A Ketone Ester Sport Supplement Promises To Give The ‘Edge’ To Sportspeople

An American footballer Quarterback about to make a throw.
Team sports players could benefit hugely from ketone ester supplements . Photo by WikiImages c/o Pixabay.

It isn’t every day that claims of a ‘game-changer’ are made, but a new sports supplement based on ketone esters for tired sports people may be on the horizon.

Researchers, Brendan Egan and Mark Evans of the School of Health and Human Performance at Dublin City University have examined ketone esters as a supplement primarily to help soldiers but also benefit sports people. Ireland has a rich legacy in team sports including rugby, Gaelic football, soccer, field hockey and shinty. Unsurprisingly, the Irish Research Council has funded the research.

They appear to have shown that taking the ketone ester sport supplement helps fight tiredness, fatigue and overall tiredness. The sports people were able to make better decisions especially towards the latter end of the game when fatigue often sets in.

Ketone esters have been shown in the past to be highly beneficial for endurance sports people like marathon runners and cyclists. Originally, the supplement was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the USA. Here they were interested in developing the mental and physical ability of soldiers to make decisions after long periods of exertion in the field. The product is available as KE4 and is produced by KetoneAid, Inc.

However, the Dublin team have shown for the first time the improvements made in mental and cognitive function as well as physical performance.

I appears that supplementing with these ketone esters means players do not make such poor decisions because of their physical and mental tiredness especially in the latter stages of the game. The supplements don’t improve running speeds or those types of but that isn’t the issue at stake here.

The research involved 11 male team sports athletes in two experimental trials. The trials were identical except for the consumption of the supplement drink which was consumed before and during the various exercise performance tests. The studies were double-blind with a randomised crossover design to ensure statistical equity between treatments as much as possible. The athletes performed the Loughborough Intermittent Shuttle Test (Part A, 5×15 min intermittent running; Part B, shuttle run to exhaustion), with cognitive tests before and after the exercises. The supplement was a 6.4% carbohydrate-electrolyte solution with or without 750 mg/kg body weight of a ketone ester supplement.

Heart rate (HR), rating of perceived exertion (RPE), and 15 m sprint times were recorded throughout, and serial venous blood samples were assayed for markers of muscle fatigue and exertion such as plasma glucose, lactate and β-hydroxybutyrate (βHB).

The results showed that ketone esters helped to ameliorate the rise in plasma lactate concentration which is produce by muscle during severe exertion. They did not improve running times or their speed. They did note the improvement in mental behaviour after the exercise.

These ketone esters are molecules which are usually synthesised in our body when we starve or fast. They act as fuel for the brain and muscle in times of duress. If we adopt a high protein and low carb diet, we produce these chemicals in response as well.

Dr Brendan Egan who is Associate Professor of Sport and Exercise Physiology at DCU is quoted in the ‘thejournal.ie’ :-

“Given that team sports athletes are presented with a multitude of decisions throughout match play, interventions that preserve or improve decision-making could positively influence performance outcomes”.

“Despite the lack of benefit to physical performance, the novel finding of preserved executive function after exhausting exercises suggests that there remains a possibility that ketones could enhance sports-specific performances of team sport athletes.”

The evidence will further highlight product development in the use of ketone esters as fuel molecules for elite athletes. The issue with the study is the small number of participants which means a certain loss in statistical robustness. It should only apply to men in this instance – how the ketone esters perform in a women’s team would also prove valuable to understand.

Reference – Ketone Ester Research

Evans, M., Egan, B. (2018) Intermittent Running and Cognitive Performance after Ketone Ester Ingestion. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Publish Ahead of Print():, JUN 2018 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001700,  PMID: 29944604 Issn Print: 0195-9131 Publication Date: 2018/06/25

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