WADA says ketones do not meet criteria to be prohibited

Riders at the 2019 Tour of Oman, which in 2020 takes place just a few days after the conclusion of the new Saudi Tour
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has said that ketones do not meet the criteria to be added to the list of banned substances, even though the UCI currently recommends against their use and the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC) has called for their prohibition.

A spokesperson for WADA confirmed to Cyclingnews that while ketones have never featured on the agency’s list of monitored products, their use had been discussed by its List Expert Group.

"[Ketones] are not on WADA’s Prohibited List and have never been in our Monitoring Program. However, their status has been discussed by the WADA List Expert Group who considered that they do not meet the criteria to be prohibited," the spokesperson said.

A product must satisfy any two of out of three criteria in order to be added to WADA’s prohibited list, namely that it "has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance", that it "represents an actual or potential health risk to the athlete", or that "it violates the spirit of sport".

Speaking to L’Équipe (opens in new tab) earlier this week, UCI medical director Xavier Bigard said there was "no scientific evidence that ketone bodies improve performance", adding that it would be "complicated" for the product to be added to the list of prohibited substances.

The UCI announced in September that it was recommending against the use of ketones due to concerns over potential side effects and pending the commission of a scientific study into their properties. Bigard said that a call for proposals was due to be issued before the end of this year.

Cyclingnews understands that WADA will be kept abreast of the UCI scientific study and will revisit the use of ketones should new information regarding their properties emerge.

A number of riders from MPCC teams have raised concerns about the use of ketones this year, including Thibaut Pinot, Arnaud Démare, Guillaume Martin and Romain Bardet. "I don’t know if they’re right or wrong, if they constitute doping or not, but their use contributes to a sense that there are practices taking place in a grey zone, and that hurts the image of cycling," Bardet told Cyclingnews this week.

MPCC president Roger Legeay, meanwhile, disputed the idea that ketones were not performance enhancing, pointing out that more and more riders were using them. "Because if you don't perform better, why use [them]?" he said.

WADA confirmed that it had received a letter from the MPCC last winter calling for ketones to be added to its monitoring list.

Deceuninck-QuickStep and Jumbo-Visma are among the few WorldTour teams to have publicly confirmed their use of ketones. "I don't understand why there is a controversy about this," Julian Alaphilippe said during the 2019 Tour de France (opens in new tab). "It's like taking a gel in the race. It is part of our nutritional plan, we work with a dietician. It's a food supplement."

Davide Formolo told Cyclingnews that MPCC members are not the only teams to refrain from ketones, saying that they were not used at the UAE Team Emirates squad of Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar.

"We as a team don’t use ketones, I don’t even really know how they work," Formolo said this week. "From what I’ve read in the newspapers, they’re for fuelling, but whether they make a big difference, I don’t know." 

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Barry Ryan
Head of Features

Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.