Start-up bets on the keto movement with sports drink

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Start-up bets on the keto movement with sports drink

Related tags Metabolism

While energy, protein, and electrolytes have dominated the sports drink category, Austin-based Limited Labs is paving the way for exogenous ketone bodies in sports drinks.

Their first ketogenic product,​, won the Sports Nutrition Food/Beverage category at this year’s SupplySide West CPG Editor’s Choice Award.

It launched last fall, not long after raising funds​ via crowdsourcing platform Indiegogo, and is now available on, as well as select GNC franchises, Nutrishop, and grocery retailer Hy-Vee.

While the sports category has long been dominated by electrolytes, protein, and energy, it was the use of GoBHB, a branded form of exogenous ketone body beta hydroxybutyrate by ingredient manufacturer Compound Solutions, that made the product stand out, according to Joey Savage, co-founder of Limited Labs.

“It had never been in an actual sports drink before,” ​he told NutraIngredients-USA. We brought the first-ever BHB or ketone-based beverage into the ready-to-drink market, because doing that alone was a technical undertaking that required lots of tinkering and trial & error - we actually had to make a product that seemed impossible to make.”

Medical use and more eating options means higher staying power than Paleo

The phrase ‘ketogenic’ or ‘keto’ continues to buzz among consumers. In the simplest terms, a state of ketosis, which the ketogenic diet strives for, is when liver-produced ketone bodies ‘burn’ fat as the primary source of energy instead of carbohydrates.

According to Google Trends, this spring saw online searches for ‘keto’ surpassed searches for ‘paleo,’ the most recent food and beverage trend.

While the ketogenic trend is still too new for market research firms to track as a category, there are signs that paleo is trailing off. Data from Innova Market Insights, a Netherlands-based research firm that looks at new product launches, paleo product launches tapered off to a 55.6% CAGR in 2014-2016 compared to 168.3% in 2012-2016.

Savage opined that the keto movement has higher staying power and may fall into a more habitual dietary habit like vegetarianism than paleo. “In a sense,​ [keto] isn’t as much a form of ‘extremism’ as paleo is. There’s a lot of different foods available to people on the keto diet that could be limited within the paleo realm​,” he said.

In addition, ketogenic diets have long been used in the medical industry as a therapy for epileptic populations. “The one thing that separates this diet from other ones is its true medical application,” ​Savage added.

Searches for 'Keto' (red) surpassed 'Paleo' (blue) this year. Source: Google Trends.

Ketone bodies and sports nutrition

What still needs further research, however, is the effect of a ketogenic diet on healthy populations. A search on PubMed returns mostly medical applications, but there are an increasing number of studies looking at the diet’s influence on sports performance.

In 2016, researchers at the University of Oxford published a study​ in Cell Metabolism ​that suggested ketone esters may boost endurance in elite athletes. Shortly after, the researchers started getting a high volume of requests​ for the trial product.

But not all exogenous ketone bodies are the same—a more recent study​ by researchers at the University of British Columbia Okanagan found that ketone salts may have little influence in improving athletic performance during high-intensity exercise.

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