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A new study looks at ketone drinks and athletic performance. Wave Break Media/Getty Images
  • New research has found that ketone drinks don’t have the athletic benefits that some have assumed.
  • The reason for this lack of improvement is unclear.
  • Naturally occurring ketones can be used by the body to produce fuel for the brain or muscles.

New research written by a group of researchers from Canada and the Netherlands, and published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, has found that ketone supplements—like the ones found in so-called ketone drinks—are not beneficial for athletic performance and may in fact hinder athletes who use these products.

Ketone drinks are sometimes called keto in a bottle. That’s because in the keto diet, which is a low carb and high fat diet, the body can end up producing more organic ketone compounds. Ketone compounds can end up serving as fuel for the brain or muscles. The ketone drinks contain synthetic versions of these ketones.

The study, which involved 23 people—all trained cyclists who participate in the activity for more than five hours a week— over four separate visits confirmed that power output decreased for those who were given the supplement half an hour prior to testing. The study was blind and randomized, meaning that some participants were given a placebo as a control group.

Those who were given the ketone supplement saw an average of a 2.4% drop in their power output scores, which were measured in kilowatts. The researchers had identified 2% as their minimum threshold to identify whether a change would tangibly impact performance prior to the study.

Kelsey Costa (MS, RDN) says that those buying into the hype around these supplements need to be aware that they aren’t as beneficial as advertised.

“Ultimately, individuals seeking to improve their health, exercise performance, or weight status should focus on developing sustainable lifestyle habits that promote long-term health rather than short-term quick fixes. Those considering a ketogenic diet should be wary of decreased plant-based food consumption implications and elevated mortality risk,” Costa said.

The ketogenic diet was originally created as a medical treatment to treat those with epilepsy and related neurological conditions.

Kirk D.A. Anderson, an ISSA-trained personal trainer based in Florida, says that most of the people in the fitness industry he speaks to are unaware of the keto diet and its medical history. Instead, he says, people are liable to sway towards the diets that have caught the collective public’s attention.

“I mean, the typical person jumps from one new thing [to another], the latest one is carnivore, everybody wants to be carnivore. I remember way back when it was Atkins, and you know, there’s always some new hot fad.”

Even though the researchers concluded that ketone supplements did not aid participants, they do note that more research needs to be done into why this decline in performance happened. Costa says that having deep and meaningful conversations with athletes about their needs and also their wants, is vital when it comes to setting them up for success.

“Whole-person nutrition counseling is essential for athletes. This means prescribing a balanced diet that meets their needs while considering their culture, lifestyle, and the metabolic demands of training,” Costa said. “Nutritional strategies should be tailored to each athlete’s specific goals, food preferences, and dietary restrictions.”

She’s also hopeful that more research can be done about whether ketones can impact other parts of the training process, particularly those outside of the elite training environment.

“Studies should focus on examining the long-term safety and efficacy of ketone supplements and the ketogenic diet, as well as its potential impact on different types of exercise and varying fitness levels, to determine what benefits may exist,” Costa said. “Exploring the potential benefits of supplementing with ketones during long-duration events or recovery periods is worth considering. This could illuminate whether ketones have practical applications for enhancing athletic performance.”

The FDA does not regulate supplements in the same way they regulate medications.

“The evidence is clear: ketogenic diets should not be used as an all-encompassing approach to health and wellness,” Costa said.