New brain supplement could be literal ‘game-changer’ for team sports

3 Aug 2018

Footballers playing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Image: A.RICARDO/Shutterstock

DCU researchers have developed a new sports supplement called ketone ester, which can enhance a player’s decision-making in crucial moments.

Having proven itself to be highly beneficial to long-distance runners and cyclists over the years, a supplement called ketone ester is now primed to bring big benefits for team sports as well.

In a recently published study, Dublin City University researchers Dr Brendan Egan and Mark Evans said that the newly developed ketone ester supplement has the ability to allow players of team sports to make better decisions in the crucial minutes of a game.

While it does not improve a player’s running performance, it may help them reduce bad decisions brought on by fatigue or exhaustion towards the end of a match.

Ketone is a natural substance produced in the human body during periods of fasting or starvation as a means of fuelling the brain and muscles.

The researchers said that the benefits of this supplement are more likely to be seen among those with higher levels of aerobic fitness and a higher proportion of type-one muscle fibres, similar to those found in long-distance runners.

Originally developed by the military

“Given that team sports athletes are presented with a multitude of decisions throughout match play, interventions that preserve or improve decision-making could positively influence performance outcomes,” said Egan, who was lead investigator on the project.

“Despite the lack of benefit to physical performance, the novel finding of preserved executive function after exhausting exercises suggests that there remains a possibility that ketones could enhance sports-specific performances of team sport athletes.”

Ketone ester has a particularly interesting background as it was originally developed by the US military’s research division, DARPA, as a way of improving the performance of its soldiers. Since then, it has branched out into commercial activities, with this latest research using KE4 developed by KetoneAid.

Some limitations to the study exist, however, as only 11 athletes were tested, all being male.

With supplements becoming a major industry in Ireland among elite sportspeople, the research is likely to lead to an interest in ketones for physical and cognitive benefits.

Footballers playing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Image: A.RICARDO/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic