Fat Burning Supplements: Are They Worth The Price?
If you’ve ever visited a sports nutrition shop, you’ve likely come across fat burning supplements. There’s no doubt that they’ve trickled into the mainstream for regular gym-goers, their increased popularity down to the “promise” of getting shredded in record time. Sounds ideal, right? However, like most fitness supplements, it’s not guaranteed that fat burners will work the way you want them to, even if you use them correctly.
There are some misconceptions about fat burners, the most common being that you can forgo healthy eating in favour of relying on the supplements to burn the excess calories. However, this isn’t the case. The truth is that fat burners only boost the effects of a healthy lifestyle, rather than replace them altogether. Therefore, the healthier your lifestyle, the better the supplements should theoretically work. Here, we’ll go through everything you need to know about fat burning supplements, how to use them, and whether or not they’re worth it.
What are fat burning supplements?
Fat burning supplements are tablets, taken orally, which are said to curb hunger, boost metabolic rate, and enhance physical performance. All these things together may help you shed weight at a faster rate than if you were only going to the gym and eating healthily. In some cases, fat burners contain specific ingredients that encourage the production of specific hormones, like epinephrine to break down fats for your body to use as fuel.
There are seven different types of common fat burning supplements which all work in different ways depending on the results you want. However, it’s important to note that some may not be as effective as others, or even healthy for you.
Thermogenic Fat Burners
These are designed to increase your body’s natural internal temperature, which in turn speeds up your basal metabolic rate—how many calories your body burns while resting. By boosting this metabolic rate, your body will, in theory, burn more calories and fat while at rest, without you having to do anything. Common ingredients found in thermogenic fat burners include caffeine, grains of paradise, theacrine (which is similar to caffeine), capsaicin, and evodiamine.
However, some people may be sensitive to caffeine, while an overdose can have adverse effects on your body. This includes feeling symptoms of dizziness, diarrhoea, dehydration, insomnia, headaches, and even irregular or fast heartbeat.
Stimulant-Free Fat Burners
For people who have a sensitivity to stimulants like caffeine, stimulant-free fat burning supplements are able to burn fat without affecting your adrenal glands, which is what caffeine does. Neuron activity in the brain is stimulated under caffeine, which sends messages to the pituitary gland to stimulate the adrenal glands, releasing adrenaline and cortisol. A key ingredient you would typically find in a stimulant-free fat burner is fucoxanthin, a natural pigment compound that can be stored in fat cells and induces fat loss.
However, there is a lack of studies on humans (many of the studies were completed on lab rats and mice) so little is known about the effects of long-term or regular use.
Appetite suppressants do exactly that—reduce hunger. They generally work by balancing the levels of ghrelin and leptin, the chemicals associated with hunger. These hormone levels rise and fall over the day, based on things like when and what you last ate, genetics, sleep levels, mood, and stress. Key ingredients that are generally found in appetite suppressants can include glucomannan fibre, psyllium husk powder, phentermine, DL-phenylalanine, and caffeine.
While this works to decrease the number of calories you take in on a daily basis, it’s unhealthy to starve your body. In some cases, feeling hungry is a sign that your body isn’t getting enough nutrients, fibre, or healthy fats, and eating a balanced diet can stop those hunger pangs. It’s even more important to eat a well-balanced diet if you are taking appetite suppressants to avoid depriving your body of key nutrients.
As one of the three main macronutrients your body needs, carbohydrates are the most accessible source of energy in your body. Your body breaks down carbs to turn them into glycogen to fuel your muscles and glucose to fuel your brain. If your body doesn’t use all the carbs you eat in a day, they are stored in the body as fat.
Carbohydrate blockers work by inhibiting the enzymes that usually digest carbs. This means all the carbs you eat are simply passed through your system without adding to your daily caloric intake. By removing the calories found in carbohydrates, your body is able to create a calorie deficit, allowing you to burn fat instead of gaining it.
While this does help you to shed the weight, it’s important to remember that your body needs carbohydrates in order to function correctly. By forcing your body to ignore any of the carbs you’re consuming, you could wind up doing more damage than good.
Fats are another crucial part of a healthy diet and are the most calorically dense macronutrient in a balanced meal. While many people demonise them wholesale, healthy fats are actually crucial for brain development and function, insulating organs, and maintaining skin and hair. Fat blockers work in a similar way to carbohydrate blockers, and simply prevent your body from digesting and absorbing any fats you eat, in order to reduce the calories you consume.
The key ingredient found in fat blockers is chitin, a carbohydrate commonly found in shellfish. However, large amounts of chitin would have to be consumed in order to stop your body absorbing any fats, which could cause gastrointestinal problems, rendering this product potentially harmful.
Your thyroid gland is responsible for regulating your digestive and metabolic functions, so if your thyroid is underactive, this could have an effect on how efficiently you’re digesting and metabolising your food. Thyroid regulating fat burning supplements are developed to maintain the general health and function of your thyroid gland, while naturally increasing your metabolism.
Ingredients that are typically found in thyroid supplements include the hormones thyroxine (T4) or triiodothyronine (T3), which can also be found in medications prescribed to regulate thyroid levels. Taking too much of these hormones can disrupt your body’s natural ability to regulate hormone levels, and thyroid supplements may actually cause a thyroid problem in healthy individuals.
Cortisol is a hormone that is sometimes referred to as the “stress hormone”, and is released by your adrenal glands. It controls how your body responds to stress, increasing your blood sugar levels and suppressing your immune system which means you’re more likely to catch an illness. It also increases your appetite and sends signals around your body to store fat. Your body naturally produces cortisol based on a number of factors, including being in a hypocaloric state (consuming fewer calories than usual) and overtraining.
Cortisol blockers work by inhibiting the negative effects of the hormone, such as craving fatty foods and holding onto the excess fat. However, despite the science behind cortisol increasing your appetite, there is currently no solid evidence that cortisol blockers actually do lead to weight loss.
What natural ingredients are in fat burners?
As previously discussed, the ingredients found in fat burners differ, depending on the type of fat burning supplement you have. However, there are some common ingredients found within most supplements, many of which are natural, and can be easily incorporated into a daily diet without the need for pills:
- Green tea
Green tea is loaded with antioxidants known as catechins, the most important being epigallocatechin gallate, which has been proven to boost metabolism. It works by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down the hormone norepinephrine, which leads to more fat being broken down to be used as energy.
- Black pepper
The low-calorie seasoning contains piperine, which can prevent fat cell differentiation, enhance the metabolism of fat, and increase the bioavailability (or absorption) of nutrients.
- Green coffee bean
Green coffee beans, which haven’t been roasted, contain chlorogenic acids, which are compounds believed to be antioxidants. They help lower blood pressure, and even aid in weight loss. Note that roasting coffee reduces the levels of chlorogenic acid.
- Conjugated Linoleic Acid
Known as CLA, conjugated linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated fat which is most commonly found in dairy and meat sources—especially grass-fed cows. However, the CLA found in supplements is rarely derived from natural foods, and is chemically produced by altering the linoleic acid found in vegetable oils.
Do fat burning supplements work?
Fat burners can aid with fat loss if used correctly. However, users should have realistic expectations of how they work. It’s impossible to burn through all the fat on your body in one session, and weight loss takes time and commitment. Losing up to 3 lbs of fat per week is considered healthy. Going beyond this level of fat loss by using fat burners can be dangerous, unsustainable, and even have a negative impact on your body. Losing fat too quickly also means you run the risk of losing lean muscle mass you’ve worked hard to build.
While fat burners can work under the right circumstances or lifestyle, it’s important to only use them in short cycles. Prolonged use means your body builds up a tolerance to the ingredients, thereby slowing down the rate of fat loss. You should instead focus more on changing your lifestyle, such as your fitness levels and diet in order to lose weight, rather than relying on fat burners. Any supplements you take should instead be used to boost the effects of the changes you make, rather than be used as a replacement.
Can you make fat burners more effective?
As previously mentioned, the best way to boost the effectiveness of fat burners is to ensure you’re actually living a healthy lifestyle. Supplements will then boost the results of the work you put in, whether this is through healthy eating or exercise.
For example, developing a high-quality fitness program, and making sure you stick to it, can drastically increase the amount of weight you lose in a workout session. Taking the right fat burner allows your body to get the most out of any workout, so you will want to mix up your sessions in order to hit all the muscle groups as effectively as possible.
Eating a balanced diet will also maximise the effects of any supplements by giving your body the right macronutrients to use during workouts. If you’re not getting enough protein, for example, your muscle mass can deteriorate and your body will find it difficult to build new muscle. If you’re taking any appetite suppressants, you’ll need to ensure that the food you do eat is fully balanced, with all the macronutrients your body needs on a daily basis.
Ensuring you get enough rest and relaxation time is also essential to losing weight. Your body repairs and recovers itself during sleep cycles, so if you’re sleep deprived, you run the risk of not recovering properly between workouts. While fat burners will give you energy to exercise during the day, you need to get enough rest at night in order to let your body heal.
What are the health risks of fat burners?
‘Fat burner’ might sound like something which will give you the freedom to eat any food you like, slack off at the gym, and still see results, but this isn’t strictly true. Maintaining the right diet is still crucial for healthy living—you need the correct nutrients to avoid chronic illnesses such as heart disease. If you take fat burning supplements to counteract an unhealthy diet or sedentary lifestyle, you run the risk of seriously damaging your health.
Despite being available over the counter, there is evidence to suggest that fat burners can be harmful. Many of their natural ingredients speed up metabolism by increasing heart rate. With prolonged use, this can put a strain on your heart and cause long-term damage, including increased blood pressure and a reduction in the circulation of blood and nutrients to your organs.
Stimulants, such as caffeine, found in fat burners can also affect your sleeping pattern, keeping you awake and leading to insomnia. A lack of good quality sleep, where your body spends long enough in the REM and deep sleep stages, can leave you feeling exhausted during the day and unable to focus on basic tasks. It also weakens the immune system, changes the way we metabolise fat, affects cardiovascular health and can have a negative influence on mental health and emotional intelligence.
High amounts of caffeine present in some fat burners can also cause dehydration within users, as it is a diuretic. This is naturally an issue for those who are performing rigorous exercises as part of their fat loss goal, as excessive sweating through exertion will only further the body’s dehydrated state.
As some active ingredients interfere with your body’s natural production of hormones, you may find that your mental health alters with continued usage of fat burning supplements. Some users have suffered from irritability and severe mood swings, while others may experience aggression or even anxiety.
If you are going to utilise fat burning supplements, it’s best to first consult with your GP or physician, as well as a dietician. It may also be beneficial to have a workout plan created specifically for you by a personal trainer, to get the most out of each workout.