Why Medium-Chain Triglycerides Are an Athlete’s Best Friend


Fat contributes heavily to brain development, communication between nerve cells, insulation and protection of sensitive tissues, and of course, energy storage, making it ideal for athletes and non-athletes alike.

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in particular aptly model this “renaissance nutrient’s” abilities to help out with tons of vital processes in the body.

Athletes are warming up to MCTs for their weight-loss-promoting (yes, weight-loss-promoting), endurance-improving, and diet-facilitating effects.

But can these increasingly popular supplements speak over the hype with actual evidence, or are MCTs yet another legless trend in the fast-paced sports supplement frontier?

First, a more thorough introduction.

What Are MCTs?

Keeping the organic chemistry to a bearable minimum, medium-chain triglycerides are a type of fat molecule containing 6-12 carbon atoms, as opposed to long-chain (13-21 carbons) or short-chain (fewer than 6 carbons) triglycerides.

Thanks to their smaller construction, MCTs are broken down and absorbed more efficiently than long-chain triglycerides, which translates to a faster conversion to usable energy.

This type of triglyceride is found in palm kernel oil, coconut oil, and less abundantly in dairy products like butter and whole milk.

Classifying MCTs as “fat burners” is a bit of a narrow stance to take for a number of reasons, but in certain situations, it has been empirically proven to promote not only weight loss, but healthy shifts in cholesterol as well.

Why Are MCTs Important for Athletes?

Exercise endurance benefits are not unique to this type of fat alone, but MCTs are unique from their molecular neighbors in that they can provide this benefit with the added bonus of weight loss.

How on earth can fat promote weight loss, and why are MCTs used for keto and intermittent fasting?

A tour through the eyebrow-raising evidence will elucidate these seemingly contradictory claims.

Enhanced Exercise Endurance

MCTs facilitate the creation and function of what many people refer to as “the powerhouse of the cell,” or the mitochondria.

After being put through a two-week treadmill-training gauntlet, during which they were supplemented with MCTs, the mice in this Second Military Medical University of Shanghai study showed significantly improved exercise endurance as compared to the placebo group.

The authors went on to attribute this effect to the “increased mitochondrial biogenesis and metabolism by MCT in vivo.”

This means that MCTs facilitate the creation and function of what many people refer to as “the powerhouse of the cell,” or the mitochondria.

Mitochondria are organelles found within our cells that contribute heavily to the breakdown and use of fuels like glucose and fatty acids, and when they’re functioning at a high efficiency, mitochondria can promote muscle hypertrophy by providing a steady source of raw fuel in the form of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.

This is how MCTs promote exercise endurance–by providing a fuel source formulated to enhance energy production on the cellular level.

Lower Body Weight and Blood Lipids in Rats

Classifying MCTs as “fat burners” is a bit of a narrow stance to take for a number of reasons, but in certain situations, it has been empirically proven to promote not only weight loss, but healthy shifts in cholesterol as well.

In this study from Taipei Medical University, rats with artificially induced type 2 diabetes demonstrated lower body weights and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol) counts after switching from a soybean oil diet to an MCT diet.

It’s important to note that, despite highly disparate outcomes in body weight after eight weeks of their respective diets, the soybean oil and MCT groups were still consuming the same amount of calories.

This confirms what the previous finding about endurance implied: MCTs are a highly efficient fuel source.

Since these molecules were so efficiently broken down and used by the body, there was little fat left to store, hence the changes in body composition under constant caloric intake.

Pairs Well With Gym-Friendly Diets

The keto diet has seen its fair share of controversy as a jumbled throng of athletes, dietitians, and everyday folk continue to weigh in with their expert opinions or personal experiences.

Put simply, the goal of the keto diet is to activate a shift in metabolism (nutritional ketosis) that allows fats to be used as a fuel source, not carbs.

Dropping carbs altogether is a much harder undertaking than it sounds, and many keto dieters experience physical and mental struggles along the way.

Regardless of the controversy that keto finds itself steeped in to this day, many who commit to the diet have found that MCT oils are extremely helpful in keeping their energy levels up, especially during the first few days.

It turns out that wave of support was not unfounded, because MCTs can improve “time to nutritional ketosis” and “symptoms of keto-induction,” per an AUT University of Auckland, New Zealand trial.

At the conclusion of this 28-participant trial, the authors found that a higher percentage of MCT group subjects achieved nutritional ketosis in the first three days than the long-chain-triglyceride groups.

Authors also found that MCT group participants scored better on a “keto-induction symptom questionnaire” that screened for headaches, diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, cramps, weakness, focus issues, and other problems correlated with the transition to nutritional ketosis.

Keto or not, medium-chain-triglycerides are a well-deserved fixture of the avid exerciser’s diet, but speaking of, what’s the easiest way to get them?

Streamline MCT Intake with an Industry-Leading Supplement

Since it would take a medically inadvisable quantity of milk and/or butter to achieve the physiologically necessary level of MCTs, we highly recommend supplementation for anyone looking to start a regular program.

Outside of the limited amount you can sensibly derive from diet, the best way to support MCT consumption is with a supplement that provides both MCTs and fiber.

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Fiber fuels the production of short-chain fatty acids, a type of fat produced by the benevolent bacteria in our stomachs.

Together, MCTs and SCFAs can contest carbohydrates for energy production, and Americans are desperately behind on fiber as it is.

 As such, the best all-around supplement for athletes and/or dieters of all types is Zhou Nutrition MCT Powder.

This lab-verified supplement provides four grams of coconut-oil-derived MCT powder and four grams of water-soluble fiber (gum acacia) per serving, without maltodextrin or artificial additives.

Zhou Nutrition MCT Powder is naturally easy to digest and already pleasant on the palate—it’s fat, after all.

Zhou Nutrition MCT Powder
Zhou Nutrition MCT Powder
  • Description

    Highly absorbable medium-chain triglyceride supplement for low-carb energy.

  • Ingredients

    Medium Chain Triglycerides Oil powder [(Derived from Coconut Oil), Gum Acacia (as goMCT)].

Simply mix into a beverage or a dish, and you’ll have access to a steady source of MCTs.

With all that lifting, running, or whatever else you’re doing, a tasty and effective supplement just might make the difference between plateauing and pushing through the next barrier.

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