Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oils are rich in a type of fatty acid that is more easily digested than other fatty acids. The body burns MCTs immediately, which provides a quick energy boost since they're not converted to and stored as fat. These fatty acids can be found in a number of foods, but the richest sources by far are coconut and palm oil.
Unlike the typical long-chain fatty acids that make up most other types of fats, MCTs do not have to be broken down or absorbed by the digestive system. The body can process them more like a carbohydrate and employ them for instant energy. Unlike carbohydrates, however, there is not a point at which you can consume an excess amount, which would then result in a conversion to storing the substance as fat.
It is important to note that this describes MCTs taken on their own, as with an isolated supplement. Natural food sources, such as coconut and palm oil, contain more than just MCTs (see Food Sources and Disadvantages below for further dietary information on natural MCT sources).
MCT oil is interesting for a number of obvious reasons. They provide a quick source of energy for workouts and athletic performance, and they're a good dietary substitute for other types of fats. But MCTs also have a wide range of established medical uses. They're used for nutritional support by people who have trouble digesting more complex fats, as well as for celiac, liver, and gallbladder disease. There is some preliminary research indicating that MCTs may also be beneficial for Alzheimer's disease, but the evidence is not yet conclusive.
Fat burning and weight loss
Overall, MCT oil has been consistently found to be an asset to burning fat and managing weight. A 2010 summary of research to date found that MCTs increase fat oxidation, boost metabolism, reduce appetite, and beneficially alter body composition.
Exercise and athletic performance
The benefit of MCT oil for fitness depends on what your primary goals are. Unfortunately, the same summary of research that found MCTs were great for weight loss also found that they didn't really provide any particular benefit to workouts or athletic performance. So if you're looking to put on muscle or increase cardiovascular endurance in a race, the evidence doesn't point to it being. However, if your primary fitness goal is weight loss, some MCT oil mixed into your pre-workout supplement can help increase your metabolism.
The body burns MCTs immediately, which provides a quick energy boost.
MCT oil is not regulated by the FDA and has no established recommended daily allowance (RDA). If taking pure MCT oil as a supplement, the manufacturer's standard dosage is usually about 15ml (for liquid) or 1000mg (for caplets), 1 to 3 times daily.
Pure MCT oil (with no other ingredients) is available as a supplement in caplet or liquid form. If you intend it as a dietary substitute for other fats (such as drizzling it over popcorn or salad), it's probably better to buy the liquid.
Supplement manufacturers state that taking MCT oil may result in gastrointestinal discomfort and that this can be mitigated by taking it with food.
When taken as part of a ketogenic diet, high doses of MCT oil have caused restlessness and insomnia.
The main disadvantage of pure MCT oil is that it does not contain essential fatty acids and thus cannot be used as a total dietary substitute for all other fats.
While coconut oil and palm oil have distinct flavors that can be palatable on their own, pure MCT oil is bland. If it is used on its own, it doesn't add any particular flavor to food. The oil mixes well with many different types of seasonings and flavors, but is not as well suited to cooking as coconut oil due to a lower boiling point.
The two primary food sources of MCTs are coconut and palm oil (most MCT oil supplements are extracted from coconut oil). In addition to containing MCTs, both are very high in saturated fat and calories. Milk, butter, and cheese also contain MCTs, with the highest concentration coming from sheep and goat dairy products. Clarifying butter (making ghee) also ups the ratio of MCTs to other types of fat.
It's important to speak to a doctor before making any major changes in to your diet or exercise regimen. While coconut and palm oils are considered food products, the FDA does not regulate pure MCT oil sold as a supplement.
Since MCT oil on its own will increase the metabolism and cannot be converted to stored fat, consuming it in conjunction with large amounts of other fats or carbohydrates may actually promote their retention. If MCT oil is treated as a fat-burning "magic bullet" and a substitute for eating a high load of carbohydrates and other fats, it may have the reverse effect of putting your metabolism on hold until the MCTs are burned off. Additionally, other fats and carbs consumed during this time may be stored more efficiently instead of being burned!
MCT oil should not be used by those with diabetes, except under direction of a physician as it is ketogenic.
Also, it should not be taken by those with liver disease — or other liver problems — since MCTs bypass the digestive system and are sent directly to the liver for processing. This may cause added stress and complications.
Where to buy
MCT oil supplements can be found right here at PricePlow and at 30% to 50% off of retail prices. You may even save on sales tax if applicable where you live. Let us handle the comparison shopping so you can spend more time focusing on your health.
What we like
- NOW Sports MCT Oil is 100% purified, vegetarian/vegan and supports weight management while retaining lean muscle tissue. It's available in 32 oz. bottles of liquid or 150 softgels.
- Body First MCT Oil is also 100% purified and is recommended for the support of low carb, ketogenic, and body-recomposition diets. It comes in a 32 oz. bottle containing 63 servings.
- Twinlab's emulsified MCT Fuel comes in a 16 oz. bottle and includes vitamin E. It comes with a natural orange flavoring.
Clegg, M; Food Sciences and Nutrition; "Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance;" November 2010