Often, vitamins and supplements are the first line of defense people look towards when trying to lose weight. What you should keep in mind is no amount of vitamins and supplements can make up for a poor diet.
It is also important to note that supplements are not required to lose weight or gain muscle.
By definition, they are supplemental, meaning something that completes or enhances something else when added to it, in this case, your diet.
Investing more time, energy, and money into improving your ketogenic nutrition and exercise habits will positively yield better fat loss and muscle gain than any supplement would provide. While this is a hard pill to swallow, no pun intended, it's the reality of the situation.
Believe me, I wish there were a pill that I could buy that would magically burn fat. As the saying goes, if it were that easy, everyone would be doing, or in this case, taking it.Very few supplements, regardless of what they say, carry sufficient scientific backing to make it worth investing in and taking.
That said, I would be lying if I said I didn't spend countless amounts of money on worthless supplements in the attempts to make up for a poor diet and exercise routine In my earlier years. Therefore, you can learn from my mistakes and benefit from my years of research.
What Are The Best Supplements For Keto?
Not all supplements are created equal, even for the ones I'm about to list below. For this reason, I've chosen to break the supplements down into tiers versus rank them best to worst.
Supplements in the higher tier (Tier 1) are the ones you should first consider before looking at the lower levels.
The vitamins and supplements listed down below will be a mix geared towards a wide range of goals, meaning not only fat loss, but sports performance (muscle gain), and general well-being to supplement a healthy keto lifestyle.In general, these supplements can be broken down into three key factors:
- Safety – Is it safe? Any side effects?
- Efficacy – Does it do what it claims to?
- Cost – Is it worth the price?
If you're listed on learning a bit more about nutrition, more specifically about keto, I've given my recommendations on best keto books to further your knowledge.
Best Keto Supplements – Tier 1
There is a great amount of research to support the supplements in this tier, in addition to being relatively inexpensive.
If I were to hedge my bets on supplements that will benefit your ketogenic journey and help improve your performance and physique, these would be them.
Electrolytes or Mineral-Rich Foods
Adding in electrolytes, especially sodium and potassium, is an excellent idea for anyone just starting a ketogenic diet. While you might not necessarily need a supplement for electrolytes, it's usually a good idea for many, especially during the transition phase.
The first couple of weeks can be a challenge as the body is adapting to a reduced number of carbohydrates and glycogen. This decrease in carbohydrates and glycogen results in a significant loss of body water.1This would explain the significant weight loss that you may experience the first week.
As water leaves the body, levels of sodium, potassium, and magnesium may drop as well.2 A lot of the adverse side effects that people experience within the first few weeks of a ketogenic diet are usually a result of this electrolyte imbalance.
If you've experienced the keto flu, you may have experienced some or all of these symptoms:
By supplementing electrolytes, you can potentially prevent all of the adverse side effects that many tend to experience.
Of course, you may also get adequate amounts of sodium and potassium from your diet. You must make sure to salt foods liberally and to taste, while also increasing potassium-rich foods, such as dark leafy greens and avocados.
Some electrolyte supplements I recommend:
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, functions like a hormone, cells throughout your entire body has a receptor for it.
It is referred to as the sunshine vitamin because your body makes it from cholesterol when your skin is exposed to the sun. Additionally, vitamin D may be found in certain foods, but it is challenging to get from diet alone.
While vitamin D is not specifically deficient for those following ketogenic diet, according to a 2011 study, over 40% of adults in the US are deficient.3
Signs of vitamin D deficiency can include:
- Muscle weakness
Since very few foods offer an adequate amount of vitamin D, many health professionals recommend vitamin D supplementation to ensure proper levels.
Supplementing with vitamin D has been associated benefits such as:
- Increased cognition 4
- Immune health 5
- Bone health 6
- Increased testosterone levels 7
Of course, the only real way to know if you are deficient is by getting a blood test.
Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it's best taken alongside a meal with fat, which should be hard on a ketogenic diet.
Creatine is the most studied supplement in the world and has been shown to significantly improve strength and power, enhance muscle hydration, and increase muscle size.8
The international Society of sports nutrition considers creatine to be the safest and most effective ergogenic aids.
Also, recent data suggests that creatine may even have neuroprotective properties.9
Anyone with muscle or strength-building goals, which I think should be everyone, should supplement 5 g of creatine monohydrate per day. With a year supply costing you less than $50, can you afford not to supplement creatine?
People place too much emphasis on fat intake while on a ketogenic diet, but a high-fat intake is only a byproduct of limiting carbohydrates.
Since fat and carbohydrates are primarily used as energy, when you eliminate one, the other must go up to compensate.
What many people also don't realize is that the more fat you eat in your diet, the less fat your body will need to burn from your body. While it's not as simple as that, in general, this is where many people get stuck in not losing weight or plateauing.
Protein, similar to that of carbohydrates, gets demonized by the ketogenic community. Similar to electrolytes, many individuals find themselves with a protein deficiency, likely due to the advice of some other information found on the Internet.
People following a ketogenic diet sometimes end up with skin, hair (loss), and nail problems. If these symptoms describe you, there may be a chance that you are deficient in protein.
When it comes to protein, too much is better than too little, especially when it comes to changing your body composition (gaining muscle and losing fat). 1011
The amount of protein you need on a ketogenic diet is often a controversial topic. However, when it comes to protein, we know that:
- Most essential in repairing and building muscle
- Helps spare lean tissue while dieting
- Protein is the most thermogenic (burns the most calories during digestion)
- The most a satiating (feeling of fullness)
When it comes to body recomposition i.e., losing fat and gaining muscle protein is King.
Protein is the best muscle building and fat burning macronutrient. Therefore, limiting protein intake is counterproductive if looking better is your primary goal.
What's even worse is when you limit your protein intake due to some arbitrary percentage, or someone fear mongering you in believing that protein will keep you out of ketosis. Ketosis is established by reducing carbohydrates, not eating high-fat, or reducing protein.
Daily protein intake should be calculated depending on body fat and lean mass. For a better idea of how to calculate your protein intake, check out my keto macro calculator.
While protein needs can be met through diet alone, some people find it easier to supplement with a little bit of protein powder.
Pick any protein powder that suits your preferences and budget.
Similar to creatine, caffeine has a large body of evidence supporting its use for maximizing acute fat oxidation, prolonged fatigue, increasing strength, improving cognitive function, and much more.
This is one of the main reasons that you will find caffeine in almost all of the fat-burning supplements you see on the shelves today.
For those with the primary goal of fat loss, a low-dose of caffeine may be beneficial before doing cardio.
Additionally, caffeine impacts energy expenditure. Meaning, ingesting caffeine throughout the day burns calories almost in a linear and dose-dependent manner.
Other benefits of caffeine include:
- Appetite suppression12
- Improved exercise performance13
- Better insulin sensitivity
- Increased muscle glycogen synthesis
Of course, caffeine affects everyone differently. I can drink a few shots of espresso and go right to bed, and others may become wired after half a cup of coffee. Habitual intake and tolerance of caffeine are significant factors.
Additionally, if you want to learn more about fat burners and keto, check out my article.
And that concludes the Tier 1 vitamins and supplements to help optimize your ketogenic diet.
Ketogenic Supplements – Tier 2
Consider the supplements in this tier as an “insurance policy.” If you're consuming a variety of whole-nutrient-dense foods and eating a portion of fatty fish ~2x per week, you may be covered.
However, there is one supplement listed in particular that you may not be able to get from diet alone.
Since a ketogenic diet is a relatively high-fat diet, chances are you may be getting enough essential fatty acids. Of course, this is assuming you are eating healthy sources of fats such as:
- Pasture-raised egg yolks
- Fatty Fish
- Grass-fed meats
Just to name a few…
That being said, the typical North American diet is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. Most people only consume 0.1 to 0.2 g per day when research indicates that you should at least consider 0.3 – 0.5 g. Furthermore, health markers are optimized been consuming between 4 to 6 g per day.
Deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to:
- Poor memory
- Risk of cardiovascular disease
In sum, these effects may negatively impact your fat loss goals.
Also, a study showed that people following a ketogenic diet who also supplemented with omega-3 experience a greater decrease in insulin and inflammatory markers, and decreased triglycerides compared to those who did not.14
As with any supplement, not all fish oil is created equal. Make sure to choose a reputable brand.
It may not always be easy to get micronutrient requirements met from foods alone, especially for those who are very active or athletes.
Furthermore, since most people reading this will be dieting, meeting your daily requirements in a caloric deficit makes it that much harder.
For this reason, and the fact that they are relatively cheap and low risk, you may want to consider supplementing with a daily multivitamin.
You can think of a multivitamin as an insurance policy to make sure your intake is at least meeting the minimum requirements.
When choosing a multivitamin, it is crucial to realize that there is a vast discrepancy in quality from one brand to another.
Many of the popular brands of multivitamins are filled with cheap ingredients. This usually means that some of the vitamins are significantly less bioavailable versions of the vitamin, not readily absorbed.
Here are two multivitamins brands I recommend:
Research suggests that due to mineral depletion in our soil and magnesium depleting medications, a significant portion of the population has or is at risk of developing a magnesium deficiency.15
Supplementing with magnesium has been shown to help reduce muscle cramps, promote restful sleep, and help regulate blood sugar levels.16
For these reasons, 200 to 400 mg of magnesium per day may be beneficial.
Keto-friendly foods rich in magnesium include:
- Pumpkin seeds
When supplementing with magnesium, I prefer to stick to the forms glycinate, gluconate, or citrate.
And that concludes the supplements in Tier 2.
Best Keto Supplements – Tier 3
In Tier 3, these supplements have the potential to be beneficial, but the effects are relatively small, and the scientific results are mixed or few. For any supplements listed in Tier 3 or Tier 4, you should consider the financial cost to benefit and if it is worth it to you.
A major complaint of those new to the ketogenic diet is the processing and digestion of relatively high amounts of fat. If you're experiencing digestive issues like diarrhea, nausea, and bloating, a digestive enzyme may help with that digestion, more specifically lipase.
Ashwagandha is considered a natural herbal adaptogen, meaning it has been utilized to help reduce stress and anxiety.
Many people don't realize that dieting itself, i.e., trying to lose weight, is a stress on the body.
Additional research suggests that ashwagandha may improve strength, glucose uptake, and even testosterone levels.17 1819
Other benefits include:
- Enhanced memory 20
- Increase anaerobic running capacity 21
- Help thyroid output 22
While I personally noticed a benefit, I know others who do not experience the same effects. As of now, ashwagandha supplementation seems to be safe, but it needs more long-term research for its efficacy.
Most research suggests 300 to 500 mg of the root extract per day is a good dose to take, more specifically, the KSM66 version.
With the rise of bulletproof, aka keto coffee, coconut oil and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT Oil) has been garnering a lot of attention.
MCT oil is primarily found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and dairy fat, and may have a benefit in regards to fat loss among other benefits such as:
- Improved insulin sensitivity 23
- Decrease in cholesterol 24
For some, MCT oil in their morning coffee or even as a pre-workout may be an effective strategy for decreasing hunger and improving energy. Just be cautious since some people react to MCT oil differently from others, meaning it does cause gastric upset in some individuals.
Start with a low dose of about one teaspoon and gradually work your way up to 1 to 2 tablespoons if you decide to supplement with MCT oil.
Anecdotally, MCT oil has also been shown to help people adapt much quicker to a ketogenic diet since MCT oil increases levels of ketone bodies in the bloodstream. 25
While coconut oil is a good source of MCT's, the reality is you can't get enough of the useful MCT's (C8 and C10) from coconut oil alone. MCT is primarily made from four different types of fatty acids:
- Caproic acid (C6)
- Caprylic acid (C8)
- Capric acid (C10)
- Lauric acid (C12)
An MCT supplement, or even better, a further extracted supplement of just C8 would be best. Caprylic acid (C8) is what seems to be the acid that has been shown to increase energy, increased ketone production, and even help with weight loss.
Of course, in addition to a sound weight loss diet.
Here are the MCT products I recommend:
And for the last tier…
Best Keto Supplements To Take – Tier 4
Since this is a ketogenic diet, people have questions related to keto-specific supplements, and for this reason, I included this tier.
First, to address some questions.
Is it the same if I eat carbs but take exogenous ketones?
While you may artificially be in the state of ketosis for a short period while supplementing exogenous ketones, I would say no, as it's not the same.
Will exogenous ketones burn fat?
Exogenous ketones will not directly burn fat but may help with weight loss indirectly. Meaning, if exogenous ketones help suppress hunger, increase energy, or do a combination of both, then yes, it will help with weight loss.
To read more about exogenous ketones, I wrote an article about whether they were worth the cost or worthless.
Exogenous Ketones and Ketone Salt Supplements For Keto
With limited research on exogenous ketones, I would list these along with the salts as luxury supplements to experiment with.
The efficacy of which I've found these supplements beneficial is during the transition process, possibly after a “cheat day,” and as a pre-workout supplement.
The difference between ketone esters vs. ketone salts is ketone esters are bioidentical versions of the ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), and ketone salts are not.
Bioidentical simply means the hormones in the product are chemically identical to the ones your body would have produced in a ketogenic state. This isn't to say that ketone salts are useless, but they may not be as effective.
Ketone esters will raise blood ketones far higher than ketone salts. 26 The drawback of ketone esters is that they are significantly more expensive and taste horrendous relative to ketone salts.
That said, if you would like to give either one a try, here are a few versions of each I would recommend.
Ketone Salts and Ester Recommendation
The Bottom LineTaking supplements is a great way to optimize your nutrition and training program, but not make up for them.
While we all wish there were a magic pill that would help us shed the pounds without trying too hard, the truth is that is still takes a consistent effort with your nutrition to make a meaningful difference.
It's this consistent effort that will allow you to shed the weight but, most importantly, developed great habits and keep the weight off.
At the end of the day, supplements are just there to help you with your journey, not carry you through them.