The next evolution in performance supplementation
Contradictory to the norm, a growing number of athletes are reducing their use of carb-based products, whether carb-only or carb-protein blends, and are instead including more fat-based products in their plans.
The rise in popularity of low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets for health, weight loss and aesthetics has also driven a shift in thinking among a growing number of endurance athletes. While the idea of a fat-fuelled endurance athlete is by no means new – medium chain triglycerides, or MCTs oils gained popularity in the mid to late ’90s among the burgeoning endurance community – the trend lost momentum over the years, largely due to a lack of credible scientific evidence to support the touted benefits.
But today it’s back and stronger than ever. You only have to look to the various coconut-based drinks and bars on sale to realise that MCTs are a popular option among endurance athletes. MCTs are an ideal source of fuel for endurance athletes for two main reasons.
Best of Both Worlds
They have a slightly different structure to other fats, which means they’re metabolised similarly to carbohydrates. MCTs will bypass the normal digestive process that long chain fatty acids go through and are immediately processed by the liver, which converts them into ketones – a readily available energy source. MCTs are also a denser source of energy as fats contain double the number calories per gram than carbohydrates – 8 compared to 4.
The other benefit is that they have a glycogen-sparing effect. Once liver and muscle glycogen stores are full they cannot be topped up any further. However, ingest MCTs, which muscles can easily utilise for fuel, you’ll spare glycogen as your body burns this highly bioavailable fuel source. This enables athletes to sustain a below threshold effort for longer, while sparing glycogen – the body’s more efficient energy source at higher intensities – for the pick-up or kick at the end. And this can make a significant difference to any endurance performance.
- L-carnitine acts as the transporter of free fatty acids into the mitochondria of muscle cells, where they’re converted into energy. This supplement can therefore enhance the metabolism of fat-derived energy – stored or ingested – among endurance athletes.
- Electrolytes are needed before, during and after intense or prolonged exercise to restore and maintain concentrations of sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, and calcium, which can be depleted as a result of sweating, or to restore an imbalance caused by the overconsumption of water during exercise. This product is important as electrolyte imbalances may be a cause of exercise-associated muscle cramps, and a severe imbalance can result in hyponatremia.
- Caffeine helps to mediate a number of physiological responses that can improve endurance performance. Supplements that contain caffeine increase metabolism which improves energy efficiency. It also boosts the efficiency with which your body burns stored fat for energy. However, it’s most potent benefit is mental, with the ability to reduce feelings of perceived exertion and pain, and also improves cognition for better decision-making when working at or near your physical limit.