Thoughts on Banning Ketones?

I see that Bardet is the latest to come out and advocate for banning “grey area” substances.

I’m definitely onboard with a ban on corticoids - if you need them you have a medical issue and should not be racing and they are clearly performance enhancing.

However, ketones are a legitimate fuel your muscles can use, and you still need to eat them - they’re essentially food and not sure how it’s any different to glucose or maltodextrin in your average sports gel?

Are people demanding banning because they are expensive?

I think what we’re seeing is a flip side of “pro athlete experts” telling us why something is bad for sport. Bardet and others are no different than Tom Brady and Lance Armstrong peddling their pseudoscience crap. I also have begun to wonder if athletes want us to focus on ketones, so we ignore actual doping (like when intralipid was blamed for PDMs withdrawal from the 91 TdF when it was probably bad transfusions).

Ketones, while wicked expensive, are the new boogey dope, like creatine was. However, they probably aren’t nearly as beneficial overall. From all the research I’ve seen exogenous ketones MIGHT work, but they only really seem to work in extreme exercise environments, like a grand tour. Still, they’re not EPO and don’t violate WADA arbitrary three principles for doping (unfair adv, dangerous, spirit of sport).

Honestly, pros like Bardet need to stop complaining about things they don’t have any clue about. Stick to riding a bike and talk about actual doping products.

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On a related note: do cyclists on MPCC teams tend to only transfer to other Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC) teams?

I’ve never checked (maybe someone has?) whether transfers tend to occur within the MPCC group or if it’s pretty common for cyclists to join the “dark side.” On a similar note, is there a tendency for cyclists who go to a non-MPCC team to have a tangible bump in results? At a team level, do non-MPCC teams tend to out-perform MPCC teams, controlling for budgets?

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Yep, that’s how I feel about it. Unless there is some evidence they are significantly harmful to athletes’ health, then not sure why they should be banned.

I think the distinction between fuel that is carbohydrates and Ketones that plays a role in how these are judged is that carbs are usually sweet to the taste while Ketones supposedly taste rather revolting.

Taking in “nutrition” the body would usually reject seems like crossing a border - as every five year old that is fed Brussels sprouts will confirm.

Example chosen because it points to the problem of this rather mushy definition of illegitimacy.

ban it? got a way to enforce it?

Anyone that can drink something so disgusting deserves the competitive advantage.


I’d settle for drug testing (for establlshed doping products) that wasn’t child’s play to circumvent tbh.



I think you need to either show that ketone use has potential harm, and if not you’d need to show that it violates the spirit of the sport. WADA’s formal requirements are that a substance has to meet two of three criteria:

  • Performance enhancing in healthy athletes
  • Actual or potential health risk
  • Violates the spirit of the sport

How do you define “spirit of the sport”? It’s in the anti-doping code. And unfortunately, it’s vague and subjective.

Anti-doping programs seek to preserve what is intrinsically valuable about sport. This intrinsic value is often referred to as “the spirit of sport.” It is the essence of Olympism, the pursuit of human excellence through the dedicated perfection of each person’s natural talents. It is how we play true. The spirit of sport is the celebration of the human spirit, body and mind, and is reflected in values we find in and through sport, including:

• Ethics, fair play and honesty
• Health
• Excellence in performance
• Character and education
• Fun and joy
• Teamwork
• Dedication and commitment
• Respect for rules and laws
• Respect for self and other Participants • Courage
• Community and solidarity

So, if there are articulable harms, then I think that while “spirit of the sport” is intrinsically vague, we can probably agree that it violates that. For example, overuse of systemic corticosteroids can cause adrenal gland insufficiency plus a bunch of lesser side but still unpleasant effects. (NB: the nasal spray you’d use for allergies doesn’t count here if used to treat normal allergies, although I guess you could huff it in industrial quantities and that would violate the spirit of the sport.) With ketones, I would guess that scientists would need to articulate how they could cause harm, or else show that empirically.

For things like EPO, we know that it’s performance enhancing in healthy athletes. You’re taking a hormone designed to treat very sick people. It’s a massive boost in performance. You’re taking something that’s normally produced by your endocrine system, and you’re pushing your production of red blood cells above what your endocrine system normally gives you.

Then the question is, how much disruption of normal body functions is acceptable. General nutrition is clearly OK. You’re eating food, your body metabolizes that normally.

I can see how ketone esters are in a grey area, but from what I know of the mechanism of action in athletes, I think they’re on the OK side right now. It’s basically a supplement to your muscle glycogen. The body should be able to burn ketones as fuel like glycogen, but they can be burned at a lower oxygen cost. It’s extra fuel. What puts it in the grey area is that it’s extra fuel, but it’s produced by a biological mechanism that isn’t active in a high-carb diet. The thing is, this isn’t like the things that work on your endocrine system. To the extent that it’s not what your body can normally do, we do accept many technological innovations in the sport. You can’t normally get into an aero position safely with drop bars, so we allowed time trial bars in time trials. Things like that.


Super interesting, thanks for posting this. Somehow, I think ketones veer a little too close to the line. Other substances that might be taken, like what the Tour de France police raid found w/ Bahrain Victorious, do seem to clearly violate that spirit.

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Totally the wrong direction… banning ketones is nonsensical. They need to ban fewer things in general, not more.

Without a specific example of what should not have been banned it’s hard for me to understand what you may mean. Is this about having less rules or about you feeling that the existing rules are applied in an excessive way?

Brussels sprouts - excellent example. :laughing:. Cheers!

Less rules, more dope… it makes the racing more exciting and the riders more explosive and, within reason and when managed by a physician, creates zero health issues.

I’m afraid that pig won’t fly. General interest would dwindle, sponsors would turn their backs and you end up with less racing and no coverage.

I don’t know about the racing scene around where you live, but in Germany grassroots and pro racing would all but cease to exist if there was even more doubt about racers being clean.

If someone tried to introduce an “open” league for the ethically challenged, he would probably end up with a “Topless Crit Around Las Vegas Series” run by the mob to entice betting - exciting, explosive, entertaining and completely irrelevant.

I also don’t buy the “harmless if managed by a physician” argument, because I would question the motivation of said physician who would be a pariah within the ethical system of his very own profession.

I do love American crit racing, btw, no reason to take offense.


That “pig” did fly and does fly… in fact, rocket fueled racing is what brought money into the peloton and took it to the heights its now descending from. And you’re a fool if you think it’s clean now. It’s just much more restricted to elite teams with the budgets to beat the system. So we wind up with boring racing dominated by select super teams. Sponsors are leaving because cycling has lost the explosive intrigue that doped riders brought to it.

Sponsors? Sponsors don’t give a shit what riders are doing, they only care that their names are associated with “cheating”… which is no longer an issue of its not against the rules.

And you don’t have to buy “harmless when done correctly”, it remains a fact irrespective of your acceptance of it. Neither is there any moral quandary in facilitating doping running counter to the hippocratic oath. In many ways, a moderate doping regimen is actually beneficial for riders. The human body isn’t suited to the demands of three week races and excessive schedules. Your entire perspective is based off of the UCI telling you that these substances are big bad drugs on the no-no list as opposed to anything rooted in medical fact. Taking it out of the shadows and back alleys and putting it in a doctors office just takes away the advantage that super budget teams have and prevents the Ricardo Ricco’s of the world from injuring themselves.

Where I live, sponsors turned their back because their clients were disgusted by what most understood as cheating. I agree with you that some or probably even many sponsors of World Tour teams or teams racing on the same level are more concerned with not getting caught out - but I don’t buy the “they are leaving cause it’s getting boring” part - because I don’t think races are getting more boring. Remember the Indurain epoch? Now that was the pinnacle of boredom, and if the gentle giant was racing on gazpacho I’d be surprised.

Lack of support by local sponsors, communities and/or official actors (cities, states, federal government) as a direct response to the scandals of the past is a larger issue than random decisions of Ineos type corporations that probably don’t care if they put their advertising money into cycling or formula one. The decision making of these small to medium sponsors is very much in line with what the general public considers appropriate for an athlete - and doping is not part of it.

For that very reason, most physicians would not officially participate in the “treatment” of riders taking peds - this has nothing to do with the UCI telling them that these drugs are bad for their clients health but that the use and administration of peds is just unethical in the context of the sport and within the beliefs of most colleagues and other clients.

I would therefore assume that less rules and more dopes would do nothing to level the playing field between rich and poor teams: the rich would still be able to pay for competent advanced medical counseling, the poor would still be stuck with some sorry and shady sod.

Your argument that it would be better for athletes and the sport to have all the chemistry in the open and free for everyone because everyone is doing it anyway and in fact has to because racing is hard - that was often heard in the 90s - but it didn’t go down with the majority then and won’t now, if you believe otherwise you are fooling yourself.


Interesting discussion so far.

One data point that is missing is that the use of ketones as a supplement came about after a cardiologist (Prof. Kieran Clarke, Oxford) published research on their role in helping the heart muscle recover after a heart attack.

Subsequent research seems to support the idea that they have a role in improving the function of a stressed / diseased heart (P22 Cardiac energy metabolism increases with ketone oxidation | Heart).

Given that long term heart problems may be more prevalent in high level cyclists than the general population (Are elite cyclists at greater risk of heart problems? - CyclingTips) would it be ethical to ban the use of something that may have a role in reducing this problem?

If extreme ascorbic acid supplementation had a similar effect it would be even more popular than it is already and no-one would blink an eye. Ascorbic acid tastes terrible by itself*, so it would fail the brussels sprouts test.

FWIW I have left ventricular hypertrophy and occasional atrial fibrillation, so this topic is dear to my heart (yes, that was deliberate).

  • 20 parts per million makes a perceptible difference in wine. That’s 20 grams in a tonne of wine. Yes, it’s an allowable additive as it naturally occurs in grapes, as it does in most fruit.

You must not have been involved with sports of any type at any level being intramural competitions… There’s no shortage of highly capable physicians that would gladly help athletes tune their performance with any and all substances deemed legal. Hell, there’s no shortage of highly competent doctors that would help them tune their performance irrespective of the legality of the substances.

And your entire argument against it is based purely on the black marks associated with it’s prohibition. The public won’t accept it, sponsors won’t like it, doctors won’t do it all based on “scandals” that don’t exist if it’s brought into the light.

You’re fooling yourself if you think keeping it banned is keeping it out.