Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT)
Unique dietary fat offering a range of health and performance-related benefits
- MCT are a special category of fats that are readily broken down and absorbed by the body, yielding a rapid source of energy
- Benefits associated with MCT supplementation include
- increasing energy availability,
- enhance body composition,
- enhancing endurance performance, and
- providing protection against several disease states
- The benefit of MCT is best achieved through supplement rather than dietary form as naturally-occurring dietary sources are fat-/energy-rich food sources (i.e. full-fat dairy and oils) and therefore provide unnecessary excess calories)
MCT are a type of dietary fat that offer a range of health and performance-related benefits when consumed in supplement form, including increased energy availability1,2, increased fat burning2, promoting a decrease in food (energy) intake3,enhanced body composition2,4,5, enhanced endurance performance6,7 and protection against several disease states such as obesity2,4, diabetes3, cardiovascular disease (CVD)4, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy8. Dietary sources rich in MCT are limited but include full-fat dairy, palm kernel oil and coconut oil. However, MCT are also available in supplement form extracted from natural substances such as palm kernel or coconut oils.
Triglycerides consist of three fatty acid molecules attached to a glycerol backbone. These fatty acid molecules are chains of carbon molecules consisting of various lengths. Fatty acids with chain lengths of <6 carbon molecules are short-chain triglycerides (SCT), between 6-12 carbon molecules are medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) and >12 molecules are known as long-chain triglycerides (LCT). The length of these fatty acid molecules has important implications for the breakdown and subsequent rate of availability and use of these energy substrates.
Typical dietary fats (LCT) enter the lymphatic system, which are then transported in the blood to the liver before being available for energy or stored as body fat. However, MCT bypass the lymphatic system and are therefore absorbed and available as an energy source much more rapidly and completely and are therefore also less susceptible to being stored as body fat1. Indeed, MCT are as readily available as carbohydrates for use as an energy source for the body1. Due to their rapid absorption and availability for use (i.e. to be “burned”), MCT (compared to LCT) are therefore less likely to be stored as body fat2. Furthermore, MCTs provide 7 kcal per gram (of readily available energy)5 whereas conventional LCT fats provide 9 kcal per gram (of slowly digested fats that are more inclined to be stored as body fat).
What does the research say?
Current research supports the use of MCT to improve energy availability1,2, decrease body weight (and body fat)2,4 and may also promote weight (muscle) gain2,5, enhance endurance exercise capacity6,7 and help protect against and/or treat several disease states including obesity2,4, cardiovascular disease (CVD)4 and Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy8.
Energy availability : Due to a variety of factors including intestinal absorption and transport into muscle cells, MCT are as readily available for use as carbohydrates1 and therefore prove to be a practical and alternative readily-available source of energy. This is important for endurance performance where the energy demands of athletes are high. Endurance athletes rely upon carbohydrate and fat to fuel exercise demands. Well-trained endurance athletes have an increased capacity to utilise fat as an energy source during exercise9. Compared to LCT, the more rapid breakdown and availability of MCT promotes fat breakdown and use, sparing carbohydrate stores for subsequent and more intense exercise bouts7.
Body composition : MCT (compared to LCT) have been shown to promote body weight (and body fat) loss and facilitate reductions in waist circumference in individuals following calorie-controlled diets2,4. This may be due to one of several reasons. Firstly, energy and fat burning rates are increased following MCT ingestion, when compared to LCT2. Secondly MCT supplementation has been shown to decrease food intake during subsequent meals3. MCT are also less energy-dense (i.e. they have less calories per gram) compared to conventional fats (7 kcal vs. 9 kcal, respectfully)5. Finally, their more rapid breakdown and availability for use means they are more likely to be used as an immediate source of energy rather than be converted and stored as body fat. This may be of particular importance to athletes requiring large energy intakes who are trying to gain or maintain body weight (muscle mass) as MCT may be used to help promote maximal gains in muscle mass while minimising gains in body fat.
Sports performance : Ingestion 6 g MCT for two weeks (compared to LCT) has been shown to enhance endurance performance by improving exercise time to exhaustion6. Furthermore, ingesting carbohydrate in conjunction with MCT (compared to carbohydrate alone) has been shown to enhance endurance performance by promoting an increase in exercise intensity (enhanced time trial performance)7. This may be due to decreased perception of effort during exercise and/or decreased blood lactate concentrations, a by-product of carbohydrate metabolism associated with contributing to fatigue6.
Carbohydrate (namely glucose) is the main energy substrate used to fuel the brains’ energy needs. MCT can also provide an alternative energy source for the brain, which may help to promote enhanced cognitive (brain) performance10. This may be beneficial for athletes requiring to maintain good mental performance (concentration and decision-making ability) during intense, prolonged energy-demanding exercise when energy (carbohydrate) supplies to the brain are low.
Protection against disease : MCT may help to treat and/or manage obesity and CVD as compared to conventional LCT, MCT supplementation has been shown to reduce body weight (and body fat) levels and decrease waist circumference levels4. Addition of MCT to meals may also help to control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes as MCT have been shown to enhance insulin action3. Furthermore when compared to LCT, MCT may also help to improve blood fat profiles (decreased triglycerides (TGs) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-c; i.e. bad fats))4.
Energy (carbohydrate) supply to the brain is impaired in several disease states including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy8. MCT has been shown to be an effective and alternative fuel source for the brain for patients with these conditions8.
What does this mean in practice?
It is recommended to take 5-10g MCT/day for maximal body composition and performance-related benefits11. However, MCT are only found in rich concentrations in full-fat dairy products and certain oils (palm kernel and coconut oils). Due to the limited range of foods providing dietary sources of MCT and due to the benefits associated with MCT for promoting sports performance and health, consuming MCT in supplement form as an adjunct to a healthy, whole foods-based diet is likely to offer the following benefits:
- Weight loss: may help to promote fat loss, particularly for individuals following energy-restricted diets
- Weight/lean body mass gain: help to maximize gains in lean muscle mass while limiting gains in body fat
- Endurance training: helps to spare carbohydrate stores, promoting increased exercise intensity and/or prolonging exercise time to exhaustion. MCT should also be taken in conjunction with carbohydrate before and/or during exercise to maximize MCT use and it’s ability to spare carbohydrate stores12.
- Disease protection/management: supplementation may help to protect against and/or manage several disease states such as obesity, CVD, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.
MCT at ROS Nutrition
MCT at ROS Nutrition are naturally-formulated using coconut and palm kernel oils, providing an optimum amount5 of MCT (7.5g) per serve. They are also highly stable (meaning that they have a longer shelf-life) and are well-tolerated as they practically have no odour or flavour. There are two types of MCT, odd and even MCT. Even-chain and odd-chain MCT are processed by the body via different routes to yield energy. MCT at ROS Nutrition provides a source of both odd and even chain MCT therefore helping to further maximize the rate of energy production.
Find MCT at ROS Nutrition
Medium Chain Triglycerides
- Enhances performance
- Increases energy levels
- Enhances body composition
- Protects against chronic disease states
- Supports body weight/fat losses(also, see above)
- Supports body weight/fat losses (also, see above)
- Increases energy levels
- Supports gains in muscle mass, while minimizing gains in body fat
- Supports gains in strength and power (also, see above)
- Increases energy levels
- Supports gains in muscle mass, while minimizing gains in body fat
- Supports gains in strength and power(also, see above)
*Recommended to take 5-10 g daily, depending on individual needs.
Most people tolerate a dose of up to 1-2 g/kg body mass, although it is recommended to spread this dose out over the duration of the day. However due to the by-products that are generated during MCT breakdown, MCT are contra-indicated for individuals with poorly-controlled diabetes or liver disease. If unsure please ask your doctor for advice before starting to supplement with MCT.
- Bach AC & Babayan VK (1982) Medium-chain triglycerides: an update. Amer Soc Clin Nutr, 36, 950-962.
- St-Onge MP, Ross R, Parsons WD & Jones PJ (2003) Medium-chain triglycerides increase energy expenditure and decrease adiposity in overweight men. Obes Res, 11 (3), 395-402.
- Van Wymelbeke V, Himaya A, Louis-Sylvestre J & Fantino M (1998) Influence of medium-chain and long-chain triacylglycerols on the control of food intake in men. Amer J Clin Nutr, 68, 226-234.
- Zhang Y, Liu Y, Wang J, Zhang R, Jing H, Yu X, Zhang Y, Xu Q, Zhang J, Zheng Z, Nosaka N, Arai C, Kasai M, Aoyama T, Wu J & Xue C (2010) Medium-chain and long-chain triacylglycerols reduce body fat and blood triacylglycerols in hypertriacylglycerolemic, overweight but not obese, Chinese individuals. Lipids, 45 (6), 501-510.
- Ingle DL, Driedger A, Traul KA & Nakhasi DK (1999) Dietary energy value of medium-chain triglycerides. J Food Sci, 64 (6), 960-963.
- Nosaka N, Suzuki Y, Nagatoishi A, Kasai M, Wu J & Taguchi M (2009) Effect of ingestion of medium-chain triacylglycerols on moderate- and high-intensity exercise in recreational athletes. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol, 55, 120-125.
- Van Zyl CG, Lambert EV, Hawley JA, Noakes TD & Dennis SC (1996) Effects of medium-chain triglycerides on fuel metabolism and cycling performance. J App Physiol, 80 (6), 2217-2225.
- Henderson (2008) Ketone bodies as a therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease. J Amer Soc Exper NeuroTher, 5 (3), 470-480.
- Sidossis LS, Wolfe RR & Coggan AR (1998) Regulation of fatty acid oxidation in untrained vs. trained men during exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, 274, E510-E515.
- Pan Y, Larson B, Araujo JA, Lau W, de Rivera C, Santana R, Gore A & Milgram NW (2010) Dietary supplementation with medium-chain TAG has long-lasting cognition-enhancing effects in aged dogs. Br J Nutr, 103 (12), 1746-1754.
- Clegg (2010) Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance. Inter J Food Sci Nutr, 61 (7), 653-679.
- Jeukendrup AE, Saris WHM, Schrauwen P, Brouns F & Wagenmakers AJM (1995) Metabolic availability of medium-chain triglycerides coingested with carbohydrates during prolonged exercise. J Appl Physiol, 79 (3), 756-762.