Ketone supplements are all the rage right now. But will supplementing your diet with "exogenous" ketones really help you reach ketosis and burn more fat? We decided to look into the science behind it. As it turns out, things aren't quite so cut and dry.
To understand ketones, you first have to understand the ketogenic diet. For those who have been living under a rock for the last five years or so, the ketogenic diet is a new spin on similar low-carb diets like Atkins or Paleo. But instead of ridiculously high protein intake, it calls for:
"But why such a high fat intake? I thought eating fat makes you fat and causes heart disease!" your aunt Edna, who's stuck in 1989, is probably asking right now. The truth is that everything we've "known" about dietary fat since 1967 is basically false. But this article is about more than just fat; it's about how your body uses fat for energy.
Most human bodies prefer to burn glucose, which comes from breaking down carbs and protein, as an energy source. When you don't eat enough carbs or protein to produce glucose, your body is forced to break down fat instead. Dismantling your fat cells produces ketones the same way that breaking down the other two macros produces glucose. Your body then burns ketones for energy instead of glucose. This is called "ketosis".
Burning ketones for energy is preferable to glucose for one very important reason: high glucose levels will spike your insulin levels. And when your insulin levels spike in the presence of high glucose, you can't burn any fat. In fact, it's that toxic combination of high insulin and high glucose that forms fat cells in the first place. But with ketones, you don't have that problem. They get burned up immediately, which prevents them from being stored as fat.
Unfortunately for the ketone supplement manufacturers out there, the idea that ingesting exogenous ketone bodies will force you into ketosis is not supported by science at all. Brazilian researchers tested this theory on rats - one control group on a regular diet, the other on a regular diet plus exogenous ketones - and found no difference between fat metabolization, blood glucose, or insulin levels. Even though the rats were technically in ketosis because of the elevated levels of ketone bodies in their blood, it didn't do them any good because there was still plenty of glucose floating around, hogging all the room in the body's gas tank.
Ergo, it's not the presence of ketones that burns the fat. It's the metabolic process that makes ketones which spurs fat metabolization. Trying to supplement with exogenous ketones is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. Another more accurate metaphor would be to think of it like this: supplementing with ketone bodies and expecting to burn more fat is like buying a bunch of running shoes and expecting to become a pro runner. Having a lot of running shoes isn't going to improve your athletic performance - it's the improvement of your athletic performance that's going to force you to buy more shoes (because you'll be replacing them frequently).
As you can see, keytone supplements aren't going to magically make the fat melt off your body. To burn body fat, you're going to have to do work. Maybe that work will involve adjusting to a ketogenic diet (which, trust us, definitely takes effort). Or maybe you'd rather take the easier road and focus on building more muscle, since lean mass is also really great at burning fat. If you really want to test yourself, you can try doing both.
At the end of the day, you're probably left wondering what will get you shredded if exogenous ketones won't do the job. There's actually a pretty simple answer to that question. The supplements you want to look for are bodybuilding stacks like Ultra Edge XL. You need a constant supply of quality BCAAs to help feed your muscles and increase Nitric Oxide levels. Without that, you're not going to build lean mass. A ketogenic diet can only do so much; but without packing on as much lean muscle as possible, you aren't going to get as shredded as you want to be.