Supplements

Do Fat Burners Work?

Fat burners in a nutshell

Thinking about trying a fat burner? No longer reserved for fitness fans only, everyday people are turning toward fat burning supplements to help them lose weight.

But do they actually work? This in-depth guide takes a look at the science to find out.

What are fat burners?

Fat burners are exactly what their name suggests: supplements designed to help you burn fat.

Depending on their makeup, they can range from single-ingredient capsules through to quite complex formulas.

When you start to deconstruct popular fat burners, it’s plain to see they’re not all the same.

Some are simple lone nutrients with just one intention. Other, multiple compound versions are created to do different things inside your body.

The end goal of a fat burner is to help you reduce body fat. Most people associate this fat burning with weight loss too, but they’re not mutually exclusive.

Some supplements are designed to help people cut back body fat without wasting muscle.

Fat burners are not magic fix-all pills. Instead, they’re dietary supplements created to help along with your hard work. You put in the effort; a fat burner should provide support.

Before we go any further, we need to make one thing clear – fat burners aren’t all proven to work.

The category covers an expansive range of products and it’d be impossible to test every single one. As a result, we can’t confirm if all fat burners will work or not.

What we can do, though, is outline the individual ingredients that show promise. These are certain minerals and compounds shown to be effective under lab conditions.

So, while it’s hard to say if a complete product will work, you can make a very close estimation if it should work.

What do fat burners do?

Fat burners are supposed to boost fat burning – hence the name. But how they might get you there isn’t always so straight forward.

Some single-ingredient fat burners might just have one effect. This might be suppressing your appetite, for example, which could make sticking to your diet easier.

Another could speed up your metabolism or increase fat oxidation.

Things become more complex when combinations of ingredients are involved. Products that use a more expansive formula might do various things – providing the nutrients work.

Occasionally, brands add supporting ingredients as well. While these might not have a direct impact on fat loss, they sometimes have other health benefits.

It’s quite common to see these in products designed for athletes or more holistic, health-conscious supplements.

Types of fat burners

First and foremost, fat burners do the obvious – try and boost fat burning. They look to do this by supplying three key types of ingredients:

The first type are thermogenic nutrients which are shown to boost resting metabolic rate[1].

This means they could hike up how many calories your body burns, even at rest.

If you’re in a negative calorie balance (something essential for fat loss[2]), you might tap into excess body fat to find this extra energy. This is essentially how you burn fat for weight loss.

The second most common type of ingredients found in fat burners are those which influence fat oxidation.

Products with these ingredients may help the body break down fat cells for fuel faster and more effectively. Much like taking a thermogenic, this might increase your daily calorie use.

Third and finally, appetite suppressants are also sold as fat burners. Technically, these might not influence fat burning as much as the previous two types. But by holding back hunger, they could create a scenario where it’s easier to stick to your diet.

Given that you need to maintain a calorie deficit to achieve fat loss, appetite suppressants are somewhat indirect fat burners. It’s your natural metabolism that uses up body fat.

Common active ingredients in fat burners

Many fat burners center their formulas around common active ingredients. Even though each product should be unique somehow, certain nutrients have substantially more evidence than others.

Here is a selection of common active ingredients found in fat burners.

Green tea extract

Green tea extract used in fat burners

Green tea has been drunk for its therapeutic effects for thousands of years. Usually enjoyed as a bitter drink, scientists say it has powerful antioxidant properties and delivers a potent health kick[3][4].

One of these benefits is green tea’s ability to improve fat burning and boost metabolic rate[5]. Studies show it could even elevate energy expenditure by 4%[6] and fat oxidation by 17%[7].

Although the numbers aren’t out of this world, they could still make a steady contribution to weight loss. Scientists say that a high percentage of body fat lost through taking green tea comes from your belly too[8][9].

Green tea’s key fat-burning compounds are it main catechin EGCG and the stimulant caffeine. EGCG helps inhibit enzymes that hold back fat burning[10], whereas caffeine can trigger fat loss and improve breakdown-promoting hormones[11]. Experts suggests that EGCG and caffeine could even work synergistically too[12].

Glucomannan

Also known as konjac root, glucomannan is a soluble fiber shown to suppress appetite. It’s widely used as a weight loss supplement, and commonly taken as a capsule.

Glucomannan is really adept at absorbing liquid. So much so that when it’s swallowed with a glass of water, it expands in the stomach to form a gel. It’s this process of taking up space that’s said to help you feel fuller, for longer.

Scientists suggest that glucomannan could improve satiety by delaying stomach emptying[13]. There’s also research showing how the fiber could cause modest weight loss when taken before meals[14][15][16].

Cayenne pepper

A lot of people are surprised to find cayenne pepper in a fat burner. They’re used to sampling the red-hot spice in fiery food, not a supplement.

But it’s this tongue-tingling quality that gives cayenne pepper its power. More specifically, it’s mainly the product of cayenne’s active compound, capsaicin.

Experts think that capsaicin is a thermogenic, meaning it could increase the metabolism while quashing appetite[17].

According to one study from 2003[18], people who ate chili pepper (which contains capsaicin) saw their metabolic rate rise for half an hour afterward.

A metabolism fired up by chilis could be more likely to use calories for energy and not store them as body fat.

Other research points toward peppers being able to reduce hunger. One study from 2014 reported that people who ate red pepper with each meal didn’t have as many cravings[19].

They also felt fuller throughout the day, which can otherwise be a hard hurdle to get over when dieting.

For a lot of men, the idea of taking cayenne pepper isn’t too crazy. But if you don’t like fiery food, it could freak you out. Fortunately, cayenne pepper capsules completely cover the taste.

Back in 2011, scientists saw that taking cayenne pepper capsules caused better weight loss in people who didn’t like spicy food. So, you could still experience the benefits without turning up the heat on your tongue.

Caffeine anhydrous

Caffeine, the psychoactive substance so many of us love. Whether it’s waking us up first thing in the morning or accompanying a chat over coffee, caffeine’s engrained into our modern lives.

But there’s more to the stimulant than a quick buzz. Caffeine’s also included in commercial fat burners for its potential weight-loss benefits.

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and blocks the inhibitory neurotransmitter adenosine[20].

Doing so allows other neurotransmitters like dopamine and noradrenaline to fire unhindered, which would usually happen if adenosine could attach more freely to its receptors.

Because adenosine promotes feelings of tiredness, caffeine can keep you alert by blocking it. Dieters struggling with low-cal fatigue often find caffeine can help re-energize them.

The true benefits for fat burning go way beyond that though. Research shows that caffeine can actually increase fat mobilization by increasing adrenaline in the blood[21][22].

This process should make fat more accessible to burn for fuel.

Keeping yourself in that deficit could also be easier by harnessing caffeine’s ability to boost your metabolism. Scientists think this could be due to the increase in fat burning described above[23].

Zinc

Zinc might not be the most obvious choice for a fat burner. Yet besides from being one of the most essential minerals, it could improve your potential for weight loss.

Biology experts recently uncovered that obese people tend to have lower levels of circulating zinc[24].

Interestingly, one 2013 study also saw that overweight subjects who to took zinc had better weight loss success[25].

B vitamins

B vitamins are added to fat burners because of their roles in boosting energy. They’re integral for helping the body turn fats, carbs and proteins into fuel, as well as supporting the synthesis of red blood cells.

Given that red blood cells transport oxygen around the body, getting enough B vitamins is vital.

B6 and B12 are the two most common types used in weight management products.

Both have been shown to help boost energy and may even elevate mood, making them worthwhile additions for dieters[26][27][28][29][30]. Other B vitamins may also be included.

Fat burner side effects

Many men and women use fat burners without any side effects. They typically have a good safety score, especially when looking at higher-quality products.

However, as with all supplements, side effects are always a risk. Even though the chances are small.

Fat burner side effects may come from their caffeine content. People sensitive to stimulants might experience jitters, anxiousness, and poor sleep at certain doses.

If you don’t respond well to stimulants, it’s best to choose a stim-free product or take a small test dose. Try to limit how much caffeine you drink throughout the day too.

Cayenne pepper may also cause stomach upsets in potent doses. Just like with caffeine, if you’re sensitive to spice and don’t have a strong stomach, try a small sample first.

One way to lower the risk of side effects is to pick a reputable product. Steer clear of brands without much evidence and low-quality manufacturing.

After all, if you’re going to put something in your body it’s best to know it’s been handled with care from start to finish. Cheaper doesn’t always mean better, even if you think you’re getting a good deal.

Cayenne peppers

Are fat burners safe?

Generally, fat burners have a good reputation for safety. Better brands have well-researched doses, serving sizes, and stay away from dangerous ingredients.

Most people enjoy fat burners without side effects too. Of course, there is always a small risk, but choosing a reputable brand can help minimize it.

Another method of making a fat burner experience safer is rejecting proprietary blends. These are patented blends created by companies and their contents are kept secret.

While this might be a smart business move, it means you don’t know what you’re taking. Some brands even hide the individual ingredients inside their blends too.

To make things safer, only take a fat burner when you’re 100% certain what’s inside. That way you’re in complete control and can be confident you’re not consuming anything dangerous.

Do fat burners actually work?

The chances of a fat burner working depends on its ingredients. After all, each one is different, so saying they all work would be unfair.

It’s a massive injustice to the brands who work hard to research their products.

Chances are, if your chosen fat burner is well-researched and dosed properly, it should work. What you’re taking is a combination of ingredients, so it’s best to look at things that way.

An unbalanced, poorly-researched product probably won’t work. That’s why it’s impossible to say outright if fat burners work or not. The good ones should; the bad ones won’t.

Check the manufacturer website and reviews to see if products match up to relevant studies. If they do, you’ve found one of the better ones.

It’s vital to remember that fat burners aren’t magic pills. You can’t eat out of control, ignore exercise, and sleep badly, only to expect a few capsules to override things.

Fat burners are designed to offer dietary support, not fix all the problems caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. If you aren’t working hard to tidy up your lifestyle, you might not be ready for a supplement. 

Man working out

FAQs

You’re naturally going to have a lot of questions to ask when trying a new supplement. So we’ve compiled the most common ones for fat burners in this section. First up, why should you take a fat burner?

Why should I take a fat burner?

The simplest answer is to help your weight-loss goals. Fat burners won’t do the hard work for you, but they could make it easier.

Given the evidence we showed for their ingredients above, a fat burner could: make dieting simpler, boost your metabolism, improve fat burning, energize you, and suppress appetite.

You don’t need to take a fat burner to lose weight. But trying one could add an edge to your results.

What are natural fat burners?

Natural fat burners use chemical-free ingredients. For example, caffeine and green tea are natural fat burners. A synthetic lab-generated nutrient, not so much.

Your body always prefers to absorb and utilize natural nutrients. Treat is as nature intended.

Do fat burners make you lose muscle?

On the contrary, a high-quality fat burner might help you maintain muscle. Some higher-end products like to add nutrients such as vitamin D and B vitamins to help protect hormones, metabolism, and muscle.

We’ve also seen fat burners designed specifically for athletes who train hard but still want to lean out.

The same can’t be said for poor-quality products though. There are a few badly made burners that don’t try to support your health. Avoid these cheap imitations and synthetic versions at all costs.

Bottom line – a high-quality fat burner shouldn’t make you lose muscle.

Man posing with bicep

How can I reduce my stomach fat?

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to spot reduce stomach fat. That being said, combining cardio with weightlifting has been shown to be beneficial[31].

The same can be said for consuming green tea too, because a large percentage of its fat loss effects seem to target belly fat[32][33].

For fat loss to happen, you must always maintain a calorie deficit.

What are the best fat burners?

It’s hard to pin down a list of the best fat burners. For us, the best fat burners are completely natural, innovative, and supported by scientific studies.

A good fat burner is one that’s transparent and well-researched too. Doses should be sensible and err on the side of safety, but still be generous and potent.

Keep an eye out for the common ingredients we looked at earlier as well. After all, some nutrients are racked with studies, and these are the ones to put your money on.

The best fat burners out there always base their formulas on evidence.  

The Final Word

Fat burners aren’t always the magic pill they’re mistaken for. But what they lack in mysticism, they can make up for in hard science. Taking the right one could prove beneficial in supporting the hard work you’re doing already.

Not all supplements are created equal. So, when you’re searching for the best one for you, take a look at the research. Ask yourself if the evidence is there, the doses seem right, and if you’re getting good value for money. If a product ticks all three boxes, you might have found your fat burner.

Are fat burners worth taking? Well, that totally depends on your goals. If you’re prepared to put the initial effort into your diet and workout regimen, they could add a little extra to your results. If not, you’re probably not going to get much benefit.

Fat burners are a compilation of ingredients designed to support your fat-loss journey. A high-quality version might just get you to the destination sooner. 


References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4815210/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18025815
[3] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/S15327914NC340112#.U2tK7fl_t8E
[4] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2006.10719518#.U2tMX_l_t8E
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16840650
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10584049
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18326618
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19074207
[9] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464611001162
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12695345
[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11815511
[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10702779
[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11396693
[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16320857
[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18842808
[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6096282
[17] https://academic.oup.com/chemse/article/37/2/103/273510/The-Effects-of-Capsaicin-and-Capsiate-on-Energy
[18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14649970
[19] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24630935
[20] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4115368/
[21] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11815511
[22] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8201901
[23] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14684395
[24] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23784733
[25] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3846058/
[26] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257642/
[27] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3856388/
[28] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10784463
[29] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16763894
[30] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20519557
[31] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3544497/
[32] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19074207
[33] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464611001162

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