Exogenous ketones are one of the most well-known (and controversial) supplements among keto followers. Some of the most frequent doubts concern their necessity and even if they can stall weight loss.
You don’t need exogenous ketones to get into ketosis, but they may help with some of the transition symptoms. And they absolutely don’t stall fat loss.
Since most people are interested in the ketogenic diet because of its weight loss benefits, it’s important to know all the facts about exogenous ketones and how exactly they work in your body.
Exogenous ketones are a supplemental variation of the ketones naturally produced by your body during carbohydrate restriction or starvation.
Ketones, or ketone bodies, are energy molecules produced by your liver when blood glucose is low as a result of fasting, carbohydrate restriction, or the ingestion of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
Ketones made inside your body are referred to as endogenous ketones (endo-means internal), while ketones made outside of your body are exogenous (exo- means external).
It’s important to note that simply consuming ketones supplements (either in powder or capsule form) is not the same thing as following the keto diet. But it can provide some support to a healthy keto lifestyle. That might mean boosting your energy before a workout, improving cognitive function, and increasing overall energy.
The main ketone in exogenous ketone supplements is beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). During nutritional ketosis, BHB is the main energy source your body runs on.
When you take exogenous ketones, your blood ketone levels increase slightly — even if you’re not in nutritional ketosis. This increase in blood ketones provides some of the benefits of actual ketosis, including increased energy, mental clarity, appetite suppression, and more.
However, taking exogenous ketones doesn’t mean you’re automatically in ketosis. You can’t have a ketones drink while on a high-carb diet and expect to see the long-term benefits of a ketogenic state. That said, there are many ways that exogenous ketone supplements can support healthy weight loss and more.
Exogenous ketones have three strategic uses:
#1: They Mimic Nutritional Ketosis
The main goal of exogenous ketones is to mimic a state of nutritional ketosis. A common misunderstanding is that ketone esters or ketone salts can get you into ketosis. That’s not exactly true.
Instead, they temporarily raise the levels of ketones in your blood, resulting in some of the physical and mental benefits of nutritional ketosis.
By temporarily raising your blood ketones, BHB powder or capsules can[*]:
- Increase mental clarity and focus.
- Boost your energy.
- Aid in weight loss by suppressing appetite and increasing energy.
#2: Supporting Your System After a Carb Binge
Not everyone can follow a very strict, low-carb, high-fat diet 24/7. But anyone who’s been in ketosis for a while knows that when you get kicked out of ketosis, it can take a while to get back in.
Exogenous ketones can help. Because ketone salts and esters can boost your energy and lessen your appetite, taking a scoop or two of exogenous ketones can help mitigate some of the symptoms that come after a carb binge.
If you eat too many carbs or go on a weekend bender, using an exogenous ketones supplement or ketones drink can help to support your energy as you transition back into ketosis.
#3: Supporting Keto Flu Symptoms
When your body swaps carbohydrates for fat as its main fuel source, there can be a lot of unwanted side effects. This is called the “keto flu” and usually includes symptoms like:
- Low energy
This happens for a couple of reasons. One is dehydration and the corresponding electrolyte loss[*]. But another reason is that your body is in between burning carbs and burning ketones, and hasn’t become efficient at producing ketones from your fat stores yet.
The good news is that you can use exogenous ketones to bridge the gap. While your body is getting used to make its own ketones, you can supply it with exogenous ketones (such as your favorite ketones drink) to lighten keto flu symptoms.
One common misconception is that taking ketone supplements will induce instantaneous weight loss. The truth is that while they’re helpful, ketones are only one piece of the puzzle in your weight loss journey.
Keep in mind that exogenous ketones are supplements, and therefore should be supplementary to a low-carb ketogenic lifestyle.
Exogenous ketones don’t trigger weight loss and they won’t put you into ketosis. Only a low-carb diet or fasting (such as intermittent fasting) will do that.
However, they can temporarily increase your blood ketone levels and provide some physical and mental benefits for the short term.
Some of these benefits are helpful when it comes to weight loss.
It’s also important to mention that being in a state of ketosis doesn’t automatically mean you’ll lose weight.
Why You May Not Be Losing Weight With Keto Salts
A ketogenic diet can help you burn fat and maintain or gain muscle. However, your weight loss success depends on more factors than just being in a ketogenic state.
You can be in deep nutritional ketosis and experience an increase in body fat percentage, or vice-versa. It all depends on your activity levels, macronutrient ratios, and calorie intake.
Exogenous ketones are an effective tool to temporarily raise your blood ketone levels and boost your energy. More energy and a decrease in appetite can help you lose weight.
But they aren’t a one-stop-shop. In order to lose weight sustainably, you’ll need to follow a healthy ketogenic diet, focus on nutrient-dense foods, exercise, and manage your stress levels and sleep quality.
If you’re doing everything right, taking exogenous ketones, and still not seeing any weight loss, you may want to try tweaking your macros:
- When gaining body fat on a ketogenic diet: Eat less dietary fat, or look at your caloric intake.
- If you are not in ketosis and not losing weight: Eat fewer carbs and increase fat and protein.
- You’re losing weight but feeling fatigued: Eat more protein and fat, and make sure you’re getting enough calories.
Supplementing with exogenous ketones can also help by increasing energy levels and curbing cravings.
The bottom line is, when you understand how exogenous ketones work and have realistic expectations about them, they can help you lose weight and be healthier.
Ketones help with your transition into ketosis because they mitigate some of the nasty symptoms of the keto flu. But they won’t “get you into ketosis.” Instead, use ketone salts and esters to support your healthy transition into nutritional ketosis.
Here’s how it works:
- You start by restricting carbs and adopting a ketogenic diet.
- As you’re transitioning into ketosis, you can take an exogenous ketone supplement to support your energy levels and help suppress appetite.
- Once you’re in ketosis, it’s likely you’ll start losing weight — a lot at first due to water weight loss, then a steady amount of stored body fat over time.
- If you’re not losing weight, you can try tweaking your macronutrient ratios.
- When you start losing weight, it’s because your body is burning through your fat stores, increasing ketone production and using them for energy.
- When you’re in ketosis, you can still use exogenous ketones in between meals, as a pre-workout drink, or for more mental clarity.
Exogenous ketones can support your ketogenic diet and your health goals, but they’re not a quick fix or a complete solution in and of themselves.
Use them in addition to a properly formulated, healthy ketogenic diet, not as a standalone supplement.
- Don’t assume taking ketones will induce weight loss by itself.
- Do use ketones to help you on your ketogenic diet if you’ve done your homework.
- Do make a plan of what and how much you want to eat for your goals and stick to it.