If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes in the keto and LCHF world you will mostly likely have heard the term MCT or MCT oil thrown around (a lot!). And while a lot of low-carbers consume MCT oil regularly, based on the discussion we’ve recently had within the community there still seems to be a lot of confusion about what it is and why it should be consumers.
So, in an attempt to demystify the topic, we’ve put together a simple explanation below. So, grab a strong coffee (preferably with some MCT!) and strap in for a one-pager on the ins and outs of MCT oil.
Ok, time for Physiology 101 – Energy Utilization (does this bring back any uni nightmares?). The human body needs energy 24/7. We use energy when we move, breath and even sleep. The powerhouse/power-plants within our bodies are the mitochondria – they are like little cells within our cells. The mitochondria release the energy from our food into a form that can be used by the entire body. This process involves something called cellular respiration and while I won’t bore you to death a with the actual process, I will say that it is at this point that glucose (the breakdown of carbs and sugars) is extremely important and is the primary food-derived energy driver.
But what happens when you are on a low carb high fat or ketogenic diet and are consuming a very limited amount of carbohydrates? Well, at this stage two remarkable things happen: 1) your primary source of dietary fuel for your body’s energy needs shifts from carbohydrates to fats; and 2) in addition to this, your body actually manufactures some of the glucose that you need for cellular respiration.
That first point is so important. It’s why people following a ketogenic diet end up losing body fat. Their primary source of energy is derived from fat – fat that is consumed and fat that is stored in their bodies (hence the body fat loss). But before fats can be utilized for energy they need to be converted into a form that can be taken up by our cells i.e.: fat needs to be converted into ketones. This is clearly an oversimplification, but on point enough to frame what happens in the body.
Now for those following a regular carbohydrate-rich diet, high carbohydrate foods, sugar and glucose in particular are typical energy sources. Performance athletes use glucose gels and drinks for an instant energy hit. Endurance athlete will carb-load to get them through their event. Students consume a copious amount of chocolate while they cram for an exam. The take out is that carbs are the go to energy foods.
Back to ketones and MCT - For those following a ketogenic diet, fats (and therefore ketones by extension) are the main energy source. But what happens when you need to have an additional burst of energy? You certainly can pick up a glucose gel! This is where MCT oil comes in. MCT stands for Medium ChainTriglycerides. It is a fat in a form of a liquid oil or a fat coating a carrier powder (for MCT oil powder) that can more easily be taken up by the body and converted to ketones. Many MCT products available for sale are derived from coconuts. The key to the MCT oil is in the length of the fat molecule… the shorter the fat molecule chain the easier and quicker it is for your body to take up and utilize. This shorter chain rich oil will have a lot of the “C6” chains. The longer the chain (e.g.: “C10”) the longer it takes for the fat to be absorbed and converted into ketones. Hence oils rich in C6 will provide for a rapid energy burst while C10 rich formulations will provide for a longer and more sustained energy source.
So, which is the right MCT oil or MCT oil powder for you? Well that depends what you’re after. If you want or need a quick energy kick then clearly C6 rich MCT oils are what you’re after (think of this as a keto alternate to a glucose gel shot). If you need a more enduring source of energy then look for MCT oils that have a good balance of C10 chains.
Whatever you’re after from an energy source, we hope the above helps to demystify the plethora of options available.