Looking to jumpstart your fat burning progress? Or, maybe you just want a boost for your workout sessions. Whatever the case, fat burners can come to your rescue. When you take a walk through any supplement store or simply do a quick search on Google, you’ll literally be met with hundreds of different fat burner options to choose from.
Which are right for you? Will they actually work? And what are the potential side effects and risks of using these products?
Let’s go over everything you need to know about fat burners so that you can prepare yourself to make the most informed decision.
What Are Fat Burners?
So what are fat burners? Fat burners are a category of supplements that are designed to help you increase your fat loss results. They usually aim to accomplish a few different goals. These include:
Decrease your appetite level making it easier to stick to your reduced calorie diet plan
Increase your energy level, making it easier to get in the workouts you need to be doing (while increasing the intensity of those sessions so that you are able to burn more calories)
Increase your mental focus and drive, which can be lagging when you go on a diet plan.
Some fat burners may only accomplish one or two of these objectives depending on the ingredients they contain while others will maximize the benefits and help you see them all.
The Most Common Fat Burner Ingredients
Most fat burners contain a number of ingredients, blended together to form the product. Often this is in the form of a proprietary blend, where you only know the actual ingredients in the product but do not know the dosage. Whenever possible, stay away from these types of products because without knowing how much of each ingredient you’re taking in, it becomes hard to assess the potential risks and side effects from use.
The most common ingredients you’ll find in fat burners and their benefits include:
- Caffeine – A central nervous system stimulant and serves to increase the resting metabolic rate, enhance your energy level and endurance (see study from Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise), improve alertness and concentration, and can also suppress appetite as well.
- Green Tea Extract – Helps to improve thermogenesis by increasing fatty acid burning while also stimulating the metabolic rate (see research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). This ingredient also has antioxidant benefits as well.
- CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) – A particular type of fatty acid that can help to increase the burning of fat in the body (see Obesity Research study).
- Garcinia Cambogia Extract – A fruit based extract that is said to help raise the metabolism and increase fat oxidation
- Hoodia Gordonii – An extract from a south African plan that helps to suppress appetite, making it easier to sustain a reduced calorie diet plan
- Vitamin B6 – A natural vitamin that stimulates increased energy in the body and improves metabolic efficiency
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine – An amino acid that is required for the production of energy in the body while helping with carbohydrate metabolism. May also help to improve mood and mental focus.
- Green Coffee Bean Extract – An extract that is said to help improve fat oxidation in the body as well and may boost energy levels
- Bitter Orange – A fruit based compound that works in the body similar to how ephedrine works by boosting the metabolic rate, enhancing energy levels, suppressing hunger, and increasing fat oxidation rates
- Taurine – A common ingredient you’ll find in energy drinks as well, this amino acid helps to bring you better overall energy levels and can also help improve your focus and concentration
- Yohimbe – A compound that can help stimulate higher levels of lipolysis (fat burning), especially when combined with a reduced carbohydrate diet plan and moderate intensity exercise.
Keep in mind this list is by no means all-inclusive. There are many different fat burning ingredients that you may come across as you look into purchasing a fat burner; these are just the most common ones that you’ll tend to come across.
Stimulant Fat Burners Versus Non-Stimulant Fat Burners
From the above, you may have a pretty good idea what stimulant fat burners are and what non-stimulant fat burners are.
A stimulant fat burner is any type of product, similar to Green Tea Triple Fat Burner, that is going to stimulate the central nervous system. These are the ones that contain caffeine, green tea extract, bitter orange, as well as higher amounts of Green coffee bean extract as well.
Caffeine is really the big one to watch for here as some fat burners can approach very high levels, containing up to 300+ mg per serving. You’ll want to assess how much caffeine you are taking in through other sources in your diet plan (coffee, energy drinks, etc.) and make sure that you are not going overboard. For most people, a safe upper limit is 200-300 mg per day.
Non-stimulant fat burners on the other hand are products that don’t stimulate the central nervous system and as a result, aren’t as taxing on the body. This means they are also safer to use during the evening since they won’t keep you awake at night.
Prescription Fat Burners
In some cases if you are very overweight, your doctor may refer you to a prescription fat burner. These fat burners will be stronger and may help to bring additional benefits to you and your journey.
Examples of these may include:
Orlistat blocks your body from absorbing some of the food you consume
Sanexda helps to tell the brain the stomach is full.
Keep in mind all of these fat burners will come with side effects so be sure to speak to your doctor prior to taking them. They should never be taken without the direct supervision of a medical professional.
How To Use Fat Burners for Weight Loss
So now that you know the details on what fat burners are and the benefits, how do you start using them if you choose to go this route?
First, be sure that you are checking the label very thoroughly on any fat burner you are considering and familiarizing yourself with the ingredients. Once you know for certain that fat burner is for you, you’ll want to determine how many times you want to take it during the day in accordance with the label directions. Never take more than the recommended dose of a fat burner. This said, you can always take less depending on your needs.
If you are using a stimulant based fat burner especially, strongly consider starting with a lower dose and seeing how your body reacts to it. Then if all looks good, you can increase your dose from there.
Fat Burners and Exercise
If you are just looking to get a boost for your workout session, taking the fat burner around 30 minutes prior to hitting the gym will likely do the trick.
If you want all day energy and hunger suppression, you’ll probably need to take a dose in the morning and then again before your workout and possibly at one other point during the day if three dosages are the recommended amount.
Just do keep in mind if you are using a stimulant based fat burner, you probably won’t want to take it too close to bedtime as it will interfere with your sleep.
It’s also highly recommended if you are using a stimulant based fat burner that you cycle your usage so that your body doesn’t become adapted to it. Otherwise, you’ll end up eventually having to increase your dosage, taking more and more to get the same results (and potentially risking serious side effects).
Consider taking 2-4 weeks off the fat burner after every 8-12 weeks of continual use. If you are not using a stimulant based fat burner, chances are you won’t need to cycle it as such and can use it straight through until you no longer need it.
Are There Safe Fat Burners?
In order to use safe fat burners, first familiarize yourself with the ingredients. Knowing what you are putting into your body is of critical importance so that you know the potential risks involved.
Always start with a lower dosage and then build up from there. This way, you can assess how well your body is tolerating the fat burner.
Remember that the fat burner will give you ‘false’ energy so to speak. While it’s still your energy, it’s energy created by an external substance. For this reason, remember to be mindful of how hard you’re working during each workout session and that you are getting sufficient rest during the week.
Likewise, the fat burner may really suppress your appetite as well, so you’ll want to ensure you are still eating a baseline level of calories to get your needs met. This will help you stay safe and healthy while using the fat burner.
Finally, always speak to your doctor if you have any pre-existing health concerns prior to using a fat burner, especially if you have heart health concerns. Stimulant based fat burners can increase heart rate, so they may tell you to refrain from using the fat burner entirely.
Remember safety should always be your top concern.
Fat Burner Side Effects
Speaking of fat burner side effects; what can you expect? Some of the things you may notice include:
- Racing/increased heart rates (based from review in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy)
- Feeling jittery/shaky in the hours after use
- Suffering from troubles sleeping
- Loss of appetite resulting in less than optimal intake of nutrition, leading to nutritional deficiencies (if one is not careful)
- Fatigue over the long-term if too much is taken (this is due to overstimulation of the central nervous system)
Keep in mind that many people are able to take fat burners and experience no negative side effects at all while others may take them and notice they do experience some side effects. If you are noticing any of the above occurring, you may want to consider cutting back on how large of a dosage you consume and see if that resolves your issue. Many times it will.
If it doesn’t, you may need to consider an alternative fat burner altogether.
Pros of Fat Burners:
- Can help accelerate the rate of fat loss
- May help to promote greater energy levels
- Can make the process of dieting less challenging
- May lead to a suppression of your appetite
- Can boost motivation to stick to an exercise program
- Most don’t require a prescription to use
Cons of Fat Burners:
- May present unwanted side effects
- Not everyone will tolerate them well
- Stimulant fat burners should not be used on a long-term basis
- Can be quite costly depending on the brand you choose
- Some brands don’t tell you all the information about what their fat burners contain (they use a proprietary blend)
- May increase your risk of overtraining as you are getting an ‘artificial’ source of energy so to speak
The Verdict on Fat Burners
All in all, fat burners can be used to help increase your chances of success. Many people will find that when using them, sticking with a fat loss diet plan and a regular exercise program feels considerably easier.
This being said, remember that no fat burner is meant to completely replace a proper diet and exercise program. Both of those need to be part of your overall regime in order to see the results that you’re looking for.
Too many people take a fat burner and think they will automatically see fat loss results but this is not the case. A fat burner is simply meant to augment the protocol you are already doing. If you use them wit the right approach and mindset while using a dosage that’s right for you, you should see good results from using this type of supplement.
Shannon Clark, B.S., C.P.T., holds a degree in Exercise Science from the University of Alberta, where she specialized in Sports Performance and Psychology. In addition to her degree, she is an AFLCA certified personal trainer and has been working in the field for over 12 years now, helping others lose weight, build muscle, and improve their athletic performance. She’s worked with people of all ages and helped them find the right fitness path for themselves. Shannon has been published in Oxygen Magazine, Bodybuilding.com, Lifehack.org, T-Nation.com, Leankitchenqueen.com, Sheknows.com and more.