Go the Long Distance with MCTs

By: Callie Pillsbury on Jul 31, 2017

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood and a source of energy for the body. The structure of triglycerides includes a glyceride molecule with three fatty acids attached. Triglycerides can be divided into three different types, depending on the chain length of the fatty acid chain. Short chain fatty acids triglycerides have less than six carbons, medium chain triglycerides have 6-12 carbons, and long chain triglycerides have 13-21 carbons. Long chain triglycerides are the most common triglyceride found in the diet. In this blog, we will focus on medium chain triglycerides.


The most common types of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) are caproic acid (6 carbons), caprylic acid (8 carbons), capric acid (10 carbons), and lauric acid (12 carbons). MCTs are unique in that they are rapidly broken down and absorbed. This occurs because of the shorter length of the fatty acid chain. The longer the length of the fatty acid chain, the longer it takes for the body to break down and absorb it. In general, when working with triglycerides it’s important to be aware that as the chain length of triglycerides increase, the solubility decreases and the melting point increases. Thus, MCTs have a higher solubility potential and a lower melting point than long chain triglycerides. Different from other nutrients that produce glucose, MCT produce ketones when absorbed. Ketones are a direct energy source for the brain. Examples of ketones are acetoacetate, acetone, and b- hydroxybutyrate. MCT absorption goes straight to the liver which then produces ketones. Normally, a fat contains 9 kilocalories per gram, but MCTs contain 8.2 kilocalories per gram (1).

MCT are commonly used by people on opposite sides of the spectrum: athletes and hospital patients.


Research has explored the idea that MCTs may be helpful for athletes. Because MCTs are rapidly absorbed in the body, they are a quick source of energy for athletes. The absorption of MCTs produces ketones and free fatty acids. The muscles then readily use these free fatty acids and ketones in the body. Additionally, MCTs have been shown to give a rise in VO2 max. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen transportation in the muscles, thus it is measure of greatest aerobic activity (2). Therefore, the endurance will rise with MCT consumption, making it useful for athletes, such as long distance runners (3)


MCT oil is commonly used in patients who are unable to absorb fats, such as in pancreatic insufficiency and carnitine deficiency. Patients with pancreatic insufficiency suffer from a malabsorption of fats. MCTs do not need bile acids or enzymes for digestion. Thus MCTs can be used to give calories from fat to those who have pancreatic insufficiency. In carnitine deficiency, there is a genetic deficiency is the carnitine transporter. The carnitine transporter is critical for the absorption of long chain fatty acids. However, MCTs do not require carnitine for metabolism. People who have a carnitine deficiency consume a low fat diet with MCTs as the major source of fat (4). Patients who are unable to digest fats can mix MCT oil into drinks, sauces, or salad dressings. Additionally, patients who are receiving a tube feeding can have MCT oil mixed into their tube solution. 



Food source


Grams of MCT

Coconut oil

1 tbsp.


Palm oil

1 tbsp.  



1 tbsp.


Whole milk

1 cup


Cheddar cheese

1 slice


MCT oil is a concentrated form of MCTs made through fractionation, which is the process of separating different types of fats from the food source. The MCT oil is fractionated from either coconut oil or palm oil and then purified. 


Watson makes a spray dried product called MCT 50%. It is a white powder formula with a blend capric/capryic content of 60/40. One gram of MCT 50% give 0.5 grams of triglyceride.Spray dried MCT oil can be used in sports powders, nutritional products such as bars, beverages or gels. Patients diets in hospitals and nursing homes can also use MCTs to help give adequate energy to the elderly and sick.


1. Driskell, J. A. (2007). Sports Nutrition : Fats and Proteins. Boca Raton: CRC Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=190879&site=ehost-live

2. Misell, L. M., Lagomarcino, N. D., Schuster, V., & Kern, M. (2001). Chronic medium-chain triacylglycerol consumption and endurance performance in trained runners. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 41(2), 210–215.

3. Horvath, P. J., Eagen, C. K., Fisher, N. M., Leddy, J. J., & Pendergast, D. R. (2000). The effects of varying dietary fat on performance and metabolism in trained male and female runners. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 19(1), 52–60.

4. Driskell, J. A. (2007). Sports Nutrition : Fats and Proteins. Boca Raton: CRC Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=190879&site=ehost-live