WHAT ARE MCTs?
MCTs, are medium-chain triglycerides or medium-chain fatty acids. They have a chemical structure composed of 6 to 12 carbon atoms, unlike most known long-chain fatty acids (linoleic acid, oleic acid, etc.), containing a higher number of carbon atoms. Thanks to this structure, MCTs feature some advantages.
In fact, they do not require prior cleavage and therefore are directly absorbed by the intestinal mucosa where they are released into the bloodstream very quickly. MCTs are able to cross cell membranes without any help and then reach the mitochondria quickly to be transformed into energy.
WHICH IS THE ROLE OF MCTs?
Medium-chain fatty acids are therefore considered a source of energy ready to be used, a feature widely used both in clinical environment and in sport.
One more function of the MCTs is associated with weight loss and the maintenance of a normal metabolic function. In fact, due to their quick conversion into energy, MCTs are not stored in the fat cells and help to neutralize ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and increase leptin, the satiety hormone. These are clearly relevant factor of interest for those who wish to lose weight or avoid increasing the fat mass.
They can improve digestion and absorption of nutrients and fat-soluble vitamins, help support heart health, reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and promote brain health.
In addition, MCTs have antibacterial and antiviral properties and are useful to maintain the balance of the intestinal bacterial flora by acting also, as a result, as support for the body's defences.
The ease of use of the MCTs by our body, makes them particularly important for those who have difficulty in absorbing fats and present functional alterations of the immune system.
In the health care area, they are often associated with drug treatments for gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea, steatorrhea, celiac disease, liver diseases, short bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease.
WHICH ONES TO USE IN SPORT AND WHY?
Medium-chain fatty acids are caproic acid (C6), caprylic acid (C8), capric acid (C10) and lauric acid (C12). They occur mainly in coconut and in palm oil and in butter. Since they are ready to use as a source of energy, MCTs are therefore particularly appealing for sportsmen who begin to use them as natural source of high-quality energy. For sportsmen, MCTs represent an alternative or complementary metabolic pathway to the sugar or starch intake, saving glycogen and amino acids at the muscle level. In addition, their energy supply is greater than carbohydrates and it is also remarkable the lack of effects on LDL cholesterol levels. It has been suggested that MCTs could save not only muscle glycogen but also proteins. Some studies claim that this is valid if they are taken in conjunction with a diet rich in carbohydrates. It seems appropriate, therefore, to combine 50 g of carbohydrates with 10-20 g of MCTs.
In a study carried out in 2010, researchers have evaluated the effect of a sport drink, taken before exercise, containing fructose, MCTs and a pool of amino acids, compared to a placebo (30 minutes before a session of treadmill). The results showed an increase in performance-related indexes, such as VO2max, time to exhaustion, substrate utilization (FA), in athletes who had taken the sport drink containing MCTs.
Therefore, the medium-chain fatty acids are a great support for those who practice physical activity but also for the general welfare of each individual.
Dr.ssa Olga Meletis
Chemist specialized in sports nutrition