If it were possible to boost your metabolism in a pill, it would make keeping the calories off so much easier. Who wouldn’t want that?
But, while there are many pills out there that claim to be metabolism boosters, do any actually work? Before I list some effective supplements, you must understand that no pill is going to make a noticeable difference if you are not eating properly and exercising regularly.
That doesn’t stop companies from claiming their products cause fat loss without any change in lifestyle. But as most of you know deep down, these claims are always false. Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, miracle fat melting pills do not exist. Still, if you are following a sound nutrition and exercise program already, you may benefit from certain supplements. The results will likely be subtle, but since losing fat can be hard as it is, it makes sense to use every tool available, provided it is safe.
The supplements that may actually affect metabolism are not so much “miracle pills” as substances you already recognize.
Green Tea Extract is supported by a good amount of solid research as a metabolic enhancer. It appears that catechins (Specifically, EGCG), which are a plant metabolite, are responsible for much of its fat-burning abilities. A paper published in the Journal of the American Society of Clinical Nutrition demonstrates green tea has thermogenic (i.e. metabolic-boosting) properties and enhances fat burning beyond that explained by its caffeine content.1 A study in Phytomedicine showed similar results, with subjects taking a green tea extract losing about 4.5% of both body weight and waist circumference over a three month period.2 The journal Obesity published a study which concludes green tea extract leads to reduced body fat, blood pressure, and LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol.3
Caffeine can also raise metabolism.4 Additionally, caffeine ingestion prior to exercise is shown over and over again to increase performance. Before using caffeine for this purpose, it is a good idea to weigh the benefits against the possible adverse reactions, like jitteriness, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, and possible insomnia.
Ephedrine is a potent metabolic enhancer and also acts as an appetite suppressant. There are volumes of studies that support its effectiveness but unfortunately, due to its propensity to cause cardiovascular side effects5, it is no longer available for this purpose. Most of the fat burners that originally contained ephedrine have been rendered essentially useless with its removal.
A review study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at 11 supplements that supposedly aid in weight loss. Granted, not all weight loss aids work through metabolic enhancement (many do so through decreasing food intake), but I thought it was worth mentioning because 9 of the 11 supplements that were reviewed (including pyruvate, yohimbine and Garciniacambogia) did not appear to be convincing for burning fat. The exceptions were both ephedrine-containing compounds.6 This is not to say that those compounds have absolutely no worth, just that “the reviewed studies provide some encouraging data but no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that any specific dietary supplement is effective for reducing body weight.”
Another supplement with no human data on effectiveness is raspberry ketones. These are incredibly popular now, perhaps because Dr. Oz says they are a great fat burning supplement. However, unless you are a rodent, take this advice with a grain of salt, as the only research that supports a benefit was done on mice and rats.
It is easy to be lured into buying a supplement to “burn fat fast” or “melt fat away.” I talk to people every day who try these products and are sorely disappointed, even though most of them should know better.
If you want to keep your metabolism high while losing fat, engage in high intensity resistance training and interval cardiovascular exercise. Keep you calories under what you burn, but not by so much that your body thinks it is starving. 1-2 pounds of fat loss per week is a good rate and lessens the chance of significant metabolic slowdown. If you have all those pieces in place, then adding some green tea extract (containing about 100 mg of ECGC) three times per day and caffeine may enhance your fat loss. You cannot lose weight or increase your metabolism in any significant way by just taking a pill.