Legal ketone sports supplement pushes athletes further, faster
Here’s a way to pick up some speed. An energy supplement drink pushes endurance athletes over the line faster, and it is legal.
The drink, known as ∆G, was originally developed for the US army, and works by releasing a ketone chemical that muscles can burn to produce energy.
Now Kieran Clarke at the University of Oxford and her colleagues have shown that their supplement really does seem to improve performance. When they gave the drink to elite cyclists, they found they were able to cycle an average of 411 metres further during a 30-minute time trial, compared with cyclists drinking a glucose drink.
The finding bolsters the results of a study in 22 elite rowers reported in 2011, in which those drinking the supplement obtained one world record, six personal bests and 10 season’s best performances.
“The results are really dramatic,” says Clarke.
Ketones are naturally produced by the body when it breaks down fat. This normally occurs when energy reserves are running low, for example, in people who are starving or sticking to a low-carb, high-fat diet.
But providing ketones as a supplement – in the form of beta-hydroxybutyrate – means athletes can draw energy from three energy sources at once. As well as drawing on their glucose and fat reserves, the athletes can get a boost from ketones which would normally only be produced when a person’s reserves are heavily depleted.
“This means that muscles can generate energy from ketones, fat and glucose at the same time,” says Clarke. As a result, more of an athlete’s glucose reserves can be preserved, lowering the chances of hitting the wall, she says.
This theory is supported by the fact that cyclists who consumed the ketone drink produced significantly less lactic acid – a product of burning glucose and breaking down glycogen, the chemical that is used to store glucose.