A startup has created a performance-enhancing bottled 'superfuel' - here's what it's like to drink
- Ketones could supercharge the body in a way unlike any other fuel source.
- HVMN, a startup based in San Francisco, is bringing to market a drink made of pure ketone ester that it says has performance-boosting qualities.
- We tried the drink before its public launch.
HVMN, a startup building "human enhancement" technologies out of San Francisco, recently revealed that it is bringing one of the first commercial ketone esters to market. HVMN Ketone is an FDA-reviewed drink that claims to improve athletic ability, focus, and energy.
The drink contains 120 calories, but it has no fat, protein, or carbohydrates. Those calories instead come from ketones - molecules formed by the breakdown of fat. Geoff Woo, cofounder and CEO of HVMN (pronounced "human"), likes to call ketones "the fourth macronutrient."
"It's not a fat, it's not a protein, it's not a carb, but your body gets fuel from it," Woo told Business Insider.
To make the product, HVMN leveraged more than a decade and $60 million worth of scientific research through an exclusive partnership with the University of Oxford.
Brianna Stubbs, lead researcher at HVMN, joined a study on the effects of ketone esters in competitive rowers while a student-athlete at Oxford. The experienced inspired her to change her course of study from medicine to physiology.
Stubbs remembered how the ketone ester made her feel during practice rowing sessions: "When you take it, you get to the red line and feel like you can go further. It's as you get to the end, when normally you'd run out of energy, it's as if you have this extra gear at the end."
Stubbs holds a PhD around the science of ketones and two gold medals from the 2013 and 2016 World Rowing Championships. She resigned from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to join HVMN.
HVMN Ketone is available for pre-order. It costs $99 for a three-pack.
We tried HVMN Ketone and felt great, with some caveats
In October, we (Melia Robinson, an innovation reporter, and Erin Brodwin, a science correspondent) had the chance to try HVMN Ketone before it hit the market.
The drink comes in a bottle about the size of a 5-Hour Energy shot. It's clear and has no smell. The taste, however, burns like rubbing alcohol. It caused our eyes to tear. We gagged, loudly.
After a few minutes, our stomachs began to toss with nausea. A flavor like nail polish remover lingered on our lips long after drinking and was only extinguished with ice water.
Melia Robinson: I thought I would puke.
Erin Brodwin: Yeah, that's ... bad.
MR: After the feeling passed, I felt sort of jittery. Stubbs described the sensation as "you could run up a wall, but you don't want to."
EB: Once I was no longer nauseated, I noticed a definite curb in my appetite and an easier ability focusing on work. The timing of our experiment (11:00 a.m.) also coincided with the second day of my weeklong intermittent fasting experiment during which I had been breaking my fast each day at noon. After drinking the ester, my normal fasting jitters disappeared; I didn't even think about food until around 12:30 p.m. and I didn't eat until 1 p.m.
MR: About three hours after drinking the ester, around 3:00 p.m., I felt surprisingly alert. On a normal afternoon, I find myself searching for distractions in the depths of my inbox. Instead, I cranked away on writing and skipped my usual second or third cup of coffee around 3:00 p.m.
The next morning, Erin tried HVMN Ketone again before her morning workout.
EB: I chugged a second bottle of HVMN Ketone on an empty stomach an hour before my 7:30 a.m. high-intensity interval-training yoga class. It was just as disgusting as it was the first time, and I felt like my class was just as challenging as usual.
When I shared this anecdote with Kieran Clarke (a professor of physiological biochemistry at Oxford and the scientist leading the charge to translate her work on ketones and human performance into HVMN Ketone), she said the ketone may still have enabled me to perform better in class than normal. Since I didn't have a way of measuring it, I'll never know for sure. I also noticed that my appetite was curbed for a little longer after my workout than usual - probably by about an hour.
Both times we tried out the drink, we noticed that its effects wore off after between four and six hours - faster when we did lots of physical activity and slower when we didn't.
Two people do not make for a sufficient sample size in a study of the drink's effects, but our personal experiences were positive overall.
It's hard to separate our perception from any placebo effect, but HVMN Ketone produced measurable results for us. Stubbs performed two tests - a blood-glucose test and a ketone test - three times during the course of our trial. Using a small digital meter, she pricked our fingers the first time before we drank the ester, again 30 minutes later, and one hour after drinking.
During the hour before and the hour after we drank the ester, Melia's ketone levels to 6.0 mmol/l, a deep state of ketosis that can typically only be achieved through fasting. Erin's ketone levels rose to 4.2 mmol/l. Most people maintain a non-existent level of ketosis of 0.1 mmol/l, but we started with higher levels because one of us happened to be eating a low-carb diet while the other was trying a fast.
It's not hard to imagine Silicon Valley tech workers buying a ketone ester from their local drug store, instead of a $9 coffee drink, to fuel them during marathon coding sessions.
"Computer hackers back in the day were figuring out what more you could do with computers," Woo told Business Insider. "We're at the cusp of doing that with human bodies."