Are fat burners effective?

Neal Spruce
Neal Spruce on behalf of dotFIT

Stimulant-type supplements are often referred to as “fat burners.” If properly formulated, they may slightly increase your daily calorie burn, and as long as you don’t simultaneously increase your food intake, “fat burners” may help with weight loss. However, the goal of incorporating a dietary supplement or fat burner into a weight loss program is only to assist the user in following the daily routine that leads to weight reduction. Also, the supplement ingredients must have safely demonstrated the potential to act in one or more of the following ways:

  • Help create and maintain a calorie deficit by increasing daily calorie expenditure when compared to a non-supplemented state
  • Raise energy levels that may make one more active throughout the day
  • Reduce the drive to consume food
  • Decrease calorie absorption

Potentially helpful weight loss supplements

Herbal combinations such as caffeine, green tea components and capsaicin have been clinically shown to be effective in producing significant effects on metabolic targets such as satiety (feeling of fullness), thermogenesis (increasing metabolism) and fat oxidation (increased use of fat for daily energy needs). These natural substances are the most well established for increasing calorie burn and are therefore used in many weight loss supplements as “fat burners” - but not necessarily in the right doses. They need to be in the proper amounts in order to be effective, which will vary depending on a person’s size. For example, 150-300 mg of caffeine, 10 mg of capsaicin and 270 mg of EGCG from green tea per dose. There are a few other natural ingredients that may slightly increase metabolism such as bitter orange, but they may also pose greater risks. You shouldn’t use any of these products if you have adverse reactions to stimulants.

These types of dietary supplements may be appropriate for:

  • People with aggressive goals and a time limit (e.g. special events on set dates, making a certain weight class for sport or competition, etc.)
  • Athletes/entertainers preparing for competition that may require very low body fat.
  • People who have failed multiple times at reaching or maintaining weight goals.

The user would stop taking these supplements once the weight goal is reached or when they have their daily routines under control to continue making progress without the supplements.

Fat Burners fall into the category of supplements and supplements are just what they are called.  They are a supplement to your diet!  Through your diet you can manipulate your body and get the desired effects without supplements.  You manipulate your diet by changing the calories intaken and the macronutrient ratios and food choices.  Then you can manipulate your activity performed.  Through that you burn fat.

Fat Burners are stimulants and improve metabolic function and can improve the number of calories burned in a day.  There is not concrete research to show how many extra calories a fat burner will produce but it is not nearly even in the ballpark as manipulation in your diet.  I could show you some examples but we do not have enough room in this post.  If you are in a caloric deficit through your nutrition and exercise then fat burners can be added for an extra little push but make the basis of your fat loss to be your calories in versus your calories out.

This question I get asked a lot in my gym. The question I tell my clients to ask is not if fat burners are effective but are they safe. While fat burners can help you lose weight by speeding up your metabolism they also can do a number on your heart, kidneys and liver. I tell my clients to compare fat burners to cars. It is almost like having a Honda Civic. It's not a bad car, gets good mileage and speed, but put some nitro in the gas tank and now you have a sports car that can burn through the race. However, once that nitro is used up it is still a Civic. If you want the most effective fat burner out there that is safe and natural, you only have to look as far as your own body. What a lot of people don't know is that if you increase your muscle mass by 1 pound you can burn up to 30-50 calories per pound. Now imagine you put 10 pounds of muscle on, that's an extra 500 calories you're burning per day. So bottom line, don't think of the quick temporary fix but a life changing and natural fix. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.