Sports Performance

It's time for our science newsflash where we bring summaries of the latest in clinical trials.
In this post, we focus on Sports Performance.  Even if you are not rigorously into sports, many of the advantages shown in consuming exogenous ketone bodies and MCT oils can be realized in weekend warriors, moderately active individuals, and those of us ready to step up our activity and exercise level.

Sports Performance

Background:  As noted in our primer, ketogenic high fat-low carbohydrate diets are beneficial for endurance athletes such as long distance runners. There is some evidence MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) could benefit performance and/or weight management in cyclists, gymnasts, and karate athletes (and at the same time potentially improve cognitive performance).

Medium-chain triglycerides refer to a certain chemical structure or arrangement of carbon atoms. Triglycerides are formed from glycerol and three fatty acid groups and are the main component of natural fat and oil. Glycerol is a sweet, viscous liquid.

There are also increasingly studies evaluating the effects of exogenous KBs (ketone body) on sports performance. MCTs are burned for energy and converted to KBs.

An exogenous ketone body is a compound formed outside of the body. Endogenous ketone bodies are related compounds that are created during fat metabolism.

Results: During exercise KBs (exogenous or potentially from MCTs) may provide energy to the brain, heart and skeletal muscle, and spare protein and carbohydrate oxidation – breaking down of carbohydrates by adding oxygen - (decreased muscle glycolysis and plasma lactate) and decrease adipose lipolysis (sparing fat stores for latter energy)14.

Muscle glycolysis is the process through which sugars are broken down. This break down releases energy (ATP or adenosine triphosphate, which is the main energy source in cells).

Plasma lactate (or lactic acid in the blood) happens when there is not enough oxygen delivered to the tissues to facilitate normal metabolism.

The ability to utilize KBs is higher in exercise-trained skeletal muscle. KBs can also act as signaling metabolites (substances formed by or necessary for metabolism), with betahydroxybutyrate (BHB; a specific KB) inhibiting histone deacetylases, an important regulator of the adaptive response to exercise in skeletal muscle.

Exogenous KB and KB esters – an organic compound - (as part of a KD or mixed carb/fat diet) may improve exercise performance and facilitate recovery from exercise14. Ketosis from exogenous KB esters also increased intramuscular triacylglycerol oxidation (burning of triacylglcerol) during exercise (a valuable energy source), even in the presence of normal muscle glycogen, co-ingested carbohydrate and elevated insulin8. KB esters also improved physical and cognitive performance in rats.

Conclusions: MCTs, alone and with exogenous KBs and KB esters will increasingly be used in both short and long duration sports, with benefits for weight management, performance, recovery, and potentially cognition (learning or comprehension). Some trainers recommend MCTs before and after sports, and use of exogenous KBs during exercise.

 8.   Cox, P.J., et al., Nutritional Ketosis Alters Fuel Preference and Thereby Endurance Performance in Athletes. Cell Metab, 2016. 24(2): p. 256-268.
14.  Evans, M., K.E. Cogan, and B. Egan, Metabolism of ketone bodies during exercise and training: physiological basis for exogenous supplementation. J Physiol, 2016.

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