How do I know when spring has arrived each year? Because the annual onslaught of people asking me one question has begun: "What's a good fat burner?" Or they'll ask me, "Do fat-burners really work?" Either way, this tells me that summer's right around the corner.
My first response to this question is always that a fat-loss training and nutrition plan are your first priorities. But yes, fat-burning supplements can certainly help with your fat-loss efforts—as long as you educate yourself about what you're taking and how to get it in solid doses.
Want to know what fat burner to take? Here's your checklist of what to look for and the science to back it up.
1. Fat Releasers
The body fat you hold under your skin is stored in fat cells, or adipocytes. To lose body fat, aim to make these fat cells as small as possible. To do that, you basically need to push the fat cells to empty out the fat they're already holding.
When you ingest caffeine, it binds to receptors on your fat cells. Normally the nucleotide adenosine binds to these receptors, and when it does, it puts a halt on fat release from the cells. With caffeine sitting on the receptors, adenosine can't attach, and fat release is maximized. Numerous studies have confirmed this is particularly effective when taking caffeine before workouts.*
How to Take It: Depending on your tolerance, take 200-400 milligrams of caffeine between meals 1-3 times per day, with one of those doses 30-60 minutes before workouts on training days.
Burn more fat and have a better workout with a single scoop.*
Research shows that when taken before exercise, yohimbine may more than double the amount of fat released from fat cells. However, it's not for everyone. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, are prone to anxiety, have a psychological disorder, or have any liver, kidney, or heart problems, steer clear of yohimbe.*
How to Take It: Take enough yohimbe extract to provide 5-20 milligrams of yohimbine per dose, 2-3 times per day, with one of those doses 30-60 minutes before workouts on training days.
2. Calorie Burners
Just because supplements like caffeine and yohimbine can help to free up more fat from your fat cells doesn't necessarily mean that that fat will be burned off for good. You also need to ramp up your calorie burn, requiring your body to use that freed up fat as a fuel source. These two ingredients do just that.
Green Tea Extract
The active ingredients in green tea responsible for fat-burning effects are catechins, and one catechin in particular called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This potent antioxidant inhibits an enzyme that normally breaks down the neurotransmitter and hormone norepinephrine, which speeds up processes in the body such as calorie burning.*
How to Take It: Take 500-1000 milligrams of green tea extract, preferably one standardized for high EGCG content, 2-3 times per day, with one of those doses 30-60 minutes before workouts on training days.
This increasingly popular non-stimulant supplement is the natural plant chemical that gives spicy peppers their heat. It also increases the number of calories your body burns, thanks to its ability to raise epinephrine levels.*
One study from Japanese researchers found that consuming capsaicin with a meal raised calorie expenditure by more than 30 percent. A study from the University of Oklahoma likewise found that subjects who took a supplement containing both capsaicin and caffeine burned more calories during and after exercise than those who didn't.*
How to Take It: Look for capsaicin or cayenne pepper supplements that list Scoville thermal units or heat units (HU) and take enough to supply 40,000-80,000 units. Take 30 minutes before meals 2-3 times per day, with one dose 30-60 minutes before workouts.
Not all fat burners need to make your heart rate go through the roof!
3. Fat Transporters
So now we've got all that excess, freed-up fat floating around. Your next goal is to get that fat to the tiny power plants, known as mitochondria, located in the body's cells. There, fat can be burned up as fuel.
But fat isn't allowed to pass into the mitochondria at will; it must be carried in. Fat transporters can help to maximize the amount of fat that gets in.
This amino-acid-like molecule is a critical component of the complex transporting system that brings fat into the mitochondria, where it is finally burned away for good. Several studies confirm that supplementing with L-carnitine increases the amount of fat that the body burns up.*
How to Take It: Take 2-3 grams of carnitine in the form of L-carnitine, L-carnitine L-tartrate, or acetyl L-carnitine, 2-3 times per day with meals. Take one dose with your pre-workout meal and another dose with your post-workout meal.
4. Fat Stoppers
Not all weight-loss supplements are fat burners! If you're trying to stay lean, you should also consider supplements that decrease the amount of fat your body stores.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)
The main way CLA works is by inhibiting the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL). LPL allows fat cells to take up fat from the bloodstream and store it as body fat. By inhibiting LPL, CLA has been shown in animal studies to prevent the body from storing fat.*
How to Take It: Take 1-3 grams of CLA with breakfast, lunch, and your last meal or shake at night.
5. Gene Activators
The more we learn about nutrition and nutritional supplements, the more we realize that nutrients can affect our genes in some profound and surprising ways. Fat burning is one such case.
You might already be taking fish oil, but probably not for this reason! This source of essential omega-3 fats provides both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and has a wide range of benefits to mood, health, and body composition.*
Here's an unexpected one: These omega-3 fats have recently been found to turn on genes that increase fat burning while turning off genes that decrease fat storage.*
How to Take It: Take 2-3 grams, 2-3 times per day with meals.
Why complicate things? Get the best fat-burning ingredients in a single scoop or pill.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.