Getting competition lean is difficult and sometimes you have to dig deep to get the conditioning you need to be successful on stage. What’s more is that you can only push your body so far – through caloric restriction and increased cardio – before you burn out emotionally and physically. It’s tempting to reach for a fat burner/fat loss supplement, hoping that it’ll help you shed the last few pounds. But should you? The FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, so you may not even be getting what you’re paying for. Some supplement companies will avoid even telling you what they’re putting in the capsules, claiming that it’s a “proprietary blend.” Even if you get a reliable source and your supplement is what they say it is, it may just be ineffective. I’ve certainly gotten suggestions from coaches to take a number of different pills (fish oil, CLA, ALA, etc.) to help shed the fat.
Examine.com, an independent, science-based source on supplements and nutrition, points out that the evidence for some of these widely used supplements is shaky at best. It’s rare to find a nutrition/supplement study done on athletes – many studies are on overweight, sedentary, or elderly people. For example, fish oil has been touted widely to help with fat loss. But the study that showed it raised metabolic rates was conducted in elderly women living in a retirement community. Furthermore, supplements are often taken incorrectly – the manufacturers will instruct you to take it with food to spare you from experiencing unpleasant side effects, even though the absorption (and thus, the effectiveness) is decreased with food.
Fat burners work in some combination of the following:
- Increase the overall metabolic rate
- Increase the utilization of fat cells as an energy source
- Uncoupling – burning energy/calories to generate heat (hence, thermogenics)
There’s an endless list of supplements that have been reviewed by Examine.com. They systematically went through clinical trials on that supplement and gave ‘ratings’ on how strong the evidence is/isn’t, which is incredibly helpful. They also review other supplements – not just fat burners! – so definitely check it out whenever you’re skeptical of something working.
WARNING: Fat burners increase levels of adrenaline in the body. This can make heart or blood pressure problems worse, or may cause new problems. Fat burners may also increase anxiety, so caution is warranted if you are also on psychiatric medication, like anti-depressants.
The side effects for some of these can be unpleasant, such as nausea, cold sweats, or increased heart rate. However, you should not hurt anywhere – no chest pain, no headaches, nothing.
/r/steroids has a great Wiki which outlines how to take these supplements. I want to make it clear – I am not encouraging or endorsing the usage of any of these supplements. If you decide to spend your money on a fat-burner, these are the ones commonly used during contest prep at the elite levels of competition. You do not have to use these to get stage lean. I repeat, you do not have to use these to get stage lean.
Ask yourself this, and be honest: At what point are you researching fat burners? Are you deep into contest prep, seeing your weight loss stall, and panicking? Or are you at the beginning of a contest prep and planning to use these supplements to help you reach the next level?
I’ve been in both places. In 2017, I resorted to all sorts of crazy methods – Sweet Sweat, over the counter fat burners, working out with a waist trainer, fasted cardio – to try and get the weight down. What I didn’t give myself was enough time. I planned for a standard 12-week prep without thinking about how previous 12 week preps had gone (surprise, surprise; didn’t come in lean enough). I tried the ephedrine + caffeine stack, and even ephedrine + caffeine + yohimbine, but they didn’t do any miracles.
This time around, I learned from my mistakes. I started prep 16 weeks out with a yohimbine based fat burner on board from day 1. No other gimmicks. With 9 weeks to go, I am coming into my shows with conditioning I’ve never had before. I realized that getting stage lean was all a matter of time – supplements may shorten how long you have to go for, but not by much.
So to answer the question, “Should I take a fat burner?,” I have to counter it with a “Did you give yourself enough time?” Furthermore, are these supplements the only change you’re making to get leaner? If so, taking these could cause more harm than good, causing you to feel uncomfortable side effects with very minimal changes in body composition. These supplements are not miracle drugs, they supplement a diet and exercise regimen. If you want more tips to lose weight in a safe and sustainable manner, check out this post for a different approach to ‘dieting’.
Thoughts, comments, concerns? Would love to discuss further in the comments!