Are fat burner supplements worth it?
By Thomas DeLauer
There's a lot of backlash on how fat burners work and if they work. Here to help provide a clearer understanding is HYLETE Community Captain, Thomas DeLauer. Watch now, to get the scientific breakdown.
Is your exercise routine making you sick? Find out in this video.
About Thomas DeLauer
From 280 lbs. to the magazine covers... All by living a lifestyle that is honest and real. Thomas DeLauer brings nutrition expertise along with a unique perspective on health and wellness that is everything HYLETE.
The following is a transcription of the above video:
So there's kind of an inherent distrust in the fitness and in the health industry, mainly because a lot of people just market all kinds of crazy things, to be honest. So, it's really hard to even talk about a subject like fat loss or fat burners without immediately just turning people off. So what I want to do in this video is I want to break down how fat burners actually work, and if they even do work, and if they do work, by what means do they actually work upon? So you're gonna have a full understanding, at least at a basic level, of how this process works. So that way, you can make your own educated decision if using a fat burner or just maybe just using some coffee is best for you.
All right, so when you look at the process of burning fat and fat burners in specific, we're usually looking at something known as thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is a fancy word for generating body heat. Okay, thermogenesis is also the dynamic effect of food, also known as the thermic effect of food. You see, our metabolism in general is just whenever we consume something, it's the process of taking that food, absorbing it, utilizing it, cellular activity. That is our metabolism in a nutshell.
So whenever we eat, we do by default trigger some kind of caloric need. That caloric need, of course, is our metabolism working, and it allows us to generate a little bit of heat. This is where the old school notion that you should eat every two hours comes from, okay? People used to think that if you ate frequently, you would end up having a boost in your metabolism through the small increase in body heat. Obviously not the case. We clearly know that with fasting becoming popular and everything like that. The point is, is the body temperature does slightly elevate after consuming food, simply because the body's having to use those calories. The use of calories generates heat.
Now, thermogenesis is just one of the three ways that your body legitimately burns fat. Now, we can talk about all kinds of different ways that your body burns fat from a smaller scale or different spectrum, like fasting and different kinds of cardio and stuff like that, but they're all different means to an end when it comes down to stimulating one of these three things.
So we're talking about thermogenesis, okay, the production of heat. We're talking about our basal metabolic rate, or our resting metabolic rate, which is our calories that we naturally burn at rest, and then of course, we're talking about physical activity, but even physical activity, we're generating heat. Okay, so these are the three pinnacles that we really need to be paying attention to always when it comes to fat loss and even choosing a fat burner.
So, our metabolism in general is greatly dictated by the amount of lean body mass that we have. Now, lean body mass is everything in your body that is tissue that is not fat. So, organs, muscle, things like that, okay? So not usually talking bones here, but when we're talking about the amount of lean body mass on a person, that determines what their metabolism is like.
Now, what's interesting is that studies have shown that when you look at it at a per kilogram basis, if people have the same amount of lean body mass, their metabolism is usually the same. So, our metabolism as far as lean body mass goes is pretty similar between you and I or me and them or whatever, basically meaning that if we all had the same amount of body fat, it would be a lot easier for us to determine what our overall caloric needs are and our metabolism.
Example being this. If you have two 200 pound people, one 200 pound person has 30% body fat and the other 200 pound person has 5% body fat, the 200 pound person with 5% body fat is gonna have a higher resting metabolic rate. Simply put, putting this in perspective, the reason that that is is because the muscle tissue is metabolically active, which means it demands calories. When you demand those calories, you generate heat. Now, it's not just this calories in, calories out equation. It's all about the heat that's generated, okay? So if you need more calories, you create more heat, plain and simple. So you run a little bit hotter, you burn a little bit more fat.
So when we look at fat burners, how does this actually work? You see, because most fat burners out there market themselves as thermogenics. So, the interesting thing is is that it doesn't seem like thermogenics can actually directly increase your core body temperature. You see, it all comes down to the beta adrenogenic receptors and our overall catacholamines response. Basically, our adrenaline and our norepinephrine. You see, catacholamines are the things like adrenaline and epinephrine, okay? When we have beta adrenogenic activity, the need for these catacholamines, the need for adrenaline and epinephrine increases.
Now, what happens if you get nervous? What happens if you get scared, or what happens if you get really excited? Your heart rate starts to increase. Well, guess what? Your caloric need increases simply because you have more movement. You have more metabolic demand. Whether you need more glucose, whether you need more fat, or whether you need more protein, your body is drawing it in at that point in time, and that is causing a thermic effect.
So when we look at most fat burners, we look at some of the main general ingredients that are in there, unless it's some crazy scientific weird stuff that I'm not even aware of, generally caffeine is the biggest thing, okay? Now, what caffeine is gonna do is it's gonna stimulate what are called beta 2 and beta 3 adrenergic receptors. Therefore, calling out more adrenaline and more epinephrine. That's exactly, again, why your body temperature goes up and why your heart rate increases. Therefore, your body temperature goes up. Pretty simple with caffeine. It's a great thermogenic. It's nothing super crazy. Most of us get it with our coffee or our tea.
Okay. The next thing is gonna be EGCG. You see this in a lot of fat burners, too, one of the most common things, and it works because what it does is it spares the existing catacholamines so that they actually don't get reuptake, and so they actually get utilized a little bit better, so it spares the effect of them. So basically, it enhances the life of them.
Okay, then you have things like carnitine. This is where things get interesting, because carnitine is in a lot of fat burners, and we've been told that carnitine allows more fat to get into the cell. Let me break this down really quick. Okay, when you have stored fat, you have triglycerides. Okay, triglycerides are three fatty acids bound to a glycerol molecule. What happens is, and I explained this in another video, is the triglycerides are broken down into individual free fatty acids. These free fatty acids then go to the cell and they need to get put into the mitochondria, where they can actually go through the entire cycle that they need to create energy.
So carnitine is required for that free fatty acid that's been released to get into the mitochondria. Without carnitine, it can't get in. The only time that carnitine would ever help you is if you were deficient in it. We have enough carnitine. So if you have carnitine flowing around, that process can occur. If you're deficient in carnitine, then sure, that's going to help it speed up.
So, the point here is, generally carnitine doesn't do a lot, but to play devil's advocate here, if you have an increase in fat that is being mobilized, okay, because you're working out or because you took some caffeine or because for some reason your thermogenesis or something that's generating heat is elevated, you're gonna have more fats going into the bloodstream being broken down, which is going to increase the demand for L-carnitine, which therefore you could argue that at some point in time during that period, you ae going to be deficient in L-carnitine. So having some extra carnitine floating around certainly couldn't hurt. Okay, so that's the theory there. Whether that is true is really hard to come to a conclusive, conclusive decision on.
Another one that's interesting is capsaicin, okay? Capsaicin is really cool. It's coming from cayenne pepper and stuff like that. So some studies show that it can increase your core body temperature, but more recent science is showing that the way that it increases your core body temperature is by, guess what? Stimulating beta adrenergic receptors. Catacholamines, adrenaline, epinephrine. It's all coming back to that. It's all coming back to the simple thing of just quickly increasing energy so that the demand for glucose, the demand for fat, and demand for ultimately protein going through gluconeogenesis is really increased.
Okay, so let's take a look at a study, okay? I thought this was pretty interesting 'cause it's a pretty unbiased look. It was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Took a look at 10 resistance training males, so 10 people that had a decent amount of lean body mass, roughly about the same. What it did is it had them do two separate workouts. One workout, they just went ahead and did the workout as usual. Then the next workout, they waited 24 hours and half the group took a placebo supplement and half the group took a general fat loss supplement, like a general fat burner that included caffeine, it included ginseng, it included green tea extract, and it included carnitine. So, it was pretty basic, kind of what you'd see in a typical fat loss supplement.
So it was really interesting, because they wanted to measure their resting metabolic rate, they wanted to measure their heart rate, and their blood pressure. So what they did is after the consumption of the supplement or the placebo, they took measurements at 60 minutes, 120 minutes, and 180 minutes post to find out where their RMR was, where their heart rate was, and where their blood pressure was.
Well, the results were actually pretty illuminating. They found that in the group that took the fat loss supplement, after 60 minutes, they found that the resting metabolic rate had increased 7.8% versus 3.3% in the placebo group. Then, at 120 minutes, they found that it increased 6.9% versus 3.1% in the placebo group. Then, after 180 minutes, they found that it increased 9.1% versus 2.1%.
So, what we're finding here is that yes, actually when fat burner was taken pre-workout, there was more fat loss that ultimately occurred probably because the resting metabolic rate increased. Now, there are some bits of subjectiveness that could happen here, like does someone actually have more lean body mass? Lots of little variables here, but generally it is determined that by increasing your catacholamines through stimulation of the beta adrenergic receptors, you actually do burn more fat as a result of thermogenesis that occurs as a down line process from the phosphorylation of cyclic adenosine monophosphate and that whole process.
What that means is indirectly, they do help you burn fat, but you have to be working out. You have to have a stimulus in activity. You can't just pop fat burners and burn fat. You need to get moving so that the fat's actually mobilized.
But the question remains, can you do this with just coffee? You see, when you look at these supplements, by and large, caffeine is what's really doing the trick. So my opinion is a little bit biased. I like coffee. So you probably could take a fat burner and have an increase in your overall results, but quite frankly, it usually isn't worth it unless there's some really unique technology that's involved. Sometimes there's cool things like myocellular liposomal delivery and things like that that make things a little bit better, but most fat burners, you're just not going to be in a situation where you're going to get all that much benefit unless you're working out really, really hard.
So hopefully this clears some things up and makes some sense of it.¬†