Fat burners are abundant in fitness media currently. So I get asked a lot what I think about them and more importantly, do they actually work? So, here are my thoughts:
Fat burners have turned into a controversial topic, with marketing and advertising making them probably the second most known supplement to the general public, after protein. Some will argue that they do nothing and others believe that they are the real secret to getting lean.
So what are fat burners?
A fat burner is most commonly found in a pill form and normally suggested by suppliers to be taken once upon waking and once before exercise, or in the early afternoon. The main ingredient of fat burners is caffeine. Some products are purely caffeine, whereas others contain other ingredients such as L-carnitine, Raspberry Ketones and Green Tea. Indeed, a singular tablet can contain up to 200mg of caffeine, whereas in comparison a Red Bull or regular coffee is about 80mg. Let’s examine this; most fat burners will have a description on the back of the bottle claiming the thermogenic effect of their product. Although some studies have shown that caffeine, as well as L-carnitine, do have some thermogenic effects on the body, the registered results are so small it really is negligible in the grand scheme of things.
Most fat burners say something similar to “to obtain maximum effects use in conjunction with a diet regime.” This is due to the fact that fat burners themselves don’t actually “burn fat” (this is the dirty little secret)… Fundamentally it is the calorific deficit which causes the fat loss. Your body burns fat when it has to rely on its internal fat stores for energy, as there is a negative energy balance (aka. You are taking in less energy than you use). The fat burners there might make sustaining the diet easier by giving you a caffeine boost to help you get through the day, with a lack of incoming energy in the form of calories.
There is also the argument that this caffeine causes you to burn more calories throughout the day – by being slightly more energetic, ‘fidgeting’. Although this is such a small proportion of calories it is barely worth registering. However, the other calories you burn might be in the gym, where you push yourself through the last few reps because you have the caffeine boost.
It is important to remember that psychological and mental factors can be applied here in the form of placebo. Many people will think that as they are taking a fat burner and spending money on it, that they should also stick to their diet to make sure it works… now, although the logic is backwards and the priority should be on the diet, the outcome will effectively be the same.
Therefore, sticking to a diet (calorific deficit) will cause you to lose weight.
Do they melt away fat? – No
Do the tablets alone cause fat loss?– a tiny, tiny amount perhaps, but the actual fat loss comes from the calorific deficit you put yourself in whilst on a diet or exercising
Do they work to give you energy when consuming low calories? – Yes, due to the high caffeine content.
So why do people take them?
The appeal of fat burners is the idea that just by taking a pill you will magically melt away body fat. This plays into the instant reward mentality of the society in which we now live: working out is hard, time consuming and difficult to stick to. Thus, many people will blindly follow the notion that they can look like a fitness model just by taking a single pill. Sadly this is not the case. And it is this vulnerability and lack of proper knowledge that some supplement companies will exploit.
I am a true believer of making sure that your everyday diet should provide everything that you need in terms of nutrition and supplements should be exactly that; supplementary to your diet. Therefore used for convenience (like a protein shake) or ease of access (such as creatine). They can be beneficial, but you should not rely on these products.
Fat burners would be very low down on my recommendation list in terms of supplements, but if you have everything else in your training and diet nailed down and some money to spend, then you may feel that you are in a position to see what they do for you.
Or, just enjoy a coffee…