Breaking Down Weight Loss Pills

 In Articles

A day doesn’t go by where I don’t hear the following question:

“Hey trainer guy! What are the best weight loss pills?”

My answer is usually the same: the best weight loss pill encompasses a strength training program paired with a whole food diet and plenty of rest. Oh, and don’t forget water. The response to this is either gee, thanks smart a** or oh, I get it, very funny. But seriously – what’s the best pill to take?

I wish I came up with this concept, but I have to credit Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition in which he coined the term “surface solutions.” See, there are plenty of weight loss pulls out there but all they’re doing is covering up a major problem. It’s like trying to stop a busted water pipe with a band aid. Surface solutions don’t deal with the problem at hand, and if someone is overweight, it’s usually a whole host of problems coupled together. They express themselves by hanging around your waist line and thighs.

In my studio I see a whole host of clients who have different reasons for weight gain. Some have no idea what a proper serving size is; others fail to get adequate protein and even more have issues with their digestive system. You get the idea, but what marketing companies don’t tell you is that their lab-designed weight loss stack won’t help fix the issues you have.

The other things that those fancy labels on supplements won’t tell you is this: supplements are usually designed to bump someone up a small percentage. So if I have an athlete that’s at 90%, supplementing creatine may take their game up to 92%. Regardless of whether you’re a world class athlete or someone trying to cope with congestive heart failure, a supplement is designed to supplement the good things you are already doing. It can’t replace food and it certainly can’t take the place of exercise. Here’s an example everyone would understand: consider your body to be a brand spanking new smart phone. Supplements are like apps in that they may make your day to day life a little easier, but you certainly can’t depend on them for everything. Hope that clears matters up (and make sure you give me credit when you take that sweet line!)

With that being said, there are some weight loss pills that can be of a benefit. If the label looks more expensive that the actual pill itself, stay away. The best weight loss pills are usually a concoction of a mineral, vitamin, or even a fatty acid. Who would have thought that the one thing that people avoid the most – dietary fat – can help you shed a bit of weight?!

As you’ll see though, most supplements that work are simply things that occur in nature and thus fulfill a current deficiency. The most common is fish oil. The general populace is so devoid of Omega-3 fats that introducing fish oil into the diet immediately sparks some weight loss. This can be seen in research studies: when subjects took in 4 grams of fish oil a day, they managed to lose 22 pounds as well as see a significant reduction in their waist line (1). This is compared to a placebo group that didn’t lost as much weight. In another study, those who took 4 grams of fish oil a day managed to build a pound of muscle and drop 2 pounds of fat – in only 6 weeks (2). If you were looking for somewhere to start, fish oil would be a good place.

Fat burning supplements are organized by their purpose. These usually fall into four categories: those that help increase metabolism, others that force the body to burn fat, pills that will help block the absorption of fat, and other stuff that will suppress appetite (3). You’ll want to stay away from those that suppress appetite. Unless you plan on stepping on stage as a bodybuilder, just ditch them – food is meant to be enjoyed.

One of the most successful supplements in terms of weight loss is green tea. Green tea leaves have something in them called EGCG; it’s an effective flavonoid that helps increase the body’s metabolism and drop a few pounds. Here’s the kicker though: the green tea needs to be brewed by you (not bought at a store) and needs to be caffeinated. It appears that the green tea combined with caffeine seems to be the 1-2 punch that the body needs. In an interesting study, subjects who ingested green tea everyday (this cocktail had 625 mg of catechins along with 39 mg of caffeine) lost more weight than a control group. They also had significant reductions in abdominal body fat (4). As a disclaimer though, it may be tough to get enough EGCG through liquid alone to actually stimulate fat loss – you’ll pretty much be drinking green tea non-stop and your bladder won’t be such a fan. In that case, you could try supplementing with green tea extract capsules.

Believe it or not, that cup of coffee you guzzle first thing in the morning can help jack up that metabolism. Caffeine has been long used as a stimulant for strength training as well as even endurance training. Smart athletes that want to step their game up regularly use caffeine as a performance enhancement. It’s also used by the body to help break up the fatty acids floating around in your bloodstream. For instance, 100 mg of caffeine (around the average in a cup of coffee) can elevate your metabolism by 3-4% (3). Of course, everyone has a unique response to caffeine, so you have to understand your own ability to tolerate it. You also have to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, since your adrenal glands will need the nutrition to help counter the effects of caffeine and prevent adrenal gland burnout.

There are several other supplements you can use to try and help stimulate some fat loss. Research has mixed findings over them, but take a glance over this list – it should spark a light bulb in your head and you’ll notice a pattern:

  • Vitamin D
  • Zinc
  • Creatine
  • CLA
  • Beta-Alanine
  • Calcium
  • L-Carnitine
  • Fiber

If you look over the list, there’s nothing there that you can’t pronounce. No fancy words, no crazy -sounding and cleverly marketed names. The list also contains stuff that’s already in the body (calcium) and stuff found in food (CLA).

Sorry that the list didn’t contain any hidden secrets of the supplement industry. While some of these supplements may work, they can’t replace a good diet mixed with some hard work.



1. Krebs, J.D., Browning, L.M., McLean, N.K., Rothwell, J..L, et al. “Additive Benefits of Long Chain n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Weight Losee in the Management of Cardiovascular Disease Risk in Overweight Hyperinsulinaemic Women.”(2006) International Journal of Obesity. 30; 1535- 1544.

2. Noreen, E.E., Sass, M.J., Crowe, M.L., et al. “Effects of Supplemental Fish Oil on Resting Metabolic Rate, Body Composition, and Salivary Cortisol in Healthy Adults.”(2010) Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 7:31

3. Manore, Melinda M. “Dietary Supplements for Improving Body Composition and Reducing Body Weight: Where is the Evidence?” (2012) International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 22, 139-154

4. Maki, K.C., Reeves, M.S., Farmer, M., et al. “Green Tea Catechin Consumptoin Enhances Exercise-Induced Abdominal Fat Loss in Overweight and Obese Adults.”(2009) Journal of Nutrition 139.2: 264-270

Recommended Posts