Fat Facts: The Basics of MCTs
You’ve heard the buzz about MCTs. But what exactly are they? Short for medium-chain triglycerides, these naturally occurring fats are found primarily in coconut oil, palm kernel oil and full-fat dairy. Because they’re metabolized differently than other fats, MCTs have some unique (and fascinating) features.
First, some basic facts about fats. All fatty acids are made up of chains of carbon molecules, and they’re classified by the number of carbon atoms in their chains. Long-chain fatty acids, the most common dietary form, have 12 or more carbons. Short-chain fatty acids have 6 or fewer carbons, and medium-chain fatty acids contain 6 to 12 carbon atoms.
Unlike long-chain fatty acids in foods like olive oil, fish, meat or nuts, MCTs are easily broken down and quickly absorbed by the body. Because of their shorter chain length, they are rapidly absorbed and easily enter the cells, and can be used as an immediate source of energy. And MCTs have benefits beyond boosting stamina. Some highlights:
- Weight loss. MCTs help curb appetite, increase metabolic rate, promote burning fat for fuel and support weight loss. In some studies, people who took MCT oil lost more weight around their waist and hips and decreased visceral fat—excess fat around organs, linked with inflammation, heart disease, diabetes and some kinds of cancer.
- Exercise performance. MCTs help boost muscle strength and increase endurance during high-intensity exercise, and taking MCTs before workouts may help you use fat instead of carbs for energy.
- Brain health. MCTs may have neuroprotective potential. Studies show they significantly improve memory, reduce mental decline and enhance overall brain function in people with mild cognitive impairment, and promote cognition and a reduction of symptoms in patients with Alzheimer’s.
- Heart health. MCTs can protect your heart by lowering harmful LDL cholesterol; in some studies, MCTs also significantly boosted protective HDL cholesterol levels.
- Keto support. The liver converts MCTs into ketones, so if you’re on a Keto plan, adding MCT oil to your diet can promote ketosis, even when carb intake increases.
- Gut health. MCTs fight off pathogenic bacteria, protect the lining of the intestines and encourage a healthy gut microbiome.
- Antimicrobial benefits. MCTs have powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal activities, and can reduce the growth of Candida albicans, a common yeast that can cause thrush, urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections.
When you’re choosing an MCT supplement, start with powders; they’re less messy and easier to mix into foods and beverages. Look for one made only with shorter-chain C8 and C10 MCTs for the fastest absorption (C12 MCTs, a cheaper form, are very close in carbon length to long-chain fatty acids and less effective). And always choose Organic Certified MCTs, sustainably sourced from coconut oil (never palm oil).
Eat For Energy
A well-designed eating plan can fight morning fatigue, banish afternoon slumps, and maintain focus and vitality all day long. Some tips:
- Don’t skimp on protein. It’s crucial for building and repairing tissue, supporting metabolism and fueling the body with a steady source of energy. And studies show protein-rich meals increase focus and improve reaction time. It’s especially important at breakfast, to stabilize blood sugar and enhance the brain’s production of norepinephrine and dopamine, neurotransmitters that promote alertness and energy. Ditch the donuts and start your day with a clean, protein-packed smoothie for sustained stamina. A clean protein powder (plant-based or whey protein isolate) that’s free from GMOs, artificial fillers and added sugars offers a full range of essential amino acids in an easy-to-digest and low-calorie form.
- Be careful with carbs. Carbohydrates, the body’s preferred form of fuel, are rapidly converted to energy, and studies show they enhance brain wave frequencies linked with focus and attention. But that’s only if you’re eating the right carbs: refined, sugary selections (bagels, pastries, breakfast cereals) disrupt blood sugar and lead to afternoon slumps. Stick to complex carbs, like sweet potatoes, beans, berries or winter squash—they’re slower to burn, and high in fiber to keep blood levels steady.
- Nibble. Instead of three big meals a day, nibble on smaller meals and snacks; eating every few hours can maximize alertness, keep blood sugar balanced and furnish the body and brain with a steady supply of nutrients. (Plus, digesting a big meal drains the body’s energy reserves.) Emphasize combinations of protein and complex carbs, like apple slices spread with almond butter, whole-grain crackers with hummus, or berries with a handful of cashews.
- Eat with the sun. When you eat may be as important as what you eat: the body’s metabolism shifts throughout the day, and some studies suggest dining in sync with your natural circadian rhythm can enhance energy and support overall health. Eat with the sun: consume most of your calories in the morning and afternoon, and stop eating after dark.
- Use coffee carefully. A cup of coffee can clear out morning cobwebs: studies show caffeine sharpens focus, boosts performance and improves cognitive function. But too much caffeine can disrupt sleep and lead to next-day fatigue. Use it skillfully: drink coffee before an important meeting, project or workout, and limit it to one (10-ounce) cup.
- Drink, more than you think. Lack of adequate water saps energy fast, and even mild dehydration can increase fatigue, promote inertia and impair attention and memory. And you need more than you think—3 to 4 liters a day, more if you’re exercising. Keep a BPA-free bottle of filtered water by your desk and in your car, and sip throughout the day; set a timer to remind you to drink, or get in the habit of downing a glass of water every time you go to the bathroom.
Six Stamina-Boosting Foods
Put more pep in your step with these super-simple eats
- Protein powder is a fast, simple way to sneak more energizing protein into your daily diet. Power up your morning with an easy-to-digest, high-quality and grass-fed whey protein isolate or a clean, high-in-fiber, plant-based protein with a blend of pea, rice and hemp ingredients that mimics the full range of amino acids found in an animal-based protein. Studies show that protein lessens fatigue, improves performance and endurance, and enhances overall energy. Whether you prefer whey protein or plant-based protein, skip those with added sugar; and look for ones that are free from GMOs, fillers, and artificial ingredients, and sweetened with stevia, to avoid sugar crashes. Blend protein powder with coconut milk, bananas and frozen berries for an all-day-energy smoothie. Whisk it into oatmeal, yogurt or smoothies. You can also use it in place of flour for protein-packed pancakes or waffles.
- Spinach is rich in magnesium, which plays a central role in cellular energy production, and low levels can impact stamina. Other good sources: Swiss chard, almonds, lima beans, sesame seeds and winter squash. Add a handful of baby spinach leaves to morning smoothies, or puree spinach with chickpeas, almonds, olive oil and garlic for a simple, power-packed hummus.
- Oatmeal is an excellent source of complex carbs to fuel your body. Plus, oats are high in beta glucans, shown to balance blood sugar and improve insulin response. Combine rolled oats, chia seeds and almond milk and refrigerate overnight for an instant next-day breakfast. Or top oatmeal with minced red peppers, scallions and cashews for a savory start to your day.
- Pumpkin seeds are rich in the amino acid tyrosine, necessary for the production of neurotransmitters that promote alertness and motivation. They’re also high in magnesium and energy-boosting B vitamins for all-day stamina. Shower them on salads instead of croutons, or make a grain-free granola: toss pumpkin seeds, with almonds, chia seeds, coconut oil and coconut sugar, and bake till golden.
- Sweet potatoes are high in potassium, critical for energy, performance and brain function; they’re also an excellent source of magnesium and B vitamins, essential for the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate)—the form of energy your body uses. Roast a bunch in advance, then add them to smoothies, salads or soups. Or mash roasted sweet potatoes with almond milk, then top with cinnamon and chopped walnuts for a grain-free breakfast bowl.
- Edamame are loaded with protein, fiber and complex carbs, needed for steady, all-day energy, and they’re high in magnesium and stamina-boosting B vitamins. And they’re an excellent vegan source of blood-building iron, for extra energy. Toss them into soups, salads and cooked quinoa. Or combine them with olive oil, cumin, garlic powder and cayenne pepper, and roast till golden for a simple, spicy snack.
Supercharge your day, in the tastiest of ways, with these easy, energy-boosting eats:
- Buttered Coffee
- Pumpkin Latte
- Berry Green Smoothie
- Banana Coconut Chocolate Smoothie
- Superfood Smoothie Bowl
- Protein Pancake Stack
- Granola Parfait
- Golden Smoothie
- Brussels Sprouts Broccolini Stir-fry with MCT
- High Protein Banana Bread
- Cauliflower-Blueberry Smoothie