In the early 2000s DARPA, the advanced scientific research arm of the US military, began a project pouring tens of millions of dollars into studies that sought to answer the question: can we hack the way our bodies process energy to create super endurance?
The research centered around ketosis, a metabolic state in which the body uses fat as its primary source of energy instead of carbohydrates. This occurs normally when there is a lack of carbohydrates available in the body, such as when following a low-carbohydrate diet or during prolonged periods of fasting. During ketosis, the liver breaks down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies, which are then used by cells for energy.
For decades athletes had long relied on carbs to fuel their endurance - think sports drinks, energy gels, and other sugar-packed snacks. It works, but it has its biochemical limitations. Overloading on sugar can leave your body with a sugar crash and, over time, even lead to insulin insensitivity.
That's why Joe Belitski, a project manager at DARPA, launched their mission to find breakthrough ways to boost the power source of cells, in his words, he was looking for a "revolution" and not just an "evolution."
The early studies indicated strong benefits of ketosis, but as the years went on the research both through the project and work done independently began piling up.
- Reduced lactic acid production allowing athletes to go further without the build up of metabolic waste products in the lymphatic system.
- Improved oxidation of cells throughout the body, enhancing energy usage.
- Even improving cognitive abilities and reducing symptoms of neurodegeneration in sufferers of Alzheimers.
Then, in 2017 a company called H.V.M.N (Health Via Modern Nutrition) were granted funding through the DARPA project to launch the first scalable attempt to create drinkable ketones. Overcoming a large dietary hurdle to induce ketosis.
Previously, athletes would have to rely on fasting or drastically reducing carbohydrate consumption to get into a state of ketosis which is difficult to sustain. This new novel way of introducing ketones to the body and forcing the body's metabolic switch from carbohydrates to ketones was a revolution. It was however, ambitious, with drinkable ketones costing almost £20,000 an active dose at the time.
The phase 1 of the study was conducted alongside the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to look at the application of ketones for operator performance in extreme environments, specifically hypoxic or low-oxygen environments. This research has applications for soldier performance at altitude, in mountains, on fighter jets, and, potentially one day, in space.
The results of the study remain classified however H.V.M.N were able to disclose they were so successful they were awarded a further $6million grant in 2019 to expand their research efforts and improve scalability and launch their latest product Ketone 2.0.
While Ketone 2.0 is still relatively expensive costing $120 for 3 bottles, it has come a long way from £20,000 a serving. H.V.M.N now supplies their signature drinkable ketone drink to US Special Forces but also a number of cycling teams that compete in the Tour De France due to the improvements in endurance performance.
The results from their own studies on the drinks benefits for endurance athletes have revealed athletes on a Ketone 2.0 protocol have a 15% improved mean power output in the final 30 minutes of a 2 hour standardized endurance training session.
The protocol they followed was:
- Day of physical performance: 30min prior, get a ketone target dose of 0.5g of ketones per kg of weight and top off every 60min (another half dose to full dose). E.g if you’re 80kg then you would need 40 grams of ketones 30 minutes before the physical performance and topping up every 60 minutes till the end of the endurance event.
- For recovery: Adding a 10g serving of Ketones in addition to standard meals/recovery process. Esp. helpful to add some right before sleep.