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British cyclists part of ketones trial at London 2012 Olympics

Joe Robinson
13 Jul 2020

Riders signed waivers regarding potential anti-doping issues surrounding controversial substance

British cyclists used ketones at the London 2012 Olympics as part of a trial for UK Sport, an investigation has found. 

An investigation by the Mail on Sunday found that the government-run body UK Sport invested heavily in a secret project to test the effects of ketones on athletes from a range of sports before and during the home games.

The report suggests 91 athletes from eight sports, including cycling, were part of the trial into the legal yet ethically-controversial substance. The trial is believed to have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

It is also understood that athletes were also pre-warned that taking part in the trial could trigger doping violations.

Headed up by research and innovation manager Scott Drawer, formerly of Team Sky, it is believed the trial revolved around the use of the DeltaG ketone drink.

The inventor of DeltaG, the first ketone drink, Professor Keiran Clarke previously explained what a ketone is and why it was initially developed to Cyclist.

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

'The research was originally funded by the research arm of the US army. They wanted somebody to invent a really efficient food and we said we could do that. It has similar effects to glucose and it works in the same way as glucose drinks, it provides energy for your muscles.’

Clarke also downplayed the supposed 'miracle' effects of ketones suggesting they have no more impact on an athlete than glucose-based supplements adding that anybody who believes it can improve threshold performance by 10% 'is having themselves on’.

Clarke did concede that ketones could have performance benefits, however, for low-fat athletes who have exceeded their glucose and carbohydrate intake during a race.

She explained that using ketones during a long race could help with energy levels and, in turn, speeding up recovery levels.

Regardless of Clarke's opinion, the investigation from the Mail on Sunday shows that UK athletes were forced into signing waivers regarding ketone use, any associated risk and that it would be kept private.

An information document that was handed by UK Sport to participating athletes, which was acquired by the Mail on Sunday, showed it warned of potential anti-doping issues with ketone use. 

'UK Sport does not guarantee, promise, assure or represent that use of ketone esters is absolutely World Anti-Doping Code compliant and therefore excludes all responsibility for use of the ketone ester,' read the document.

'WADA might exercise their rights to regulate [and] collect blood samples or retrospectively test old samples. This may occur if there were pressure of the media if the concept was to leak. However, ketosis is a temporary physiological state and would be difficult to prove or test with any post-event samples.'

Of the 91 athletes involved in the trial, it is reported that 40% experienced side effects such as vomiting, which led to 28 withdrawing from the study. Another 24 withdrew due to reporting no perceived benefits.

British Cycling has confirmed that its athletes were part of the ketone trial in 2012 but did not confirm from which events. Team GB dominated track cycling at London 2012, taking seven of 10 gold medals available. They also took the men's individual time-trial gold with Bradley Wiggins and silver in the women's road race with Lizzie Deignan. 

Since 2012, ketones have become commonplace in the professional peloton with Deceuninck-QuickStep and Jumbo-Visma being among the teams confirmed to have used them.

UK Sport also responded to the investigation by the Mail on Sunday, stating that the trial was conducted to the highest ethical standards after informing the World Anti-Doping and UK Anti-Doping authorities. 

'As the nation’s high-performance sports agency, UK Sport invests in expert institutes who deliver research and innovation projects to support the success of our national sports teams. These projects range from designing world-class technical equipment for our athletes, to supporting athlete health and performance,' read a statement from UK Sport.

'These research and innovation projects are conducted in line with the highest ethical standards, within the rules of international sport and are assessed by an expert independent Research Advisory Group. Consultation takes place with UKAD and WADA wherever necessary to ensure projects comply with international anti-doping regulations.

'The Ketone Ester project received independent ethical approval from the Research Advisory Group in January 2012. Additionally, UK Anti-Doping confirmed in writing, after seeking clarification from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), that WADA had ‘no reason to consider such substances as banned under the 2011 List of Prohibited Substances and Methods.'