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In Defense of Fat Burners.. Are They Always Bad?

In Defense of Fat Burners.. Are They Always Bad?

A quite popular topic for the past decade and a half, fat burners have gotten a mixed reputation, from coming out as “a miracle weight loss pill” to “an overhyped useless waste of money”. Once companies could no longer use pure marketing to sell their products then they started to “make up” (quotations are intentional) studies where lab rats had an increase in body heat leading to hyper thermogenesis and so on… most people argue if it works on a rat that doesn’t mean it has any effect on real people.

Then companies complied by using overweight individuals to test the supplements along with proper diet and exercise, and when they had the same weight loss results as the lab rats critics said any exercise and diet was the only reason why the human test subjects had positive results. Who to believe? Nameless critics online? The ripped bodybuilder promoting the product? “No, he didn’t even use the product, he got that ripped from steroids…”

What’s in a fat burner?

First off knowing what you’re putting into your body will determine if a fat burner is actually effective (because some ingredients work, and some don’t, but that’s an article for a different day). Lets set up a scenario, you’re in a supplement store for your first time, overwhelmed by the colors and smell of chocolate protein powder and fruity pre-workout.

An abnormally large employee comes up to you, looks you up and down and says: “Take this, our new Hyper Shred Thermo Matrix is exactly what you need to melt away all your stubborn fat while also adding pure lean mass!” A younger, inexperienced me would’ve thought: “Well he’s jacked, I should probably listen to him…” and I did, I was that skinny kid who walked into a supplement store and bought whatever the guy with 20 inch arms told me to buy thinking he had my fitness goals in mind over the goals of the business. Resulting in an empty wallet and unsatisfactory results.

What I’m trying to get at here is, trust nobody! Before you buy any supplement don’t just read the Wikipedia page on it, do an excessive amount of research (you can never do/research too much when it comes to your health). That being said, check the back of every supplement before you buy it ESPECIALLY fat burners, a few things you should watch out for are:

  • Proprietary blends, which list the ingredients of the product, but don’t list how much of each there are, meaning companies can under dose ingredients to save money. These usually have some arbitrary name stating what they do such as “Ultra Fat Burning Matrix” or “Nootropic Complex”, what you want is a product that lists the dosage of every ingredient. This is especially important for people who are sensitive to certain ingredients such as caffeine. Some fat burners can have up to 400 milligrams of caffeine which for some people, is the perfect pre-workout or one a day energy booster, but for others this can lead to nausea, extreme headaches or even heart palpitations. In the end, companies that list full ingredient dosages in their products are easier to trust and are less often going to purposefully deceive you.
  • Extreme claims, this one is hard to get around, because the lack of knowledge from the general public has caused competition within the industry to go out of control leading most fat burners on the market to resort to one-upping each other on who’s brand can give the most results, the fastest and the easiest. Some stand out though, with claims such as “Lose 20 pounds in 20 days” or “targets belly and thigh fat first”, that’s when you should start to get suspicious. Now I’m assuming reading this article you know how to smartly lose fat, eat right, and stay in calorie deficit. If not that is priority one in losing weight and speaking honestly you shouldn’t even think about taking a fat burner till a proper workout regimen and diet is in place. More reasonable and trustworthy claims on products can be statements such as “Supplies 200 mg of caffeine for sustained energy” or “Contains iodine, riboflavin and vitamin B12 which all contribute to normal energy yielding metabolism”. It is important to note here that no products in this industry (or any supplement industry for that matter) are regulated meaning that shady companies can say almost anything that they think will help their product sell.

What about all the negative reviews?

This is where most people get lost in what to believe. As long as we have been buying goods online there have been extremely biased reviews, to trolls, to people who are simply getting paid to write a positive review for a company (and sometimes a negative review on competitor’s product). Trust me, nobody makes it easy, it seems as if every company online has an angle, a product could have a 50% rating from solicitors raving over their progress giving perfect scores without ever using the product, fooling me and you into buying it with nothing but fabricated reviews.

While the other end of the spectrum is most certainly people who do not eat right or exercise and take a fat burner to hopefully be the magic pill they have been looking for, and actually end up eating MORE food because they think simply taking the pill is all they need and when they gain weight from the extra calories they add to their daily surplus they write a review saying “0/10, this did nothing for me! I ACTUALLY GAINED WEIGHT ON THIS PILL, DON’T TRUST THIS BRAND.” We have all seen these reviews at some point, unfortunately (and maybe it even prevented you from buying a decent product).

In reality there are real people getting real results from the very same product and forget to leave a review because they are busy improving themselves by meal prepping, exercising, staying in a deficit, etc. Which leads me to my next topic of discussion:

How do I properly take a reputable fat burner?

Notice I have yet to definitively say if the best fat burners out there even work, Long story short, yes and no… I have tried quite a few fat burners over my lifting career with mixed results, sometimes they seem to work great for the first few weeks, then often quickly becomes less effective, while others didn’t seem to have any effect at all.

But who knows, maybe the caffeine was the only thing in the fat burners that worked for me and the rest of the ingredients were useless? But then what about stimulant free fat burners? Does that make them a complete waste of money? A lot of these questions nobody has the answer to as the result of conflicting studies and reviews (and frankly, would double the length of this article if I dived into them so they are best saved for a different time). Note, please keep in mind this article is my opinion, as is every other review and forum post out there on the web. That being said, here is how I recommend fat burners be taken:

  • Be in a calorie deficit, as I stated before, a calorie deficit is crucial for weight loss. No miracle pill will do the work for you, counting calories and following a decent exercise routine in a deficit is the only way to lose weight, period (fat burners and all supplement’s for that matter, are meant to do just that, SUPPLEMENT your already solid diet and exercise, not replace them).
  • Take them first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach and stay in a fasted state for as long as you can (this can be anywhere from delaying breakfast 30 minutes or waiting four hours till lunch time to maximize the fat loss). Okay, this won’t work for everyone. There is a large amount of people who can’t handle so much caffeine without something else in their stomach. But a lot of the ingredients actually work much better when your blood sugar is low (such as yohimbine, but I’m not going to get into the ingredients of fat burners, caffeine being the exception).
  • Do fasted cardio either 30 minutes after you take the supplement in the morning or anytime during the day/night when you’re fasted (you usually enter a fasted state two hours after your last meal depending on the size of the meal). Being in a fasted state limits the amount of glucose your body can use for fuel and resort to burning fat (and muscle unfortunately, but sacrifices need to be made).
  • Start with the lowest dose, this is usually what good products will state right on the package, but the ones that simply say “take two pills in the morning and two midday before a meal” for example could mean a lot of sleepless nights for individuals sensitive to stimulants. Starting with just one pill in the morning will determine if it’s just enough for you, or if you really do need that second. Also take into consideration the other sources of caffeine you have in your daily routine, if you drink two cups of coffee every morning and two scoops of pre-workout every night that’s already topping your daily recommended limit. And adding a supplement that has as much caffeine as another four cups could potentially be dangerous.
  • And finally, cycle off it! You can follow every step above but what the companies don’t tell you is you WILL get acclimated to the ingredients meaning they will become less effective over time (because the faster you use their product the quicker you will come back to buy more). After this most people up their dose, and again, and again, and before you know it, you’re downing five pills a day with no results and destroying your central nervous system with way too much caffeine (and emptying your wallet too). The way to save yourself from this weight loss plateau purgatory is to take a full week off every month, you heard right, EVERY month. And I don’t mean from just the supplement, I mean from caffeine all together. This will kick any dependency you have to caffeine and also bring back their effects with a lower dosage when you cycle back on kick starting the stalled fat loss. Now, I understand going without caffeine for a single day can cripple some people, so just as if somebody were to try to quit smoking I recommend waning off it. If you usually drink a pot of coffee a day, cut back to half a pot one week, then a cup the next, then tea the next, then try one full day without caffeine all together, then two, and work your way to a whole week (it doesn’t matter if it takes you months to work up to a week off at a time as long as you’re consistently making process desensitizing yourself to it). Another added benefit to this is the best sleep you’ve probably had a long time.

Take-Home Message

If you made it this far into the article thank you, and I hope you got some useful information out of it. To sum up all this information, I will keep it (somewhat) brief. I do recommend taking a fat burner to supplement your clean diet and exercise routine, but only if you already have some knowledge about health and nutrition. Whether they work or not depends completely on the brand and quality of product you buy, research every ingredient and learn as much as you can before you spend a dime.

Avoid proprietary blends when possible and don’t look for the product with the biggest claims. Reviews are very unreliable and it doesn’t matter how many you read, there will always be conflicting views. Meaning the only opinion that really matter to you… is yours, if you decide to try a product. Something important to note here is that everybody is different, meaning some people might react extremely well to the dosing of a product while it gives somebody else migraines whenever they take it. Personally I do use fat burners and the take home points on how to use them for their greatest efficacy include using them as a supplement to an effective diet and exercise routine, not a replacement for them.

Take them on an empty stomach if you can help it, and the best way to know you’re in a fasted state is letting all your food digest over 8 hours of sleep. Don’t eat for at least 30 minutes after taking the pill and I recommend taking up intermittent fasting to maximize fat loss (there’s enough information and studies on IF for its own article). Start with a low dose to assess your tolerance, and try to keep your daily intake of caffeine below 400 mg to minimize the negative effects it could potentially case to your body. Most importantly, cycle off all stimulants for a recommended seven days a month (in a row) to restart your tolerance to them and get your fat loss peaked again.

There are many topics I did not cover including which ingredients are effective and what to look for (besides caffeine which has been proven to be effective time and time again), which ingredients don’t work and or have no research to back their claims and stimulant fat burners versus stimulant free fat burners.

Hopefully I encouraged you to do your own research on the topic of fat burners instead of shunning them outright or blindly using the brand with the flashiest looking bottle. Keep working hard, eating right, staying stress free and your goals will become your reality.

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

Billy Galipeault

Billy Galipeault

Writer and expert

Billy is passionate about all things fitness and nutrition, with an emphasis on muscle and strength building. He's currently serving active duty in the air force, while building his body muscle by muscle in his free time.

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