Will ketones improve your cycling?

All sporting events have their dashes of controversy, some a little bigger than others, but it keeps everyone one their toes. In some cases those dashes of controversy are game changers in the way sports are ruled, run or competed. 

So today we’re doing a little digging on ketones. Now drinking ketones is not exactly new. Unofficially they have been stealthily passed around the pro cycling peloton for the last few years. Now though ketone developers are stepping out from behind the covert bidon and setting up commercially. The question really is, do they do anything, and can I use them? 

First, let’s figure out what’s on the table (or in the bidon). Ketones are a natural chemical produced by the liver. Ketones numbers are higher in people who are on a low carb-high fat diet, where the body is under pressure to tap into fat stores and burn energy efficiently, rather than go looking for protein and breaking down muscle for fuel. 

Up until now cyclists favoured a high carbohydrate diet that allows the body to release a slow burn energy rather than a quick burn from sugar fuels, the drawback being that with carbohydrates you are burning muscle glycogen, and that can have consequences, especially on WorldTour circuits where high demands are made of your body day after day, with little time to replenish muscle protein and repair. 

Fast recovery is also part of the new energy deal. Ketone drinks reduce the build up of lactic acid (because of reduced muscle glycogen burn) and taking ketone ester after exercise is said to increases muscle protein when consumed with carbs and protein rich foods.  

So, in a nutshell, ketone drinks are a source of high energy that when exercising encourages your body to burn fat ,while also protecting and maintaining the skeletal muscle during and after an endurance event. 

It’s really the perfect substance for cycling tours, given that it’s significantly more impacting than carbohydrates and easier to digest, you can’t exactly down a spaghetti bolognaise while peddling. While pro cyclists might be the perfect candidate for ketone drinks the inspiration for ketone drinks actually comes from the US army, where top researchers were asked to produce a fuel that would help sustain soldiers in battle. 

The sports version of the organic compound is very similar to the original design, however, it now comes under it’s own brand and has a very hard to digest price tag. World Tour cyclists are currently paying about $1500 per litre for HVMN Ketone.

So the controversial parts kick in. Do they actually work and are substances like this really legal?

Does drinking ketones improve your performance? 

Is the ketone hype real? You would hope at that price there would be some validity to it. Certainly the rumours of ketones circulating the pro tour for the last few years would indicate some level of usefulness. 

Not everyone is on board with ketones as a successful endurance strategy. It’s far from a quick fix, you need to prepare your body with at least a week leading up to an endurance event and your diet would need to take a hit as well, reducing carbs by about 50-100gs a day. The week before an event is when you need the carbs most, so there are thoughts that this kind of approach may harm performance. It really comes down to how you use it. As an endurance ride enhancer you will probably see some benefits but not for short burst activities, but you will need to prepare for it. 

Are ketone drinks legal?

So far ketones are not prohibited or on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) watch list. It’s perfectly legitimate according to HVMN Ketone co-founder Geoffrey Woo who likens ketone drinks to drinking electrolytes or protein drinks or any other sugar compound, only more targeted and efficient. Because this is a compound naturally produced by the body the ester they have created is simply a highly efficient natural ‘food’ source. 

So if the price doesn’t put you off feel free to take some ketones on board and see if you can go stronger for longer on the bike.