Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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MCTs increase cyclists' stamina

MCTs increase cyclists' stamina
Endurance athletes can extend their stamina by taking 6 grams of MCTs every day for a couple of weeks, conclude researchers at the Sino-Japanese Nisshin OilliO Group from a trial they did with eight students. The MCTs save carbohydrates and increase fat oxidation.

MCTs are ordinary fats: globules of glycerol with three fatty acid chains attached. What's special about MCTs is the length of the fatty acid chains. They are medium length, so not as long as most fatty acids in our diets. Medium-length fatty acids are found in coconut oil. And Asian companies with coconut plantations, like the Nisshin OilliO Group, are constantly coming up with new MCT products that they claim have ergogenic or health promoting effects.

The researchers gave their test subjects a meal every day for two weeks that contained 6 g MCTs. That's half a tablespoon. The MCTs consisted of three-quarters octanoic acid (C8) and one quarter decanoic acid (C10). When the two weeks were up the students did a cycle test in the lab. They did a five-minute warming up at forty percent of their VO2max and then cycled for as long as they could at 80 percent of their VO2max. In another trial the students did the same, but that time they had not taken MCTs.

The figure below shows that the students performed better in the exhaustion trial. They held out for a number of minutes longer.

MCTs increase cyclists' stamina

When they looked at the subjects' blood, the researchers learned why the MCT group held out for longer: the subjects burned more fat and less carbohydrates.

MCTs increase cyclists' stamina

There's a simple explanation for why MCTs have a performance-enhancing effect. The 'heads' of the fatty acids [the hooks with which the fatty acids are attached to the glycerol globules] release energy to the cells more easily than the tails do. All fatty acids have the same head, but the length and structure of their tails vary. The shorter the tail of a fatty acid, the more readily the fatty acid provides energy.

Even shorter than MCTs are the short fatty acid chains, the SCFAs. The shortest fatty acids of all in the body are made by micro-organisms in the gut when they convert indigestible sugar chains. If MCTs really work as well as the coconut oil sellers at the Nisshin OilliO Group would have us believe, then a diet that is rich in indigestible sugar chains is perhaps even more interesting.

Indigestible sugar chains are found in unripe bananas for example.

J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2009 Apr;55(2):120-5.

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