If I say burning fat, most people think of fat burners.
Or they might think of sweat dripping, feet dragging, maximal exertion, exhaustive exercise where they’ll have to get up before the first rooster crows when everyone is still snuggling in bed, running for miles uphill, both ways, in the snow, backwards, twice…on an empty stomach.
And sometimes they might also slam down a fat burner to maximize fat burning in a fasted state.
Just so you know, boosting fat oxidation doesn’t mean you’ll lose fat (burning fat at the expense of glucose doesn’t equal fat loss). Here is such an example. The ingestion of caffeine (100mg) or oolong tea (100 mg caffeine, 21.4 mg gallic acid, 97 mg catechins and 125 mg polymerized polyphenol) increased fat oxidation by ~20% without affecting energy expenditure over 24-h (R). More fat oxidation doesn’t mean more fat loss. A 0% increase in energy expenditure = 0% increase in fat loss.
Most people use fat burners because it speeds up their metabolic rate. Boosting their heat production to the point where their fat just melts away, like ice cream on a hot day.
Some might even think that the jitteriness they experience is a sign that their metabolism has shot through the roof. But on a serious note, let’s look at the actual research.
Fat burners and the metabolic rate
One of the “benefits” of fat burners is that they increase the metabolic rate. Instead of burning 2000 calories at rest, you can burn more. Most companies exaggerate this point and make claims that it “melts fat off” or make you so thermogenic that you’ll burn all your fat off in 30 days and look like pro bodybuilders who have been taking steroids (and many other strong drugs) for many years.
But what does the research show?
By how much do you think does the metabolism go up with a fat burner? 100 calories, 500 calories, 1000 calories?
The answer is between 5-10%, which is about 100-200 calories.
A little disappointing, but it can add up can’t it? More on that in just a bit.
Consuming the thermogenic supplement called Iron Cuts™ has been shown to increase the metabolic rate. Have a look at its ingredients.
Quite a lot of ingredients right? So it must work right? Here are the results from the study:
“Specifically, RMR (resting metabolic rate) was increased by 7.8 % (from 1,906 to 2,057 kcal), 6.9 % (from 1,906 to 2,037 kcal), and 9.1 % (from 1,906 to 2,081 kcal) in the TFLS, while the PLA treatment increased RMR by 3.3 % (from 1,919 to 1,981 kcal), 3.1 % (from 1,919 to 1,978 kcal), and 2.1 % (from 1,919 to 1,959 kcal) above baseline at 60, 120, and 180-min post ingestion, respectively. …Additionally, the TFLS significantly elevated RMR at the 3-h time point as compared to the PLA treatment (2,081 vs 1,959 kcal, p = 0.034).” (R)
The problem with such multi-ingredient supplements are that you don’t know what’s doing what. And since it’s a propriety blend, you don’t know how much of what they added, which is very important.
But even with all those ingredients, it only boosted the metabolic rate by a little less than 10%. They didn’t check long-term results though.
Now let’s look at individual ingredients and their effects on the metabolic rate.
The most common ingredients that have actually been shown to promote fat loss include green tea extract, caffeine and citrus extract.
Green tea extract (containing 90 mg epigallocatechin gallate) can increase 24-hour energy expenditure by 4% (R). A sad 76 calorie increase if someone has a metabolic rate of 1900 calories. Not very wow at all!
However, when you throw caffeine in the mix, it goes even higher. This study found that 24-hour energy expenditure increased significantly by about 750 kJ (roughly 180 calories) with all EGCG-caffeine mixtures compared with placebo, which included 200 mg caffeine and a variable dose of EGCG (90, 200, 300 or 400 mg) three times daily (R). So 600mg caffeine per day can bump that meager 76 calories up to 180. But still. Meh!
But lets up the dose. In this study, 400mg of caffeine increased the metabolic rate from 1900 to almost 2200 up to for more than 3 hours (R). An almost 300 calorie increase.
It seems that the increase in RMR from caffeine is dose-dependent. This study showed that caffeine dose-dependently increase RMR, with doses of 100, 200, and 400 mg of caffeine increasing RMR by
4%, 11%, and 16%, respectively (R). 600mg to 1g doses should take it even higher.
It would seem that caffeine is doing most of the work anyway.
A multi-ingredient supplement called Shred Sport (containing 200mg caffeine) was able to increase the RMR by about 11.5%.
“Post hoc analyses revealed that the dietary supplement treatment demonstrated significant elevations in RMR during the postingestion period (p < 0.05) from 1,859 ± 266 kcal to 2,027 ± 288 kcal (increase of 9%) to 2,072 ± 292 kcal (increase of 11.5%) and to 2,040 ± 271 kcal (increase of 9.7%) at 60, 120, and 180 minutes postingestion, respectfully.” (R)
So a sports supplement with a multitude of ingredients (including 200mg of caffeine) only increases the RMR by 11.5% at most, which is basically the same as just taking 200mg of caffeine on its own.
So are fat burners really worth it?
This very recent meta-analysis found that is was not.
“There is a general trend to show effectiveness (effect size greater than 0.00) for obtaining beneficial changes from use of thermogenic dietary supplements, yet the 95% confidence interval for effect size crossed 0.00 (indicating no benefit). Chi-square comparison to exercise, or combination of diet and exercise, indicates that responses induced from weight-loss supplements were less effective than what is obtained from utilizing exercise, or diet and exercise, without additional weight-loss supplements.” (R)
Yep, no benefit. And it concludes that exercise and diet trump all. But not just any diet…the right kind, where you nourish your body with the nutrient-dense, non-gut irritating or inflammatory foods, with intuitive eating. And that’s why I have created The Alpha Energy Nutrition Course. To educate you about which foods are best to consume and also to teach you how to eat intuitively (how to listen to your body; which signs to look out for).
Additionally, most training programs are terrible for promoting fat loss. Most training programs take 45-90 min to complete where you might only burn 300 calories per 60 mins. How demotivating is that? Let’s say you go for a jog and burn 200-300 calories, and now you’re hungrier than normal, you eat 1/2 a slab of chocolate and that deficit is nullified.
Now you might think…”Ok, what about long-term effects with a fat burner? Those extra 100-200 calories per day should add up, right?”
This study did exactly that. They looked at the effects of a fat burner (Iron Cuts again) vs placebo for 6 weeks. And yes, the fat burner resulted in 11.5% increasing resting energy expenditure, whereas the placebo increase by only 5%. However, “the difference between conditions was not statistically significant. Overall, some select parameters may have been beneficially modified by supplementation, but this did not result in superior weight or fat loss over 6 weeks of supplementation and resistance training” (R).
RMR boost from fat burners put in perspective
Now that you know that fat burners only increase the metabolic rate by about 10%, let’s put that in perspective with fat burners that bodybuilders actually/usually use.
The ECA stack, consisting of ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin, was frequently used by old school bodybuilders when cutting.
The combining (200mg) caffeine with (20mg) boosts energy expenditure by about 18% in this study (R). A clinical trial using diet and 40mg ephedrine and 100mg caffeine three times daily resulted in a weight loss of 8.1kg compared with only 4.1kg on placebo after 12 weeks of treatment (R). A much bigger boost amirite?
Clenbuterol, another favorite alongside or as a replacement for the ECA stack, can also dramatically boost the metabolic rate. This study showed that 80 μg clenbuterol was able to increase resting energy expenditure by 21% (R).
Another very potent fat loss drug is DNP, which boosts the metabolic rate through uncoupling. “DNP can cause a significant increase in the basal metabolic rate [7, 8]. This leads to weight loss by burning more fat and carbohydrates , and weight loss of up to 1.5 kg per week is reported without significant side effects. However, there seems to be significant variation in individual responses with an average metabolic rate increase of 11% for every 100 mg of DNP when taken regularly [10–12].” (R).
Additionally, higher doses increase the metabolic rate even more. “In line with this notion, early clinical studies showed that metabolic rate gradually increases with daily administration of 3–5 mg/kg DNP, and plateaued at ∼40% above baseline after a few weeks of treatment.… When used in a dose of 300 mg/d, weight loss induced by DNP seemed to be well tolerated and associated with an increase in metabolic rate of ∼50%” (R)
So DNP is very potent and very effective. The best with the least side effects if you want to use something for very rapid results. However, it’s also deadly. Take a dose that’s a little too much and you can die from hyperthermia. But if you use it currently, it can be very helpful. “In 1934 alone, Stanford Clinics supplied over 1,200,000 DNP capsules to physicians, or directly to patients with physician prescriptions (Tainter et al., 1934). Stanford scientists estimated that within this 1 year, more than 100,000 people in the United States were treated with DNP.” (R)
On caffeine and fat loss
From everything that’s available, legal and safe, caffeine takes the cake.
As you can see, most fat burners out there are relatively useless and you’re better off focusing on diet and training and perhaps getting a caffeine supplement if you want to speed things (as it has additional health benefits).
But just because caffeine promotes the metabolic rate doesn’t mean it will make you sliced if you rely only on that. Same thing with coffee drinkers.
You have to understand that just because studies show that coffee drinkers are leaner than non-drinkers (R), this does not mean they are shredded. It only means that they have a BMI of 30 vs 31 for example. Still fat, but not as fat.
So the whole point being, even if you increase your metabolic rate by 10% (which is about 200 extra calories), that does not mean you’ll actually lose weight, unless your diet is controlled to the T, which is almost never ever the case. We’re simply not robots.
Since caffeine is one of the best options for boosting the metabolic rate and fat loss, let’s talk more about dosing.
Caffeine appears to be most effective at promoting fat oxidation, improving insulin sensitivity, reducing appetite, lowering inflammation and increasing the metabolic rate in a dose-dependent manner. As per this study, 100, 200, and 400 mg of caffeine increasing RMR by roughly 4%, 11%, and 16%, respectively (R). You can even take higher doses such as 600-900mg doses x2 daily to boost your metabolism even higher.
But most people can’t tolerate that amount. I can easily tolerate 900mg in one dose just fine. For those that get negative effects from caffeine, add some magnesium, niacinamide and/or theanine (pro-GABA supplements), then those negative symptoms disappear. A simple trick is to use theanine at a 1:1 ratio with caffeine. Adding niacinamide and vitamin B1 will increase NAD and glucose oxidation, which will skyrocket your CO2 production, which has many additional benefits.
If you prefer to stick to food, drink lots of double espressos. If you get jittery from coffee, add cream and sugar/honey/maple syrup to it and that will make the caffeine like a slow-release pill and prevent jitteriness.
If you don’t do good on cows or goat cream, then use butter instead. The lipids in dairy encapsulate the caffeine and release it slowly in your system, whereas other fats aren’t nearly as effective.
Fat burners and appetite
Another major reason why fat burners work is because they suppress the appetite. Many of the studies showing fat loss benefits with fat burners are simply because fat burners reduce appetite. You eat less, you lose weight faster. Also, if you’re not as hungry, there’s less chance that you’ll binge eat when it’s your refeed day.
However, this reduction in appetite can also cause negative symptoms. Because the increase in metabolic rate (especially if it’s sympathetic driven) increases the requirements of nutrients, and since someone is eating less, might experience side effects such as jitteriness, coldness, anxiety, etc.
Reduced appetite is a big pro, but it’s also because energy production is enhanced and blood sugar is more stable. If you just focus on certain foods that don’t cause blood sugar rollercoasters for you or that cause inflammation, your hunger will also be reduced without the need for a supplement. I teach all these principles in The Alpha Energy Nutrition Course.
Lastly, diet education, macronutrient compositions and quantities, food combination, meal timing, etc, is also very important…much more so than fat burners.
If you’re still convinced that you want to use a fat burner, then let me at least point out some good ingredients to look out for.
The obvious one is caffeine. The second obvious one is citrus extract or components in citrus such as naringenin and hesperadin.
Citrus sinensis extract (from Moro blood orange fruit) at 1g was effective at promoting fat loss and promoting muscle mass gains with the diet being controlled (R).
This is really good if a compound can promote both the loss of fat and promote the gain of muscle. Clenbuterol has similar effects (although it can have many side effects).
Naringenin has similar potent fat loss and health benefits. This case report showed that someone ingested 150 mg naringenin from an extract of whole oranges standardized to 28% naringenin three times/day for 8 weeks, while maintaining usual food intake (R). After 8 weeks, 2.3kg was lost. The metabolic rate peaked at 3.5% above baseline at 1 h, but there was no change in the respiratory quotient (meaning an increase in both glucose and fat).
If I had to recommend a fat burner, it would be this one. There are most likely other quality ones out there as well, I just haven’t gone digging for them since I don’t use them.
Most people that use fat burners are those that don’t properly look after their diet and exercise only but so often. So they basically want the easy way out. If you’re going to rely on a supplement to hopefully promotes fat loss, then you’re in for a bad time. Most fat burners only cause about 1-3kg of fat loss in 8-12 weeks if you’re lucky. That’s about 0.13-0.25kg per week, which is about >400-800% slower than when losing 1kg every 1-2 weeks with diet and exercise. If you just focus on diet and lose 2kg per month, you’ll lose 6kg in 12 weeks, instead of 1-2kg. And keep in mind that 12 weeks is a long time. Even 4 weeks can feel like an eternity. If you only see 1kg of fat loss after 4 weeks, I pretty sure you won’t be too thrilled. Most people would like to see 1kg fat loss per day, no per month. Those that look for a quick fix will not buy a fat burner again, because it doesn’t work fast enough.
Diet and exercise still reign supreme.
And after they quit the fat burner, they’ll most likely gain the weight back, because no one is going to use a fat burner forever to stay lean. It’s much better to have lifestyle and diet in check. The only place where I see a fat burner as being useful is for prepping for an one time event and even then it’s not essential. You use diet, training and a fat burner to get sliced and then after the event (either a photoshoot, competition, summer, etc.) you fatten back up or at least maintain a high % body fat. There is really no need to use a fat burner if you’re above 8-10% body fat.
Last but not least, fat burners don’t necessarily contain what you think. Most of them (cheap or expensive) contain unlisted ingredients. This study found that “202 (63,3%) contained unapproved, synthetic drug ingredients. The major adulterant (113 of 319, 35.4%) was DNP (2,4-dinitrophenol), whereas sibutramine was the second most frequent adulterant agent (69 products, 21,6%) between 1988 and 2019.” (R)
It bears repeating…get your diet in check (and perhaps start to be more active (done correctly)).
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