Ketone Salts: What Are They and How Do They Work?

We are going to explain what ketone salts are, and what they are for, one of the most fashionable supplements in the context of endurance sports.
Ketone Salts: What Are They and How Do They Work?
Saúl Sánchez Arias

Written and verified by the nutritionist Saúl Sánchez Arias.

Last update: 14 July, 2023

Ketone salts are a supplement that could have benefits on aerobic sports practice. These organic acids that are produced in the liver could be used to generate energy.

However, the evidence is currently unclear in this regard. In spite of it, its use has become fashionable in some sports, as is the case of cycling. Those who use them claim that they have positive effects on the utilization of energy substrates.

Before we begin, it’s important to note that the supplement market is very broad. Always make sure that you choose quality products that have the appropriate certification.

Otherwise, you may be taking unnecessary risks. If in doubt, consult an expert in sports nutrition in order to receive good advice, using the most suitable substances at all times.

What are ketone salts for?

Ketone salts are normally used in the context of the ketogenic diet to improve the availability of energy. They could also be consumed in the presence of carbohydrates to induce a greater use of the ketones themselves as fuel, thus saving glycogen and improving performance during an endurance event. However, the evidence in this regard is very limited.

By consuming exogenous ketones, what is achieved is an increase of up to 1-5 mmol/L of these compounds in the blood depending on genetic factors and the type of diet applied. This causes a lower use of glucose as the main energy source.

Considering that the depletion of glucose in the body determines the onset of fatigue, one might think that by means of such a strategy the feeling of tiredness will be delayed.

However, this supplement is most often consumed in the context of a ketogenic diet. This also promotes adaptations towards greater efficiency in the beta-oxidation of lipids, which will increase athletic performance over time.

Even so, it isn’t usually recommended to compete under these carbohydrate-free conditions. In general terms, when seeking maximum performance, it’s important to provide at least 4 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day. This is evidenced by a study published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care.

Keto diet.
Ketone salts are used to improve performance in aerobic sports.

Along the same lines are the current supplementation strategies in the world of endurance sports. The aim is to delay fatigue by avoiding glucose and glycogen depletion, but by providing a high amount of sugars in each hour of exercise. This is supported by science.

Ketone salts and recovery

In addition to the effects mentioned above, there’s speculation that the consumption of ketone salts may also improve recovery after intense physical exertion. This is because it affects certain physiological pathways with an anti-inflammatory character.

In this way, the pain of the following days would be reduced, allowing a comfortable return to sports practice much sooner. However, trials to confirm this proposal are lacking.

For the time being, the nutrients that have been shown to have a relevant effect on inflammatory mechanisms are the omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, their consumption is even associated with a lower risk of muscle injury. Even when tissue tears occur, daily requirements are increased in order to allow an early return to work.

Some food.
At present, there is no irrefutable scientific evidence of the benefits of using ketone salts.

There is some research which has tried to elucidate the effects of ketone salts on the adaptive processes of skeletal muscle after exercise. One example is published in The Journal of Physiology .

However, no conclusive results have been found to date, although some physiological pathways make sense. It’s necessary to continue analyzing their use in order to arrive at solid evidence.

Other supplements to increase performance

Although ketone salts don’t have sufficient evidence to include them in a recurring pattern, there are other substances that are capable of significantly increasing performance.

The most widely consumed of all of them is creatine. It’s able to improve maximum strength and power values. Even maximal oxygen consumption may benefit. Even body composition will be positively affected.

Similarly, caffeine is often consumed. In this case, it’s an alkaloid that modifies the utilization of energy substrates during sports practice.

What it achieves is to generate a saving of glucose and glycogen, oxidizing more fat to meet calorie demands. This will delay the onset of fatigue, in addition to the effects it has on the central nervous system.

Ketone salts, a possible way to increase sports performance

As you have seen, ketone salts are a series of elements that could help increase sports performance in endurance activities. Their effects will be more significant in carbohydrate-free contexts, although it’s also possible to introduce them into the diet when sugars are being consumed. Even so, the results to date are not entirely clear, so its use could simply be a fad.

Finally, it should be borne in mind that in the world of sports supplements, there are many substances that are used for a certain time and then practically cease to be marketed.

This is because over the years trials come to light that demonstrate their uselessness, so athletes stop including them in their routines. For this reason, it’s always important to be updated or well-advised by a professional.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Gonzalez, J. T., & Wallis, G. A. (2021). Carb-conscious: the role of carbohydrate intake in recovery from exercise. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care24(4), 364–371.
  • Calder P. C. (2017). Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: from molecules to man. Biochemical Society transactions45(5), 1105–1115.
  • Evans, M., Cogan, K. E., & Egan, B. (2017). Metabolism of ketone bodies during exercise and training: physiological basis for exogenous supplementation. The Journal of physiology595(9), 2857–2871.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.