- Q&A Columns
- Contest Photos
- Contest News
- Athlete Profiles
- Product Reviews
How To Choose The Right MCT Oil
Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are rapid-digesting fats and oils that athletes, fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders have been using since the nineties. Now, purposely increasing fat intake sounds like the exact opposite of what we’ve all been told to do for many years, but MCTs aren’t ordinary fats. Let us explain. Supplementing with fats such as MCTs can help you meet your fat macronutrient requirements when following a low-carb, high-protein Paleo or Keto diet, but MCTs are metabolized differently than the traditional long-chain fats commonly found in the diet.
Where Do MCT Oils Come From?
MCT oil is extracted from coconut oil or palm oil, but it can also be found in small amounts in other foods, including milk and butter. Coconut oil is approximately 54 percent MCT oil, whereas palm oil is roughly 50 percent MCT oil. Milk and butter contain trace amounts of MCTs and therefore aren’t commonly used to manufacture MCT oils. Walk into any health-food store and you’ll see that MCT oil is most often found in a liquid form, but it’s also available as a powder form, making it far more versatile and able to be included in powered supplements, bars, foods and snacks. But like all supplements, there’s a huge degree of variance in the quality of MCT oil supplements on the market and a lack of proper lab testing. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous companies have been known to cut corners and reduce costs by selling ordinary coconut or palm oil but label it as MCT oil! The two are very different, and so are their effects in your body metabolically. Unless you lab test the oil, you would never know the difference. But assuming you’re using a reputable brand of MCT oil, here’s the real deal on how to choose the right MCT supplement and a bit of the chemistry of MCTs and their benefits.
What are MCTs?
MCTs are constructed of three medium-length fatty acid chains attached to a glycerol backbone. These chains can range between 6 and 12 carbons in length, while short-chain fatty acids (SCTs) are made up of 1 to 5 carbons and long-chain fatty acids (LCTs), which make up the majority of the fat in our diet, contain more than 12 carbons. The most common MCTs are caproic acid (C6), caprylic acid (C8), capric acid (C10) and lauric acid (C12). Of these MCTs, the most functional when it comes to supplementation are C8 and C10. These two MCTs have a high ketogenicity, which means they convert to ketone bodies readily. This action is specific to MCTs and doesn’t occur with LCTs. Extraction of MCT oil yields a combination of C8 and C10, with minimal amounts of C12 and exclusion of C6 because of its unpleasant taste and smell. C6 MCTs also cause a burning sensation in your throat when you swallow them, as well as upset stomach and heartburn, which is why athletes cannot tolerate them. C8 MCTs are the fastest metabolizing MCTs that are also extremely well tolerated, making them the ideal fuel source. Look for your MCT oil to have the highest amount of C8 possible, and if the product you’re using doesn’t disclose the breakdown of C8, C10 and C12, choose another brand that does. C8Vantage by NNB Nutrition is 95 percent C8 and is the most highly concentrated source of C8 commercially available. NNB Nutrition doesn’t sell this to the public, but it has licensed this oil to many supplement companies in the industry.
Metabolism and Function of MCTs
The shorter chain structure of MCTs gives them a caloric value of 8.3 calories per gram compared to approximately 9 calories per gram for traditional LCTs. The unique shorter-chain structure also allows MCTs to have direct transport to the liver, where they can be quickly broken down into glycerol and its fatty acid components.1 These compounds are directly absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to where they’re needed in the body including the muscles and the brain. One of the by-products of this metabolic pathway is the production of ketones, but only when the body is in short supply of its primary energy source, glucose. Ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier and be used as fuel in the absence of glucose.
Additionally, because the structure of MCTs allows for efficient energy utilization by the body, those calories that you might take in from an MCT supplement are far less likely to be stored as fat. Functionally, MCTs may regulate or play a role in many biological pathways that affect hunger and appetite, energy expenditure and fat oxidation.2
Coconut Oil vs. Different Grades of MCT Oil
Ketogenic diets require strict restriction of carbohydrates and a high amount of fat to switch the body into ketosis. MCT supplementation can help meet the daily requirements for fat but also help effectively boost ketosis. Not all MCT oil contains the dose of C8 that you’re looking for, but does this make a difference in your ability to burn fat and get into ketosis? Researchers compared the ketogenic effects of various supplements containing MCTs. One study compared the acute ketogenic effects of coconut oil (3 percent MCT C8, 5 percent MCT C10), typical MCT oil (55 percent MCT C8, 35 percent MCT C10), caprylic acid triglycerides (95 percent MCT C8), capric acid triglycerides (95 percent MCT C10), coconut oil plus MCT C8 and MCT C10, and, finally, coconut oil plus MCT C8.3 This was a crossover study, where each participant received two 20 millilitre doses of test oils, one at breakfast and one at lunchtime. Blood was tested every 30 minutes for the concentration of acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate, which are two ketone bodies.
Results showed that the caprylic acid triglycerides (95 percent MCT C8) or C8 had the highest ketogenicity, delivering the highest level of plasma ketone—813 percent to 870 percent higher than control values. This was also found to be 300 percent higher levels of plasma ketone than coconut oil, 255 percent higher than capric acid triglycerides (95 percent MCT C10) or C10 and 21 to 26 percent higher than regular MCT value.3 This study showed that C8 has the highest net ketogenic effects when comparing different MCT supplements. NNB Nutrition C8Vantage contains 95 percent C8 MCTs, which is the exact same amount of C8 tested in this study.
MCTs Increase Satiety & Reduce Food Intake
In another study, the consumption of MCTs was compared to LCTs for reducing food intake and increasing satiety.4 Researchers tested 29 participants, completing four trials including consumption of breakfast with either MCT or LCT in solid format or consuming a liquid form of the same. They measured appetite ratings, gastric emptying (GE) and ad libitum energy intake (that is, how much participants chose to eat). Energy intake was lowest in those who consumed the MCT liquid format; there was also significant difference in gastric emptying with MCT liquid.
This research showed that MCT results in greater satiety and reduction in subsequent food intake at an ad libitum lunch and over a 24-hour period. A liquid meal containing LCT increased energy intake by 15 percent compared to its solid LCT counterpart, and MCT provided in liquid form resulted in a non-significant decrease in overall energy intake by 11 percent over the course of one day compared to the same meal consumed in solid form. The liquid MCT meal also led to a 17 percent reduced energy intake compared to an iso-caloric LCT meal. This may be mediated by a delay in gastric emptying.
A study on chickens compared the impact of MCT on food intake with the effect of LCT supplementation.5 The chickens received diets containing 200 grams of MCT C8 per kilogram, 200 grams of MCT C10 per kilogram or 200 grams of LCT per kilogram. The cumulative food intake was determined during 6 hours after feeding. The study showed a significant reduction in food intake with the C8 diet compared with the LCT diet. The MCT C8 diet enhanced plasma cholecystokinin (CCK), which is a peptide hormone of the gastrointestinal system responsible for stimulating the digestion of fat and protein. When CCK levels rise, appetite is reduced.
Higher Beta-Oxidation with C8 MCTs
Beta-oxidation is a metabolic process by which fatty acids are broken down into useable energy. Beta-oxidation breaks down longer fatty acid chains that have been converted into acetyl-CoA chains into smaller acetyl-CoA chains. When MCTs are broken down in the body via beta-oxidation, they result in the formation of ketones. Therefore, higher beta-oxidation results in higher potential ketone production.
To take this one step further, another study examined the neuro-protective mechanisms of a ketogenic diet that contained both C8 and C10.6 The researchers measured the beta-oxidation rate of 13C-labeled C8 and C10 in neuronal cells using isotope-ratio mass spectrometry. The study found the beta-oxidation rate of C8 was four times higher than that of C10. In addition, C10 beta-oxidation was reduced in the presence of C8. This study showed that C8 has higher potential ketogenicity to yield more ketones than just average MCTs that you would find on the shelf.
MCTs Increase Athletic Performance
Because MCTs metabolize and can be used to generate energy quickly, supplementation of MCTs was tested on energy metabolism during exercise. Subjects were given either MCTs or LCTs for a two-week period and then performed cycle ergometer exercise at a workload corresponding to 60 percent peak VO2 for 40 minutes, followed by a workload corresponding to 80 percent peak VO2 until exhaustion.7 Exercise time to exhaustion at 80 percent workload was significantly longer in the MCT trial (10.2 +/- 7.6 minutes) than in the LCT (5.8 +/- 3.3 minutes). Lactate levels were also significantly lower after ingestion of MCT. In addition, fat oxidation rate was higher and carbohydrate oxidation rate was lower during exercise in the MCT trial than in the LCT trial. The study showed that short-term ingestion of MCT could reduce lactate levels and extend duration of subsequent high-intensity exercise at higher levels than those achieved by ingestion of LCT.
Why C8 MCTs are Most Effective
Based on the research surrounding MCTs, the most effective MCT would be C8 based on its ketogenicity, as well as based on its ability to increase satiety, reduce energy intake, increase fat oxidation and enhance exercise endurance. A pure C6 MCT oil would metabolize even faster into ketones, but as we said earlier, it will burn your throat and stomach and cause gastrointestinal upset. So the best options are C8 MCTs. Most MCT products on the market today contain a blend of C8 and C10 MCTs, as well as the cheaper C12. Among the liquid MCT oils, most contains only 55 percent C8.
Among the powdered versions, most contain 60 to 70 percent MCT with the remaining powder being made of dairy protein and maltodextrin! That’s what forms the actual powder itself. You think you’re cutting carbs taking MCT powder, but you’re actually consuming pure maltodextrin unknowingly! But the good news is that NNB Nutrition has found a way to replace maltodextrin with a prebiotic made from tapioca fibre that has no impact on blood glucose or insulin.
C8Vantage MCTs: The World’s Most Effective MCT Powder
As we mentioned, NNB Nutrition has developed a unique form of MCTs called C8Vantage, which is derived from sustainably sourced palm kernel oil. C8Vantage is manufactured using a proprietary technology that removes most of the C10 and C12 as well as any other LCT. The result is a 95 percent pure C8 MCT powder! C8Vantage would therefore offer the highest ketogenic effects, increase satiety to suppress food intake and enhance fat oxidation compared to other inferior MCT powders or oils. C8Vantage also helps improve mental focus and clarity. C8Vantage also comes in a vegan powder format that uses plant-based proteins (pea protein) and tapioca fibre as to form the powder itself. This makes C8Vantage 100 percent vegan and dairy free and suitable to most diets. This unique composition has no impact on blood glucose or insulin, allowing for a high production of ketones in the body.
What Dose of C8Vantage Should You Use?
When it comes to dosing, it’s best to start slow with any MCTs, as they can cause stomach distress if you’re not used to them or if you use too much at once. Start by adding one serving of C8Vantage to your coffee or a protein shake.
Once you’ve assessed your body’s tolerance, the dose can be slowly increased. But remember, not all MCTs are created equally, and some are actually nothing more than cheap coconut oil mislabeled as MCTs. Look for the C8Vantage logo on the label next time you pick up an MCT oil powder supplement and you will know that you’re getting the highest quality MCT commercially available.
For more information on NNB Nutrition, C8Vantage or any of NNB Nutrition’s other high-quality ingredients, visit www.nnbnutrition.com
References:1. Papamandjaris AA, et al. Medium chain fatty acid metabolism and energy expenditure: obesity treatment implications. Life Sci. 1998. 62: 1203–1215. 2. Wang Y, et al. Medium Chain Triglycerides enhances exercise endurance through the increased mitochondrial biogenesis and metabolism. PLOS. 2018. 3. Vandenberghe C, St Pierre V, Pierotti T. Tricaprylin alone increase plasma ketone response more than coconut oil or other medium-chain triglycerides: an acute crossover study in healthy adults. Curr Dev Nutr. 2017. 1(4): e000257. 4. Maher T, et al. Food intake and satiety response after medium-chain triglycerides ingested as solid or liquid. Nutrients. 2019. 11(7): 1638. 5. Furuse M, Mabayo R T, Choi Y H, et al. Feeding behavior in chickens given diets containing medium chain triglyceride. 1993. British Poultry Science. 34(1): 211-217. 6. Khabbush A, Orford M, Tsai YC, et al. Neuronal decanoic acid oxidation is markedly lower than that of octanoic acid: A mechanistic insight into the medium chain triglyceride ketogenic diet. Epilepsia. 2017. 58(8): 1423. 7. Nosaka N, et al. Effect of ingestion of medium chain triacylglycerols on moderate and high intensity exercise in recreational athletes. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol. 2009. 55(2): 120-5.