Form Function Nutrition

What is MCT oil and how does it work?

October 23, 2014
mct Oil

If you want to perform and look your best, allow me to introduce you to MCT oil, your new BFF.  MCT stands for Medium Chain Triglycerides and is a unique type of fat naturally found in unrefined cold-pressed coconut oil. What makes it unique? Each MCT molecule contains three medium chain fatty acids, which is a type of fat metabolized and digested very differently from fatty acids that are typically consumed in the diet. The majority of fats consumed in the diet are in the long or very long chain triglyceride (LCTs) forms. These types require a significant amount of digestion processes to make them available for energy. They require bile salts to help package them in order to be absorbed into the body and then must be further processed by the liver in order to be used for energy or to be stored away.

On the other hand, MCTs are easily absorbed and become rapidly available for energy. Due to this rapid availability, MCT enriched oils have been studied for their potential benefits in weight loss and performance enhancement.

Weight Loss. The beneficial use of MCT oils in weight loss programs has been confirmed in the literature of countless studies. One study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a greater weight loss and fat loss over a 12 week period on a diet that incorporated MCT’s compared to one that only incorporated LCTs (1). Another study found increased fat oxidation (increased energy expenditure) and greater weight loss when incorporating MCT oils to diet containing LCTs (2). Excessive fat around the waist is known to be the most dangerous in terms of chronic disease risk. A more recent study found lower intradominal fat tissue in a weight loss program that incorporated MCT oil versus just Olive Oil (3).

Performance Enhancement. Although many athletes find the incorporation of MCT oils into their training regimen useful, the research to date has had conflicting results. One proposed mechanism of potential benefits of incorporating MCTs as an ergogenic aid involves their rapid breakdown into ketones, which can be used for immediate energy. Another potential benefit may be derived from the weight maintenance/weight loss effects, helping athletes become or stay leaner overall. However, research has been unable to confirm these mechanisms at this point.

The Dietitian’s View. If you want to incorporate MCTs into your training or weight loss regimen, do so slowly. Long term effects of supplementation have not been studied and it is still a fat, which means it is calorie dense. Additionally, too much (research shows over 30 grams) is likely to cause some gastrointestinal discomfort. A good starting place is to cook with high quality MCT enriched coconut oil or use a product that contains MCT oil, like Formulx Grass Fed Whey Protein Powder which contains 2g per serving. This way you can subtly incorporate them into your diet without upsetting your digestive system or going way over board on calories.

What are your thoughts? We would love to hear your experience using MCT oils in weight loss or training! If you have any questions, I’m here to help!

References:
Tsuji, Hiroaki, et al. “Dietary medium-chain triacylglycerols suppress accumulation of body fat in a double-blind, controlled trial in healthy men and women.” The Journal of nutrition 131.11 (2001): 2853-2859.
St-Onge, M. P., and P. J. H. Jones. “Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue.”International journal of obesity 27.12 (2003): 1565-1571.
St-Onge, Marie-Pierre, and Aubrey Bosarge. “Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 87.3 (2008): 621-626.

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