Do Fat Burners Work? When To Use These Supplements for Weight Loss
Authored by Trevor Hiltbrand
Fat burners, also known as thermogenics, are dietary supplements that professional bodybuilders swear by to help get as lean as possible before a physique competition. But fat burner supplements aren’t limited to just bodybuilders. Fitness-minded people and gym-goers alike can benefit by using a quality fat burner supplement to reach their weight-loss goals.
As its name suggests, a fat burner supplement theoretically helps you burn body fat and improve body composition. But really, do fat burners work for weight loss?
This article will answer your most pressing questions about fat-burning supplements so you can decide if you should use them to lose weight and get lean.
5 Rules for Staying Lean
Staying lean year-round is what most people want, particularly those who are physique-conscious.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done, especially if you have a strong appetite like many fitness enthusiasts do. So, how can you avoid the extra padding that accumulates around the midsection during the colder months?
Here are five basic rules for staying lean all year::
- Follow the 90/10 principle. Eat nutrient-dense whole foods 90% of the time, but follow a flexible diet approach e.g. “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM). Tip: Counting macros will help you stay on track.
- Do resistance training 4-6 times per week
- Perform at least 30-45 minutes of diligent cardio, 3-4 times per week
- Get adequate sleep each night and reduce stress
- Take an evidence-based fat burner supplement as needed
Roadblocks to Fat Loss
If you don’t eat the right kinds of food, control your energy balance, and work out regularly, you’re not going to lose weight efficiently. Even if you stay on point with your diet and exercise routine 90% of the time, losing weight can still be challenging.
As you become leaner and lose body fat, you will inevitably hit weight-loss plateaus. Don’t let these sticking points discourage you — they are a completely normal part of the process.
Research suggests that periodic carbohydrate refeeds can help overcome weight-loss plateaus by boosting metabolic rate.
Other factors, like physical and emotional stress, can also hinder weight loss. According to a study from 2017 published in the Journal of Obesity, chronic stress is strongly associated with weight gain and obesity. Some fat burner supplements provide nootropics and herbal adaptogens to help combat the stress life throws at you.
Whatever you do, don’t let momentary setbacks deter you from seeing your weight-loss goals through to the finish line. If you miss a workout once in a blue moon or indulge in a couple slices of pizza, it’s not the end of the world.
Remember the 90/10 principle from earlier, and recognize that there will be bumps in the road to your ideal physique no matter how perfect your plan is on paper.
With that in mind, taking a fat burner supplement can help you burn fat more efficiently and make it easier to overcome weight loss plateaus.
How Do Fat Burners Work?
Fat burners can help increase weight loss in various ways, including:
- Promoting lipolysis and fatty acid oxidation (the breakdown of fat for use as energy), especially during exercise. Lipolysis involves the hydrolysis of triglycerides into glycerol and free fatty acids, and subsequent fatty acid oxidation produces ATP (cellular energy).
- Increasing thermogenesis (when your body burns calories to produce heat) and increases your resting metabolic rate. A 2016 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that a thermogenic fat burner supplement significantly increased resting metabolic rate in healthy subjects. In layman’s terms, you burn more calories throughout the day, even while you're just hanging out at home and relaxing. This greater energy expenditure helps you get leaner over time.
- Acting as appetite suppressants so you consume fewer calories than you burn.
- Boosting your energy levels so you can keep up with intense cardio workouts and resistance training.
Assuming you buy from a reputable brand, fat burner supplements can be quite effective for virtually anyone looking to lose weight. The main thing to avoid is fat burner formulas that contain proprietary blends and harsh stimulants.
As with any nutritional supplement, be sure to check with your medical provider before taking a fat burner.
How Does a Fat Burner Supplement Fit Into the Equation?
The skeptic in you may be wondering how a fat burner supplement fits into a weight loss program. While diet and exercise are key to your success in losing weight, dietary supplements like fat burners can expedite the process of achieving your fitness goals.
No matter how “cutting-edge” your supplement stash is, weight loss takes consistency and dedication in the kitchen and in the gym. You need to push through yourself during workouts, eat a balanced diet with plenty of quality protein, and have the self-discipline to stay on-track.
Adding a high-quality fat burner to that equation ramps up your metabolism so you can get rid of stubborn body fat once and (hopefully) for all.
You might not see fat-loss results overnight, or even in the first week or two, but don’t stop! Noticeable changes in body composition take time.
Trust the process and take it one step at a time. Eventually, all your “small” efforts will make a big difference. If you lose one pound of body fat per week, that will add up to nearly 10 lbs. of body fat in just over two months.
Do Fat Burners Work?
It’s important to note that whatever fat burner you choose to supplement with, it’s not a “magic” solution for weight loss. Some may think that by taking a fat burner, it will replace the need for dieting and exercise while granting you the freedom to eat whatever you want and still lose weight. Unfortunately, that’s not how fat burners work.
For fat burners to work, you have to first put in 90% of the work by eating properly and going to the gym (or exercising at-home). Once those pieces of the puzzle are in place, a fat burner will give you that “edge” to lose weight more effectively.
Most of the time, healthy eating and exercise help burn off the majority of your body fat. But to reiterate from earlier, you will hit weight-loss plateaus where it becomes extremely difficult to cut stubborn fat.
This is where fat burners work their magic by maximizing your body's ability to burn fat and overcome sticking points.
Fat Burner Supplements That Work: Backed by Science
Fat burners are generally classified into two types: Those that contain stimulants, like caffeine and yohimbine, and those that are stimulant-free. Stimulant-free fat burners are a better choice if you don’t react well to caffeine.
Here's a list of evidence-based fat-burner ingredients to look for in a quality fat burner supplement, plus how they can potentially help you lose weight.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, caffeine acts as an appetite suppressant and can help support weight loss by contributing to greater energy expenditure. In addition, caffeine is a versatile ergogenic aid that can increase your performance in the gym and allow you to push yourself during tough workouts.
2. Green Tea Leaf Extract
Green tea leaf extract contains a small amount of naturally occurring caffeine, along with catechins and polyphenols that have a range of therapeutic properties. Notably, green tea leaves are a rich source of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) — a catechin that inhibits the release of catecholamines (e.g. dopamine and norepinephrine), leading to a milder and “cleaner” stimulant effect than caffeine.
Due to its potent profile of polyphenols and caffeine, green tea extract optimizes thermogenesis and fat oxidation, leading to better weight management.
Traditionally used in Western African medicine as an aphrodisiac, Pausinystalia yohimbe contains the active ingredient, yohimbine.
As a stimulant, yohimbine actively liberates triglycerides from body fat (adipose tissue) so they can be burned for energy. The fat-burning properties of yohimbine are amplified when taken shortly before high-intensity workouts.
However, yohimbine should not be taken in high doses (e.g. >10 mg per day) as it can significantly increase heart rate and the risk of mood swings.
4. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
Revered for its serotonin-boosting properties, 5-HTP is one of the most thoroughly studied natural appetite suppressants. By acting as a direct precursor to serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), 5-HTP can help control food intake on a weight-loss diet.
Another potential benefit of 5-HTP is support for healthy mood since reduced serotonin levels are implicated in depression and mood disorders. Hence, you might also see this ingredient in nootropic formulas and sleep aids.
5. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
L-carnitine is a naturally occurring quaternary ammonium compound present in many foods, notably animal meats and dairy. It is a vital molecule for transporting fatty acids across the membranes of mitochondria (the “powerhouses” of cells).
Once inside mitochondria, L-carnitine releases the fatty acids so they can be burned for energy. Research suggests the acetylated form of L-carnitine (ALCAR) is an effective thermogenic that improves metabolic function by stimulating mitochondrial enzyme activity and reducing oxidative stress. ALCAR also appears to have a range of neuroprotective properties.
L-Theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in green tea leaves. What makes L-theanine distinct from dietary amino acids is that it isn’t incorporated into proteins. Instead, L-theanine readily absorbs across the blood-brain barrier where it exerts nootropic activity by promoting cognitive function and “alert relaxation.”
Derived from the roots of the Coleus forskohlii plant, forskolin is a diterpenoid commonly used to treat heart failure and glaucoma due to its vasodilating (blood pressure-lowering) properties. A recent 12-week, placebo-controlled human study found that subjects taking 25 mg of forskolin daily lost an average 4.52 kg (about 10 lbs) of body fat, whereas the control group only lost an average of 0.51 kg (or about 1.1 lbs).
Further evidence suggests that forskolin works by increasing cyclic AMP levels and stimulating lipolysis, thereby facilitating fat loss.
8. Cayenne Pepper Extract
Ever wonder what makes chili peppers so spicy? Well, it turns out the same compound that sets your mouth on fire — capsaicin — also ignites your metabolism (quite literally). Capsaicin is a major constituent of hot peppers, and recent human studies show that it helps boost weight loss by significantly increasing resting metabolic rate. In fact, capsaicin is one of the few “true” thermogenics you’ll find in fat burner formulas.
Naturally, cayenne pepper extract is a worthy contender as the top fat burner ingredient since it’s a rich source of capsaicin. The main caveat with cayenne pepper extract is that the capsaicin can irritate the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. A simple workaround to avoid this side effect is to take cayenne pepper extract shortly before meals.
Popular Fat Burner Ingredients to Avoid
Unfortunately, many popular fat burner ingredients you find in weight loss supplements lack evidence. Worse yet, taking fat burner pills that contain unproven ingredients can be dangerous if you’re not careful.
Here are some popular fat burner ingredients to avoid.
Raspberry ketone, not to be confused with the ketone bodies humans produce endogenously, is an aromatic compound found primarily in red raspberries (Rubus idaeus). Virtually all research on raspberry ketone and weight loss has been conducted in rodent models (and in vitro).
While the results of those studies are somewhat promising, a recent 8-week trial in healthy middle-aged adults found that raspberry ketone, green coffee bean extract, or a combination of both, had no significant effect on body mass, body composition, or substrate utilization compared to a placebo. Until more human data is available, it’s wise to steer clear of fat burners with raspberry ketone.
Garcinia cambogia, also known as Malabar tamarind, is a tree indigenous to Southeast Asia that bears fruit rich in a compound known as hydroxycitric acid (HCA). HCA is purported to reduce appetite, by increasing serotonin transmission, and inhibit lipogenesis (fat synthesis).
However, Garcinia cambogia extracts may be unsafe or toxic, according to a recent research review. In fact, a case study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that an herbal weight management supplement with Garcinia cambogia extract caused the first known case of liver failure from this ingredient in 2016.
Despite being exceptionally popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, Hoodia gordonii has faded from the spotlight due to a lack of compelling human research to support its usefulness as a fat burner. Ironically, a recent clinical trial in healthy adult women found that Hoodia gordonii was poorly tolerated and had no significant effects on food intake or body weight.
While this herbal ingredient has shown promise for suppressing appetite in some rodent studies, it seems to be mostly ineffective for weight loss in humans.
Green Coffee Bean Extract
Green coffee beans (Coffea canephora robusta) are a rich source of chlorogenic acids, which have apparent antihypertensive properties. Though there is reasonable evidence suggesting green coffee bean extract can help control blood pressure in humans, research on its efficacy as a fat burner is underwhelming.
A meta-analysis of human trials on green coffee bean extract concluded that “the results from these trials are promising, but the studies are all of poor methodological quality” and have a “high risk of bias.” At this point, it’s tough to recommend green coffee bean extract as a reliable fat burner supplement.
When Should You Use a Fat Burner Supplement?
For best results, take a fat burner supplement 30 minutes before breakfast. An additional serving can be taken in the early-mid afternoon or pre-workout if you hit the gym later in the day. This helps maximize the number of calories you burn during your training, improving overall weight loss.
Note that you should avoid taking a stimulant-based fat burner within 5 hours of bedtime, as the caffeine can interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Opt for a stimulant-free fat burner if you exercise close to bedtime.
PhysiqueSeries Fat Burners by Transparent Labs
If you’re in the market for a high-quality fat burner that will complement your weight loss goals with ingredients backed by science and clinical studies, PhysiqueSeries Fat Burners have you covered.
Available in stimulant and stimulant-free options, these fat burners are made with evidence-based ingredients at clinically-effective doses for helping you lose weight and cut body fat more efficiently.
With 100% formula transparency, no fillers or harmful additives, and third-party batch testing, you can be confident that every bottle of PhysiqueSeries Fat Burner contains exactly what’s listed on the label (and no adulterants).
Elevate Your Weight Loss Program With a Fat Burner Supplement
Now that you have a grasp of how fat burner supplements work, it's time to take action. Remember, the foundation of a weight loss program is eating a proper diet and exercising regularly. Once you have those essential components in place, an effective fat burner supplement can help take your results to the next level.
On that note, you’re probably wondering what’s the best diet for weight loss? Keto? Whole30? Paleo? Check our Fad Diet Showdown to learn all about popular weight-loss diets.
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