There are literally hundreds of different fat burners on the market at any one time. They all claim to be the most effective, potent products available. The specific benefits they claim to offer will differ slightly product to product. But they all make the same core promises: rapid fat loss, minimal muscle depletion, and incredible appetite control.
Of course, every single fat burner claims to do these things better than every other product on the market.
Each one talks incessantly about its “unique formula”, about how it is “side effect-free”, and about the flaws of the competition.
But obviously they can’t all be telling the truth.
Not every fat burner can really be the best on the market!
Nor can they all have unique, original formulas – most of the formulas are actually remarkably similar!
In reality, the vast majority of fat burners on sale today are total garbage. Quite often they contain exotic-sounding herbal extracts that have no scientific backing whatsoever. They sometimes contain some substances which sound exciting on the label, but which you can actually find in your spice rack. More often than not, they’ll contain highly effective fat burning substances, but at doses too low to make an impact.
It’s quite common for fat burners to have all of these flaws at once.
A small number make an even bigger mistake. Some of the products out there today contain powerful synthetic stimulants and pharmaceutical-grade fat burners at high doses. These drugs definitely have an effect on body weight, but the costs far outweigh the benefits. Some of them cause serious side effects, while others pose a genuine risk to life.
The internet was rife with these products a few years ago. It isn’t a common problem these days, but it definitely still happens.
By now you’re probably thinking, are fat burners just a scam?
Do any products really work for accelerating fat loss?
There are plenty of supplements out there capable of maximizing fat loss. Many of them help you preserve muscle mass while cutting, keep on top of your food cravings, and help you stay focused through your toughest workouts.
There’s no need for harmful drugs or synthetic stimulants. These supplements achieve this using natural substances and sensible doses.
Finding the fat burners that work can be pretty difficult. However, it is also extremely straightforward. You just need to know what you’re looking for.
In our full fat burner buying guide below, we’re going to explain what fat burners do, how they work, and how we think they should be used. We’ll go through the things you need to consider when shopping for a fat loss aid; price, safety, efficacy, and so on.
Hopefully, this will help you separate the good from the bad.
In a market as crowded with garbage as the fat burner market, this is no small feat. But we’re going to do our best! If you get to the end of the guide and still have questions, please let us know in the comments!
What Makes A Good Fat Burner?
A good fat burner is one that covers all bases.
By that we mean a product that helps with every single aspect of cutting.
Most people focus on a single part of dieting when choosing a supplement. They’ll either get an appetite suppressant, or an energy booster, or something to help them metabolize more body fat.
But focusing on individual things in isolation is never gong to give you the same results as employing all of these things together.
Yes, using an energy supplement can make your next cut a hell of a lot easier. Dieting leaves you exhausted as it is; throw in heavy weight training, a full time job, a family, and cardio, and you’re probably going to feel like death for the whole cut. Your work will suffer, and so will your training. So a good quality caffeine and theanine stack can make a massive difference to your progress. It can keep you energized in work and in the gym.
But it can only do so much. If combined with an appetite suppressant, then your end results will be significantly better. As a general rule, stacking substances tends to produce effects that are greater than the sum of the individual parts.
When we’re looking for a high quality fat burner, we look for a product that supports all of the things that combine to make a successful (or unsuccessful) cut.
Let’s go through some of the main ways in which fat burners help you lose fat and preserve muscle during a cut.
Increased Energy & Focus
The most common way that fat burners try to increase fat loss is by providing you with a quick, sizable – and importantly calorie-free – energy boost.
This is something that every fat burner needs to get right. If a supplement designed to enhance fat loss and athletic performance doesn’t give you a nice, clean, sustainable energy kick, then it is seriously flawed.
Most fat burners will contain a significant – but safe – amount of caffeine. You should never underestimate this incredibly powerful stimulant; caffeine works, and it works insanely well. It increases physical energy, reduces the perception of fatigue, heightens focus, and also increases motivation. On top of that, it reduces appetite, helping you get through your workout and all the way home without stopping off to buy Krispie Kremes!
Caffeine is in many ways the perfect pre-workout. However, it isn’t just useful for use before you train.
Intelligently formulated fat burners will give you regular doses of caffeine to keep you focused and energized all day long.
This is incredibly important if you have a full time job and a family. Dieting kills focus, depletes motivation, and can easily ruin your mood. If you’re deep into a caloric deficit, chances are you’ve become an unproductive, moody man. Keeping yourself topped up with caffeine can help you avoid these major dieting ‘side effects’.
Reduced Appetite/Better Hunger Control
Perhaps the most important benefit that fat burners deliver is reduced food cravings.
For the vast majority of people – this site’s editors included – the biggest hurdle to a successful diet is hunger.
This is especially true if you are used to eating to build muscle. After a good, long bulking phase, most of you will have developed a ferocious appetite. Your stomachs will have expanded, and your new muscle mass will be hungry for extra calories.
On top of that, there’s the simple fact that we all love food.
We all love eating. As humans, we particularly love eating sugar and fat – these things make us immensely happy (in the short term at least) and our brains crave them.
If you’re running quite a strict diet, then the biggest problem isn’t likely to be your planning, or your macro ratios, or timings, or anything like that.
The biggest roadblock in between you and the physique you want to end up with is you – your discipline, your self-control, and your patience.
You could have the most intelligent diet planned out for the next 12 weeks, but if you can’t resist gobbling down a box of peanut butter cups every time you get hungry then you’re never going to get anywhere.
We know this process all too well. Every single person who writes for this site has experienced the same thing; your diet’s going great, you’re looking good, and you’ve stuck to the plan every single day that week. But Friday night rolls around, and you’re feeling completely exhausted form the gym. Work was tough. Everyone else is having a beer, and there’s talk of ordering pizza. You have some grilled salmon and broccoli in the fridge waiting to be eaten. But when someone asks if you want in on pizza, your body answers for you: “OH GOD YES”.
What if we told you that fat burners can go a log way to making food cravings disappear?
What if we said that a good quality fat burner can make you feel fuller for longer after eating meals that are far smaller than the ones you’re used to eating?
GOOD NEWS – THEY CAN!
High quality fat burners can help with your appetite control in several different ways.
Some can help “bulk out” your meals, making them more filling, helping you get used to eating fewer calories.
They can actively reduce the feeling of hunger, usually through increasing energy levels.
A few provide significant blood sugar control support. This prevents the highs and lows that some with strict dieting; the lows tend to be the times when people crave things like donuts, sugary snacks, etc.
Using professional, high quality fat burners can usually help with appetite control in all of these different ways.
If a fat burner doesn’t contain a significant and proven appetite control substance, then it is definitely missing something.
A common claim you’ll see written on the bottles of fat burners is that they “trigger thermogenesis”.
“Thermogenesis” refers to the process of raising your body’s internal temperature, which in turn increases the amount of work your body needs to do to stay cool. This means increased caloric expenditure. Of course, the basic result is that you are put in a deeper relative caloric deficit than you would be from dieting alone.
If you’re currently eating a deficit of 250 calories, then increasing your baseline metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn just staying alive per day) by 150 calories puts you into a deficit of 400 calories.
Since this allows you to be in a lower effective deficit without having to cut even more food, thermogenesis is a very popular way of enhancing fat loss in bodybuilding circles. That’s why pretty much every fat burner you see on sale has the word “thermogenic” written on the bottle. However, in reality, few fat burning supplements are true thermogenics.
Accelerated Fat Metabolism
Of course, the central thing that everybody looks for from a fat burner is accelerated fat metabolism.
Fat burners help you during a cut in many different ways.
By increasing energy, they let you get more work done in the gym without having to take on extra calories. By controlling appetite, they help you stick to your diet and get to the end of your cut with minimal hiccups.
But above all else, high quality fat burners actively increase the rate at which you burn stored fat for energy.
There are few substances capable of directly increasing fat metabolism. But there are a few.
One compound, EGCG, has been shown to increase fat oxidation (burning) at rest. Several robust, clinical trials have found that EGCG and other green tea extracts are able to increase the rate at which your body burns fat at rest. You can read about these studies in this meta-analysis. As you’ll see, the results of using green tea extract are not always consistent, but when it works it yields very good results.
It’s important to keep in mind that few substances can directly increase fat oxidation directly – that is, without enhancing athletic performance, reducing appetite, increasing thermogenesis, etc. It is a small part of what makes a good fat burner, but it is definitely a necessary component of a top quality fat loss aid.
Improved Insulin Function & Micro-nutrient Absorption
One way you can really tell the best fat burners from the mediocre, run-of-the-mill supplements is whether or not they utilize insulin support and micro-nutrient absorption.
Only the best fat burners try to improve insulin’s action in the body to help improve body composition.
A small number of substances are know to support insulin. Basically, they help insulin to do its job; shuttling nutrients to cells, storing fat, controlling blood sugar, etc.
This helps a cut in a number of ways.
For one thing, it allows you to use the nutrients you do consume more efficiently. This is really important when you’re eating fewer calories than normal; your body needs to be very good at using everything you eat.
It also prevents the blood sugar highs and lows that usually comes with serious dieting, especially if you’re employing some kind of intermittent fasting regimen during your cut.
Most fat burners focus on increasing energy and controlling appetite. In our experience, only the highest quality supplements go the extra mile and include some form of insulin-supporting substance in their formulas.
The same is true of boosting micro-nutrient absorption.
When you’re dieting, you are eating fewer total calories than your body needs to stay at your current weight. But while your body needs to be consuming fewer calories, it does not need to be consuming fewer vitamins and minerals. Quite the contrary; you need to be paying extra attention to your micro-nutrient consumption. The problem is that fewer calories means fewer chances to get all the micro-nutrients you need!
When dieting and training intensely, your body is under immense stress. It’s really important to make sure that it has all the vitamins and minerals it needs to stay healthy and functioning properly.
Some fat burners include substances which increase absorption and bio-availability of both the supplement’s key ingredients and the nutrients you consume from your diet.
Pricing – How Much Should Fat Burners Cost?
This is probably going to be the major deciding factor for the majority of you: how much does the product cost?
With fat burners, you definitely get what you pay for.
While it is possible to get an extremely good product for a relatively low price – and possible to get a terrible product for a very high price tag – you can usually get a good sense of how well a fat burner is going to work from the price tag.
If you’re just looking for something to keep you energized and motivated in the gym, then a simple energy stack is probably the best option for you. You can buy good caffeine/theanine stacks for less than $15, which is less than you’ll pay for a top quality fat loss supplement.
If energy and motivation during workouts is your priority you might also want to check out pre-workouts. We’ve covered these fantastic supplements in a separate buyers guide. Suffices to say here, they are a better option for many people who use fat burners primarily to stay focused and fired up during training.
But if you want a product that is going to help you get much further with your next cut – accelerating fat loss, powering your workouts, helping you control your appetite – then a good quality fat burner s indeed what you should be looking for.
In our opinion, a good price for a full-spectrum, all-boxes-ticked fat burner is about $50-70.
More than $70, and it usually becomes cheaper to start buying the ingredients individually and just stacking them yourself. It is harder to get top quality ingredients this way, but it is often cheaper.
Below $45, and we think the formula, quality of the ingredients, and the doses all need to suffer for the product to remain profitable.
That’s why we expect market-leading fat loss supplement to be around $50-70 in price. This is a fair price for a product, assuming it is genuinely market-leading.
How Long Do Fat Burners Take To Work?
Many fat burners can begin to work immediately. In part they work by increasing your energy levels ad motivation pre-workout. Using a fat burner shortly before you train should have you feeling more energized and ready to go than you would otherwise. You’ll get more work done, and more calories burnt.
The more subtle benefits that modern fat burners deliver – appetite control, improved insulin function, etc – obviously take longer to yield noticeable results. However, they will begin to work right away.
Fat burners are not like testosterone boosters or nootropics; both of which take several weeks to really get going.
Rather, fat burners have an immediate impact on your physiology. While a noticeable reduction in body fat levels takes time – should take time – the product itself will usually start to work immediately.
For example, if a fat burner contains an agent to increase feelings of fullness after a meal, you will notice this happening the first time you use it. It may then take several weeks for this to make a big impact on your physique. But the effect is there right away.
You should always aim to lose fat in a slow, sustainable way.
Crash diets never work, nor do fad training regimes. If you drop 6lbs in a week, you’ll probably just put it all back on over the following 3-4 weeks. Yo-yoing weight is also extremely unhealthy.
Instead, aim to drop about 1-2lb per week.This may not sound like a lot, but after a 12 week cut, you’ll be around 12-18lbs lighter, and hopefully most of that lost weight will be fat rather than muscle. The visual difference this will make will be enormous! Don’t try to lose more than 2lbs per week; even that is pushing it!
Are They Safe?
Generally speaking, fat burners are safe for short-term, infrequent use. The ingredients found in these products are generally thought to be safe for human consumption for periods of up to 12 weeks (this is how long the studies tend to last).
Note that we say “generally”; we obviously aren’t talking about every fat burner here, just the market in general.
They aren’t designed to be used every single day for many months on end. Doing so will almost definitely cause side effects.
Most professional-quality fat burners are designed for daily use for periods of about 6-12 weeks, or the length of an average cut.
Using them for periods longer than about 12 weeks at a time puts you at risk of experiencing side-effects.
Even if it didn’t increase the risk of adverse reactions, using fat burners for long, unbroken periods rapidly decreases the efficacy of the product. That’s why we recommend taking a good few weeks off every 6-12 weeks. This lets your tolerance decrease, so when you get back on, it hits you like a sledgehammer.
Most fat burners are made from natural herbal extracts, concentrates, amino acids, and minerals.
The kind of supplements we review on this site are designed to be safe alternatives to the nasty weight loss pills and hormones used by the bodybuilders of the past.
In fact, we think a lack of serious side effects or long-term health risks is what makes a fat burner good, which is why we weight it so heavily in our rating system.
However, there are TWO THINGS you need to be acutely aware of before you use any fat burning supplements:
1) Not all fat burners are made from well-tested, natural ingredients
Some fat burners contain powerful, dangerous substances. There are actually a couple of popular products on the market today which contain substances that are banned in several jurisdictions. These substances are known to cause serious side effects, and in some cases the long-term health risks are unknown (but they don’t look good).
2) Very few fat burners are completely side-effect free
Even those products which pride themselves on using the highest quality, most rigorously tested ingredients are still liable to cause side effects in a small number of users. Most fat burners contain large amounts of caffeine. In the best supplements, you will be able to split this caffeine up into equal doses throughout the day.
But even if you are able to do this, you can’t avoid all side effects; purified, potent caffeine powder can cause severe side effects; headaches, jitters, sweating, anxiety, dizziness, confusion, nausea, etc. Long-term health risks include insomnia, hypertension, and heart disease.
NOT ALL FAT BURNERS ARE THE SAME.
You need to read the label very carefully for each individual product. You must check each ingredient, the dose, and the purity before making any decisions about whether or not it is safe for you to use.
We think it is absolutely vital that you talk to your regular family physician – or at the very least a qualified medical doctor – before using any fat burners at all.
Some fat burners contain very dangerous – sometimes banned – substances that can serious harm you. Do your research, consult our website, and talk to a doctor!
Dosing – How Do You Use Fat Burners?
We think the best way to use a fat burner is to divide the total daily serving up into 2-4 equal parts and to take them at regular intervals.
This makes sure that the benefits keep working all day.
After all, cutting isn’t just something that affects your life in the gym; it affects every single aspect of your life, from work and family time to training and sleep.
For best results, you want to make sure that your body constantly has access to the substances capable of making your cut more successful, easier, and so on.
Take caffeine for example. You want to be topping yourself up with a nice, sensible shot of caffeine every 3 hours or so during a cut. You also want to make sure that you have a shot right before training. This is to ensure that you get through your sets and reps despite being so damn tired and hungry!
The same logic applies to every other ingredient in modern, professional-quality fat burners too.
Only a handful of products used to approach dosing this way. Your choice was either not to use them, or to take 300mg of caffeine anhydrous in a single serving – not ideal.
Today however, it is common practice. Most high spec fat burners will have a 2-4 capsule dosing protocol, allowing you to take 4 smaller servings per day, or 3 servings with a double shot before you hit the gym.
Taking small fractions of your total daily serving across the day is a good way to gauge side effects without going ‘all in’. We think it is always a good idea to start with a very small serving – perhaps a single capsule from a four/day serving – and see how that affects you before gradually increasing dose.
So How Do You Tell Good From Bad?
The easiest way to tell a good fat burner from a bad one is to simply see what some professional supplement reviewers have to say about the product in question.
If you have a supplement in mind, run it through the search bar and see if we’ve given it a once-over. If we haven’t then get in touch! Send us a link to the supplement and we’ll do a thorough review right away.
If you don’t want to rely on our reviews, then you can definitely do your own analysis. Just make sure that you take your own biases, brand loyalties, and weaknesses out of the equation. You can do this by sticking to some basic principles – the same principles that we use to write our reviews:
- Focus on what the scientific community say, not the manufacturer
- If there’s no evidence or source given, it’s BS
- Look at the ingredients and doses; how do they compare to the competition?
- Does the formula justify the price?
- What are the side effect risks? Is it worth the end results?
By asking yourself these questions and answering them honestly, you can usually come to a very good conclusion about the quality of a fat burner.
Just stick to the science, focus on the facts, and the rest will take care of itself!