The ketogenic diet, sometimes just called the “keto diet”, is a diet that encourages your body to burn more fat by taking all carbohydrates off your menu. The purpose of this – seemingly extreme – diet is to put your body into a state of ketosis.
In ketosis, your liver converts fat into amino acids called “ketones”, which replaces glucose as an energy source for your body. So, on the plus side, you’re going to burn fat. But on the downside, you won’t be able to eat any food with carbs.
As hard as it is to give up pizza, ice cream, and pasta, carbohydrate withdrawal only lasts for about a week. The biggest challenge of the keto diet is getting the right nutrients.
Our bodies depend on carb-rich foods for a variety of nutrients, including Vitamin D, Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium, and some B vitamins. Just as vegans can have trouble eating a well-rounded diet without animal products, keto dieters can struggle without eating grains, beans, and fruit.
In this guide, we’re going to talk about fifteen of the best keto diet supplements for staying healthy on the ketogenic diet. The best keto supplements seem to change from year to year, and this is for a good reason: we’re constantly learning new things about human nutrition.
Indeed, some aspects of the keto diet are still mysterious to scientists. For example, doctors have known for a century that a ketogenic diet can help control epileptic seizures. The brain cells that misfire during a seizure normalize when they’re fed a diet of ketones instead of glucose. But nobody knows why.
Science has already come a long way in the last few years. Foods like MCT oil, which used to be obscure, have come out of the health food stores and into big-box retailers like Walmart.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of keto supplements: the ones that provide vital nutrients, and the ones that help you get into ketosis.
We’ve already talked about the importance of taking supplements for vital nutrients. As useful as it is, the keto diet is not well-balanced. You need these supplements if you want your new diet to be a successful lifestyle. However, there are other supplements that are useful for getting into ketosis – and staying there.
Not everybody’s body is the same. Some people can quit eating carbs and get into a ketogenic state quickly and painlessly. Oftentimes, these people can even take “cheat days” with minimal consequences. Other people’s bodies can take a week or more to get into a state of ketosis. And if they so much as look like a donut, they’ll get knocked out of ketosis again.
For these individuals, it can be helpful to take supplements that boost the body’s natural ketone production – or even to supply the body directly with ketones. Even for people who have an easy time getting into ketosis, supplements can be a good way to help out with cheat days, or just to take some strain off their liver.
And then, of course, there’s the dreaded “keto flu”.
This is a combination of exhaustion, mental fog, headaches, body aches and nausea that sets in about 24 hours after you quit eating carbs. While the symptoms pass after a few days, they can pose a major obstacle to people who are unprepared.
Why be unprepared? You have enough information at your fingertips to prepare yourself with supplements before you start your new lifestyle.
MCT is short for Medium Chain Triglyceride. These friendly fats are some of the most healthy that you can eat, and they’re among the easiest for your liver to break down. This makes them ideal not just for getting into ketosis, but also for maintaining ketosis.
If you’re an athlete, MCT oil has additional benefits. Specifically, it reduces lactate buildup in your muscles. This can reduce stiffness, cramping, and after-workout “burn”, facilitating faster recovery times.
It also helps prevent the growth of yeast and bad bacteria. This is especially important in the early stages of a ketogenic diet since your digestive system will be out of whack, stressing your healthy gut bacteria.
There are several ways to add MCT oil to your diet without needing to choke down a few tablespoons of oil every day. To begin with, you can use it in cooking. It’s similar to coconut oil in terms of flavor and smoke point, so it can be used for frying or baking with equal ease.
A lot of keto dieters also put it in shakes, or even in their morning coffee. If you put it in your coffee, use a blender to mix it up thoroughly. Otherwise, it will rise to the surface, which is honestly kind of gross.
Some of the best MCT oil products on the market that we have researched include:
Exogenous ketones can come in powdered form for drinking, but the most common form is a simple pill that you take once a day. “Exogenous” simply means that they come from outside your body, as opposed to endogenous ketones, which are the ketones that are produced naturally by your liver.
Exogenous ketones serve two primary purposes: helping you get into ketosis to begin with, and providing extra energy once you’re already there.
They help you get into ketosis by alleviating some of the symptoms of keto flu. One of the main causes of keto flu is that your liver takes some time to start producing ketones in large numbers. This leads to sluggishness, lack of energy, and mental fog. By putting ketones directly into your bloodstream, you can continue to function normally while your liver gets used to making them on its own.
Once you’re in ketosis, exogenous ketones can still be useful for an energy boost. One of the disadvantages that fats have as compared to carbs is that they take longer for the body to break down. If you need a boost and eat a sandwich, the carbs from the bread will start entering your bloodstream in about half an hour.
Meanwhile, fat can take a few hours to get converted into ketones. With exogenous ketones, you can get fuel for your body as quickly as you used to with carbs.
Some of the best exogenous ketones on the market that we have researched include:
L-glutamine, or “glutamine” for short, is an amino acid that does double duty inside the body, also acting as an antioxidant. This is something you’ll need on the keto diet since you’ll be giving up our main source of antioxidants: fruits and carb-rich vegetables.
Antioxidants have become a bit of a buzzword among diet nuts, so it’s easy to accept that they’re good for you without actually knowing what they do. Basically, antioxidants are chemicals that reduce free radicals and inflammation.
Having a good source of antioxidants is important for anyone who wants to stay healthy, but it’s particularly important if you work out regularly. Not only do workouts cause inflammation, but intense metabolism in your muscles produces free radicals. Antioxidants provide a one-two punch, knocking out both effects and helping you recover faster.
The most common way to take glutamine is as a powder. Like other powdered supplements, you can put it in a shake or a smoothie. If that’s not to your liking – or if your shake is already full of other supplements and you don’t want to add more – glutamine is also available in pill form. Whether you use the powder or the pill, it’s best to take it immediately before your workout, so it will start circulating through your bloodstream just as you’re finishing up.
Tribulus terrestris is sometimes called “goathead weed” or “puncture vine”. It’s native to large portions of the old world – southern Europe, Asia, most of Africa, and parts of Australia. In the US, it’s considered an invasive species, and most people think of it as nothing more than a weed.
However, Tribulus roots have been used for centuries in folk medicine, and science has shown that this little plant has some serious health benefits.
To begin with, it reduces inflammation. We’ve gone over reasons why this is important, so we won’t repeat ourselves here. While it’s a nice “extra feature”, there are plenty of foods that reduce inflammation.
The main benefit of Tribulus is that it increases your testosterone level by increasing your body’s natural production of testosterone. This can help you burn fat and build muscle, which is a huge plus if you’re going ketogenic to slim up.
Tribulus also has a side benefit. It helps to lower blood sugar. While that shouldn’t be an issue if you’re sticking to your diet, it can help you out if you “cheat” once in a while.
Whether you’re getting your energy from ketones or from carbs, your cells’ mitochondria convert it into adenosine triphosphate (ATP) first. Every cell in your body uses ATP for fuel.
So what does this have to do with creatine?
Creatine is a chemical that your cells can use to recycle ATP, doubling or tripling their natural energy stores. This is most common in your muscles, where creatine gets burned up quickly during workouts as your cells struggle to keep up with your workout routine. The more intense your workout, the more creatine you’ll use up on a daily basis.
While our bodies produce creatine naturally, and it’s found in most meats, a creatine supplement can further increase your body’s natural stores. The more you have, the longer and harder you can work out without needing to stop. And of course, the longer your workout, the more calories you’ll burn.
It doesn’t only help your muscles, either. It can also boost your mental performance. Your brain cells need energy, too, and can become fatigued if you’re focusing on the same task for long periods of time. The more creatine there is in your body, the longer you can focus.
Keto dieters aren’t alone in struggling to get enough vitamin D. The average person gets only about 5 to 15 percent of their daily value of vitamin D from their diet. The rest is produced naturally by the body when you’re exposed to sunlight.
Modern people don’t get nearly as much sunlight as our ancient ancestors did. While it’s nice to have things like heat, air conditioning and houses with four walls, this has left us all at severe risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Once again, our processed food companies have tried to help, by fortifying breakfast cereals and milk with vitamin D. However, you won’t be eating any of those things on a ketogenic diet, so you’ll have few options for getting vitamin D.
One keto-friendly source is eggs. Best of all, vitamin D is found in the yolk and not in the white. A lot of keto dieters restrict their protein-rich egg white intake in favor of the fattier yolks, and you can do this while still getting some natural vitamin D.
It’s still a good idea to supplement, though. As with all vitamin pills, it’s important to check the ingredients before you buy, to make sure there aren’t any carb-rich ingredients.
Digestive enzymes are proteins that are produced by your liver and pancreas to break down food in your small intestine. There are several different enzymes that break down different types of food, and in a healthy person on a normal diet, there’s no need to take any supplements. Your body makes them on its own.
However, the ketogenic diet poses some challenges for your pancreas. Because you’re not eating carbs or lactose, it’s producing a lot of unnecessary enzymes. Meanwhile, it may not produce enough fat-digesting enzymes to break down the prodigious amounts of fat you’ll be eating once you’ve gone keto.
This can lead to some unpleasant side effects, like diarrhea. Even the most dedicated dieters can be put off by that kind of inconvenience. We mere mortals weren’t built to put up with that kind of thing. A shortage of enzymes can also lead to constipation, or even to plain old fatigue as our bodies fail to break down enough food to meet our needs.
Most people’s systems will eventually produce enough enzymes for their needs as their body becomes fat adapted. That said, it’s a good idea to supplement at the beginning of your diet, to ease the transition.
Carnitine comes in two basic forms: L-Carnitine, and Acetyl-L Carnitine.
Acetyl-L Carnitine is a general health supplement that doesn’t have any extra effects for keto dieters. It has been shown to improve mental function, though, which can be helpful for keto flu. It’s a great supplement for working out, too, since it’s an antioxidant. That said, once you’re in ketosis, there’s really no reason to supplement since your body produces plenty of Acetyl-L Carnitine on its own.
L-Carnitine, on the other hand, aids your body in digesting fat. Since that’s pretty much the whole point of the ketogenic diet, an L-Carnitine supplement can make it easier for your body to give you the energy you need to keep going. It will help you burn more fat faster, which means you’ll lose more weight than you would without it.
Many supplements have both types of Carnitine, so you don’t have to choose. If you’d rather save a little money, choose an L-Carnitine supplement for its fat-burning benefits.
ECA stands for ephedrine, caffeine, aspirin. The “stack” just means that all three chemicals are combined in a single pill. It’s also available in “EC” stack versions, where the aspirin has been removed for people who can’t tolerate it.
The caffeine and aspirin are particularly useful for combating the effects of keto flu. Together, they alleviate keto headaches, and the caffeine can fight off the exhaustion, keeping you on your feet while you make the transition to your new diet.
Ephedrine boosts your metabolism, and helps your body burn more fat faster. It also reduces your appetite, so you won’t be as tempted to indulge in keto-unfriendly snack foods.
Unlike most of the other supplements we’ve written about, this one comes with some health risks. Ephedrine can raise your blood pressure, making it a bad idea if you’ve had heart problems in the past. It can also interact with some prescription drugs, including most antidepressants.
While ECA Stack is available over the counter, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before taking it. You’ve only got one body. It isn’t worth ruining your health just to get thinner.
Competitive athletes should also be careful. Many sports organizations consider ephedrine to be a performance-enhancing drug, and will impose penalties if it shows up on a drug test.
Like sodium and potassium, magnesium is an electrolyte, and your body will eliminate more of it than usual when you’re on the ketogenic diet. However, it does a bit more than your garden variety electrolyte, which is why it deserves its own section.
To begin with, magnesium is the third most abundant mineral in your body. It’s essential for DNA and RNA formation, so your body won’t produce new cells without it. In other words, you won’t heal or recover from a workout nearly as quickly if you have a magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium is also essential for the formation of ATP. If you’re deficient, you’ll feel sluggish and experience mental fog. For this reason, magnesium deficiency is another major cause of keto flu.
The good news is that you can get lots of magnesium from keto-friendly foods. Salmon, avocadoes and dark chocolate are all rich in it. Another major source is nuts and seeds. Since plants need to produce ATP, too, and baby plants don’t have roots to get magnesium from the soil, seeds have a large magnesium reserve to get them started growing.
If you’re having trouble eating enough of these foods, or if you’re experiencing keto flu symptoms after the first few days of your diet, try taking a magnesium supplement.
Chromium is a metal element that is only present in the human body in small concentrations. You don’t normally need very much of it. However, it helps regulate sugar cravings, which can be helpful at all stages of your ketogenic diet, whether you’re just getting started or whether you’ve been carb-free for months.
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an enzyme produced by your cells’ mitochondria to help convert glucose and glycogen into ATP. The more of it you have, the faster you’ll use up your body’s sugar reserves. Not only is this useful for getting into ketosis – since your liver won’t start producing ketones until your body’s sugar reserves have been depleted – it’s also useful for staying in ketosis.
Even on the strictest keto diet, it’s almost impossible to avoid all carbs. ALA can help eliminate the few carbs you do eat, keeping you in ketosis. It also helps reduce inflammation and is essential for healthy nerve function. Even if you’re not on the ketogenic diet, it’s not a bad idea to take an ALA supplement.
When ALA and chromium are taken together, they’re a powerful carb-fighting team. There are several supplements available, but it’s hard to find one that’s specifically made for the keto diet. A general supplement should be fine; even if it contains a few stray carbs, the benefits will outweigh the cost.
If you’d rather get ALA naturally, red meat and organ meat are rich in it. Since you should be eating plenty of organ meat anyway, you may want to just take a chromium supplement and rely on liver and kidneys for ALA.
As you can see, there is a wide variety of supplements you can take to make your keto lifestyle as easy – and healthy – as possible.
We’ve talked about the importance of exogenous ketones for jump-starting your ketogenic metabolism. We’ve talked about using MCT oil for boosting your own natural ketone production, and why you should take fish oil to get more Omega-3 fatty acids.
We’ve also discussed the importance of maintaining electrolyte balance, and why you should take digestive enzymes to promote healthy gut health. And of course, we’ve discussed more everyday nutrients like Vitamin D and Magnesium.
But let’s not forget the most important ketogenic supplement. This one’s a bonus, and it will blow your mind. It’s super important, but it’s also very cheap. You can even get it for free in some public buildings. Are you ready?
It’s water. Since the ketogenic diet puts your kidneys into overdrive, you’ll be peeing a lot more than you used to. It’s important to replace that water, especially when you’re taking electrolyte supplements. Not only that, but water can help you feel more full, reducing snack food cravings.
We hope our keto supplement guide was helpful. With the right supplements, you’ll be shedding pounds in no time. And you’ll stay healthy while you’re doing it.