By Chris Martinez
May. 19. 2011-
It seems every time Summer comes around, an event or even a big vacation, hence Vegas, Miami, Cabo, beaches, pool parties (Rehab, Wet Republic), and then some, make us want to be in the best shape of our lives. Anyone that sits here and says they don’t want to look good for all the above I just mentioned, your only kidding yourself. A lot of us bust our asses to get in shape for the above, whether it’s through strict dieting, cardio, and intense training regimens. Some might not be as extreme as others and some might just do enough to get by in their bikinis and board shorts, whatever floats your boat. Then there’s those who completely panic with a few weeks left to get in shape and they realize, “if I only just started cleaning up my diet a month ago or started doing cardio earlier.” These folks tend to want a magic pill to get them their desired results in a small amount of time and with the tiniest amount of effort. So what do these folks do? Besides an astronomical amount of cardio & dramatic low carbing (cut out all sources of carbohydrates from their diets), they turn to fat burners! Yes, the hypothetical magic pill…Fat burners. In this article I will explain what body fat is, types of body fat, how body fat is burned, what fat burners are and do, and if there are any type of efficacy to them. Before you continue, hang in there with me on some of the technical terminology and science, I’m only trying to educate you and bring you the best information possible. Muchas gracias!
What in the world is a fat burner and what do they do? These days, fat burners are a generic term for products that are designed to help you re-compose your body composition, more muscle, less fat. Different mechanisms that fall under fat burners are: Thermogenic enhancers, carb blockers, fat blockers, estrogen blockers, thyroid hormone increasers, appetite suppressants, cortisol blockers all aimed at the same thing, increase body’s ability to burn energy or park energy in right spot, in muscle, not fat. Most of these products contain caffeine and/or adrenergic analogues. Adrenergic compounds stimulate β-receptors, thereby activating cyclic AMP, while also inhibiting the α-receptors (1). This is good because if we stimulate β-receptors and inhibit (block) α-receptors then this leads to fat breakdown, great! So, there are a lot of different types of fat burners on the market and mechanisms, but at the end of the day they are all going to promise you the same thing and that is to shift stored fat into energy thus leading to fat burn.
What is body fat? Most people think they know about body fat; I’m here to tell you that isn’t the case and please don’t insinuate that I know it all either, because nobody will never know it all in this field. I just want to make sure we are all on the same page here.
The more technical term for body fat is adipose tissue, with individual cells being called adipocytes (‘adipo’ = fat; ‘cyte’ = cell). In humans, the primary type of fat cell is called white adipose tissue, or WAT, so named because of its color (it’s actually sort of a milky yellow). WAT in humans is composed primarily (anywhere from 80 to 95%) of lipid. By lipid I mean stored triglycerides (stored fatty acids in fat cells) (2)
Types of body fat we have. The human body has at least 4 different depots of stored fat, although I’ll actually make out a fifth that isn’t really used in research. The first type of fat is ‘essential body fat,’ this refers to the fat around your organs (where it serves an important cushioning role). For the most part, we don’t need to worry about essential fat because its essential body fat and you can’t lose it and, even if you could, you wouldn’t want to because you’d be dead. The second type of fat is ‘brown adipose tissue’ (BAT), the main role of BAT is energy utilization and heat production. BAT is different from WAT because WAT is more of a storage type of fat. The third type of fat is ‘visceral fat,’ this type of fat is found around your internal organs and can be thought of as gut fat. But, it’s not the type of fat you see on the top of your stomach; it’s actually underneath your abdominal muscles surrounding your organs. Obese people carry a lot of visceral fat which leads to many health problems. The fourth type of fat is ‘subcutaneous fat,’ this is the type of fat that most folks are focused on getting rid of because the fat is found underneath their skin (i.e., abdominal area, hips, thighs). The fifth type of fat is ‘stubborn fat,’ which is the type of fat that you nearly try everything in the book to get it off but just simply cant and this is due to physiological reasons that I’m not going to get into in this article (3).
Now how do I burn off this body fat? In physiological terms, burning is better described as “oxidizing”. This simply means that the body reacts some fuel with oxygen, ultimately producing ATP (available energy for cells in the body to be oxidized) (4).
There’s two parts to burning body fat. The first part to burning fat is we must understand that all of our organs in our body store fat. We store fat in muscle, heart, lungs, intestines, but the fat that makes us look fat, that’s underneath our skin is called ‘subcutaneous adipose tissue.’ To burn fat from adipose tissue, we first have to liberate (free) it. It’s liberated by freed up fatty acids (triglycerides) that are inside fat cells and then dumped into the bloodstream. The second part to burning fat is after the fatty acids are dumped into the blood stream (lipolysis), they are delivered to different tissues like the heart, liver, and muscles where they are being oxidized (burned). Think putting gas in your car and the fuel being burned. So, those are the 2 parts to burning fat.
Enough with all the technical stuff and science, do fat burners work? When we talk about fat burning we’re saying we want all this adipose tissue shifted into energy. Fat burners don’t necessarily do this. Fat burners are not going to make you lean; they’re just going to make you more efficient at getting lean and maybe make you get a little leaner faster. But, if you’ve accumulated a nice layer of coating over your abs throughout the fall and winter season and think that by popping a pill is going to inexplicably get you in shape and correct months of inactivity and improper dieting, you’re kidding yourself. Nothing will ever make up for proper nutrition and exercise. Nada, zip, there is no magic pill! Sorry! Now I’m not saying fat burners don’t work at all because they do work if you use them right in conjunction with a proper diet and workout routine and with what I explained in the second paragraph above about receptors. My main point was people thinking that by popping a fat burning pill, they are miraculously going to lose a ton of fat and be in tip top shape in no time. Like I said above, “Fat burners are not going to make you lean; they’re just going to make you more efficient at getting lean and maybe make you get a little leaner faster.” By taking fat burners, people psychologically think they are losing weight because of a pill, but they really are not. So, the best advice I can give you is if you’re going to use the fat burner route, use it wisely and by wisely I mean, use it when you come to a point where you’ve tried everything and you can’t lose that extra stubborn fat through diet and cardio. Don’t just start using it for the hell of it because you think it’s going to work the best that way, 9 out of 10 times you will see no results from the fat burners at first because you are dieting and doing cardio and that’s what’s shedding fat, so the effects are minimal. Bottom line is there are many, many more compounds being added to, and marketed as fat loss agents. Just make sure to not get sucked in with all the fat burner hype and trends, get the best bang for your buck, and always research what you’re putting in your body. Peace!
Here’s a list of Fat burners that in my opinion are the only ones that have proven studies and research behind them and stand true and tried:
1) Caffeine Pills
2) Yohimbine HCL
3) L-Carnitine, L-Tartrate
4) Conjugated Linoleic Acid
5) Sesamin Caps
6) ECGC (green tea) *pills are probably more potent
“Live a Dynamic Lifestyle”
(1) Willoughby, Darryn S. “Thermogenic Supplements: Effectiveness and Safety.”Sports Nutrition Insider 8 Feb. 2011. http://sportsnutritioninsider.insidefitnessmag.com/22/thermogenic-supplements-effectiveness-and-safety
(2, 3, 4) McDonald, Lyle. The Stubborn Fat Solution. Lyle McDonald Publishing: Salt Lake City, UT, 2008