Today I'll be taking on the most poplar supplement ever: the fat burner. Drum roll please.
The diet pill or fat burner market in the US has reached the size of the GDP of a small country, 4 billion and climbing. So there must be something to these fat burning supplements, right? I am afraid the answer isn’t a simple yes or no.
Fat burners do raise your metabolic burn rate, but it is only by four to five percent. For a person who needs 2,000 calories a day, this would result in an extra 80 to 100 calories burned.
So, if your diet is off by 500 or more calories, it won’t make a difference. In comparison, a glass of wine is about 120 calories and a muffin can set you back up to 500.
The main benefit of any fat loss product resides not so much in its actual fat burning ability, but in the hunger suppression and the added energy they provide. That extra edge (mainly coming from the stimulatory effects of caffeine) helps the calorie-deprived athlete to push through his workouts, even when hungry and fatigued. Trust me, if you are really dieting, a serving of caffeine can be a godsend for your mood and energy levels.
Let’s talk a look at the ingredients in your typical fat burner and rate them in order to give you an idea what you should be looking for.
Rating Fat Burner Ingredients
For the most part fat burners start of by saying “proprietary formula”. What does this mean?
Bad news for you, I am afraid. The manufacturer is simply lumping together all the ingredients without telling you how much of each is in the product. That usually means that they have something to hide. DO not buy!
Another warning sign is the term “breakthrough technology.” I am not quite sure what the potential breakthrough could be, but if there was one you would need a prescription for the product.
Caffeine. Caffeine does help to burn off more free fatty acids in your blood stream while you’re exercising. It deserves a 5 star rating. It is also present in almost all fat burners since it is cheap and makes people “feel something” or “gives energy."
Ephedra. Ehepdra: a beta-2 mimetica, extremely effective at stimulating the metabolism and the oxidation of brown fat. It is currently banned, yet there are rumors that the FDA is considering reversing its stance. Should it be back, ephedra would get 5 stars.
Yohimbine. Yohimbine can be helpful (up to a point) in up-regulating norephedrine, which causes greater thermogenesis (heat production) and lypolysis (break down of fatty tissue). Some people might experience nausea from taking yohimbine; for those, a topical application seems more promising.
If go back to chapter one of my book, you’ll see the part where I talk about alpha and beta receptors. Just to reiterate, alpha receptors block fat loss out of the cell.
Yohimbine works as an alpha receptor antagonist, so it blocks the fat loss blocker (we all remember sixth grade math, a double negative equals a positive), thereby making it an interesting tool especially for women. Keep in mind that any amount of insulin negates the effects of yohimbine, so try to consume few to no carbohydrates when taking it.
5 stars here. The main problem is that most fat burners do not contain enough yohimbine. You’ll need 5-10 mgs.
Green Tea. Green tea: basically another form of caffeine with some antioxidants, useful but often underdosed, so buy your own. The active ingredient is EGCG, which is responsible for appetite suppression and decreased absorption of fatty acids. 5 stars if used properly.
Tyrosine. L-tyrosine: An amino acid, can be a great help to focus before a workout, again mostly under dosed, you’ll need 3 grams. 5 stars if you use enough and on an empty stomach.
Vencopetine. Vencopetine: improves blood flow, but the main positive is that it helps with concentration and overall mood. 4 stars.
Tuarine. L-taurine: also an amino acid, it has some mild pain killing abilities, again needs to be taken in larger doses and on an empty stomach to have any effect. 3 stars.
Nargenin. Nargenin: is a substance found in grapefruit. Not a fat burner per se but it slows down the breakdown of caffeine, hence making a fat burner more effective. I prefer grapefruit juice to wash down a fat burner. 3 stars.
Cayenne Pepper. Cayenne pepper: has been used in traditional medicine for increased blood flow, which helps with the transportation of fatty acids. 3 stars.
Synephrine. Synephrine: this has been used ever since ephedra was banned, but it has never lived up to the hype. 1 star.
B Vitamins. B-vitamins: sure why not, they are good for the nerves and cheap. Usefulness for fat loss? Not so much. 1 star.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C: great for colds, but in diet pills? 1 star.
Make Your Own Fat Burner
Here is my take your own recipe for a pre-workout fat burner, to be taken on an empty stomach (for a 200 lbs individual, if you are smaller, you must adjust the dosage):
- 300-400 mg caffeine
- 0.2 mg per kg body weight mg of yohimbine
- 600 mg green tea (standardized for 50% EGCG)
- 3 grams of l-tyrosine
All washed down with grapefruit juice. Buying all these ingredients separately will save you a lot of money and keep you in control as to what you are taking.
Not to sound like a broken record but it is much important to determine your caloric needs precisely, create a deficit, and follow a reasonable exercise program then to over think your fat loss product.
Try to avoid going too deeply into a calorie deficit because your body is more likely to use muscle for fuel when faced with an extreme situation. A reasonable goal is to lose one to two pounds per week; anything more and you are most likely sacrificing muscle mass. Larger athletes (over 200 lbs) can lose more than that; but you’ve got to keep an eye on your performance in the weight room. If your performance is dropping by ten to fifteen percent, you need to increase your calories by ten percent.
I find it critical to have a log, maybe two: one for your meals and the other for your workouts. Write down how you felt during your workout and mark down your energy levels. Be very precise in terms of your goals.
A good way to approach a cutting phase is to start changing your food intake and then, after three to four weeks, add in some low-intensity cardio.
Once your diet progress slows, it can be helpful to incorporate a fat burner to make further inroads and mobilize those last stubborn fat cells. If you start cardio and fat burners too early, there is a chance you will over-train and end up sacrificing muscle.
As much as our society craves the fix it-all pill, it is necessary to keep in mind that while a fat burner can provide an extra 5-7%, it is crucial to get the other 95% right first. Fat burners are helpful but don’t depend solely on them for your success.
A note of caution: If you are considering using DNP, which is an illegal medication, I urge you not to. While DNP can be very effective, it has caused several fatalities from stroke and basically being cooked from the inside. Do not use this product!
On another note, do not start taking a fat burner in the beginning of your diet. You will incur adrenal fatigue before you know it. Start buy cleaning up your food, get sufficient sleep, maybe add some cardio. If you start stalling after week 8, then you can incorporate a quality product (Dialene 4, Stim FX).