“A fat burner will only work if you do”

-Ancient proverb

Will Grier, WVU quarterback with Gilette Stadium in the background.

In all seriousness, it’s easy to get enticed by the promise of shedding pounds overnight or dropping pant sizes in a week. Anything that’s promising you that is either lying or has the potential to kill you.

Fat burners, however, do have their place in the fitness world. Assuming you’ve tied down your nutrition and exercise programs (no, you can’t just take a fat burner and hope for the best), supplemental help can speed up your results. Faster results tend to produce more satisfaction and compliance to workout and nutrition programs, so that’s a really positive outcome.

What to expect from a fat burner

Depending on your starting fitness level, training hour per week, and dietary interventions, it’s realistic to lose around an extra pound per week with a fat burner. Now, that may not seem like much. But remember – there’s no magic pill for weight loss. If it took years to build up, don’t expect it to take days to reverse. One pound a week is over 50 lbs a year, and that’s a drastic difference in the long-term.

Fat burners work by stimulating thermogenesis and free fat metabolism. They provide key nutrient signals for the body to metabolize fat for energy instead of something else. It doesn’t work if you don’t more and/or keep adding too much fat to make a difference.

How does a fat burner work?

Good fat burners stimulate specific enzymes and hormones that promote lipolysis. Lipolysis is the breakdown of fat within the body. As some fat is free-flowing and other is stored, effective fat burners mobilize that stored fat to the bloodstream where it can be broken down for energy and release.

Other considerations include lifestyle changes when it comes to fat loss. Are you training in a fasted state or caloric deficit, but still looking to maintain lean body mass? It might behoove you, then, to supplement with something that preserves that muscle mass.

When we’re training on an empty stomach, our body will search to metabolize whatever it can, including muscle. Therefore, good fat burners will contain things like beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate, a metabolite of leucine that neutralizes muscle damage during training.

Finally, most fat burners focus on thermogenesis, or the process of generating heat. If you’ve ever counted calories, you might be familiar with this process. A calorie is defined as the amount of energy required to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius.

It’s basically a measure of heat. Therefore, when you’re burning calories, you’ve creating heat. Fat burners stimulate greater thermogenesis than normal, resulting in more calories burnt from the same activity

Best fat burning supplements

Some things just work better than others. Others are a waste of your money, and some will even ruin your health. So what are the best ingredients for a fat burner?

HMB (ß-Hydroxy ß-Methylbutyrate)

It’s widely understood that training in a fasted state can facilitate fat oxidation. The less immediate fuel you have for your workout, the more your body will hack into your fat storage for resources. There’s just one issue – it can also hack in to muscle.

HMB neutralizes those muscle damaging enzymes that could hinder your success. As a metabolite of leucine, it optimizes fasted training by actually enhancing muscle strength. Leucine and its metabolites signal protein synthesis through the mTOR pathway.

As such, taking a HMB before your workouts redirects the breakdown towards fat, and keeps your muscle growing.

Cayenne pepper

Cayenne pepper contains capsaicinoids, which activate your sympathetic nervous system. You have two autonomous (automatic) nervous systems – sympathetic and parasympathetic. They respond to your external situation. If under stress, sympathetic nervous system kicks in to prepare you to run, spit fire, or otherwise dominate. Your parasympathetic, on the other hand, is what helps digestion, rest, sleep, and general recovery.

In short, your sympathetic nervous system raises a big checkered flag to start the race to metabolize fat.

Cayenne pepper stimulates increased calorie burning during exercise. More importantly, it signals the hormones that promote fat-specific breakdown.


Forskolin, the active ingredient in the herb Coleus Forskohlii, activates metabolism. By triggering the adenylate cyclase enzyme, it raises concentration of a compound critical to thermogenesis. It’s like the lead domino in a cascade of events leading to the breakdown of triglycerides.

That stored body fat in your gut? Yeah, it’s all comprised of triglycerides. So forskolin helps mobilize and metabolize the problem areas.

Are fat burners safe?

It depends. Just like anything, you’ve got your good guys and your bad. Some of them contain dangerous synthetic stimulants that can cause harm. Others are perfectly safe and natural.

If a fat burner has gone out of its way to convince you of the “miraculous waist-shrinking effects overnight”, run the other way.

Instead, choose a fat burner with all-natural ingredients that’s been lab-tested for quality, such. There are plenty of natural supplements, such as cayenne pepper and forskolin, that induce thermogenesis and stimulate lipolysis. Your goal should be to optimize your natural metabolism, not introduce a dangerous substance in to your body.

Check every supplement with the manufacturer for purity, safety, and quality before purchase. If they’re third party tested, use all-natural ingredients, and ONLY include what’s on the label, you should be good to go.

Final thoughts

Overall, fat burners can be effective… if you choose the right ones. Beware the gimmicks and false promises. Choose natural ingredients that will enhance your body’s natural ability to breakdown fat. And continue to train! Again, nothing works unless you do.

Fat burners can definitely expedite your progress. And for many, that’s more than worth it.