Supplementing to Shred!
De-mystifying Fat Loss Supplements by
Pete Ciccone IFBB Pro CSCS
Contest prep season is right around the corner. Your contest prep plan lined up. You are hitting that cardio, dialing in our nutritional plan and competition prep meal plan, and training off-the-chain. Having seen obvious changes in your body composition as you push through your contest prep plan and program, but in reality, you’re not quite where you want to be. You just don’t have that super-tight look of the experienced competitors. You ask yourself, what’s next? What is my program missing?
In the world of Sports Nutrition Supplements, the product category of “diet” or “fat-loss” is by far the most-popular product category on the shelves of your local supplement store. Your eyes are drawn to this category more and more as competition prep time approaches. Here’s a quick guide to help you better understand what you may not even realize you’re looking for! During contest prep season, this information can be critical to your success!
Which Fat-Burner Is Right for You?
Losing weight isn’t easy. For contest prep, losing primarily body fat can be even trickier science. Choosing the right fat-burning supplement can be pivotal to your success. With hundreds to choose from, it can be downright confusing. The good news is, fat-burner pills do work (at least some of them!) and can help get rid of unsightly body fat faster than diet and exercise alone. Before you choose the product, you must first choose the type of fat-burner that will suit you best. Every body is different, so it’s important to find the product built for your individual needs, helping you get the best results from your contest prep program.
We can break fat burning supplements down into three categories:
- Stimulant-based fat burners
- Thermogenic (stimulant- or non-stimulant-based) (focus on adipose tissue metabolism
- Stimulant-free and Thermogenic-free.
Stimulant Based Fat Burners
A stimulant based fat-burner will give you a solid burst of energy and really get you going in the gym… and anywhere else. Stimulant-based fat burners are composed of a variety of herbal or synthetic compounds called “sympathomimetics” (which means they mimic, prolong, or stimulate the body’s adrenal hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine). By functioning like epinephrine or norepinephrine, stimulant-based products help burn fat through two different mechanisms.
Epinephrine and norepinephrine are chemical messengers that are part of the sympathetic nervous system. These hormones handle the body’s response mechanism, called “fight or flight.” During periods of intense emotional or physical stress, or when ingesting stimulant-based fat-burners, a reactionary chain of biochemical events occurs in the body. This is called the “fight or flight” response.
What is Fight or Flight?
What does that mean, from a biological standpoint? As a part of the evolutionary process, we are hard-wired by Mother Nature to be able to react and survive stressful dangerous situations. During times of extreme physical or emotional stress, the adrenal “fight or flight” hormones, epinephrine and nor-epinephrine, are injected from our adrenal glands into the bloodstream. These chemicals target multiple body cells, causing an adaptive excitatory state.
For example, think of ancient man, our caveman cousins. If our ancient Neanderthal relatives were out hunting and gathering, and their friendly neighborhood Tyrannosaurus Rex, or saber-toothed tiger, stumbled upon them, their “fight or flight” response is engaged.
Pupils widen so our ancient cousins could see more of their environment; increased heart rate and blood pressure push more blood and oxygen into the muscles so they could run faster (or fight if need be); and the body’s most powerful, releasing a concentrated source of stored energy into the bloodstream to fuel sustained physical activity… wait a minute, stored energy?
Yep! That’s right, the adrenal hormones facilitate the release of fatty acids from stored body fat in order to fuel sustained physical activity! These physiological responses to epinephrine and norepinephrine helped our ancient cousins run faster, see and react to their environment quicker, and survive to evolve into our modern society. And now, facing a health issue even bigger than T-Rex or the saber-toothed tiger, epinephrine and norepinephrine can help us fight–obesity.
Stimulant-based fat burners work is by targeting the mobilization of fatty acids from our adipocytes. We can then burn fatty acids at the cellular level to fuel increased activity.
2. Increased calorie expenditure:
Second, stimulant-based fat burners enable us to exercise more productively, for longer or more intense sessions than we might otherwise. Research shows that controlled use of stimulant-based fat-burners can aid in exercise performance and increase calorie expenditure. This happens both during exercise sessions and throughout the day by supporting increased physical activity.
Some examples of sympathomimetic or stimulant-based ingredients commonly found in fat loss products today include synephrine, coleus forskohlii, green tea, theobromine, caffeine and yohimbine.
Thermogenic Fat Burners
A thermogenic fat-burner contains ingredients that will raise the body’s core temperature a small but significant amount (thermo=heat, genesis=creation of). Increasing the body’s core temperature is a complex task that typically involves supporting the body’s major thermogenic hormone, thyroid hormone. Increasing the body’s core temperature will speed up blood flow, increase your metabolic rate (and calorie expenditure), and improve circulation. You will also likely sweat like you have never sweated before.
Substances that impact our body’s ability to “activate” thyroid hormone include guggulsterones, 7-Keto DHEA, L-tyrosine, sesamin and others.
Stimulant-free & Thermogenic-free
This catch-all category includes any of the many products that can affect the energy-processing system in the body. This system governs our ability to either store body fat or lose it: the storage of excess energy as fat deposited into our adipocytes; and the counterbalance to this–the release of stored fat from our adipocytes as fatty acids that the cells of the body can use as fuel. Other “fat-loss” agents include appetite suppressant or mood-enhancing agents.
There are several natural substances that can augment one or more of the steps in either of these processes. We are stimulated to eat by our appetites. Controlling appetite can be a crucial component of successful fat loss. Herbs such as Hoodia, Garcinia Cambogia, Glucomannan, Chocamine and others can increase the feeling of satiety, and curb consumption of unnecessary calories, thus contributing to potential fat loss.
Substances, such as CLA, Sesamin, Raspberry Ketones and essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) may support the production of fat-burning enzymes to aid in the body’s natural process of freeing up fatty acids from our adipocytes. Once released, they can burn as fuel.
L-Carnitine is an amino acid that aids in the transport of fatty acids into the “power plants” of the cells, the mitochondria. By helping to shuttle fatty acids to the fires inside the mitochondria, more effective fat burning can take place.
Still, other “non-stimulant” fat loss adjuncts help make the body’s “partitioning” of nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) more efficient. Substances such as chromium picolinate, fenugreek and gymnema sylvestre work with insulin, the body’s powerful “gate-keeper” hormone, to partition nutrients into appropriate cellular destinations–hopefully, away from our fat cells!
The physiology of fat loss is a complex process involving nearly all the body’s systems. The endocrine, hepatic, neurologic and digestive systems have the greatest direct impact on body fat levels. That being the case, it should be the goal of any natural fat loss intervention to target and augment one or more of these specific body systems. In order to optimize the internal environment to maximize fat utilization.