How Athletes Benefit from Keto Without Eliminating Carbs

“Keto” is a popular diet that replaces carbs with fat, putting the body into a metabolic state called “ketosis.” In this state, the body uses ketones for energy instead of using carbs.
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“Ketones” are chemicals the liver produces using fat cells. This process occurs when there isn’t enough insulin available to turn glucose into energy.

The benefits of keto include: weight loss, appetite suppression, improved cholesterol levels, increased protein intake, decreased blood sugar and insulin levels, improved focus, better athletic performance, clearer skin, and improved symptoms in individuals with epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.

Today’s professional athletes have access to these benefits by consuming “exogenous ketones” in addition to carbohydrates - a tactic known as “duel fueling.”

“Exogenous ketones” are ketones that are ingested rather than produced inside the body.

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Physiology suggests that athletes not following the ketogenic diet may experience massive benefits from ketone ester supplements; primarily boosted energy and faster recovery.

“Ketone ester" is a specific molecule (called butanedial) that, when ingested, converts to the same ketone your liver would produce if you were in ketosis. Ketone esters are different than ketone salts, which help you enter a state of ketosis and will only work if you are starving yourself of carbs. Ketone salts also tend to cause GI problems because they are manufactured using high levels of minerals.

Currently, HVMN is the only company that owns the right to produce ketone esters. Beware of other products that claim to be the real thing.

In the 2019 study, cyclists following an intense training schedule exhibited a 15% improvement in recovery after drinking ketone esters. With both ketones and glucose available, the cyclists were able to maintain faster speeds and produce more power at the end of a race.

“Athletes don’t need to consume a diet that’s extremely restrictive, and they can then consume exogenous ketones to introduce yet another fuel source the body can use,” explains Jonathan Scott, Ph.D, R.D., an expert in performance nutrition at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland. “Basketball and hockey especially have some grueling schedules. Imagine the benefit in-season for back-to-back games on the road?”

Other potential benefits of ketone esters:
  • Less damage to muscle fibers
  • Less soreness and stiffness
  • Stable blood sugar levels
  • More energy
  • Improved sleep
  • Better range of motion
  • Consistent resting heart rate
  • Decreased levels of stress hormones
  • Realigned hormone production
In other words, exogenous ketones do more to mitigate the effects of overtraining than to boost actual performance. Understandably, the biggest risk is that you will train too hard because you won't feel the urge to rest.

For this reason, sports scientist and nutrition Krista Austin, Ph.D., C.S.C.S cautions amateur athletes to be careful when using exogenous ketones. While you may feel better after a workout, drinking ketone ester doesn’t replace the body's need to rest and recuperate. Ketones should be taken sparingly and only during intense training or long events.

If you're looking to improve athletic performance, it is also important to take a look at other key factors such as: sleep, diet, nutrient timing, hydration, rest days, stress management, and social relationship quality.

More research is necessary to fully understand the effects of exogenous ketones on the human body, adds Austin.

Have you tried ketone esters to improve athletic performance? Share your thoughts and comments below!

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