MCT Oil and Athletic Performance

I read a post by a guy in a Facebook group who claims MCT oil increases his athletic performance. I questioned him and he wrote:

However, when the body fat percentage gets low, you need the fats for energy to fuel your workouts. You have to reach steady state of fat in and fat/ketones out. I don’t think I could do my noon workout without my two cups of BPC in the morning. That’s my fuel…

When I asked if it was the MCT oil or the caffeine he replied:

… it’s the fat. Caffeine does not give you the ketones that allow me to lift heavy and do 30-45 mins of elliptical. Although, when I was very fat, my body provided the fat ketones. So in a sense I’m agreeing with you. There comes a time when you need that MCT fat that the liver turns into ketones as a priority.

Unfortunately the science doesn’t back up the claims.

Study #1

Miriam E. Clegg. (2010). Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 61:7,653-679.

Results indicate that MCT feeding is ineffective in improving exercise performance and future work should focus on the health benefits and applications of MCT.

Study #2

Damien J. Angus, Mark Hargreaves, Jane Dancey, and Mark A. Febbraio. Effect of carbohydrate or carbohydrate plus medium-chain triglyceride ingestion on cycling time trial performance. Journal of Applied Physiology. Volume 88 Issue 1. January 2000. Pages 113-119 .

These data demonstrate that carbohydrate ingestion during exercise improves 100-km TT performance compared with a sweet placebo, but the addition of MCT does not provide any further performance enhancement.

Study #3

A E Jeukendrup, J J Thielen, A J Wagenmakers, F Brouns, W H Saris; Effect of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion during exercise on substrate utilization and subsequent cycling performance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 67, Issue 3, 1 March 1998, Pages 397–404.

…ingestion of MCT had a negative effect on performance…

compared with placebo ingestion, MCT ingestion had no effect on total rates of fat or carbohydrate oxidation, nor did it affect exogenous or endogenous carbohydrate utilization. The negative effect of MCT ingestion was associated with increased gastrointestinal complaints (ie, intestinal cramping). These data suggest that large amounts of MCTs (85 g) ingested during prolonged submaximal exercise may provoke gastrointestinal problems leading to decreased exercise performance.

Study #4

Jeukendrup, A. E., A. J. M. Wagenmakers, F. Brouns, D. Halliday and W. H. M. Saris. Effects of carbohydrate (CHO) and fat supplementation on CHO metabolism during prolonged exercise. Metabolism 45(7): 915-921: 1996.

It is concluded that 29 g MCT co-ingested with CHO during 180 minutes of exercise does not influence CHO utilization or glycogen breakdown.

Other Studies

Another study found that MCT Oil increased liver size by adding fat to the liver (MCT Oil and Liver Size).

Measuring Heart Rate

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating.

A man with two clocks never knows what time it is.

Today I went out with my Polar Chest Strap and Samsung Gear Sport watch. I got two very different sets of data. Normally, I would trust the chest strap over the watch since the watch sometimes runs too high. This time I trust my watch over the chest strap. Why?

Two charts

Turns out that Strava can export a GPX file which can be read by EXCEL. (EXCEL complains about the data a few times but opens it OK). Here’s the two charts.

Judging by Past Performance

I’ve walked up the same hills before and have an idea of what happens with my heart rate. By one mile I’ve gone to the post office and started walking back up a hill. The Polar has my heart rate at 70 which seems way too low. The Samsung has my heart rate at 100 or so which makes more sense.

Judging by Rate of Perceived Exertion

The last half of the Samsung data has my heart rate in my MAF range (112-122). That makes sense given where I was in the walk and my rate of perceived exertion. Here’s the MAF range added to the Watch data.

Performance

The splits show I was behind my normal pace (messing with the monitors plus I was on hills) but not that far behind the pace.

Map

Other than going to the Post Office (upper left circle) I did my typical route.

The pace and elevation data are:

Solution?

I think I didn’t wet the Polar strap well enough. It was less than 70 degrees and relatively dry so the strap could have been too dry. I didn’t sweat on the walk either.

Next time I will wet the chest strap better.

 

Dietary Periodization – Strategic Carbs

Do Strategic Carbs work?

This study took a look at the strategic carbs strategy (Louise Burke. Fat adaptation and glycogen restoration for prolonged cycling—recent studies from the Australian Institute of Sport. Australian Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 58, no. 2, 2001, p. S23+). The study looked at:

… a period of exposure to high fat, low CHO intake, followed by the restoration of muscle glycogen stores with a high CHO diet.

Such ‘dietary periodisation’ aims to enhance the capacity of both glycolytic and lipolytic systems to oxidative metabolism during prolonged exercise, by increasing the contribution from fat to substrate metabolism while potentially sparing intact muscle glycogen stores

Here are the results:

The fat adaptation diet caused major changes in fuel utilisation during sub-maximal exercise, with at least some of the adaptations persisting on day seven, even in the face of a plentiful CHO supply. As dramatic as these metabolic changes were, they failed to improve the performance of the cyclists’ time trial.

Together with other research, this study fails to find evidence that fat adaptation strategies offer any benefits for the endurance athlete.

The only remaining question is whether there are any advantages for ultra-endurance athletes who compete in events undertaken at a lower intensity and for longer periods (e.g. four hours or more). For these athletes, fat is the predominant fuel source.

 

Getting Van Wilder to Boston

The Big Question Remains

How to best fuel Van Wilder’s (Another VO2max Test – Van Wilder) next marathon? It is six weeks away and he’s not far from qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Is it best to shift to a high carb low fat diet for the marathon?

Pace vs Heart Rate Test

We did a test of pace vs heart rate.  The test was done on a track in 800 meter distance increments with speed matched to 10 bpm heart rate steps every 2 laps (of the 400 meter track). We downloaded the average data from the logging application.

We then overlaid the pace vs heart rate data with fat-carb oxidation rates from Van Wilder’s VO2max test. Here’s the resulting curves:

The top curve is running pace. Van Wilder’s fastest pace was almost a 4 minute mile. At that rate, he was have been oxidizing around 22 calories of carbs and 9 calories of fat per minute. The rate is also not sustainable due to the high exertion required.

Van Wilder has to run the marathon in about 3 hours. That’s 26.2 miles/3 hrs = 8.7 mph. That’s 60 min/hr divided by 8.7 miles/hr = 6.9 minutes per mile. That’s a heart rate of 155. That is also around 15 calories per minute from carbs and 12 calories per minute from fat. 15 kCal/min * 60 mins = 900 kCal/hr. If he can feed 360 kCal/hr from carbs that’s a net of 540 lost per hour. In three hours his muscle glycogen will be completely gone (assuming it can all be used).

Probably can’t get there from here – at least at the current performance.

Update 2018-09-14

Van Wilder suffered a hip injury and had to drop out of his qualifying marathon last week. That was the last chance for the season.

 

Athlete Van Wilder – Part 2

In an earlier post, I took a look at Van Wilder (Another VO2max Test – Van Wilder). He was a low carb guy but has bumped up the carbs. quite a bit. The day before the VO2max he ate quite a few carbs.

Let’s look close to see if our VO2max curves are comparable to the Volek FASTER chart. Here’s the FASTER chart:

The HCD (High Carbohydrate Diet) looks like an inverted parabola and can be modeled as a 2^X function. Due to the distorted hump, the LCD (Low Carbohydrate Diet) looks like a higher order polynomial (more than a square = 2nd order). Assuming a 3rd order polynomial would model the curve better. Revisiting the VO2max data for Van Wilder (as a third order polynomial):

Here is my VO2max data (also as a third order polynomial):

My curve looks more shifted to the right similar to the FASTER graph. Both of the graphs have the same 50%-50% calories point at about 80% of VO2max.

Van Wilder’s MFBGS (Maximum Fat Burning Glucose Sparing) point is at around 43% of his VO2max. My own MFBGS is quite a bit higher at around 61% of my VO2max. Does that provide any real advantage? Certainly my 20+ years older doesn’t help me out.

Van Wilder’s MAF Number

Van Wilder is a well trained athlete but he’s constantly injured. He should have a reduced MAF number but let’s assume he’s at the 180 – 35 = 145 heart rate.

Van Wilder’s MFBGS point is at around 118 bpm. At his MAF number he’s well into carbohydrate burning (around 65% fat and 35% carbs).

 

Train Low, Compete High

One popular Low Carb strategy is to train low and compete high. The basic strategy is to do all training in a fat adapted state and then switch to a higher carb state a day or two before competition.  A study took a look at this methodology (Havemann L, West SJ, Goedecke JH, Macdonald IA, St Clair Gibson A, Noakes TD, Lambert EV. Fat adaptation followed by carbohydrate loading compromises high-intensity sprint performance. J Appl Physiol 2006 Jan;100(1):194-202.). The study consisted of six days of High Fat diet to a High Carb diet on the 7th day. The study looked at the performance on the 8th day. The purpose of the carb fueling was to fill glycogen stores before the final tests.

The ingestion of a HFD for 6 days resulted in a shift in substrate metabolism toward a greater reliance on fat and a reduction in CHO oxidation. The increase in fat oxidation in the present study persisted despite 1 day of CHO loading on day 7 as demonstrated by the lower resting RER (0.77  0.02 vs. 0.88  0.05, Fig. 2) and higher circulating FFA (Table 7) during exercise after HFD-CHO compared with HCD-CHO on day 8.

Here’s what was valuable about this 2006 study.

The study is unique in that it is the first study to investigate the effect of high-fat feeding, followed by CHO loading, on endurance exercise, including high-intensity sprints that simulate actual race situations.

In spite of being on a High Carb diet the effects of the High Fat diet persisted. This could be seen in a lower RER value indicating increased fat oxidation. However, the sprint performance was not as good. From the discussion:

It was hypothesized that the potential glycogen-sparing effect of this dietary strategy (3) would be most beneficial for exercise that included high-intensity sprint bouts, where muscle glycogen is the predominant fuel. However, in contrast to our hypothesis, the HFD-CHO strategy actually compromised high-intensity 1-km sprint performance.

 

Study of Glycogen and Exercise Studies

Thanks to Luis at Ketogains for pointing to a great study which looks at the studies of Glycogen and Exercise (Pim Knuiman, Maria T. E. Hopman, and Marco Mensink. Glycogen availability and skeletal muscle adaptations with endurance and resistance exercise. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2015; 12: 59.).

…Recent research into the effects of glycogen availability sheds new light on the role of the widely accepted energy source for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) resynthesis during endurance exercise.

Indeed, several studies showed that endurance training with low glycogen availability leads to similar and sometimes even better adaptations and performance compared to performing endurance training sessions with replenished glycogen stores.

The study leads with:

…Glycogen is made and stored in cells of the liver (~100 g) and muscles (~350 – 700 g; depending on training status, diet, muscle fibre type composition, sex and bodyweight) and can be reduced by fasting, low intake of dietary carbohydrates and/or by exercise.

Intermittent Fasting, Low Carbs, exercise. Yep, that’s me.

Glycogen is differently distributed within the muscle fibers (subsarcolemmal ~5-15 %, intermyofibrillar ~75 % and intramyofibrillar ~5-15 %)

And here’s the bit about high intensity workouts:

Glycogen is an essential substrate during high intensity exercise by providing a mechanism by which adenosine tri phosphate (ATP) can be resynthesized from adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and phosphate.

The relative use of energy sources during exercise is mainly determined by the intensity and the duration of the exercise bout, as well as the athlete’s training status.

Fat as source of energy is relatively most dominant during moderate intensity (30-65 % of VO2peak), whereas the relative contribution of carbohydrate oxidation to total energy expenditure becomes greater when exercise intensity increases, with muscle glycogen becoming the most important substrate source

…glycogen availability is essential to power ATP resynthesis during high intensity exercise which relies heavily on glycogenolysis.

Furthermore, it has been well documented that the capability of skeletal muscle to exercise is impaired when the glycogen store is reduced to a certain level, even when there is sufficient amount of other fuels available.

To date, few studies have found an improved training-induced performance effect of conducting the exercise bouts with low glycogen levels compared with replenished glycogen levels

On the subject of resistance training:

… a typical resistance exercise session has been shown to reduce glycogen levels by approximately ~24-40 %. This reduction in glycogen content during exercise is determined by the duration, intensity and volume of the performed exercise bout. The largest reductions in glycogen are seen with high repetitions with moderate load training, an effect that mainly occurs in type II fibers.

Remember glycogen is the storage form of glucose.

Yet Another Low Carb Performance Study

Here’s another study which looked a performance on a Low Carb diet (Sawyer, JC, Wood, RJ, Davidson, PW, Collins, SM, Matthews, TD, Gregory, SM, and Paolone, VJ. Effects of a short-term carbohydrate-restricted diet on strength and power performance. J Strength Cond Res 27(8): 2255–2262, 2013).

For this study 16 men and 15 women were tested after a week on their habitual diet (40.7% carbohydrate, 22.2% protein, and 34.4% fat) and then a week later on a Carbohydrate Restricted Diet (CRD – 5.4% carbohydrate, 35.1% protein, and 53.6% fat). The CRD consisted of ≤50 g of carbohydrates per day.

The study was intended to determine if strength is lost with the short diet timeframe. The results were:

Subjects consumed significantly fewer (p < 0.05) total kilocalories during the CRD (2,156.55 ± 126.7) compared with the habitual diet (2,537.43 ± 99.5).

That can be seen here:

That’s less than 400 calories a day or 2800 calories for the seven days. This may be due to the following:

During the CRD, the researcher contacted each subject every 48 hours to answer any questions about the diet. Body weight was measured every 48 hours during the CRD to determine if any body mass changes had occurred. If a reduction in body weight occurred during the CRD, subjects were instructed to consume more calories to maintain body weight.

Continuing with the results.

Body mass decreased significantly (p < 0.05).

Fortunately this study showed the Total body water. This indicates that most of the FFM loss was due to water loss and seemed to be the only significant effect.

Both males and females had improved body fat composition.

Despite a reduction in body mass, strength and power outputs were maintained for men and women during the CRD.

One big advantage of this study was the goal of keeping calories enough to not have losses. That’s relevant to people on keto consuming maintenance calories.

A major weakness was the short duration of the study. We can’t say that seven days isn’t enough time for adaptation in some studies and that it is enough time in other studies, can we?

Another weakness was the lack of a control group. It would have been helpful to have part of the group stay on the habitual diet during the second period.

A third weakness was the same before and after the keto adaptation phase:

Before each testing session, subjects were required to refrain from performing resistance exercise for 48 hours.

A forth weakness was that:

Participants arrived at the Human Performance Laboratory after a 12-hour fast between the hours of 6:00 and 8:00 AM.

They were then fed a fat/protein meal.

The pre-exercise meal was provided to each subject 2 hours before the start of each exercise testing session. The meal consisted of 400 kcal. The meal included 250 ml of water, 2 hard-boiled eggs, 28 g of cheddar cheese, and a protein shake (Advant Edge Whey Protein; EAS, Inc., Abbott Park, IL, USA).

It seems likely that this meal would be more useful to the athletes after keto adaptation than before. Again a control group would have teased out this difference.

Conclusions

Most of the tests were very short duration – One Rep Maximums and short erg bicycles. Only one was to exhaustion and there was a lot of rest between sets (3 minutes). The Keiser power output was lower with the keto diet but judged to not be significant. That is a surprise to me since the change was greater than the error bars.

I would expect the keto athletes to do reasonably well with the short duration of the tests. Without a control group it is difficult to determine if the group should have gotten stronger or not.

 

Effect of weight loss by ketogenic diet on body composition

An interesting study which is said to show good results for the keto diet and athletic performance (Hyun-seung Rhyu1 and Su-Youn Cho. The effect of weight loss by ketogenic diet on the body composition, performance-related physical fitness factors and cytokines of Taekwondo athletes . J Exerc Rehabil. 2014 Oct; 10(5): 326–331.).

The participants were randomly assigned to 2 groups, 10 participants to each group: the ketogenic diet (KD) group, and the non-ketogenic diet (NKD) group.

The diet/training period was only 3 weeks. The performances were compared:

Aerobic capacity was evaluated by measuring the time taken to finish a 2,000 m sprint. Whereas anaerobic capacity was evaluated by the Wingate test (), by measuring peak power, mean power and fatigue index using a Monark cycle ergometer (Monark 894-E, Sweden). Muscle strength was evaluated based on the measurement of: (1) grip force (TKK 5401, Takei, Japan) and back muscle strength (TKK 5402, Takei, Japan) using a digital measuring instrument, (2) muscle endurance by measuring the number of sit-ups performed in 60 sec, (3) instantaneous reactionary force by measuring time and distance on 100 m sprint and standing broad jump, respectively, and (4) balance by measuring duration on single leg standing with eyes closed.

The diet was only three weeks long. The body composition results were not great for Low Carb.

Changes in body composition

Variables KD (n= 10) NKD (n= 10) F-value


Pre Post Pre Post
Weight (kg) 64.11± 7.19 60.34± 6.59 63.69± 7.64 61.16 ± 7.84 G 0.004
T 89.927*
G×T 3.484
%Body fat (%) 12.59± 3.96 12.21± 3.59 11.31± 2.77 10.23 ± 2.63 G 1.283
T 4.486*
G×T 1.122
Lean body mass (kg) 54.65± 3.93 52.47± 4.67 54.94± 6.50 53.55 ± 8.16 G 0.067
T 10.457*
G×T 0.520
BMI (kg/m2) 21.44± 2.10 20.18± 1.79 21.08± 1.94 20.23 ± 1.97 G 0.032
T 86.936*
G×T 3.282

The KD kids lost twice as much weight which is good. The %Body fat wasn’t changed nearly as much in the KD group as in the NKD group. Worse than that, the KD group lost much more Lean Body Mass. BMI tracked the weight loss again demonstrating the weakness of the BMI measurement for tracking body composition. I think it may be the case that the LBM mass was mostly from lost water weight.

But how about performance?

  • KD did better on the 2,000 meter sprint after training than before. The NKD didn’t show much of an improvement. However, the timeframe listed in the results was 500 minutes. I don’t know how to make sense of that timeframe. It took the participants over 8 hours to sprint for a mile and a quarter?  Could the units be in seconds? If it was seconds then the time would be 8 minutes to run a little over a mile. That is possible in high school athletes.
  • What is striking is how much worse both of the groups did after training. Both groups lost peak power and mean power and the KD group lost significantly more power than the NKD group.
  • Another striking parameter was how much worse the NKD group got in anaerobic fatigue after the training. That is surprising.
  • The KD group did worse on grip strength gains.
  • The KD group did not improve as much on back muscle strength gains.
  • Both groups took longer on the 100m sprint.
  • Both groups could not jump as far in the broadjumps after training.
  • Equally disturbing was the lack of improvement in the sit-ups on the NKD group compared with the KD group.

All in all this points to a fatigued group for the final tests. It is possible to speculate that the KD group was less fatigued because the performed at a lower rate during the week or two of keto adaptation and stored up strength during that period. They show less signs of fatigue.

Issues with the study

  • One of the issues is that the performance tests were performed after fasting for 12-hours. That seems like a unlikely scenario which greatly benefits the Lower Carb cohort. In a more likely scenario both groups would have followed their diet.
  • There seems to have been no test such as RER or even measurements of urine ketones to verify ketosis in the Low Carb cohort.
  • The High School students were given lists of foods to eat. There were no food logs and no verification of compliance. There was no dietary analysis at all.
  • Muscle endurance was done by seeing how many situps could be done in 60 seconds.
  • There was no control group in diet.
  • The standard deviation bars on the data were much bigger than the change effects.

Taekwondo is characterized as:

a comprehensive physical exercise involving high intensity movement of the muscles and joints of the whole body at the mean 85–95% HR-max

Yet, I can’t find an explanation of the time duration of Taekwondo.

 

Volek Talks about the FASTER Study

A video from 2015 where Dr. Volek talks about the FASTER Study (Jeff S. Volek, Daniel J. Freidenreich, Catherine Saenz, Laura J. Kunces, Brent C. Creighton, Jenna M. Bartley, Patrick M. Davitt, Colleen X. Munoz, Jeffrey M. Anderson, Carl M. Maresh, Elaine C. Lee, Mark D. Schuenke, Giselle Aerni, William J. Kraemer, Stephen D. Phinney. Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metabolism, Volume 65, Issue 3, March 2016, Pages 100-110.).

  1. Fat adapted athletes become “bonk proof” (see my post about that).
  2. Group of ultra-runners.
  3. More athletes volunteered than could be tested.
  4. Matched groups.
  5. LCD group was 70-20-10 F-P-C.
  6. HCD group was 25-15-60 P-F-C.
  7. Day 2 was three hours at 65% of VO2max (see my post about that). He later stated it ended up being at 64% of VO2max.
  8. They thought peak fat oxidation would be lower due to other studies documenting lower rates. They could have told from any low carb VO2max test that the peak rates were higher in Low Carb dieters.
  9. It looks as if they picked the 65% number based on this study (Achten J1, Gleeson M, Jeukendrup AE. Determination of the exercise intensity that elicits maximal fat oxidation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Jan;34(1):92-7.).
  10. Volek showed the same graph from the VESPA article with the shift up and to the right of the fat oxidation curve (see my post about that).
  11. The statistically identical glycogen levels before, after and at the end of recovery were a surprise to Volek (as they are to me). Does fat allow the glycogen stores to refill? He thinks there is a chronic adaptation in LC athletes. It isn’t likely to be peripheral insulin resistance since the athlete’s muscles were biopsied to measure the glycogen levels, right? Alaskan sled dogs may provide a clue?
  12. Athletes were on LC for an average of 19 months.
  13. Gene expression differences between the two groups still being analyzed. Glycogen metabolism gene differences.
  14. LDL Cholesterol levels were much higher in LC athletes. HDL was also much higher in LC athletes.
  15. LDL Particle distributions were better in LC athletes (fewer smaller and more large LDL).
  16. Insulin Resistance scores were much better in LC athletes (top 1% of population).
  17. Half the high carb athletes have switched to low carb diet after the study.