January resolutions are in full swing, so you’ve probably heard of the ketogenic diet, the trendy eating plan that calls for getting more than 70% of your total calories from fat, about 20% from protein, and 10% or less from carbs. The whole idea is to enter a metabolic state known as ketosis, when your body burns fat for fuel.
You may have also heard about a Keto 30 Challenge, a month-long diet program marketed by KetoLogic that involves a whole slew of special supplements. Honest Keto Diet, a company recently featured on Shark Tank, sells similar weight-loss pills. Pricey keto supplements include ingredients like ketones designed to suppress appetite, electrolytes for the dehydrating effects of the diet, certain vitamins and minerals, and even caffeine.
The packaging claims are abundant too: They allege they’ll help you achieve ketosis within “three days,” “fuel performance,” and “clear brain fog,” among other benefits. The problem is that these powders and pills come at a hefty financial cost, and could have some unintended, undesirable consequences for your health.
While the keto diet gives me pause for a number of reasons (and you can read all about them here), these keto supplements worry me even more. Here’s what you need to know before you spend $150 on a 30-day “challenge.”
- Keto supplements may mess with your metabolism.
- They’re expensive (and you probably already have them in your pantry).
- Beating brain fog is more easily achieved with a Starbucks run.
- The MCT oil in some mixes can mess with digestion.
- You’re better off getting vitamins and minerals in real food.
- The Bottom Line
- What Are Exogenous Ketones?
- How Exogenous Ketones Work
- 3 Ways Exogenous Ketones Help You Lose Weight
- Can Exogenous Ketones Help You Lose Weight?
- How to Use Exogenous Ketones for Weight Loss
- Consider an Exogenous Ketones Drink to Support Your Keto Diet
- What to know about exogenous ketones
- Should You Use Exogenous Supplements to Put Your Body in Ketosis?
- What Are Exogenous Ketones Exactly?
- Do Exogenous Ketones Work to Bring Your Body Back Into Ketosis?
- The Potential Downsides of Using Exogenous Ketones
- How to Pick a Good Exogenous Ketone Supplement
- The Bottom Line on Using Exogenous Ketones for Ketosis
- Hold on, keto supplements? What are those?
- So…do keto supplements work?
- Well, can keto supplements do anything at all?
- Are there any supplements I should be taking on the keto diet?
Keto supplements may mess with your metabolism.
When you’re in a starvation state, your body uses ketones for energy in a similar way to how they’re used on a ketogenic diet — for fuel — and converts them into glucose. In this state, all those ketones also stimulate an increase in leptin (the hormone that makes you feel full) and a decrease in ghrelin (the hormone that stimulates your appetite). The higher your blood concentration of ketones, the less hungry you feel. Why? Because in the history of human evolution, periods of famine forced our bodies to adjust so that you would be less likely to eat something poisonous if there was no food available to you. Here in the 21st century: Taking supplemental ketones to help enhance this biological process will likely decrease appetite by raising blood levels of ketone bodies.
What’s the catch? The ketogenic state has been linked to increasing satiety hormones and decreasing hunger hormones — well-researched during the initial phase. But once you’re off the keto diet after 30 days, the appetite-suppressing hormones will increase significantly from your baseline. Meaning that you’re likely to feel physically hungrier than you did before you started all of this dieting nonsense.
They’re expensive (and you probably already have them in your pantry).
Electrolyte supplements provide sodium — sometimes up to 40% of your recommended daily intake for the day. They’re typically used by athletes for endurance training, but the keto-friendly ones claim to energize you and offset the physical side effects of the keto flu.
The keto flu is host of flu-like symptoms such as aches, cramping, exhaustion, diarrhea, constipation, and general weakness experienced during the first four days the keto diet.
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It’s not an actual virus but the result of dehydration that occurs when switching from glucose to fat for energy. Low-carb diets generally have a diuretic effect within the first few days, meaning you lose more water and electrolytes (like potassium and sodium) in urine than normal. It happens because you’re body is losing water as it turns to muscle glycogen for energy and your body’s insulin levels decrease.
Anyone who is planning on doing keto will need to drink additional fluids with electrolytes — especially in the first four days of starting — to help mitigate the increased heart rate associated with dehydration.
Ketoburn and KetoLogic do provide electrolytes in supplement form, but my gripe (beyond messing with your body’s biochemistry to the point of increasing your heart rate for no reason): Ketologic is $100 per container, Ketoburn is $40 per container, and the predominant electrolyte you’re getting in each is sodium. That means you’re literally spending up to 100 times more money than you would if you went to the supermarket and picked up a container of sodium chloride, a.k.a. table salt. It’s about $1, max.
Beating brain fog is more easily achieved with a Starbucks run.
KetoLogic also claims to beat the brain fog many people experience when they start out on keto. That makes sense since the caffeine in it is, of course, energizing! (By the way that lethargy you feel is a result of your brain not receiving enough glucose.)
While research supports the idea that consuming moderate amounts of caffeine is a good thing, the science suggests that the benefits are seen primarily in coffee and tea, two plant-based beverages with antioxidants. So while some of these supplements attempt to do the same (Ketoburn provides beta carotene), consuming supplemental forms of antioxidants simply does not have the same biochemical effect as drinking them in their most natural form. Plus, there’s no guarantee that antioxidants are really in there as the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements.
And again on the $$ front: Keto supplements with antioxidants and caffeine cost you up to 100 times more than a regular cup of coffee to get an unsubstantiated benefit, when you could just brew a pot of coffee at home.
The MCT oil in some mixes can mess with digestion.
Supplements like KetoLogic’s KetoMeal and keto-friendly bulletproof coffee recipes also contain MCT oil. The acronym stands for medium-chain triglycerides, which are fat sources that take less time to digest than the long-chain triglycerides usually found in fatty foods.
MORE ABOUT MCT
MCTs are considered more “efficient” because instead of getting distributed among other organs that use these fat molecules, they go straight to your liver. This process requires more energy, which is why the oil is termed “fat-burning.”
So, what are the downsides? Well, many will experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation as a result. Plus, unless they’re prescribed to you by a physician, dietary supplements come with their own safety gamble.
You’re better off getting vitamins and minerals in real food.
Keto supplements also include important nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and calcium — but they’re in much smaller amounts than you’d get in actual produce. And since the keto diet limits fruits and vegetables, you will undoubtedly need to take a multivitamin to get enough minerals, calcium, and vitamin D.
That’s the biggest concern I have about recommending keto in general. Dietary supplements aren’t overseen by the FDA, meaning that they’re not evaluated for safety and efficacy in the same way that food and medications are and you may not be getting exactly what you pay for. And if you are? Consuming certain nutrients in supplement versus food form can induce oxidative stress rather than treat it, causing more harm than good to organ tissues. The end result: increased risk of chronic disease, including heart disease and some cancers.
Since there’s limited data on long-term supplement dependence and ketogenic diets, it’s impossible to know now what effects this may have on health and weight overall. A keto-specific example: Selenium, an immune-boosting antioxidant found in plant foods, is insufficient on keto, and when left unmitigated, this can cause cardiomyopathy, a hardening of the heart muscle, leading to heart failure.
In other words, it’s not just the ketogenic diet itself that has risks; it’s the risks associated with the lack of vitamins and minerals through food sources that give health professionals pause in terms of recommending this plan.
The Bottom Line
Weight loss is highly personal, individualized, and unique to every single one of us. That said, any plan that restricts real, whole foods and requires nutrient supplementation comes at a cost. Cutting back on these nutritious foods in any way for the weight loss can propagate myths about what it looks like to eat a more practical, balanced diet.
Approach weight loss first by considering your lifestyle. Eat more veggies, fruit, seafood, and whole grains; prioritize good-for-you unsaturated fats; and think inclusive versus exclusive. There’s no need to replace meals with powders when you can instead make shifts toward healthier eating habits that promote physical, mental, and psychological well-being for life.
Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Good Housekeeping Institute Director, Nutrition Lab A registered dietitian with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern University and a Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University, Jaclyn “Jackie” London handles all of Good Housekeeping’s nutrition-related content, testing, and evaluation.
Keto supplements — such as MCT oil, collagen, exogenous ketones, ketones drinks, and electrolytes — can help you lose weight, boost energy, and increase mental clarity.
Exogenous ketones are one of the most well-known (and controversial) supplements among keto followers. Some of the most frequent doubts concern their necessity and even if they can stall weight loss.
You don’t need exogenous ketones to get into ketosis, but they may help with some of the transition symptoms. And they absolutely don’t stall fat loss.
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Since most people are interested in the ketogenic diet because of its weight loss benefits, it’s important to know all the facts about exogenous ketones and how exactly they work in your body.
What Are Exogenous Ketones?
Exogenous ketones are a supplemental variation of the ketones naturally produced by your body during carbohydrate restriction or starvation.
Ketones, or ketone bodies, are energy molecules produced by your liver when blood glucose is low as a result of fasting, carbohydrate restriction, or the ingestion of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
Ketones made inside your body are referred to as endogenous ketones (endo-means internal), while ketones made outside of your body are exogenous (exo- means external).
It’s important to note that simply consuming ketones supplements (either in powder or capsule form) is not the same thing as following the keto diet. But it can provide some support to a healthy keto lifestyle. That might mean boosting your energy before a workout, improving cognitive function, and increasing overall energy.
The main ketone in exogenous ketone supplements is beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). During nutritional ketosis, BHB is the main energy source your body runs on.
How Exogenous Ketones Work
When you take exogenous ketones, your blood ketone levels increase slightly — even if you’re not in nutritional ketosis. This increase in blood ketones provides some of the benefits of actual ketosis, including increased energy, mental clarity, appetite suppression, and more.
However, taking exogenous ketones doesn’t mean you’re automatically in ketosis. You can’t have a ketones drink while on a high-carb diet and expect to see the long-term benefits of a ketogenic state. That said, there are many ways that exogenous ketone supplements can support healthy weight loss and more.
3 Ways Exogenous Ketones Help You Lose Weight
Exogenous ketones have three strategic uses:
#1: They Mimic Nutritional Ketosis
The main goal of exogenous ketones is to mimic a state of nutritional ketosis. A common misunderstanding is that ketone esters or ketone salts can get you into ketosis. That’s not exactly true.
Instead, they temporarily raise the levels of ketones in your blood, resulting in some of the physical and mental benefits of nutritional ketosis.
By temporarily raising your blood ketones, BHB powder or capsules can:
- Increase mental clarity and focus.
- Boost your energy.
- Aid in weight loss by suppressing appetite and increasing energy.
#2: Supporting Your System After a Carb Binge
Not everyone can follow a very strict, low-carb, high-fat diet 24/7. But anyone who’s been in ketosis for a while knows that when you get kicked out of ketosis, it can take a while to get back in.
Exogenous ketones can help. Because ketone salts and esters can boost your energy and lessen your appetite, taking a scoop or two of exogenous ketones can help mitigate some of the symptoms that come after a carb binge.
If you eat too many carbs or go on a weekend bender, using an exogenous ketones supplement or ketones drink can help to support your energy as you transition back into ketosis.
#3: Supporting Keto Flu Symptoms
When your body swaps carbohydrates for fat as its main fuel source, there can be a lot of unwanted side effects. This is called the “keto flu” and usually includes symptoms like:
- Low energy
This happens for a couple of reasons. One is dehydration and the corresponding electrolyte loss. But another reason is that your body is in between burning carbs and burning ketones, and hasn’t become efficient at producing ketones from your fat stores yet.
The good news is that you can use exogenous ketones to bridge the gap. While your body is getting used to make its own ketones, you can supply it with exogenous ketones (such as your favorite ketones drink) to lighten keto flu symptoms.
Can Exogenous Ketones Help You Lose Weight?
One common misconception is that taking ketone supplements will induce instantaneous weight loss. The truth is that while they’re helpful, ketones are only one piece of the puzzle in your weight loss journey.
Keep in mind that exogenous ketones are supplements, and therefore should be supplementary to a low-carb ketogenic lifestyle.
Exogenous ketones don’t trigger weight loss and they won’t put you into ketosis. Only a low-carb diet or fasting (such as intermittent fasting) will do that.
However, they can temporarily increase your blood ketone levels and provide some physical and mental benefits for the short term.
Some of these benefits are helpful when it comes to weight loss.
It’s also important to mention that being in a state of ketosis doesn’t automatically mean you’ll lose weight.
Why You May Not Be Losing Weight With Keto Salts
A ketogenic diet can help you burn fat and maintain or gain muscle. However, your weight loss success depends on more factors than just being in a ketogenic state.
You can be in deep nutritional ketosis and experience an increase in body fat percentage, or vice-versa. It all depends on your activity levels, macronutrient ratios, and calorie intake.
Exogenous ketones are an effective tool to temporarily raise your blood ketone levels and boost your energy. More energy and a decrease in appetite can help you lose weight.
But they aren’t a one-stop-shop. In order to lose weight sustainably, you’ll need to follow a healthy ketogenic diet, focus on nutrient-dense foods, exercise, and manage your stress levels and sleep quality.
If you’re doing everything right, taking exogenous ketones, and still not seeing any weight loss, you may want to try tweaking your macros:
- When gaining body fat on a ketogenic diet: Eat less dietary fat, or look at your caloric intake.
- If you are not in ketosis and not losing weight: Eat fewer carbs and increase fat and protein.
- You’re losing weight but feeling fatigued: Eat more protein and fat, and make sure you’re getting enough calories.
Supplementing with exogenous ketones can also help by increasing energy levels and curbing cravings.
The bottom line is, when you understand how exogenous ketones work and have realistic expectations about them, they can help you lose weight and be healthier.
How to Use Exogenous Ketones for Weight Loss
Ketones help with your transition into ketosis because they mitigate some of the nasty symptoms of the keto flu. But they won’t “get you into ketosis.” Instead, use ketone salts and esters to support your healthy transition into nutritional ketosis.
Here’s how it works:
- You start by restricting carbs and adopting a ketogenic diet.
- As you’re transitioning into ketosis, you can take an exogenous ketone supplement to support your energy levels and help suppress appetite.
- Once you’re in ketosis, it’s likely you’ll start losing weight — a lot at first due to water weight loss, then a steady amount of stored body fat over time.
- If you’re not losing weight, you can try tweaking your macronutrient ratios.
- When you start losing weight, it’s because your body is burning through your fat stores, increasing ketone production and using them for energy.
- When you’re in ketosis, you can still use exogenous ketones in between meals, as a pre-workout drink, or for more mental clarity.
Consider an Exogenous Ketones Drink to Support Your Keto Diet
Exogenous ketones can support your ketogenic diet and your health goals, but they’re not a quick fix or a complete solution in and of themselves.
Use them in addition to a properly formulated, healthy ketogenic diet, not as a standalone supplement.
- Don’t assume taking ketones will induce weight loss by itself.
- Do use ketones to help you on your ketogenic diet if you’ve done your homework.
- Do make a plan of what and how much you want to eat for your goals and stick to it.
What to know about exogenous ketones
Researchers have carried out several studies on the potential benefits of taking EKs.
EKs for ketosis
A 2017 study investigated the effects of EKs on human metabolism. Researchers asked 15 healthy participants to consume drinks that contained either ketone esters or ketone salts. Both types of EK induced a state of ketosis in the participants.
However, this study involved only a small number of people. Further research is necessary to establish the accuracy of the findings.
EKs for enhanced athletic performance
Share on PinterestTaking EKs before exercise may enhance athletic performance.
Another potential use for exogenous ketones is in athletic performance. Prolonged physical activity can result in a lack of oxygen supply to the muscles, which leads to an increase in the production of lactic acid. Excess lactic acid can make muscles feel sore and weak.
As the authors of a 2016 study note, exogenous ketones act as an alternative energy source for the body during intensive exercise. As such, they help reduce lactic acid production.
The study results suggested that exogenous ketones could improve a person’s athletic performance by about 2%. The people most likely to benefit from this increase are elite and endurance athletes.
EKs for psychiatric disorders and epilepsy
Some people follow a keto diet for reasons other than weight loss. For example, people with epilepsy have used the ketogenic diet for many years to help reduce the number and severity of seizures.
Doctors also have tested whether the diet could help minimize the symptoms of psychiatric disorders, such as:
- bipolar disorder
Experts believe that these disorders may be partly due to changes in metabolism that affect the brain. Examples include:
- changes in the release of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters
- increased inflammation
- abnormal glucose metabolism in the brain
Some experts theorize that the metabolism-altering effects of EKs may help treat these disorders. However, few studies have investigated this idea.
A 2019 review of the available research suggests that EKs affect levels of certain neurotransmitters within the brain, thus reducing some of the signs of psychiatric disease.
The review authors conclude that using EK supplements to help the body enter ketosis may be an effective treatment for psychiatric diseases.
Should You Use Exogenous Supplements to Put Your Body in Ketosis?
Keto — the diet du jour that celebs like Mick Jagger and Halle Barry are said to have tried — is an entirely new way of eating. Instead of carbohydrates making up the majority of your calories, fat takes the No. 1 spot and carbs are extremely limited when following the ketogenic diet.
“What happens when you deprive your body of carbohydrates is your body uses the fat as energy,” says Abby Langer, RD, Toronto-based founder of Abby Langer Nutrition. Eating this much fat produces ketone bodies and leads to ketosis, which means the body looks to fat rather than carbohydrates for fuel.
What’s the benefit? For a lot of people, it’s all about weight loss. “Generally, ends up being low-calorie,” Langer says. “You’re eating 80 percent of your calories in fat, but it’s very filling.”
RELATED: Everything You Need to Know About the Ketogenic Diet
Dina Griffin, RDN, with eNRG Performance in Littleton, Colorado, says people are also drawn to the diet for the potential anticancer and anti-inflammatory benefits and the positive effect it’s been shown to have on athletic performance.
But the problem is, it’s hard to maintain ketosis, and one snack is all it takes to slip up. “Anytime you go over 50 grams (g) of carbohydrates, you’re going to kick yourself out of ketosis and the weight is going to come back,” Langer says.
That’s where exogenous ketones come in.
What Are Exogenous Ketones Exactly?
The idea is when you eat something that’s not keto-friendly, you can reach for exogenous ketones to keep your body in ketosis. The word exogenous means created externally, and these supplements are forms of the ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), which your body normally creates on its own.
“The purpose is to, in a timely fashion regardless of your dietary pattern, raise your blood level of ketone bodies,” Griffin says. Of course, your body can get back into ketosis through your diet, but that can take a few days, so exogenous ketones are designed to speed up the process.
Usually, you’ll find exogenous ketones in the form of powdered ketone salts. Less common are ketone esters, which are the purest form of ketones. Griffin says they work quickly (in 10 to 15 minutes, as opposed to an hour for the salts) and effectively, but they’re more expensive, have a more-revolting taste, and are harder to find (HVMN is one U.S. company that sells them). People also use medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil — or partially manmade fats — to put the body into a state of ketosis.
RELATED: What to Expect If You Try the Ketogenic Diet
Do Exogenous Ketones Work to Bring Your Body Back Into Ketosis?
Griffin says it depends on your expectations. You can’t just take them, eat a carb-heavy diet, and expect magic to happen. “The problem is a lot of people associate with, ‘That means I’m going to burn fat,’ and those don’t actually go together,” she says. “The ketones themselves don’t make you burn fat per se.”
Instead, they should be viewed as supplements to the keto diet. “They can enhance that state that you achieve through your dietary choices,” Griffin says. But, yes, you still have to put in the work.
Though research involving ketone supplements is still in the early stages, it seems promising. One study published in February 2018 in Obesity suggests exogenous ketone esters lower hunger hormones and act as appetite suppressors. That can lead to weight loss because “if we don’t feel hungry, gosh, we probably aren’t going to eat like we were,” Griffin says.
RELATED: 8 Steps Beginners Should Take Before Trying the Keto Diet
Another study published in February 2018 in the Journal of Physiology found drinking a ketone ester supplement may lower blood sugar. The study was done on healthy individuals but could be helpful if similar results were found among people with type 2 diabetes.
The Potential Downsides of Using Exogenous Ketones
A serving of exogenous ketones will set you back only 100 calories or less, but most people who’ve tried them — including Langer — say they taste awful. And they’re expensive. A two-week supply could run you $50 or more. Both Griffin and Langer say that money could be better spent on whole foods.
Griffin says that because ketone salts are usually made up of ketones bound to sodium, they can be dangerous for people with high blood pressure. “There could be an issue there with heart health and heart function — that would be one concern I would have,” she says.
She also cautions that the supplements may cause stomach distress. “Some of these can really tear up our guts,” she says, adding that downing an entire serving may send you running for the bathroom. To reduce that risk, she suggests starting small — maybe one-third of a serving or one-half of a serving until your body adjusts.
RELATED: 7 Supplement Risks Every Woman Should Know
How to Pick a Good Exogenous Ketone Supplement
Because they’re so expensive, you want to make sure you pick a good one. Griffin and Langer say to ignore the companies that make these supplements sound too good to be true. Just like with any supplement, Griffin says it’s important to look at what’s in it. Beware of products with lots of fillers and instead go for one with a short, straightforward list of ingredients (Griffin likes the options from KetoSports).
The Bottom Line on Using Exogenous Ketones for Ketosis
There’s some support that exogenous ketones can be helpful for people already dutifully following the keto diet — but research has been limited. One thing we know for sure: These aren’t a get-thin-quick solution. “I think people are drawn to a quick, easy fix, kind of a magic bullet supplement, and it’s not that this won’t contribute to weight loss, but it’s not that magic bullet,” Griffin says.
Langer sums it up this way: “You have to put the effort in,” she says. “If you want to be in ketosis, do the ketogenic diet. You cannot just relax and eat whatever you want and automatically lose weight with this or any other product.”
The keto diet boasts a ton of transformation stories—even celebs like Jenna Jameson, Al Roker, and Vanessa Hudgens have dabbled in it (and have the before-and-after photos to prove it).
But um, it’s still hard work—revamping your diet by almost totally cutting out carbs is a drastic change for your body (especially if you’re a pizza and pasta lover), so there’s got to be an easier way to get into ketosis (a.k.a., that state where your body burns fat for fuel instead of carbs), right? Maybe with special keto supplements?
Hold on, keto supplements? What are those?
Basically most “keto” supplements, which typically come in powder or capsule form, contain two specific ingredients, according to Wesley McWhorter, RD, chef and dietitian at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, Texas:
- Medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are predominantly saturated fats that break down in the liver
- Exogenous ketones or ketone salts (a.k.a. beta-hydroxybutyrate, or “ketones” made outside of the body in a lab)
Together, these reportedly work to increase the amount of fat in your body and kick you into ketosis (a.k.a. your fat-burning zone) faster, says McWhorter. Ketone supplements also allegedly block carbohydrates from being absorbed or metabolized, says McWhorter.
See all the celebs who have dabbled in the keto diet:
So…do keto supplements work?
Those claims are, well, just claims—”If you want to waste your money and potentially consume adulterated products with little or no research backing them, then sure, go right ahead and get those keto supplements,” says McWhorter. Yep.
And because there’s such limited peer-reviewed research to support using them, they might even be harmful to your health in the long run, says Michelle Milgrim, RD, a nutritionist at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York.
“Only short-duration studies examining small samples have found that exogenous ketones can help achieve ketosis quicker and may decrease appetite,” she says. But there haven’t been any long-term studies looking at these outcomes over time, she adds.
Side effects from keto supplements are also a red flag. “You should be concerned about side effects,” says Maucere.” One study found that 13 of 19 participants who consumed ketone salts—a popular ingredient in keto supplements—suffered GI distress.”
Well, can keto supplements do anything at all?
While keto-specific supplements, like exogenous ketones, do temporarily elevate the level of ketones in the blood, says Amanda Maucere, RD, a nutritionist at Lung Health Institute in Tampa, Florida, the overall impact on the body is not the same as getting there via your dietary choices.
“Think of it like taking a vitamin C supplement versus eating a cup of strawberries. The supplement will provide an adequate amount of vitamin C, but so will eating a cup of strawberries,” she says. Plus, with the cup of strawberries you’re also getting a dose of fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals—other things that your body needs.
McWhorter agrees: “Simply swallowing a pill does not give us the same benefit as eating vegetables and whole plant-based food,” he says.
Are there any supplements I should be taking on the keto diet?
First: You should always check with your doctor before starting any new nutritional supplements (and even before starting a diet like keto)
Once you get the all-clear, it’s important to know that cutting carbs can make you a bit deficient in other vitamins and minerals—specifically chromium, B5 (pantothenic acid), B7 (biotin), and calcium. “People can become deficient in these vitamins and minerals because they are found in grains and, if you’re going keto, that usually means very low carbohydrate,” Scott Keatley, RD, of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy, previously told Women’s Health.
Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium are also good additions to the keto diet—especially if you’re struggling to feel your best on it because of issues like the keto flu, which can cause dehydration or cramping. “Magnesium can be particularly helpful with constipation or leg cramps on your keto journey,” says Maucere—notice none of those suggestions were MCT oil or exogenous ketones.
The bottom line: Keto supplements are unnecessary and possibly even harmful. If you’re set on the keto diet, fill your plate with foods that contain lots of healthy fats, and round it out with non-starchy veggies—not exogenous ketone supplements.
Nicole Blades Nicole Blades is a novelist, speaker, and freelance journalist who covers women’s health, race and culture, books and publishing, and stories of reinvention for various national print and digital magazines.
The ketogenic diet is is enjoying a surge of popularity these days and for good reason. Going “keto” can help you tap into your body’s stored fat—up to 100,000 calories of readily available energy—allowing you to push longer and harder during training without constantly refueling. Of course, this comes at a price: You have to eradicate nearly all carbohydrates from your diet and subsist on fats—they should make up 70 to 80 percent of what you eat—and protein. Making the metabolic shift to full fat-burning mode can take three to six weeks.
That’s a tall order. So the performance nutrition market has responded with a short- cut: ketogenic supplements. They come in powders, capsules, chews, meal replacements, and even coffee creamer and claim to help you immediately burn more fat, shed pounds, and perform better—without giving up bread.
Those are some incredible benefits. But look past the promises and the science unravels.
Keto supplements claim they can trick your metabolism into thinking it’s carb deprived and send it into ketosis. This could be an evolutionary adaptation the human body created to survive famine. Lisa Sasson, a nutritionist at New York University, explains that during ketosis, the liver begins to break down fatty acids, sending ketone compounds into the bloodstream, which can be used to fuel muscles.
Hypothetically, taking supplements with synthetic ketones would move the body into ketosis in minutes and last a couple of hours, says Brendan Egan, an associate professor of sports and exercise physiology at Dublin City University. But that doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly be able to power through burpees or run for miles without stopping. Of the few reports done on commercially available ketone supplements, some suggest only a negligible performance improvement while others actually found a reduction.
As for the supplements’ weight-loss guarantees, here again, don’t be fooled. “The fat-burning idea seems to be conflating the effects of a ketogenic diet with the effects of ketones themselves,” says Egan. In other words, the only way to get the fat-burning benefits of a ketogenic diet is by actually stick- ing to the diet. Downing a ketone pill or powdered shake and continuing to eat whatever you want won’t magically lean you out. But we’re guessing your gut—whether it’s thick or thin—told you that already.
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