In the last few years, exogenous ketones (specifically, ketone salts and ketone esters) have become a popular way to get into ketosis — a state in which your body burns fat for fuel instead of carbs.
Exogenous ketone supplements are a great way to:
- Increase mental clarity and focus
- Increase energy and physical performance
- Burn more fat
- Decrease hunger
- Decrease inflammation
Exogenous ketones are great for almost everyone. If you eat carbs, ketone salts or esters can give you some of the benefits of keto without the carb restriction.
And if you’re already on a ketogenic diet and you want an extra boost, ketone supplements can help.
There are two main kinds of exogenous ketones: ketone salts and ketone esters. While both products can get you in ketosis, there are some differences between the two.
In this article, you’ll learn about the different kinds of ketone supplements, the benefits of a keto diet versus exogenous ketones, and how to use exogenous ketones. First off, here’s a quick explanation of what ketones are.
What Are Ketones?
Ketones are little bundles of fuel that your body makes when it burns fat.
On a standard diet, your cells use glucose (sugar) for energy. But if you eat a ketogenic diet — cutting out carbs so your body doesn’t have any glucose to use for energy — you’ll start to burn fat as your main energy source.
When you’re in ketosis (burning fat for fuel), your liver breaks fat down into energy-rich ketone bodies, then sends them through your bloodstream to fuel your cells.
There are three main ketone bodies your liver makes when it breaks down fat:
- Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
Forget about acetone for now and focus on BHB and acetoacetate — your energy ketones.
Here’s how the fat-burning process works[*]:
- You start a ketogenic diet
- Your body breaks up fat stores (triglycerides) and releases free fatty acids
- Beta-oxidation of free fatty acids (fat burning) ensues
- Acetoacetate, a ketone body, is formed from beta-oxidation
- Acetoacetate is converted to beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) and acetone
- BHB is converted back to acetoacetate
- Acetoacetate is converted to acetyl-CoA
- Your cells use acetyl-CoA to produce energy in the form of ATP (cell metabolism)
Don’t worry about all the hairy details though. Big takeaway? Burning fat in ketosis generates BHB (a ketone), which leads to ATP (energy) production.
Eating a Keto Diet Changes Your Metabolism
Eating keto changes your metabolism in a lot of different ways. Perhaps the two most beneficial ones are:
- Steady, low blood sugar
- Increased fat metabolism
Blood sugar first. You want your blood sugar as steady as possible, and you generally want it to be low, too. If you’ve ever eaten lots of sweets or refined carbs, you know what high blood sugar does to you — you get a rush of energy, followed by a big sugar crash, crankiness, low energy, and so on. On keto, your blood sugar stays steady throughout the day, giving you stable, consistent energy.
You also want your blood sugar to be stable for health reasons. High blood sugar is linked to a variety of chronic conditions, including:
Eating a keto diet also increases the amount of fat you burn. You burn dietary fat (from food) first, but anytime you don’t have dietary fat in your system, you’ll switch right to burning body fat.
That’s one of the biggest reasons why a keto diet is so effective for weight loss.
Benefits of Exogenous Ketone Supplements
Exogenous ketones don’t give you the full spectrum of benefits that a ketogenic diet does. That said, exogenous ketones are powerful supplements with a lot of useful effects:
- Reduced hunger and weight loss. Ketones suppress appetite, whether you get them from a keto diet or from a ketone supplement. Taking exogenous ketones can help you curb your hunger, which makes them a valuable tool for weight loss [*].
- Mental focus. Your brain thrives on ketones — so much so that Alzheimer’s researchers have begun using exogenous ketones to relieve symptoms of neurodegeneration [*]. There’s no good research on healthy humans yet, but lots of people report an immediate boost in mental clarity and focus when they take exogenous ketones. Try them out and see how you feel.
- Stable blood sugar (even when you eat carbs). Exogenous ketones increase your glucose tolerance — your ability to process sugar and carbs without them spiking your blood sugar[*].
Ketone Salts vs. Ketone Esters
There are two forms of exogenous ketone supplements: ketone salts and ketone esters. They’re different from one another in a few ways:
- BHB attached to a mineral — usually sodium, potassium or magnesium
- Raises blood levels of an isoform of BHB called l-beta-hydroxybutyrate (l-BHB)
- Longer lasting than ketone esters (in terms of blood ketone levels)
- Less potent than ketone esters (in terms of blood ketone levels)
- Bearable taste
- BHB attached to an alcohol molecule
- Raises blood levels of an isoform of BHB called d-beta-hydroxybutyrate (d-BHB)
- Shorter lasting than ketone salts (in terms of blood ketone levels)
- More potent than ketone salts (in terms of blood ketone levels)
- Potentially unbearable taste
Oxford researchers recently compared the effects of ketone salts and ketone esters. They had healthy subjects drink either ketone salts or a ketone ester drink (sometimes with a meal, sometimes fasted), then measured a variety of biomarkers like free fatty acids, blood glucose, and blood ketone levels[*].
The main difference between the two is duration. Ketone esters give you a shorter, larger spike in ketones, while ketone salts give you a longer-lasting, more moderate spike in ketones.
If you’re about to do a heavy workout and you want some extra energy, you may want to choose ketone esters.
Tips For Trying Exogenous Ketones
Let’s quickly review the benefits of exogenous ketones:
- Better blood glucose response (more glucose shoved into muscle)
- Lower appetite (decreased ghrelin)
- Better insulin sensitivity
- Increased fasting tolerance (thanks to lower appetite)
- Enhanced exercise performance (intense exercise in particular)
- Demonstrated cognitive performance improvements
- Higher plasma BHB levels, which may have additional undiscovered benefits due to metabolic signaling effects[*]
After reading this list, you might want to give exogenous ketones a shot. The most convenient exogenous ketone supplement to get (and to take) are ketone salts.
Perfect Keto Exogenous Ketone Base is a great place to start. It’s delicious, it mixes easily into water, coffee, smoothies, and so on, and it’ll give you an instant boost.
Ketone esters are harder to come by, and it’s tough to manage their taste. You can find them online, though, and some people prefer them.
Can you use exogenous ketones alongside a healthy ketogenic diet?
Absolutely. If you’re in nutritional ketosis, you can use exogenous ketones like a meal replacement when there aren’t any keto snacks around. Or as an energy boost before a workout or a big meeting at work.
Whether you’re deep into ketosis, just starting out on the keto diet, or just want to try exogenous ketones as an energy boost — they’re worth a try.