What Are Exogenous Ketones and Are They Healthy?
Ketones are a powerful energy source for human cells. They are essentially energetic substrates derived from dietary or stored fats in the body. When a person cuts out dietary carbs and follows more of a ketogenic lifestyle, they will begin to burn fat in the form of ketones as an energy source. Not everyone has such an easy time turning on their fat burning potential, however, and that is where exogenous ketones can be incredibly powerful.
Exogenous ketones are a dietary supplement that can be consumed and transported directly to the cells for energy. Typically, the body would need to digest fats, transport them to the liver, convert them into ketones, and then be transported to the cells for energy. Exogenous ketones cut down this process and provide direct fuel upon consumption.
Just as a quick summary if you are not familiar, a ketogenic diet is a way of stimulating a fat-burning state in the body. This is done by limiting carb intake and increasing fat intake. Over time, sugar levels in the blood drop substantially and signal the brain that the body must convert to another energy source, fats.
Once this metabolic shift has occurred, the body will convert fats into ketones which are readily transported into cells for energy. Being in this state has many benefits including weight loss, improved brain health, greater energy, and emotional stability.
What Are Ketones
Ketones, as briefly mentioned, are the byproducts of fat metabolism. The liver converts dietary fat or stored body fat into ketones before they can be metabolized by the mitochondria to produce ATP (energy).
Unlike the simple conversion of sugar into glucose, fatty acid metabolism actually results in 3 different types of ketones:
- Acetate (Acetone)
- Acetoacetate (AcAc)
- Beta Hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
BHB, based on its molecular structure, is not really a ketone. Yet its presence is part of the beneficial effects of being in ketosis. Among its benefits is the ability to modulate BDNF in the brain and stimulate the growth of new neural tissue (3).
AcAc is the primary ketone body and is either converted into energy or BHB. Acetone exhibits the least metabolic effect and is mostly broken down and excreted through the breath and urine. The acetone excreted through the breath is actually responsible for the “keto breath” that some people experience in the beginning stages of keto adaptation.
Benefits of Ketones
Cells need ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in order to perform any function. This ATP is created by cellular structures called mitochondria and is done so mainly by using glucose or ketones (from fats).
Ketones produce much greater amounts of ATP than glucose when compared per molecule. At the same time, they produce less oxidative stress which also equates to lowered inflammation throughout the body.
Finally, ketones do not rely on insulin the same way that sugar does. The result is stable energy levels and reduced cravings. People often report that being in ketosis offers mental clarity and emotional stability they have not experienced before. This stable source energy also may assist weight loss by promoting fat burning (ketosis) and reducing the urge to overeat.
Ways to Increase Ketones
The benefits of a ketogenic diet and elevating ketones are apparent. There is a growing body of people experiencing success following this type of eating style. Because of its powerful therapeutic effects, I took it upon myself years ago to learn everything I could about how it works and how to help someone implement it into their own lives for maximum results.
I even follow a cyclic ketogenic lifestyle myself and am constantly discovering new ways to take the benefits even further. Many of them revolve around the ability to increase ketone levels.
Probably the quickest way to get your body to start producing ketones is to perform an extended water fast of 1-3 days. During this time, you would only drink water and your blood sugar would drop rapidly. This approach is not the easiest, but it is effective. Following the fasting period, you would want to follow a high-fat, low-carb nutrition plan such as this one.
Another strategy would be to perform intermittent fasting on a daily basis where you restrict the time that you eat to a smaller time frame than usual. For example, if you usually go 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, try pushing it to 14, then 16 if your body responds well. I do this daily combined with a ketogenic diet to maintain high energy and performance.
Below are some of the fasting styles to try out for yourself.
This one is relatively straight forward but is necessary if you want to maintain a fat-burning state long-term. As has been alluded to already, a ketogenic diet is low in carbs and high in fat. This combination signals the body that there is not glucose to burn for energy at the cellular level. Once the cells realize that sugar is scarce, they shift to their next fuel source, fats.
Fats are converted into ketones by the liver and shuttled to the cells as a powerful source of energy. This is THE foundational strategy for maintaining elevated ketone levels and deriving the benefits a ketogenic diet has to offer.
I go over exactly how to test your ketone levels to see if you are in nutritional ketosis in the video below and in this article.
Similar to fasting, high-intensity exercise is a great way to quickly burn off excess sugar in the body and promote the metabolic shift towards ketosis. People who are frequently engaging in intense exercise tend to have a much easier time producing ketones because their cells are used to quickly shifting fuel sources (4).
Incorporating 2-4 short duration workouts at a high intensity per week can be great for elevating ketone levels and supporting healthy mitochondrial function.
Consuming coffee or another source of caffeine in the morning, perhaps during an intermittent fast, is a powerful way to stimulate ketone production. A recent study found that caffeine consumption in the morning significantly increased ketones in a dose-dependent manner (5).
If you are sensitive to caffeine, then this one may not be the best option. However, if you are a big coffee or tea drinker, try out this Fat Burning Coffee or this Keto Matcha Green Tea to provide a caffeine boost and dose of healthy fats to get your day started. This combination is especially great for those who find themselves with massive cravings around lunch time.
MCT oil is a concentrated extract from coconut oil. It is significant because when consumed, it is very quickly converted into ketones with very little metabolic demand from the body (6). It is almost like consuming table sugar, in fat form, and without the massive crash. Instead you get nice steady energy without any negative side effects.
MCT oil can be drizzled on foods, taken in powdered form, or as a key player in the fat burning coffee and matcha green tea outlined in the previous section of this article. This is often one of my go-to recommendations for people who are just getting started on a ketogenic lifestyle.
Exogenous ketones take MCT oils a step further. When you eat fats or MCT oil, there is a conversion process that must take place before ketones are actually produced, this means it is somewhat metabolically demanding on the body to make ketones. For people who have poor liver or gallbladder function, have poor mitochondrial health, or have never tried a ketogenic diet; the process of producing ketones can be stressful.
In these cases, exogenous ketones can be powerful. Exogenous ketones are a supplement that can be used to supply the body with a source of ketones that require almost no processing by the digestive tract and liver. This makes them great not only for helping someone get into ketosis, but also as a quick energy source and performance enhancer for brain and body.
Advantages of Exogenous Ketones
I have been a proponent of the ketogenic lifestyle for many years. Up until recently, there were very few solutions for people who were struggling to get into a fat-burning state.
With the recent development of exogenous ketones, many struggles can be overcome. There are a number of distinct advantages of using an exogenous ketone supplement to support your ketogenic lifestyle.
Allows for Carb Leniency
Getting into a state of ketosis can be difficult for people who have been chronic sugar burners their entire lives. Getting into ketosis requires a very low carbohydrate intake (typically less than 20 NET grams daily) which can be hard for these people. This is because after carbs are taken away, there is a period of time that could last several days where the cells are relearning how to burn fat instead of sugar.
During this time, people will experience low energy and cravings. Supplementing with exogenous ketones during this transition period can get the cells familiar with the presence of ketones and help prevent these unpleasant side effects that are associated with hypoglycemic episodes without fat/keto adaptation. I go over the differences in the graphic below this section.
At the same time, if there is any case in which someone consumes a higher carb meal that brings them out of ketosis, exogenous ketones can be used to quickly get the body back into a fat-burning state.
Great for Travel
If you travel frequently, it can be hard to maintain a strict ketogenic lifestyle. Because exogenous ketones typically come in powdered form, they are easy to travel with and can be added to a simple glass of water for an energy boost.
Also, if you are eating out on the road and either do not get enough fat or consume too many carbs, exogenous ketones can help you stay on track.
The combination of a ketogenic eating style and intermittent fasting is extremely therapeutic. A roadblock that many people face when starting intermittent fasting is that they get hungry, emotional, and tired. While this side effect should subside relatively quickly, this is a big hurdle for many people to overcome.
Exogenous ketones can work wonders here by providing a source of energy that prevents cravings and brings about a sense of balance (7). Try incorporating a dose of exogenous ketones into your morning routine with a glass of water and see how you feel. You should notice a much greater ability to fast.
Exogenous ketones are an immediate source of energy and therefore can be used for times when you need to be in high performance mode, whether it be mentally or physically. They can be used before workouts or even before work to boost cognitive function and keep your brain functioning at its peak.
Additionally, ketones have a protein sparing effect. What this means is that when ketones are circulating in the blood stream, protein is used more efficiently. This means that when you are working out, your body can recover muscle tissue with less protein. Many high performance athletes are now using exogenous ketones to support the ability to workout strenuously and recover more effectively.
Ways to Use Exogenous Ketones
As you may have been able to infer from the information given so far, exogenous ketones are great for many different uses. If you are following a ketogenic lifestyle, exogenous ketones can be used to:
- Support a Prolonged Fast
- Boost Cognitive Function
- Boost Your Workouts
- Get you into Ketosis Faster
- Tolerate Slightly More Carbs
- Support Stable Ketone Levels