What Are Exogenous Ketones? Are They Worth Taking?
By Chris Albert of Warrior Soul Agoge and Matt Cooper
I’M SEEING ALL THESE KETONE SUPPLEMENTS AROUND. I WANT TO TRY THEM, BUT I’M AFRAID OF GETTING SCAMMED. ARE THEY USEFUL AND DO YOU USE THEM?
**all supporting articles are linked in text
Yes we are seeing exogenous ketone supplements all over the place now largely because of the growing popularity of the ketogenic diet. Let’s get into what they do and how to use them.
WHAT ARE KETONES AND WHAT IS KETOSIS?
Ketones are fatty acids that your liver produces in mass quantities when you are in a state of ketosis. There are two main ketones that we produce: beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) and acetyl-acetate (AcAc). AcAc is created first and get’s converted to BHB creating Acetone as a byproduct that gets released through your breathing.
Your body’s preferred source of fuel for your brain is glucose, but if that were all our brains could survive on, we wouldn’t be here. Our primitive ancestors often saw shortages of food and blood glucose, so we developed the ability to burn ketones for fuel. So when our bodies are short on carbohydrate to supply blood glucose, our livers begin converting our fat stores into ketones.
You are said to be in a state of nutritional ketosis when your blood ketones rise to between 0.5 and 5mM.
To get into a natural state of ketosis, you need to do one of two things: 1) fast (or intermittent fast) to deprive yourself of glucose and kick your body into ketosis, 2) consume a strict high fat, moderate protein, very low carbohydrate diet for a period of 10-21 days ignorer to adapt into ketosis. This process is also supported by less frequent eating in non-student-age populations, even though no one besides Martin Berkhan and Art De Vany talk about it. To learn more about this process, you can get a free guide by signing up for the newsletter that pops up.
Exogenous ketone supplements provide a method of getting into short periods of nutritional ketosis without going through these arduous processes. There are two forms of exogenous ketones: esters and salts.
As of the writing of this article, esters are still in the experimental phase and not available for the general market.
The exogenous ketones on the market today are actually ketone (BHB) salts. We will get into specific brands and formulas, and my recommendations for use, later in this article. For now, understand that these supplements are not actual ketones, but salts that the body converts to ketones once they are ingested.
Before we get into talking about ketone salts, you may notice that I use words like “may” a lot or that I relied on anecdotal evidence throughout this article. That’s because these products are still very very new. There is lots of research to be done, but the research done so far, along with the many stories coming from people who use these products, is extremely promising.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF KETOSIS AND EXOGENOUS KETONES?
With ketosis your are using your own fat stores for fuel, and this does have many benefits. In our age of vanity, most people think of ketosis as a fat loss tool, but fat loss is only the tip of the iceberg.
In fact, if fat loss is what you’re looking for, it is important to remember that ketosis is not some magic fat loss spell that will immediately make you leaner. While a ketogenic diet can be highly effective for fat loss, you still need to watch your caloric intake and exercise to lose fat.
But in contrast to the classic calorie deprivation diets, the beauty of ketosis is that it has so much more to offer:
Ketones have actually been scientifically demonstrated to help athletes to retain muscle glycogen. Glycogen is glucose that has been stored in muscle cells for energy purposes, and low glycogen levels can completely impair muscle performance.
A recent study by Dr. Jeff Volek, a renowned ketosis researcher, and his team found that athletes in ketosis actually retained and replenished glycogen better than those who were on higher carbohydrate diets during a three hour running trial.
One thing to keep in mind here is that benefits like these tend to come on stronger the longer you have been fat adapted. The ketotic athletes in this study had been eating a high fat, low carbohydrate diet for 6 months.
Those interested in the performance benefits of ketosis without long periods of following a high fat low carb diet may be able to get these benefits from ketone salts. I say “may” here because there have not been any scientific studies that replicate this research design using exogenous ketones, and I do not want to overstate the current realm of knowledge.
What we do know is that consuming exogenous ketone salts will put you into a state of nutritional ketosis in about an hour. I can also say that taking exogenous ketones about an hour before Jiu Jitsu practice has upped my performance game big time. I have way better endurance, and very little muscle fatigue through sparring. Again, this is anecdotal, but other writers and notable influencers such as Ben Greenfield, Joe Rogan, Tim Ferriss, and Dr. Peter Attia have expressed similar personal benefits.
WHY SOME ATHLETES DON'T NEED STRICT KETO OR KETONES
Disclaimer: Measurable performance enhancement observations, studies, and anecdotal evidence has been reported in athletes PREDOMINANTLY in oxidative-dominant sports, meaning sports whose primary energy system is your own fat and/or dietary fat. The same can be said of anaerobic activities as well, such as strength training, strength sports, etc.
However it HAS been observed that some on a ketogenic regimen preferentially recruit slower twitch muscle fibers. The caveat here is that we don't know if they were training in a true fast twitch manner to recruit the requisite type IIb muscle fibers. In my experience after first learning these techniques at Speed of Sport, very few trainers and coaches actually train at the speed of sport. So perhaps this was a case of not training in the right manner. Still, it bears mentioning.
It also bears mentioning because type IIb fast twitch muscle fibers prefer glucose. This is a major reason why athletes in many team sports, combat sports, etc. do still need to dose proper forms of safe starch carbohydrates. But what about all the benefits to be had from ketosis on health? We can have our cake (no pun intended) and eat it, too. I ensure my clients 'reset' their metabolism if need be by fat-adapting them. What this does is restore insulin signalling and voila-they are now more adept at using all fuel systems. This is what we call metabolic flexibility and is the real goal here. Some populations may do better on a stricter version of a low carb diet, particularly as we age, but most of us just need to 'reset' our metabolisms and pay attention to carb timing for a bit as our insulin receptors resensitize and regain function.
WHY SOME EVERYDAY INDIVIDUALS DON'T NEED EXOGENOUS KETONES
Check out THIS brief article on when to not use exogenous ketone supplements.
The brain preferentially chooses glucose as fuel if glucose is present. I say “preferentially” because, if both ketones and glucose are present, the brain will choose glucose.
But before you go into “the glucose must be better” line of thinking, you need to understand something about our caveman ancestors.
Remember that their physiology was no different than ours is today, and for most of our human history, food was far scarcer than it is today. Also consider that when food was scarce, this was when their work began. They would need to move long distances to forage for food or to find game to hunt. This means that they would be in ketosis during a good part of their lives.
These transient times would also be when they were in the greatest danger. They would be out in the open, with a high likelihood of encountering predators and rival humans, so it was important for their cognition to be as clear as possible in order to sense danger. In this way, you could consider ketosis to be a form of natural defense. When calories were scarce, this was the time when their senses and performance needed to be at it’s peak for longer periods.
Validating this idea, studies on rats that were fed exogenous ketones actually show that their brains may actually work more efficiently and perform better when fueled with ketones. As such, in addition to physical endurance, exogenous ketones may provide humans with significant mental endurance benefits.
Again, while there have not been significant studies done using exogenous ketones to induce ketosis, you can definitely feel the cognitive benefits when you take them. Unlike a jittery caffeine high, they deliver a state of calm wakefulness, and when not using them for Jiu Jitsu practice, I’ve often used them to get through long days of work with much success.
There’s also growing evidence to suggest that ketone supplementation may reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases-in fact while ketosis is a naturally-occurring process, it's important to remember that the ketogenic diet was invented as a fasting-mimicking diet in medicine. This is because cancer cells cannot efficiently burn ketone bodies. Though scientists haven’t tested this on humans, studies have demonstrated that mice with systematic cancer increased their rates of survival up to 70% if they were fed ketones.
Researchers have also shown that ketones help to reduce inflammation by inhibiting proteins called inflammasones. This would also be beneficial to preventing cancer, in addition to neurological disorders and heart disease. In fact, ketosis and exogenous ketones have shown to reduce symptoms of Epilepsy and Alzheimers in humans.
APPETITE AND SATIETY
Ketosis has been shown to significantly reduce appetite in diabetic humans. This suggests that exogenous ketones may also suppress appetite which could add to their fat burning benefits.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Exogenous ketones are a very new product that still needs to be studied for their effect on humans, but the scientific and anecdotal evidence so far suggest that there is great potential for these products to do a world of good for people in fitness, health, performance enhancement, and wellness.
WHICH KETONE SUPPLEMENTS ARE WORTH THE BUY?
It’s important to remember a few things about the supplement industry. Like any other industry, the entrepreneurs that make these products are here to make a profit. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but it also means that many companies will take shortcuts in producing their products.
While all the brands I mention here make very good products, there have been rumors of counterfeit variants on the market. So be wary of buying fake or counterfeit ketone salts that may or may not violate the original patent. The patent for ketone salts belongs to the University of South Florida with Dr. Dominic D’agostino, Patrick Arnold, and Shannon Kesl as the main investors. There are other patents out there, but these are for ketone esters, which are not currently on the market.
There are two main brands on the market utilizing the University of South Florida patent: KetoForce and Kegenix.
Patrick Arnold’s KetoForce brand has two variants, KetoForce and KetoCana. Both contain BHB ketone salts, but KetoForce is in liquid form while KetoCana is in powder form. This pure ketone salt product leads to very high levels of ketones in the blood with all of the neurological, performance, and fat loss benefits that may come with them, but there is a downside.
This very concentrated formula can also lead to extreme intestinal discomfort. So my suggestion with this product, if you use it, is to start very slowly and to build your tolerance up.
Kegenix owns the patent on their unique formula of BHB ketone salts with MCT oil powder. In experimentation, this mixture was shown to reduce intestinal discomfort. You can listen to Dr. Dominic D’agostino describe this at about the 1:24:30 mark of this Tim Ferriss Podcast episode.
Kegenix also went on to differentiate it’s own product, Kegenix Prime, with an enzymatic formula that will help you to process the ketones more effectively. This formula includes Acetyl-L-Carnitine, which will help you mobilize your own fat stores to begin the process of natural ketosis. This will aid in helping you to burn your own fat stores in addition to the exogenous ketones. It also contains Alpha GPC, which will enhance the cognitive effects of ketosis and aid in protecting your brain.
Pricewise, Kegenix Prime runs at around $49.99 for 15 servings in a jug. You can also purchase a 30 day supply individual portable packets at $147.99, but if you read on, I will discuss how I’ve been able to extend that 30 day supply into over 75 days while still getting all of the benefits.
SO WHAT DO I USE?
I use Kegenix Prime. Between the ketone salt/MCT oil blend and the enzymatic matrix, it is a more complete product. It not only fuels my performance and fat loss, it gives me mental endurance. If you do decide to take Prime, I suggest starting with a quarter to a half a serving per serving and working your way up to a serving. This will give your body time to get used to the extra ketones, and will save you money.
I’m also not convinced that you need a full serving. Except for a few times at the beginning, I’ve never taken more than a quarter to a half a serving at a time, and I did not get much difference in effect. I’ve been able to extend their 30 day supply to well over 75 days using this method, and this makes the investment into Kegenix Prime highly worth it for me. So whether you get the 15 or 30 day supply, you get a big bang for your buck.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
Just like natural ketosis, exogenous ketones can deplete your minerals, causing cramps, headaches, and dehydration. This is because ketosis itself activates your kidneys, causing you to urinate often. It will be important for you to get some good sources of potassium in your diet like avocados. You will also want to keep your electrolytes up by consuming himalayan salt, and you should most definitely supplement with magnesium. Another amazing benefit of going with Kegenix Prime is that these are included in the mix.
The other big thing to remember is this: ketone salts will not put you into sustained ketosis. That can only be done through regular fasting or by consuming a sustained high fat low carb ketogenic diet, but ketone salts can help your body to adapt into ketosis by providing a source of ketones while you are trying to generate your own and extra fuel when you’ve already adapted into ketosis.
All in all, exogenous ketones are some of the most exciting supplements to come out in a very long time, and they are something I definitely recommend trying.