are a meal replacement or snack that provide an effective and immediate energy boost. We will review the benefits, drawbacks and uses of this alternative macro-nutrition, then you can decide if they’re right for you.
For many people macro-nutritional supplements make the ketosis lifestyle easier, but they’re not essential. You can get all the keto benefits without taking macro-nutritional supplements. They simply provide an alternative way of consuming the most important keto macro: fat.
Before we dive into the supplements, we need to get a bit deeper with keto biochemistry. You already know that your body stores energy as fat and you can eat fat. But to use fat for fuel it needs to be processed in the body. Fats are converted into smaller, more active, molecules.
Stage 1: Breaking and Transporting
The fat, or triglyceride, is broken into 4 pieces (3 fatty acids and a backbone). These individual fatty acids can now be transported round the body in the blood. Many cells are able to absorb them directly, but the liver is the primary destination.
Stage 2: Activating and Electrifying
Fatty acids are absorbed into cells and activated by a series of reactions. They are taken up by mitochondria: cellular power-houses, that act like mini generators. Mitochondria use chemical fuel (your food) to create bioelectricity (your energy). Did you know you that you produce electricity inside your body? Even at rest you produce 100 watts: enough to light the room or charge a cell phone!
Stage 3: Burning and Moving
Inside the mitochondria fatty acids undergo a process called ‘beta-oxidation.’ This oxidation is like fire: using oxygen to release energy, just like burning wood. This breaks long fatty acids into much smaller units called ketones. After manufacture in the liver they enter the bloodstream and go to where they are needed.
Stage 4: Ketone Fuel
Ketones go through another cycle of complex reactions to release energy where it is needed. This is called the ‘citric acid’ or ‘Krebs cycle’ and is the main energy production cycle the body uses. The ketones are finally used to make more bioelectricity to energise your body!Stage 4: Ketone Fuel
The Process of Energy Production in Your Body
By understanding how your body biochemistry works during keto you can make it more efficient. You saw that there are loads of steps needed to go from fat stores, or dietary fat to make energy. Fats need to be broken, activated, electrified, burned, moved, and then used to create the energy you need.
This process takes a little time and uses many different complex reactions and enzymes. This is why it takes a few days to adjust to keto. This is also why using fat for fuel is slower than using carbohydrates. But it is in the long run more efficient and has many other benefits, as you know.
However, there are a couple of drawbacks. Firstly, some cells do not have mitochondria, for example red blood cells. Also, most of the long fatty acids are way too big to get into the brain. This means the blood and the brain rely on ketones produced by the liver. This means there can be a lack of energy for these cells during ketosis.
There are a lot of enzymes needed for this process, but we don’t always have enough enzymes ready. This means we can have plenty of fuel, but no way of burning it all, which can lead to lethargy and tiredness. This doesn’t just happen to people in ketosis, it’s a common problem, which is why people take enzyme supplements.
But, there is a solution, you can take a shortcut! It is possible to consume fat for fuel as ready-made ketones or specific fatty acids the brain prefers. This bypasses a lot of slow and complex steps and makes energy available to all cells, immediately. By eating ketones directly there is an immediate, efficient and convenient refuelling in a format your body prefers.
The technical name for this supplement is exogenous ketones. Exogenous simply means produced outside the body. They can contain a mix of different types of ketones or just one type. There are two main types of ketone supplements: ketone salts, which come in powder or pill form, or ketone esters, which come in oil or liquid form.
Let’s take a quick look at ketone esters first. These are just the ‘raw’ ketones and not bound to any other compound. They are much more expensive to produce and are only just coming to market. The advantage of ketone esters are that they’re more rapidly absorbed and increase energy for longer periods. However, they taste disgusting. There has been promising results from high performance athletes, but much more data is needed.
Ketone salts, however, are the base of the majority of ketone products available. These are ketones bound to a ‘salt’ like sodium, calcium, magnesium or potassium. Binding them makes them more stable, increases shelf-life and absorption. They rapidly elevate blood ketone levels and provide immediate energy.
Ketone salts taste much better than the esters and are more gentle on the stomach. Some people still find they make them feel a little queasy when they first start taking them. The liquid version is very alkali and the taste can be very strong and unpleasant. The taster alternative is sugar-free flavored powders which come in a variety of delicious flavors.
Further Benefits of Exogenous Ketones
Ketone supplements provide a practical and convenient way to meet energy requirements, which is why they are becoming so popular. Some of their other benefits are:
Taking ketones will get you immediately into ketosis. This means you can overcome symptoms of adaption known as keto flu, meaning you speed up getting the benefits of keto. It also means if you consume excess carbs, or cheat, you can undo the damage, but don’t do it too often.
If you are going keto for weight loss, exogenous ketones can also really help. They will significantly reduce your appetite and can speed up metabolism. They also reduce blood sugar and insulin sensitivity making weight loss easier. Remarkably you cannot over-consume calories from ketones; the liver just gets rid of spare ones.
Another huge benefit is increased energy and performance. Whether you are a high performance athlete or just an average Joe, we would all like more energy, right? Exogenous ketones have been shown to increase oxygenation and energy efficiency. Feeling more energized makes dealing with the normal stresses of life much easier.
The next big benefit is increased mental powers: since the brain is one of the biggest energy users in the body it makes sense that your thinking capacity will improve when given more energy. The ketones provide direct energy and useful nutrients for myelinating, or strengthening, the nerves. You can think more clearly, quicker and with improved focus.
Another major benefit of supplements is also the convenience. You can put them in your bag and know you have readily available energy. You also know exactly how many calories you’ve consumed making tracking easier.
There are some precautions you need to take when taking ketone supplements. Make sure you are well hydrated, drink plenty of water and consider your electrolytes. Start slow, don’t surprise your body with loads of ketones at once, gradually find what works for you. Also, exogenous ketones should supplement your diet, you still need proteins and micronutrients!
A word to the wise, you might see a supplement called “Raspberry Ketones” for sale. WARNING: this is not the same thing at all! There happens to be low doses of ketones in raspberries and some data suggests they might help weight control. But, most people agree they are ineffective, especially when compared to REAL ketones.
- Taking ketone supplements can make your keto experience a lot easier
- Ketones are produced in the body but you can also buy them
- These exogenous ketones come in ketone ester or ketone salt forms
- Taking exogenous ketones will get you into ketosis immediately
- Exogenous ketones offer other benefits, like reduced appetite, increased energy and mental clarity