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To Use or Not to Use “Fat Burners”

fish oil

Weight loss supplements are a major topic of conversation in the exercise world.  They are designed to decrease weight and help you reduce body fat.  There have been a few studies that have looked at their benefits with increasing physical performance.  In today’s culture we want to take a supplement that gives us the fastest results with little work.  There is no such thing as a magical supplement but if we combine our supplementation with a solid exercise program and nutrition plan, could this benefit our performance?

What Fat Burners is the Most Common?

The most popular fat burners out there are conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), fish oil and long (soybean or safflower oil) and medium chain (milk fats of horses) triacylglycerols.  These ergogenic aids are claimed to be associated with a reduction in muscle glycogen breakdown, improved endurance capacity, reduced body mass and a reduction in muscle damage and inflammatory responses (Macaluso 2013). Studies have shown that fish oil and CLA enhance testosterone.

Do Fat Burners Increase Performance?

Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts use these supplements to try to gain an advantage over their opponents or their own personal goals.  There have only been a few studies that examined the effects of fish oil and endurance gains.  These studies showed that there weren’t enough gains from these supplements.  You would see better results if you started a specific training program and a proper nutrition program.  Another study examined the effects of three weeks fish oil feeding (6 g/day) and there was a decrease (2%) in red blood count, these results showed that there was no improvement in exercise performance of well-trained cyclists.

CLA supplementation in some studies has shown to decrease body weight but they were not examined with exercise performance. Kreider (2002) looked at the effects of CLA supplementation for four weeks (6 g/day) in bodybuilders concluding that CLA does not appear to possess any significant ergogenic value, since no differences were observed in body composition and strength at the end of the supplementation period. In other studies it showed there was a noticeable in decrease in body fat but not in weight when using CLA. This study used men and women and they were given 1.8 g/day of CLA for 12 weeks combined with three sessions of physical exercise for ninety minutes.  There was a large increase in in endurance performance and body composition.

What does all of this mean?

These studies have expressed there is some benefits with using fat burners and increasing performance.  The question that I have is, what were the subjects levels of fitness during this experiment?  Of course, if you start a well balance training program and nutrition program, you should see positive results.  
The problem I have with most supplements are:
  1. They can be very expensive, especially for those who are on a tight budget
  2. Are the right ingredients included, your never know what are in these supplements
  3. Do they work?
  4. If elite, are they illegal?
  5. What are the side effects?
Be careful what you put in your body, it can be important to look at the ingredients and research them.


1.  Macaluso F, Barone R, Catanese P, Carini F, Rizzuto L, Farina F, Di Felice V. Do fat supplements increase physical performance? Nutrients. 2013 Feb 7;5(2):509-24. doi: 10.3390/nu5020509. Review.

2. Kreider R.B., Ferreira M.P., Greenwood M., Wilson M., Almada A.L. Effects of conjugated linoleic acid supplementation during resistance training on body composition, bone density, strength, and selected hematological markers. J. Strength Cond. Res. 2002;16:325–334.

Written by Chris Barber, CPT