Sports nutrition is a constantly evolving field with hundreds, if not thousands of research papers published every year. Whether you’re new to fitness and supplements that support you in your goals, or, if you’ve been taking supplements for years, my aim is to provide some information to help simplify your decisions within your budget.
I’ll be addressing ergogenic supplements for weight loss. “Ergogenic” supplements are intended to enhance physical performance, stamina or recovery. I will not be addressing steroids in this post.
It’s important to note that, “…there is considerable debate regarding the ergogenic value of various nutritional supplements.” I’m not a scientist. I’m just a guy who has enjoyed pursuing fitness over the years. Part of that is I read up on some science and opinions. I’ve tested many things myself. And so, I humbly bring my findings to help you make more informed decisions for your benefit.
“People who participate in a general fitness program (e.g., exercising 30 – 40 minutes per day, 3 times per week) can typically meet nutritional needs following a normal diet (e.g., 1,800 – 2,400 kcals/day or about 25 – 35 kcals/kg/day for a 50 – 80 kg individual) because their caloric demands from exercise are not too great (e.g., 200 – 400 kcals/session)”. It’s important to make the point that supplements are not intended to replace a good diet.
Below I address several of the most popular weight loss supplements. I hope this can serve as a resource for you, if and when you want to include weight loss supplements as part of your overall fitness program. This can help you decide which weight loss supplement is best for you.
The Best Weight Loss Supplement is Personal
Finding the best weight loss supplement for you, is personal. This is not a ‘one size fits all’ kind of thing. What works well for one person might cause another to have anxiety and excess perspiration. You know yourself and how your body responds. If you are sensitive to caffeine you’ll know to start at a low dosage for any supplement that has stimulants. As you read the explanations in the next section, you may be more attracted to a fibrous product that absorbs water while in the stomach causing you to feel full. By doing so, you would tend to eat less. Or, you may be more interested in a product that revs up your metabolism, reducing your appetite and burning fat. As you read about some most popular weight loss supplements below, be mindful to find what you think is best for you.
Popular Weight Loss Supplements Explained
Although exercise and proper diet remain the best way to promote weight loss and/or manage body composition, a number of nutritional approaches have been investigated as possible weight loss methods (with or without exercise).
Weight loss supplements reduce appetite, reduce absorption and make you burn more fat. Before taking any you should know every ingredient in them and what, if any, health risks could be associated. It would be most wise to consult with your doctor before taking any.
Garcinia Cambogia Extract: A study published in the Journal of Obesity in 2010 concluded that, “Garcinia extracts/HCA generate weight loss on the short term. However, the magnitude of this effect is small, is no longer statistically significant…”. In other words, ‘Don’t waste your time and money.’
Hydroxycut: This is one of the most popular weight loss supplements. WebMD sites two small studies. “One states that when people took C. canephora robusta for 60 days they lost about 10.95 pounds as opposed to the placebo group, which lost an average of 5.40 pounds. Both groups were on a low-calorie diet. The other small 8-week study showing that those taking C. canephora robusta lost about 3.7 pounds versus the placebo group members, who lost 1.25 pounds.”
Caffeine: This is, of course the most popular and well-known metabolic booster. It is included in many weight loss supplements. It’s effective and inexpensive, unless, of course, unless you drink it in some commercially made frappe-hoo-hoo-something-or other. Healthline sites studies that have found caffeine can “… boost metabolism by 3-11%, and increase fat burning by up to 29%.”
Orlistat: You might know this pharmaceutical by the manufacturer’s name, Alli. According to a big review of 11 studies, orlistat can increase weight loss by 6 pounds (2.7 kg) compared to a dummy pill.
It works by inhibiting the breakdown of fat in the gut. However, there are many digestive side effects including loose, oily stools, flatulence, frequent bowel movements that are hard to control and others. Of course, if you’re good with all that, this could be just the weight loss supplement for you! (I’m kidding of course)
Raspberry Ketones: I’m only including this because it seems to have risen in popularity. The only research study to find out if they are an effective supplement from weight loss was on rats. The keytones are what give raspberries their distinctive smell. Apparently, a side effect is burps that smells like raspberries.
Green Coffee Bean Extract: They are just coffee beans that haven’t been roasted. A review of 3 studies found that the supplement made people lose 5.4 more pounds than a placebo. It can cause the same side effects as caffeine. Chlorogenic acid, in the beans can help slow the breakdown of carbohydrates but can also cause diarrhea.
Glucomannan: is a type of fiber found in the roots of the elephant yam. Three different research studies were conducted concluding that Glucomannan, combined with a healthy diet can help people lose 8 to 10 pounds of body weight in 5 weeks. The way it works is it becomes gel-like. It absorbs water and as it sits in the gut it makes one feel full. At the time of this writing I have not yet tried Glucomannan. I will and report back in a later post.
Meratrim: It’s a blend of two herbs, Sphaeranthus Indicus and Garcinia mangostana. (WOW! That’s a mouthful!). The manufacturers claim these herbs combined have positive effects on the metabolism of fat cells. There hasn’t been any published research yet. If you’re looking for the best weight loss supplement for you, I would recommend passing on this until some reliable studies are done and published, unless you just like trying new stuff.
Green Tea Extract: Green tea extract is believed to increase the activity of norepinephrine, a hormone that helps you burn fat. Many human studies have shown that green tea extract can increase fat burning and cause fat loss, especially in the belly area.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA): It has shown to reduce appetite, boost metabolism and stimulate the breakdown of body fat. In a review of 18 different studies CLA caused weight loss of about 0.2 pounds per week for as long as 6 months. There are some concerning side effects with CLA. Over time, it can induce various digestive problems, fatty liver, insulin resistance and increased inflammation. I don’t think the risk of those are worth using CLA.
Forskolin: It is believed to raise levels of a compound inside cells called cAMP which may
stimulate fat burning. There has been very little research on this, and nothing is known about potential side effects. I would stay away until more research has been done and published.
Bitter Orange / Synephrine: A type of orange called Bitter Orange contains the compound Synephrine. It can reduce appetite and significantly increase fat burning.
Synephrine has similar qualities to ephedrine but is less expensive. Ephedrine has shown to cause substantial weight loss but has been banned because of its serious side effects. There have been very few studies on synephrine. It’s possible that it could have serious side effects like ephedrine related to the heart.
For anyone looking for the best weight loss supplements for them, I hope you’ll find the explanations above as a helpful resource in making your decision. In my next post I’ll be addressing supplements for gaining muscle size and strength. Please leave any comments or questions below.
 Kreider, R.B., Wilborn, C.D., Taylor, L. et al. ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 7, 7 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-7-7