I'm a bodybuilder who really wants that shredded physique. I have a really slow metabolism. Will the use of thermogenics give me the cuts and striations that I've always wanted? Are fat burners worth it?
The subject of fat burners is a complex matter, and the success of your endeavors depends a lot on how you use these powerful compounds in conjunction with your training program and diet. Fat Burners can help you attain that shredded physique, but they can also leave you frustrated and broke. Americans spend millions on diet products every year, yet half of them remain dangerously overweight. Think about it, if it was that easy to shed fat like in those six-page ad specials starring IFBB Pro Lee Priest; don't you think the rest of America would start looking like Shawn Ray or Laura Mak? Will fat burners work for you? Keep reading!
What's a Thermogenic and How Does it Work?
Thermogenics are also commonly referred to as Fat-Burners or E/C/A Stacks (The letters stand for Ephedrine, Caffeine, and Aspirin, although Aspirin is rarely used today). These substances are designed to help promote lipolysis in the body (the breaking down of body fat to be used as energy). They also stimulate the body's Central Nervous System, which is why you may feel mentally alert or the "jitters" after popping one of these babies.
Most of the Fat-Burners available on the market today contain roughly the same ingredients. There may be one or two variations in each recipe but they all serve the same purpose - to help shed stubborn body fat. The most popular brands are MD6 by Biotest, Ripped Fuel Extreme by Twinlab, Xenadrine NRG by Cytodyne, and Hydroxycut by MuscleTech. There are reviews on some of these products on this website, so I will not discuss the individual ingredients. I will instead try to clear up some common misconceptions and provide some useful guidelines for using thermogenics.
Key Point: Fat-Burners speed up the body's metabolism, which burns stored fat for energy.
The Beauty of Advertising
"Joe Buff went from a 42-inch waist at 265 pounds to a ripped 28-inch midsection and a shredded 220!!!" How often do you see ads like these in muscle magazines? Sounds too good to be true right? I love the way advertising makes fat loss seem so simple. "Just take this and you'll have a six-pack in no time!" The truth is that many of the top pros featured are contracted by supplement companies to promote their products. When you look at their "Before" pictures, many of them are simply in their off-season mode. Even their poses can be incredibly deceptive. Simply slouch your shoulders, stick out your gut and presto - you're a fat slob! As for the so-called "amazing transformation" in the "After" pictures, these pros are merely close to contest shape - shredded and vascular - so of course they look good!
Six Days Later
For those of you that don't know, "Off-season" in bodybuilding terms simply means a period of time where bodybuilders take a break from competition and dieting in order to let their bodies recover. During this period of time it is common for them to put on an additional 10 - 20 pounds of fat. You can still see their muscularity under a layer of fat. These pros are experts at manipulating their diet and training regiment to lose huge amounts of fat FAST, and if anything, the fat burners only played a limited role in their fat loss. You must also be aware that the top pros often have access to anabolic steroids and certain thyroid-stimulators, which allow them to preserve their muscle mass while dropping fat quickly. However, their use is illegal without a prescription in the United States. Can you still get cut without using these banned substances? The answer is YES, but "naturally" the process is much harder.
Key Point: Advertising can be misleading. Thermogenics can help you shed fat, but you must be willing to train and diet hard.
Are You a Walking Fat-Burner?
Before you cry yourself to sleep in anguish, there are still other factors to consider. The key to fat loss success doesn't just revolve around which fat-burner you choose to use. Genetics, diet and training are in every way just as important when it comes to banishing that last ounce of fat from your waist. Everybody generally falls under 3 categories of body types, and most are a mixture of 2 types.
Ectomorphs are characterized by their long, thin body structures. They are commonly known as hard-gainers because of their difficulty in adding significant amounts of muscle mass. However, the fat-loss gods smile upon them with favor, and bestow to them the enviable gift of high metabolisms. Their bodies are very efficient at burning calories and they stay lean all year round. If you've ever wondered why your skinny little brother can inhale six-cheeseburgers without gaining a pound, now you know why. A perfect example of an ectomorph bodybuilder is the legendary Frank Zane. For those of you that fall into this category, thermogenics may help, but are not necessary to reach a low percentage of body fat.
Mesomorphs are gifted with wide shoulders and narrow waists. They add muscle mass easily and their bodies have that nice V-Taper. Their metabolisms are slower than that of their ectomorph counterparts, but with extra cardio and careful dieting, they can slash the fat off relatively easy come contest time. Most top pro bodybuilders, such as Nasser El Sonbaty and Gunter Schlierkamp, fall into this category of body types. If you consider yourself a mesomorph, thermogenics could make the fat loss process a little easier.
Endomorphs are identified by their big bones, wide waists and hips. They also have short arms and legs. Most of the top powerlifters in the world are Endomorphs, because their short limbs mean they only have to move the weight through a shorter range of motion. They generally add muscle easily, but their slow metabolism means they gain a significant amount of fat along with the muscle. Endomorphs need every bit of help they can get when it comes to fat-loss. They would probably benefit the most from thermogenics.
Key Point: You may be predisposed to a lean physique. If not, understand the advantages/disadvantages of your body type and plan your fat loss campaign accordingly.
* Ratings as of article's date of publication
Jacked up Intensity = Jacked up Fatigue!
Thermogenics are great for giving you that adrenaline surge in the gym. What's that? Five sets of bench presses superset with weighted chins? 6 sets of squats followed by 20 rep leg extensions? Bring it on, you may not feel that pumped, but Fat-Burners are great for increasing your mental focus and intensity, and may even take your poundage through the roof. However, what goes up must come down. The greater your output and intensity in the gym, the greater your post-workout fatigue and recovery time.
If you plan on using thermogenics while training, be sure to assess your recovery levels and get plenty of post-workout rest. NEVER forgo a good night's sleep. Caffeine and Ephedrine increase your mental alertness and may allow you to stay awake longer. That sounds wonderful right? Finish working out at 6pm, take an E/C Stack and go party all night? Truth be told, that if you deprive your body of sleep, you're hindering your body's natural recovery process. What's more, you won't be able to keep your new lifestyle going for long before your body starts producing mass amounts of cortisol (which breaks down muscle tissue) to keep it going. Deep, relaxing sleep allows for the release of Growth Hormone, which performs essential functions such as helping the in the repair of damaged muscle tissue. The average individual needs about 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Bodybuilders may need more. So if you're tired, don't fight it, take a nap!
Key Point: Fat-Burners only boost energy levels temporarily, so get plenty of rest.
Increase Water Intake
Remember - most fat-burners have a mild diuretic effect on the body. (i.e. your body tends to lose water) You should strive to increase your water intake in order to compensate (unless you're preparing for a contest). Water plays an important role in transporting nutrients to muscles and shuttling waste out of the body. 1 - 2 gallons of water a day is recommended for most bodybuilders. Also, take thermogenics with more than just 8 ounces of water. That's the bare minimum that your body needs to swallow the stuff! I suggest taking at least 20 -24 ounces. That way, your body will remain hydrated, which is even more important if you use them pre-workout.
Key Point: Drink plenty of Water!
Assess your Tolerance and Cycle Usage
For those of you new to Fat-Burners, remember to start with the minimum dosage in order to assess your body's sensitivity to these supplements. Because thermogenics are such potent compounds, excessive use may bring negative effects. Some people can take the maximum dosage, but for others such as myself, one capsule of Xenadrine twice a day is more than enough "kick". Thermogenics also increase the heart rate. So don't take them if you already have high blood pressure.
Just like your workouts, your body has the ability to adapt to the use of fat-burners. Over time, their stimulating effects will decrease because your body has gotten used to it. The solution here is not to increase your intake, but rather to cycle off for a week or two. Depending on your tolerance, I recommend adopting 3 weeks on, 1 week off, or 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off cycles.
Assess your Tolerance and Cycle Usage
Supplementing with thermogenics can make your journey to shredded-ville a lot easier. Having said that, make sure your diet and training regiment are consistent with your goal of fat loss. There are many articles on this website that give helpful tips and strategies when it comes to waging war on fat. The key is to devise a plan and stick to it! Getting ripped takes time, and if you're willing to work hard, the results will follow!