Fat burners: the best ones

Advice Nick Hutchings
3 Feb 2014
bottle of pills

Can fat burners help you lose weight? MF investigates thermogenics and their alternatives

If you’re looking to shed weight fast, fat burners are becoming an increasingly popular option. From the promises that most adverts make, you’d be forgiven for thinking fat burners are magic pills that melt away excess fat as you sit at your desk. In fact, they’re designed to speed up the rate you can lose weight when combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Going off course on your diet is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for people who are trying to lose weight, especially thanks to the increased appetite that comes with frequent exercise. Though you’ll still need a healthy dose of willpower to combat bad food decisions, fat burners can help by suppressing your appetite and keeping up your energy levels even on a calorie-restricted diet – making it much easier to make healthier food choices.

Fat burners (or thermogenics as they’re otherwise known) aren’t for everyone, though. Their high caffeine content can play havoc with your sleep patterns, while some of the ingredients can have more serious, unwanted side effects if they’re not taken properly. Here, MF takes a closer look at the benefits and disadvantages of fat burners and how to use them safely, as well as offering some alternative fat-torching supplements for you to consider.

What are they?

Fat burners are blends of herbs and stimulants that slightly increase your body temperature, which can help you to burn more calories during exercise. Ephedrine, a synthetic version of the Chinese herb ephedra, used to be a key ingredient, but it’s now only available on prescription in the UK because of its harmful side effects and addictive qualities.

What do they do?

Some fat burners simply burn calories as heat. Others also claim to stimulate the release of adrenaline, increase your metabolic rate or act as appetite suppressants. The evidence for them working is limited, though. ‘A careful calorie intake and exercise are likely to produce better weight-loss results in the long term,’ says nutrition expert Anita Bean.

Who should take them?

‘Fat burners raise cortisol – a stress hormone – so if you suffer from anxiety it could make things worse,’ says strength coach Gregg Marsh. ‘If you think you need them, consult your doctor first.’

How much should I take?

Follow the instructions on the bottle, but be careful if you’re planning to use them over a long period of time. ‘Take them on a rotation cycle of 14 days on 14 days off for only two cycles every eight weeks,’ advises Marsh.

When should I take them?

Most fat burners contain caffeine and will make you jittery, so taking them in the morning is probably best. ‘Never take fat burners after 2pm because they affect sleep patterns,’ says Marsh. Other than that, go with the recommendation on the bottle.

Do they have any side effects?

‘Taking high doses of ephedrine can have serious effects, including palpitations, anxiety, insomnia, vomiting and dizziness,’ says Bean. ‘While herbal alternatives are generally safer, you may get side effects with high doses – some can raise blood pressure or cause heart disturbances.’

What are the alternatives?

If thermogenics aren't right for you, here are some of the best alternative fat-burning supplements on the market…


If burning fat during a workout is your priority, first you need to mobilise it. L-carnitine is an amino acid that transports fatty acids into the mitochondria – our internal power plants – to produce energy. Take a single dose of 500-3000mg before your workout to ensure that you transport the maximum amount of available fat for fuel during exercise. It’s especially useful if you’re training fasted or on a low-carb diet where fat oxidation is already maximised.

Green tea

One of the best natural fat-burners around, green tea can give your metabolism a jolt. It’s also packed full of antioxidants and has been linked to the prevention of everything from heart disease to Alzheimer’s. Drink it instead of regular tea or diet soft drinks for a huge variety of health benefits.


Anyone training intensely is likely to be under some serious stress. The stress hormone cortisol, which is responsible for fat storage, is secreted in high amounts as a result, but phosphatidylserine blocks its secretion. This allows you to recover quicker, burn more fat and build more muscle. Take it after your workout or in the evening, especially if you’re training at high intensity or particularly prone to elevated stress levels.

Extra info

Here are the experts who gave us an insight into fat burners:
Anita Bean is the author of The Complete Guide To Sports Nutrition (£15.99, A&C Black Publishers). For more visit anitabean.co.uk.
Dr. Lonnie Lowery is an exercise physiologist, nutrition expert and former competitive bodybuilder. He is also a licensed dietician specialising in sports nutrition.
Nikhil Rao is a trainee doctor, avid weightlifter and regular contributor to the US bodybuilding site t-nation.com. He has been using creatine for six years.
Gregg Marsh is a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer and nutrition consultant. He has more than eight years of experience in nutrition. For more visit fitleanandhealthy.com.

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