If you’ve been hearing all the chatter about the latest health and fitness fad, you may well be wondering what all the fuss is about ketones. From diets to supplements, there are a lot of different ways to “go keto.”
The ketogenic diet, which was first developed in the 1900s, bears striking similarities to the Paleo diet and the Atkins diet. This practice usually means trying to eat a high-protein and low-carb diet, so say goodbye to pasta and potatoes. In fact, ketones are chemicals made from the fat that your body burns for fuel when there are no carbohydrates left to consume, as the Atlantic reports. The thinking is that if you keep to a strict diet, or take a ketone supplement, you can try and achieve a consistent state of ketosis, which some say can help you lose weight or boost athletic performance. Could it be a secret weapon in the fight against fat?
If you are a runner or a bicyclist looking for an edge, or a dieter desperate to shed those unwanted pounds, that may sound too good to be true. The hope is that you can put some wow into your workout. One company set to release a ketone energy drink has dubbed it the “fourth food group.” Of course, the taste of such supplements may also be a factor. One game Atlantic writer described the flavor this way: “It tasted like cough syrup that had been poured into a garbage bag and left in the sun.”
Research into the efficacy of ketones has been conflicting. A study conducted last year, as the New York Times reported, found that a ketone supplement seemed to improve the cycling performance of a group of 39 trained bike riders. It should be noted that this study, which was conducted by Oxford University, looked at moderate levels of exercise and not competition-level intensity, but it added fuel to the hope that ketones could help you get in the zone and stay there.
“There is growing scientific evidence that a ketogenic diet is not only safe, but can also boost athletic performance, particularly in endurance athletes, that it can improve one’s metabolic profile, having beneficial effects on HDL (good cholesterol) and triglyceride levels, as well as result in weight loss,” says Eric P. Wilson, a doctor of sports medicine at Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Clara Medical Center. “The high-fat, low carbohydrate foods of the ketogenic diet suppress over production of insulin that typically leads to obesity and diabetes as occurs in diets high in starchy carbohydrates. The body is able to utilize the ketones for energy, which are a more efficient energy source for the body.”
But now, a new study seems to show highly divergent results in terms of sports and endurance. Published last month in Frontiers in Physiology, the 11-person study tracked the experience of an Australian men’s bicycling team. Each rider took a dose one hour before a training session and then another one right before starting to pedal. While the drinks tasted the same, some riders were given ketones and some were given a placebo.
The male professional cyclists rode stationary bicycles to simulate a 19-mile championship course, as the Times reports. They were going for broke, pushing for peak speed. The results were that the men who had thrown back the ketone supplement not only performed worse but they also complained of stomach distress, nausea and dizziness. So perhaps ketone shots are not the magic pill so many desire.
Certainly, health experts urge people to make a distinction between diets that adhere to ketogenic principles and supplements that come in drink or powder form.
“Under medical supervision, a ketogenic diet can be safe but ketone supplements have not been evaluated for safety,” says Dr. John Morton, chief of Bariatric surgery at Stanford Heath Care. “It’s a gray area, it’s not a medicine so it’s not subject to FDA regulation and there’s no real evidence behind it.”
Morton also notes that even if a diet plan can provide the kind of quick results people crave, it is unlikely to be the path to sustained weight loss.
“You can lose weight a lot of different ways but the real question is can you keep it off?,” says Morton. “The key is finding a way to maintain your weight, something you can stick to. These extreme diets can be very hard to maintain.”
Can they boost weight loss and workouts?