If you’ve found yourself on any ketogenic diet forums full of fat-loving people, you’ve likely heard of MCT oil. It’s also now a fixture at health food shops so you may have seen the stuff while shopping for quinoa or almond butter. As with many trending foods, fans of MCT oil boast about its numerous health benefits including rapid weight loss, improved athletic performance, and better brainpower.
If you believe the hype you might be wondering if spooning it up can help you ditch a few pesky pounds or get to the finish line quicker. Does MCT oil work? How much do I need? Is this just another supplement fad that will do little more than deliver liquid calories? Read on for what triathletes need to know about MCT oil.
What Exactly Are MCTs?
“MCT” is an abbreviation for the oil’s chemical structure: medium-chain triglycerides. “Medium-chain” refers to the chemical arrangement of the carbon atoms and, depending upon the number of carbon atoms in a chain, are classified as short, medium, or long chain.
MCTs contain three main types of fatty acids: lauric, capric, and caprylic acids. All are classified as medium-chain, but lauric is a somewhat longer chain than the others. Most often, the MCT products on store shelves are derived from processing coconut oil or palm kernel oil, which contain varying amounts of these fats. In contrast, foods such as avocado, nuts, fish and olive oil contain long-chain triglycerides.
The length of the fatty acid chain determines the digestion process and what makes MCTs unique is the way the body breaks them down. Compared to other fats, digesting MCTs is much faster and simpler. They do not require bile or pancreatic enzymes—therefore, they are delivered more quickly to the liver where they are metabolized and used for energy, according to this study in the Clinical Nutrition Journal. That makes MCTs more likely to be oxidized into energy rather than stored as fat when compared to longer-chain fatty acids.