Fat Burners: Getting The Best Bang For The Buck!

What supplements really work to burn fat? In this article I will attempt to discuss the supplements that I feel are worth the money and that I believe should be in everyone's arsenal.

Over the years there have been many new supplements that have came to market promising the world. How does one know what to use? What actually provides a good return on the financial investment? Sure literature may show it works, but compared to a placebo, how much did it work? 1% better? With so much competition for our supplement budget it is essential that a bodybuilder on a limited budget purchase supplements that work.

So, what supplements really work to burn fat? In this article I will attempt to discuss the supplements that I feel are worth the money and that I believe should be in everyone's arsenal.

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA)

CLA is a naturally occurring fatty acid in a number of foods (CLA such as milk, cheese, beef, lamb, etc.) that exerts a positive effect on protein and fat metabolism by accelerating fat loss.

CLA's commercial form is derived from sunflower oil. In addition to increasing lean muscle mass while reducing body fat, studies have also shown CLA to have anti-catabolic, anti-oxidant, and immune support.

An ideal daily dose of CLA for a 200 lb. athlete is approximately 4-5 g/day even divided and taken with meals.


L-carnitine is a non-essential amino acid (said to be non-essential because human bodies produce it) that burns fat by transferring long-chain fatty acids, such as triglycerides into mitochondria where the compound is oxidized to produce energy.

L-carnitine is a key ingredient in the formation of mitochondria membranes (tiny structures in your cells that burn fats for energy).

L-carnitine is also reported to improve the recovery rate for athletes by limiting the production of lactic acid (a waste product in muscle tissue).

Without optimal amounts of L Carnitine, there is not optimal fat burning because the breakdown of long chain fatty acids is slowed. L-carnitine works best with a diet moderately low in carbohydrates (50 percent or less of calories consumed) because high levels of carbohydrates promote high levels of insulin, which inhibits L-carnitine activity.

1,000 mg to 4,000mg (1 to 4 grams) should be taken on an empty stomach; half an hour before a meal, right before a workout or a couple of hours after eating to optimize fat loss.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 (along with omega-6) belongs to a family of fats called essential fatty acids. These EFAs are found in polyunsaturated fats.

Studies suggest Omega-3 has positive effects on the body's blood sugar. They also support the bodies metabolic rate resulting in more calories burned.

The richest natural source is flax seed oil (linseed oil) Oily fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, rainbow trout, eels, kippers and mackerel also contain high levels of Omega-3 EFAs.

I recommend 10 to 12 grams per day with meals in equally divided amounts.

Calcium Pyruvate (Pyruvate)

Calcium Pyruvate (Pyruvate) is a naturally formed product (a three-carbon ketoacid produced in the end stages of glycolysis) that enhances the transport of glucose and protein into muscle cells and increases the amount of ATP available to the mitochondria.

(Pyruvate is the "end" product when carbohydrates and proteins are metabolized in the body).

Pyruvate's fat burning benefits are based on its potential to increase resting metabolic rate. Pyrurate increases the body's use of fat as an energy source for cellular respiration thus raising our metabolic rate, and the higher our resting metabolism, the more calories we burn throughout the day. The calories burned are also calories that will not be stored as fat. There is controversy as to what dosage of pyruvate is effective.

Critics argue that while pyruvate may be effective for weight loss, the amount required is too high (30 grams a day) to be safe for daily consumption. Recent studies have shown effectiveness using only six grams of pyruvate a day.

Although there is disagreement, I have found that eight grams of pyruvate divided over three doses works well for me, especially when I am taking CLA and L-carnitine. Higher doses can be irritating to the stomach.

Thermogenics Supplements

Thermogenesis is the process by which the body generates heat, or energy, by increasing the metabolic rate above normal. This rise in the body's basal metabolic rate (BMR) is often referred to as the "thermogenic effect". Thermogenesis is activated by a variety of different mechanisms, most notably exercise, exposure to cold (body heat rises through shivering response), through good nutrition and through including supplements.

Regarding thermogenic supplements, unfortunately the only supplement I believe truly issues a real thermogenic response is ephedra. Ephedra increases the heart rate and strongly stimulate the nervous system to release catecholamines, which stimulate fat cells to break down.

Unfortunately ephedra is no longer available in the US. As far as I have seen, through personal experience and by reviewing scientific studies I do not see any comparable substitute products in terms of effectiveness.

The vitamin companies will tell you differently and hype their "new" ephedra free formulas, and the new "transport systems".

These "new and improved" products were rushed to the marketing my opinion to replace the revenue lost by the FDA banning of ephedra based products.

As far as the current natural "thermo" products, many of them contain similar ingredients, just in different dosages.

Most rely on simple metabolism boosters such as caffeine and synephrine to make you feel the "buzz" while containing any number of combinations of natural herbs and minerals, such as tyrosine, calcium, selenium, green tea, 7-Keto, yerba mate, guarana, guggul products etc.

Some even add niacin so you feel the "heat", so the customer feels that more calories are being burned.

I am not saying that these natural fat burners do not work at all but what I am saying is if you expect them to work as well as the ephedra based products you will be disappointed.

In fact they may even work psychosomatically (in your head), and if it works for you because of that, then it is worthwhile for you. Just remember however, that scientifically there is no basis that these products will raise thermogenic levels appreciably to make it worth the money that these companies are charging (upwards of $50.00 a bottle!).


MCT Oil stands for Medium Chain Tryglycerides. MCTs are derived from coconut oil. When MCT oil is metabolized in the body, it behaves more like a carbohydrate than a fat.

Remember that the fuel of preference for the body is carbohydrate. Unlike other fats, MCT oil does not go through the lymphatic system. Instead, it is transported directly from the small intestine to the liver by the portal vein.

In the liver, some of the MCTs are turned into ketone bodies, which the muscles can use for energy like a carbohydrate.

Some MCT's are used for thermogenesis, and a portion is converted to ATP, the energy currency of the cell. Because MCTs are processed in the liver, so there is little left to be stored as fat.

It is an excellent energy source on low carb diets, so gone are the "low carb blahs which were often the case when bodybuilders were forced to low carb, and still have to find energy to train. MCT oils can irritate the stomach so when starting a plan with MCT oils work up to a dose that your body can stand.

Honorable Mentions

  • Secondary supplements that aid in glucose transport (e.g., chromium).
  • Secondary supplements that aid in adrenal gland function and conversion of glucose to energy (e.g., Vitamin B5/pantothenic acid, Magnesium)
  • Secondary supplements important for the maintenance of blood glucose levels (Manganese)
  • Secondary supplements that support healthy insulin levels that are normal (e.g., chromium, Brewer's Yeast, zinc)
  • Secondary supplements that assist with fat loss (e.g., Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), Ginseng, Inositol)
  • Secondary supplements that stabilize fat absorption (e.g., Chitosan)
  • Secondary supplements that aid in fatty acid metabolism (e.g., B3,Niacin/Niacinamide)
  • Supplements that slows down the body's fat-making process (e.g., calcium).