Fat Burning Supplements: Do They Really Work?

Fat Burning Supplements: Do They Really Work?

stacy schanks
11 minute read

Let’s be honest. A weight loss journey isn’t usually the most fun thing, so when you find something that can help boost fat loss with less effort, it’s tempting to jump right on it. But fat burning supplements aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be, so if you’ve been considering using them, read this first! 

Weight loss supplements have been around for years. They’ve had their share of fantastic success stories, but they’ve also been the root of some horror stories. So let’s take a look at the ins and outs of these supplements and whether or not they actually work. 


How Does the Body Lose Fat? 



To understand how fat burners work, it’s important to understand how fat loss actually works. Your body expends energy on a daily basis, even if you stay in bed the whole day! Every process in the body burns calories—digesting food, absorbing nutrients, breathing, and small movements. 

Any exercise you do, whether you take a short walk to the corner shop or do housework, also burns calories. In order for you to lose fat, the number of calories you eat must be less than the amount of calories you burn every day. 

For example, if your body naturally burns 1500 calories every day without exercise, you’d need to burn less than that on a day without exercise to lose fat. Let’s assume you eat 1200 calories worth of food. Your body will go through those 1200 calories as the day goes, but it still needs another 300 calories to stay alive! 

Those extra 300 calories come from your fat stores. The body turns those fat cells into usable energy, breaking down stored fatty acids and converting them into carbon dioxide and water, where they leave the body via sweat and your breath. 

What Are Fat Burning Supplements and How Do They Work? 

Now that you know how fat loss happens, we can understand how fat burners work. Fat burning supplements are dietary supplements designed to aid you in your weight loss journey by doing one of three things: 

  1. Reducing your appetite, increasing your satiety, and ultimately leading to you consuming fewer calories 
  2. Decreasing the amount of fat that your body absorbs during the digestion process 
  3. Speeding up your metabolic rate, so you can burn more calories faster 

Those are the mechanisms through which fat burners claim to work, but the evidence is hard to come by. The idea is that eating less, absorbing less fat, and speeding up your metabolism leads to natural fat loss, but the truth is it’s not always as straightforward as it seems. 

It’s also important to note that not all fat burners do all three of those things. Some of them are appetite suppressants, some are fat blockers, and some are metabolic boosters. Some of them may have overlapping features, but not all. 

Which Types of Fat Burners Are Most Effective? 

So, which one of the fat burning mechanisms is the most effective? There’s no right answer here—in the end, it depends on the person. 

If you’re looking to try a fat-burning supplement. It might be worthwhile to consider what’s truly holding you back from losing fat. 

Do you struggle with overeating? An appetite suppressant could be the right kind of fat burner for you. On the other hand, if you’re already eating well and working out, a weight loss pill that increases your fat and calorie-burning capabilities could be the better choice. 

It’s also worth noting that you do get stimulant-free fat burners, which are typically aimed at those who don’t deal well with the effects of caffeine or similar substances. 

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Common Ingredients In Fat Burners 

Understanding the ingredients in fat burners can explain why they work well for burning fat. Some of these ingredients have well-known fat-burning properties, and when formulated into dietary supplements together, their effects can be amplified. 

But some of them are still undergoing research and aren’t yet proven to be effective. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ingredients found in fat burning supplements and their properties, so you know what works and what’s still unsure. 


Caffeine is one of the most common ingredients you’ll find in these supplements, and it’s a good bit more than you’ll find in your morning coffee! Ever felt those jitters you get when you drink too much of the strong stuff? 

Yes, caffeine stimulates the nervous system, which is why it does such a great job of waking you up in the morning. But the amount of caffeine in these types of supplements raises the blood pressure, which can actually help you to burn more calories. It’s also likely to give you more power to push through your exercise with gusto. 

You should note, though, that if you’re not used to caffeine, you may find the effects to be strong and unpleasant! 


Carnitine is an interesting substance that boosts metabolism, increasing energy. The body does produce it, and it’s also found in meat and dairy products. 

However, although carnitine is often found in dietary supplements, research shows mixed results and it’s been known to cause nausea, vomiting, and a bit of an odd body odor. We’d recommend avoiding supplements that include this ingredient if you’re going to be using it regularly (which you should be!). 

Green Tea Extract/Green Coffee Bean Extract 

Extracts from green tea or green coffee beans are often seen on fat burner labels. There’s some evidence to suggest that they may suppress appetite and reduce how much fat you absorb from your food, but the science isn’t clear. 

There doesn’t seem to be many negative side effects to these compounds, though, so they may be a good addition. 

Raspberry Ketones 

Raspberry ketones are one of the latest buzzwords. Interestingly, while they’re the compound that gives raspberries their scent, they’re not actually derived from raspberries so they don’t taste anything like the fruit! 

There’s not a lot of research out there on raspberry ketones yet. One study, by the National Processed Raspberry Council, indicated that natural raspberry products may slow weight gain, but that’s not quite the same as losing weight. 

Other studies suggest that they may help to reduce appetite, but there’s no solid evidence to back that up. All in all, for now, it remains a buzzword until further research is done! 

Garcinia Cambogia 

This interesting-sounding supplement is actually a tropical fruit, said to block fat absorption and lower your appetite. You can find it on its own as a fat loss supplement, or combined with other ingredients in popular fat burning supplements. 

The working ingredient is found in the rind of the fruit, called hydroxycitric acid. When you consume this, it appears to block a particular fat-making enzyme, as well as increasing serotonin which may decrease hunger. 

Research doesn’t quite back up amazing claims about this ingredient, but it’s also natural and worth a try. There doesn’t seem to be many, if any, reported side effects. 


Yohimbine is a plant compound, derived from tree bark! You can find it in two different forms in fat loss supplements: Yohimbe bark extract, which is a concentrate, and Yohimbine Hcl, which is the actual molecule combined with hydrochloric acid for easier absorption. 

Research is still underway, but studies suggest that it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, raising your blood pressure and core temperature, which can lead to increased calorie burn. 

All in all, yohimbine can be an excellent fat loss ingredient if used right and in the right doses. This article breaks down the science if you want to know more! 


Other ingredients you may find in fat burners include capsicum (usually found in thermogenic fat burners), conjugated linoleic acid, forskolin, and kelp. 

Are There Negative Side Effects? 

Even if a fat burner is filled with healthy, natural ingredients, there’s a chance that it won’t work for everyone. For example, caffeine is a great supplement that can boost your energy and accelerate fat loss. But for those who aren’t used to it, it can cause headaches, jitters, nausea, and diarrhea. 

Each of the ingredients has a chance of not being well-tolerated by the user. It’s wise to pay attention to how the fat burners make you feel and stop using them if you feel anything negative. Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to know how you react until you actually try the ingredients! 

Are Fat Burners Safe To Take? 

The truth is, it’s very difficult to tell if fat burners are safe. They’re not regulated by the FDA as a medication, so manufacturers don’t need to prove that their supplements are safe for use. 

That means you have no way of telling what’s truly in them. Unless the supplement has undergone extensive third-party testing and the manufacturers are known for their transparency, you’re always taking a risk. 

The other potential problem is that not much research has been done on the long-term effects of these types of supplements. There are tentative links to liver and kidney damage, but nothing is set in stone. 

However, it’s worth noting that some ingredients that used to be added to fat burners (ephedra, for example) have been banned by the FDA, due to extreme and dangerous side effects. It’s hard to say if any of the current ingredients may have similar effects, considering they’re unregulated. 

It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting to use a fat burner. You can also browse through the U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements’ resource section for more information. 

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The Big Question: Do Fat Burning Supplements Really Work? 

The truth is, there’s some value to fat burning supplements. BUT they’re not extremely likely to get you lean without some effort on your part, which many of them actively mislead people about. 

Fat burners can definitely help you to drop those extra pounds. But while you’re taking them, you should be both eating a healthy, calorie-controlled diet and doing regular exercise. 

A Healthy, Calorie-Controlled Diet 

As mentioned earlier, the only way to lose fat is to burn more calories than you’re taking in. And the only way to do this is to calculate how many calories you’re burning and work out a meal plan that has you eating about 20 to 25% calories fewer than that. 

Make sure you’re eating healthy, whole foods. You can still lose fat while eating doughnuts and hotdogs, but fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins will give you the best nutrients for your body. 

An Effective Exercise Routine 



If you want to burn calories much faster, you need a great exercise routine. Weight training is an excellent way to burn calories, because the more muscle you build, the faster your metabolism becomes, which means you’ll be burning calories throughout the day after a good eight training session. 

Cardio is also necessary if you want to burn stubborn fat. Don’t be fooled into thinking that cardio is all you need! While increasing your cardio will help you to drop pounds quickly, it will leave you “skinny fat”. Building some muscle with resistance training will make sure you get lean, toned, and burn more calories naturally throughout the day. 

Final Thoughts on Fat Burners 

Fat burning supplements are meant to be used as a fat-loss aid. Once you’ve achieved your body fat goals, you should stop using them and maintain your weight by continuing to eat healthily and exercise. 

There’s not a lot of information out there about the effects of long-term fat burner use. But if you consider what they do to the body—increase blood pressure, stimulate the nervous system, and so on—the potential for health issues is quite high. 

Want to shed some extra pounds quicker than usual, while eating well and moving your body? A great fat-burning supplement can help. But choose wisely based on the ingredients, and use it for the required time. Don’t go overboard and you should see positive results.

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