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Revolutionary ketone supplement finally reaches market

Joseph Delves
28 Mar 2017

Experimental ketone esters, rumoured to give a secretive competitive edge, are now available to buy

Ketones, the sports supplement and alternative energy source which have generated reams of comment and speculation, are now available on the open market, courtesy of US company KetoneAid.

The backstory to their development, funded by the US military as a source of alternative energy to be metabolised by the body, and created in order to improve the performance and endurance of American soldiers, sounds like jacked up marketing guff.

Except it isn’t, and Cyclist has spoken to the inventor of the first source of easily metabolised ketones.

An alternative power source to glucose or fat, ketones are naturally produced by the body as it breaks down fat when alternative energies stores are exhausted.

The drink created by Kieran Clarke, Professor of physiological biochemistry at Oxford University, means you can put ketones straight into your body that can then be turned into energy.

While the drink she helped develop is not yet scheduled for sale in the UK, a company in America has recently brought a ketone product to market.

Professing to have resolved the extremely bitter taste that accompanied earlier products, KetoneAid recently auctioned the first batch of commercially available Ketones, selling 20 bottles of D-Beta Hydroxybutyrate, D-1,3-Butanediol ketone ester.

Their website makes some fairly lurid claims for the performance benefits, such as “50% longer workout, 30% more watts, not sore the next day!" "Blown away by how well it works!" and so on.

However, a slightly more sober Oxford University-led study involving Professor Clarke published in the journal Cell Metabolism also found that highly trained cyclists fuelled by ketones were able to add up to 400 metres of distance to their efforts over a half an hour effort.

It’s in part this study that piqued the interest of athletes around the world.

Even so, Professor Clarke remains pragmatic about the benefits of ketones for most athletes compared to conventional glucose supplements and drinks.

‘If you have glucose by itself or ketones by itself, it’s not superior. It’s exactly the same – it’s just providing energy.

'For sprints glucose is better actually, because you need something that’s anaerobic,’ she explained.

While beneficial for ultra-endurance athletes, the ketone drink is unlikely to be quite as useful for aspiring or professional racers. This is because intense exercise is primarily anaerobic, and the body relies on oxygen to utilise ketones.

'The ketone itself is inhibiting glycolysis, so that with the same exercise you're preserving glycogen and producing much less lactic acid - this hasn't been seen before.

'What may be happening is if you are doing something that isn't a sprint, like a marathon, you won't hit the wall as quickly. Not only that, but it stops you from aching afterwards,' Professor Clarke added.

Either way, Oxford University are confident enough in the benefits of ketones to have set up their own spin-out company, T∆S Ltd, to market their own ketone drink called ΔG.

With both them and the Americans bringing products to market, athletes will likely start experimenting more with ketones in the near future. And no doubt anti-doping authorities will have to assess whether their use is something that’ll be allowed to continue in competition.

Ketones: Miracle or myth asks Peter Stuart

They’re getting a lot of press, but are ketones really the nutritional wonderstuff they’re claimed to be?

‘A ketone is another energy source,’ says Kieran Clarke, professor of physiological biochemistry at Oxford University, and inventor of the first ketone-based drink DeltaG.

Clarke’s discovery has excited the cycling world a great deal, and rumours have spread that bottles of ketone drink have been sold for €2,000 (£1,500) each to pro cyclists.

A ketone is normally metabolised by the body to create energy, and originates from fat. ‘It’s produced normally when you haven’t eaten or when you’re on a ketogenic diet,’ Clarke says.

‘The research was originally funded by the US army. They wanted somebody to invent a really efficient food and we said we could do that.’

The drink created by Clarke means that you can put ketones straight into your body that can be turned into energy.

‘It has similar effects to glucose and it works in the same way as glucose drinks, it provides energy for your muscles.’

Crucially, though, it has no discernable advantages over glucose. The main advantage, Clarke argues, is topping up your energy once your glycogen levels become depleted.

‘Events that last five or six hours will probably be the best use for it,’ she says. ‘But I think it depends on the individual, and it also depends how efficient they are at using their various substrates.’

While there have been rumours of ketone supplements spreading through the peloton, Clarke is quick to dismiss them: ‘No they haven’t, as we haven’t made enough,’ she says.

‘Of course you can get ketone salts from America. But they’ve used one that’s not really metabolised by the body,’ she says. ‘So it’s the equivalent of raspberry ketones, which are not metabolised by the body.’

If you happen to have seen raspberry ketones advertised on the internet, and thought about getting some as a performance booster, bear in mind this one important fact: they only work if you’re a raspberry.

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