By Tom Venuto, Iron Magazine
Once a person hits a plateau, do we really need fat burners to achieve that “ripped” or “six-pack” look? I am having a really hard time getting my stomach to look the way I want it, and I really respect your opinion, so I appreciate your thoughts on this. I take great displeasure in seeing those kinds of misleading headlines as well as the misleading use of models who are often paid to endorse the product even though they may never have even used it (they’re just models!)
Countless “fat burner” companies have been sued by the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising, false claims and falsifying before and after photos. This week it was the homeopathic HCG scam and the acai berry scammers finally got theirs when the FTC sued them and froze their assets after bilking people like you out of $25 million dollars!
Abs don't come in a pill! The best you get from ANY "fat burner" supplement is a slight thermogenic effect and possibly some slight appetite suppression. A few products might work through other mechanisms like affecting the thyroid (as if it's a good idea to mess with your thyroid without medical supervision), but if you forgive me the generalization, I consider the effects of all “fat burner” products to be somewhere between zero and minutia.
In some of my older newsletters and web pages, I wrote that in my opinion, 97% of your results come from nutrition and training and maybe you get an extra 3% advantage from supplements. I stand by that statement to this day... if not stronger than ever.
Just so you know those numbers aren't something I pulled out of thin air, let's take an example:
There is a significant amount of scientific data that Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG, the active alkaloid from green tea extract), if consumed in the proper dosage, could increase thermogenesis / metabolic rate by an average of about 75 calories in 24 hours. Since ephedrine was taken off the market years agao, EGCG appears in many ephedra-free formulas these days.
What is a typical calorie expenditure for an active male in 24 hours? lets say 2700 calories per day. 75/2700 = 2.7%. Pretty close to 3% huh?
That slight little extra doesnt hurt, especially when it's delivered in a healthful package such as green tea, rather than harsh central nervous system stimulants, but it's minutia in the bigger picture.
Another way to put this into perspective is to make a list of what other things would burn 75 calories. Here's some examples adjusted for a 150 lb person:
-walk your dog for 15 minutes
-three times a day, walk for 5 minutes at normal casual pace
-30 minutes of ironing
-bagging leaves and grass clippings for 14 minutes
-re arrange your furniture for 10 minutes
-wash your car, 15 minutes
-vacuuming for 15 minutes
-7.2 minutes of walking up stairs (could be spread throughout the day)
Wow, who'd have thunk that taking your dog for a walk around the block or vacuuming your living room burns more fat than the "most effective" fat burners on the market?" Bet the fat burner companies didn't tell you that did they?
On one hand, I’m tempted to say that everything counts and that yes, 75 calories here, and 42 calories there, it ALL adds up. After you’re exercising regularly and all your fundamentals are in place, details and little things do matter, especially at the highest levels of competition.
I’m simply asking you to put the benefits of any fat burners in proper perspective and realize that:
1. There is no “need” for any pills to help your fat burning efforts! Good nutrition and training alone will do it!
2. The claims made in the ads are often erroneous or exagerrated ... The claims are full of s**t!
3. Some of the newer pills now on the market contain powerful stimulants and can be dangerous or even cause a failed drug test (at your place of employment or in an athletic organization)
Yep, #3 is true. In our Burn the Fat Inner Circle forums, one of our members recently posted in the supplement forum: "I think I just bought a banned substance (pre workout stimulant / fat burner)!!!"
It turns out the supplement contained 1,3 dimethylamylamine, aka methylhexanamine, which is not only quite a powerful stimulant, and why it got a reputation as a preworkout supplement (and a party drug), it was indeed on the list of banned substances for this guy's workplace... And it's on the banned substance list for various sports organizations including the Olympic committee.
These supplement companies know that selling "speed" over the counter will make them rich and they will sneak anything into a bottle for as long as they can keep getting away with it. When one substance gets banned or regulated, they move on to the next one (remember ephedrine? The fat burner industry didn't die out after that did it? It continued to flourish)
And check this out: New versions of that supplement have been released which are not only being promoted as pre workout stimulants - they have added more ingredients and they're now calling it a combination - super fat burner AND pre workout stimulant. Wow, what could be better than that - get buzzed up on stimulants and burn fat right?
Well, I had never even heard of the ingredients on the list so I looked them up. There was not a single human study showing that it did anything for fat burning. The supplement company actually had the audacity to list their scientific references at the bottom of their ad (in the tiny fine print) and if more people bothered to look them up like I did, they'd see that the studies were performed on diabetic mice.
These are the deceptive tactics of the supplement companies you may be giving your money to.
My advice on "fat burners:"
1. NEVER buy a fat burner unless you get independent, scientific verification of the claims made for the product.
How do you KNOW they really work? Are you SERIOUSLY going to take the advertisers word for it - after decades of scam after scam after scam? Are you SERIOUSLY going to take someone else’s diet pill testimonial as fact? Get verification for yourself by going to the pub med data base and looking for proof in the form of peer-reviewed research.
2. Put the potential results in perspective
With those products that have some evidence for benefits, such as those providing a small thermogenic effect, put that in perspective as compared to how easily you could burn that many calories with even light exercise like walking or housework. Keep in mind the additional fitness and strength benefits you will obtain from exercise as opposed to doing nothing and popping a pill.
3. See if there are any side effects or health warnings
With all supplements and especially with strong thermogenics like the ephedrine and caffeine stack, (if you still have access to them), and with many of these new products using ingredients you may have never even heard of before, understand the risk to benefit ratio, and be certain you know the dangers and contraindications.
There are pre workout stimulants that have been on the market the last few years that have similarities to amphetamines. Many are pitched as "natural" or herbal but they contain active alkaloids with drug-like effects. If you don't think there is potential danger there, you'd better think again.
4. Never take a fat burner pill if you don't know EXACTLY what the ingredients are or what they do
You are CRAZY to take pills when you don't even know what the ingredients are and what they do. What more can I say? Yet every day I get questions from people already taking these products and I typically ask them, "You only gave me a brand name, what are the ingredients?" They have NO CLUE! INSANITY! Would you pop a pill a stranger gave you in a bar? Well WTH is the difference?
5. Read the label and see if the product contains enough active ingredient to even work (Beware the "Pixie dusting" scam)
A classic scam is when a product quotes research that a certain ingredient boosts metabolism, which might be true. What they fail to tell you is that all the research with positive results used a large and very specific dosage of the ingredient, which might be very expensive.
So the cheap, deceptive, corner-cutting supplement company includes a “pinch” or “light dusting” of that ingredient just so they can say it’s in the bottle, even though it's nothing more than “label decoration.” Then they have the audacity to invoke the research studies in their advertisements when the amount of the ingredient in their product is no where near what was used in the research!
6. Watch out for the proprietary blend scam
Some companies, don't even let you see how much ingredient is in the product formula, because it contains multiple ingredients and they say their formula is a “trade secret” aka “proprietary”, so they list WHAT is in the product but not HOW MUCH. If you don’t know how much is in there then how are you supposed to get independent confirmation of the facts and analyze whether this product is any good? (hint: You can't!)
7. Make sure there is human research, not just rodent research
In many cases, advertisements cite studies on rats and mice as “proof” under the assumption that the product will produce the same results in humans. Animal research is an important part of the scientific method, as it is often used to help find areas of research where human study should be pursued, or in the other direction, to trace back the mechanism that makes something work. However, for obesity research in particular, a positive finding in rats does not mean the same thing will happen in humans.
What's more, to overcome the ingredient dosage issue above (in point #4), unsavory supplement companies may give a dose to mice that is HUGE for a mouse, but impossible to match pound-for-pound in a human. So a positive result is achieved in a mouse, which may not be relevant to humans to begin with, but even if it were, you couldn't practically, financially or safely take that much yourself, relatively speaking.
8. Look for more than one human study
Consider trying a supplement only after it has human research that has been replicated by different research groups which are not industry-sponsored. My policy is that I will usually only give a “buy” rating to a supplement when a product has an intitial well-designed human controlled trial published and then similar research has been replicated by another research group that is not supplement-industry funded.
Actually, I think it’s a good thing that nutrition and supplement companies fund and sponsor some of the research. They should. They should not only back up their claims with published clinical trials, they should share some of the cost of this expensive research and make sure it's published in reputable journals so we can read them and critique the study design.
However, a basic principle of the scientific method is replication. Other researchers should be able to duplicate the findings. Therefore, while the funding source does not necessarily prove bias, if there is only one study available on a supplement and it is company or industry sponsored, I usually take it with a grain of salt and put an asterisk next to it while I wait for confirmation from another study. (You might be surprised at how IN-frequently this type of confirmation occurs).
Do you REALLY need “more” than nutrition and exercise???
Now, when you weigh the fact that even the products with research backing them only help a little, that many of the ads lie to you about research, exagerrate claims and hide vital information about ingredients, that you can do a few more minutes of exercise per day and get the same results for free, that certain ingredients could be harmful and that you could fail a drug test or lose a medal and the supplement companies didn't warn you, how enthusiastic are you about fat burners?
Above, I've tried to be somewhat balanced and objective by providing you with a punch list about how to be a smart consumer and shop carefully for supplements in the fat loss marketplace. But after more than 20 years of seeing people become victims of the fat burner lie it's really hard to stay "balanced" any more.
My BEST advice is: Don't waste your money on ANY of them - save it and spend it on holiday gifts for people you love - or something special for yourself (people waste hundreds of dollars a month on this diet pill crap).
And remember, the claim you read in that ad, "It takes more than nutrition and exercise to get six pack abs” is absolutely false. You CAN do it with nutrition and training alone. That's EXACTLY how it's done!
Bottom line: I HATE the fat burner supplement industry more than ever and I would hate to see you get hurt, lied to or ripped off. Please be careful out there.