MCT stands for medium chain triglycerides, it is a form of saturated fat that differs from most fats that we consume (which are long chain triglycerides). The “medium” refers to the amount of carbon atoms that make up the triglyceride (also referred to as fatty acids). A medium chain triglyceride has between six and twelve carbon atoms.
MCT oil is made from either palm oil, coconut oil, or dairy fats. There are four different types of MCTs that can be found in your diet:
- Caproic Acid (made up of 6 carbons)
- Caprylic Acid (made up of 8 carbons)
- Capric Acid (made up of 10 carbons)
- Lauric Acid (made up of 12 carbons)
The less carbon atoms an MCT has, the more efficient it is, so Caproic Acid (C6) is the best MCT while Lauric Acid is the worst. There are quite a few different types of MCT oil, and they vary in quality. The highest quality MCT oil will avoid using Lauric acid, while cheaper MCT oil will use it.
A common mistake people make is confusing coconut oil (a great source of MCTs) with MCT oil. Coconut oil is mostly made up of lauric acid, so would be considered a poor quality MCT oil.
In this article we are going to discuss some of the benefits of using MCT oil in your diet.
1. MCT Oil Is An Immediate Source Of Energy
If you play sport or go to the gym often you’ve probably drunk a sports drink, most of these drinks are full of glucose. This is because it is an immediate energy source, as soon as you consume glucose your body can use it for energy.
Fatty acids are not immediate sources of energy. It takes the body quite a while to metabolize fat, which is why you rarely see athletes eating a stick of butter during a race. MCT oil is a rare exception. They are quickly converted into ketones while in the liver.
This makes MCT oil very useful for improving exercise performance. A 1985 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that MCT oil led to improved cycling performance during T-trials .
But don’t get too excited just yet. Other studies have found that using MCT oil compared to carbohydrates led to poorer performance .
So, who does this benefit? People on ketogenic diets. The keto diet has become massively popular in recent years, mainly with gym users. A proper keto diet will limit carbohydrate intake as much as possible. This makes MCT oil an excellent exercise supplement as it is zero-carb and provides the energy required.
2. MCT Oil Can Boost Your Metabolic Rate
There are many benefits to boosting your metabolic rate, and it is often the goal of many dieters. There appears to be quite a lot of evidence that taking MCT oil can temporarily increase your metabolism.
A study in 1999 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that taking MCT oil led to a significant increase in post-meal energy expenditure . This lasted for at least seven days. When the measurements were taken again after fourteen days the metabolic rate of those taking MCT oil was still higher, but not significantly so.
Another study published in Obesity Research also found that MCT oil could increase total energy expenditure (your metabolism) but only for 14 days, after that the metabolisms of the subjects returned to normal. The researchers theorized that some form of compensatory mechanism kicks in after two weeks .
The takeaway here is that when you start taking MCT oil you should see a short-term boost in your metabolism. Not a huge benefit, but a good way to kickstart the fat loss process. Just remember that you need to be replacing calories with MCT oil, rather than adding MCT on top of your current calorie intake (which would lead to weight gain).
3. MCT Oil Can Help You Burn Fat
This has been slightly covered in the previous benefit, as a boosted metabolism can help contribute (however slightly) to an increase in fat loss as it alters the calorie in vs calorie out ratio. But there is evidence that MCT can directly help with fat burning too.
A study in 2000 compared MCTs with regular LCTs (normal fats) and found that the use of MCTs led to an increase in fat oxidation (using stored fat as energy). The study concluded that there may be a long-term use for MCTs as part of weight management .
A 2001 study published in the International Journal of Obesity & Related Metabolic Disorders found that switching MCTs with LCTs during a very low-calorie diet (578.5 kcal per day) led to weight loss as well as lean muscle preservation – most very low-calorie diets tend to result in loss of lean muscle .
It seems clear that replacing regular fats with medium-chain triglycerides can help to burn more fat and protect lean muscle while dieting. A very useful benefit indeed.
4. MCT Oil Can Help Lower Cholesterol
To anybody who paid attention to nutritional advice in the 80s and 90s, the idea that saturated fat can help to lower cholesterol is little more than blasphemy. But the evidence is compelling. A 2007 study by Han et al found that MCTs were able to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in Type II diabetics when they were replacing LCTs . The study also noted that total cholesterol levels were down too.
5. MCT Oil Can Help Protect Your Heart
Following on from the last benefit, you might think that MCT Oil’s ability to protect your heart health stems from its ability to lower cholesterol. This is partly the case. But it may be more than that. A 2016 study by Rial et al theorized that MCT Oil can help protect obese people from metabolic diseases (including heart disease)
“via their capacity to improve both intestinal ecosystem and permeability. MCT-enriched diets could therefore be used to manage metabolic diseases through modification of gut microbia” .
So, there you have it, by improving gut health (via modification of gut microbia) MCT oil can help to manage/prevent metabolic diseases and therefore help to protect your heart.
6. MCT Oil Can Reduce The Amount Of Food You Eat
One of the biggest factors affecting how much food we eat during the day is satiety – how full we feel after a meal. By eating foods that are more satiating, we can reduce the number of calories we consume during, and between meals.
This can help with weight loss, and weight management. A 2016 study in Nutrition Research found that both MCTs and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) were able to increase satiety and reduce energy intake (how much food you can eat) .
MCT Oil may not be the health elixir that some parts of the fitness world claim, but it is undeniably useful. You don’t need to go full keto to enjoy the benefits either. You just need to replace some of the LCTs in your diet with MCT oil. While cooking for example.
Coconut oil will provide some benefits, but for the full range of benefits mentioned today you should consider purchasing actual MCT oil. It may be more expensive, but the benefits make the extra cost worthwhile.