COULD THIS SUPER DRINK UPGRADE YOUR WORKOUT?
A new tonic claims to provide the benefits of doing keto without the tough dieting part. Could it be the first in a range of revolutionary products? Let’s see...
AAt uni, I used to churn out sprints with the regularity with which my peers hit the bar. But now, I have a 14-month-old human tornado hellbent on depleting my energy. So it’s in search of a way to elevate my workouts to their former glory that I find myself pricking my index finger with a medical device typically used by diabetics, testing my blood for a compound called ketone.
I’m one of the first 5000 people taking HVMN Ketone, a new energy drink that, if you believe its creators, is set to shake up the world of sports nutrition. The 500kj, 65ml vial promises to upgrade athletic performance with a dose of ketones, which, until recently, were only ever created within the human body (as a fuel produced when there are no carbs to burn, so the body breaks down fat to use instead). In fact, so game changing are ketones that HVMN co-founder Geoffrey Woo calls them “the fourth macro” – as crucial as fats, proteins and carbs.
It’s a grandiose claim from someone who doesn’t appear to be an expert in medicine, nutrition or biochemistry. Yet, science may just be on his side.
If the ‘keto’ prefix sounds familiar, the launch of HVMN Ketone has coincided with the rise of the keto diet, and with it a wealth of ketonecentric research. As a fuel, ketones are efficient. They release more available energy per unit than glucose and, when burnt, produce far fewer of the damaging free radicals that accelerate the ageing process. It’s the reason the keto diet has been chewed over by anyone looking to hack their PB. The problem is, getting to ketosis and acclimatising to this state can take weeks, during which time athletic performance suffers while your body protests the lack of carbs. Small surprise, then, that scientists have been trying to synthesise ketones to be used as a standalone energy supplement.
Scaling the wall
So what’s the drink’s potential as an athletic performance enhancer? “The ketones temporarily inhibit the breakdown of glucose so that you can exercise, but preserve the body’s glycogen stores and produce no lactic acid – something that hasn’t been seen before,” explains Kieran Clarke, professor of physiological biochemistry at the University of Oxford. “Run an aerobic endurance event, like a marathon, and not only will you avoid hitting the wall so quickly, but you shouldn’t have post-run aches, facilitating in speedier recovery.”
A study using ketone ester Deltag (which is what HVMN Ketone was previously known as) published in the journal Cell Metabolism showed promising results. It found a group of elite cyclists who took Deltag before a half-hour workout rode 2 per cent further (400m) within the given time than a group given a carb-rich drink and another given a higher-fat one.
However, when researchers from the Australian Institute of Sport conducted a similar study using a differently formulated ketone ester, there was no such success. Before a time trial, cyclists were given either a drink containing the ketone compound Acac diester or a placebo. Not only did every rider who drank the supplement perform worse than they did having consumed a placebo, all reported unpleasant symptoms including mild nausea and, in one case, prolonged vomiting.
If there’s no tummy troubles, could ketones be a win for the average athlete? Yes – depending on your objective. “Ketones may well enhance your endurance performance if your goal is purely distance, without concern for pace or time,” says sports dietitian Chelsea Burkart. It means a ketone boost could be a good fit if you want to take on a marathon. But if you’re looking to excel in anaerobic exercises such as HIIT, it won’t work.
While the debate rages on, I’ve got the chance to make up my own mind. In San Francisco, I meet with Woo and HVMN lead researcher Dr Brianna Stubbs for a crash course in ketone biochemistry, leaving with six vials of ketone. A week later, I’m about to go for a run. When I prick my finger to measure my ketones, as directed by Stubbs, my levels are hovering just above zero. It’s unsurprising, given my diet. I take the drink, the liquid viscous like a syrup.
Some 45 minutes later, my ketone levels have shot up. I share the number with Stubbs later, who confirms the level is on a par with what I might observe after two days of fasting or four to six weeks on the keto diet. I set out with the intention of running for as long as I can. I wish I could say I was flying. The overwhelming sensation is a burning in my oesophagus. I turn around early. The ketone is repeating on me.
Did HVMN Ketone turn me into ultrarunner Sam Gash? No. But with ketone research spanning several strands, including the potential of exogenous ketones to improve recovery and enhance cognitive function, it feels exciting. If I were a pro athlete, I’d watch this space. As for other sleep-deprived women, I can recommend another super fuel that’s a lot more palatable – coffee.