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The Complete Guide to Thermogenic Supplements

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 Wouldn’t it be great if you could rev up your metabolism? Well, that’s exactly what thermogenics try to do. Although there is still debate on how effective they are, most research shows that thermogenic supplements do in fact increase your energy expenditure and therefore how many calories you burn each day even while you rest[4].

Thermogenics, like their name implies, are thought to help promote body heat production. Essentially, they try to mimic the effects of cardiovascular exercise on your body so you can burn additional calories even while you sit at your desk.

The mechanism itself is the most controversial part of these supplements. Regardless of the why, though, they appear to work. So what do you need to know to effectively add them into your daily schedule? Luckily, for once, it isn’t that difficult.

What to Expect

Most thermogenics contain stimulants like caffeine. It is no surprise then that they are associated with increased heart rate, blood pressure, energy, and focus. The good news is that this increased activity results in statistically significant energy expenditure[3]. Essentially, they are worth the money, as long as they contain the right ingredients.

However, before you can even consider what is in a thermogenic, you need to determine if you are eligible to take them. There are health risks for those who have high blood pressure and heart rate. If you are on medication to control either or both, thermogenics are not for you. If you don’t what your typical heart rate and blood pressure are, there are some simple ways to check.

Heart Rate

In order to be eligible for safe use of thermogenics, your resting heart rate should be about 60-100 beats per minute. There are a couple of different ways you can check this at home. First, you will need to be in a quiet area. Make sure that you do not talk or move around while you try to take your pulse. Next, find your pulse by placing your index and third fingers on pinky side of your wrist (it’s a little easier if you bend your wrist so that more of it is exposed).

Finally, take a stop watch and track how many thumps/pulses you feel in a minute. The other method involves the same general procedure only you place your index and third fingers on one side of your neck by your jaw, about 1-2 inches from the midline of your chin (if you do it on both sides at the same time you will pass out). Again, record how many pulses per minute you feel.


Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is more difficult unless you have a cuff at home and you know how to take it. Otherwise, locations like pharmacies usually have a blood pressure screening area. You don’t need any help to use it- simply sit in the chair, put your arm in the cuff, and follow the machine’s instructions. Your resting systolic blood pressure (the top number in the equation) should be less than 120. If it isn’t, thermogenics aren’t for you.

How Often

Thermogenics are safe to use on a daily basis. The longest trial lasted about 28 days and participants experienced no negative side effects[7]. Typically, people take thermogenics 4x per day. Most thermogenics last 4 hours, so you’ll at least want to separate them out that far. The biggest issue with this dosage is that you don’t want to take a thermogenics within 4 hours of going to bed (notice a pattern?).

If you take a thermogenic too close to bed time you will not fall asleep. We all know the importance of sleep during weight loss. You don’t want to try to compensate for a lack of sleep by eating quick energy foods like processed sugar, so you may want to opt for a lighter dosage of 3 pills per day. Also, you can develop a tolerance to the supplement, which is an issue because you can’t take more than 400mg of caffeine a day.

Starting at a lower dosage can allow you to increase it later when you are at the end of your weight loss journey (before you hit the maintenance phase). No matter what, you have to do what fits best into your schedule because that will be sustainable for you. Don’t set yourself up for failure with a crazy routine you can’t adhere to.

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A research study on a thermogenic that contained caffeine (green tea) and cayenne powder resulted in significant weight loss[7]. Another study that used tyrosine, capsaicin, catechines, and caffeine said that their participants enjoyed increased energy expenditure and decreased appetites[2]. How much of that was caused by the supplement and how much was the result of a placebo effect is yet to be seen. Overall, caffeine has been the common thread between effective thermogenics.

This may be because caffeine promotes fat oxidation; however, many people taking caffeine supplements report higher body temperatures/more sweating. It is also the safest method at the moment because it comes with few side effects (discussed below). Additionally, spicy additives like cayenne pepper are popular. There is even more debate as to whether these have any impact on your weight loss. If they work on you (increase your body heat) then go for it. Otherwise, you can stick to a simple caffeine thermogenic supplement.

However, you are not limited to simple coffee and tea options. Yohimbe has also been found to promote thermogenesis in a few small studies. The supplement is typically taken by men for reproductive health, so if you are a woman talk to your doctor first before trying this supplement. On average, if this is the option for you, you will take 5mg 4x per day. Yohimbe is thought to promote body heat production without some of the potential side effects of caffeine.

L-carnitine is another option that many older participants choose. This is because L-carnitine is associated with preventing age-related declines in your metabolism. There aren’t many adverse side effects, so if this option interests you then you can try it. As always, be sure to follow the recommended dosage so you don’t take too much. Always protect your health.

Another potential safe option is creams. Many wraps and other products try to promote thermogenesis to increase weight loss. The major concern with these is if you have an allergic reaction. Now, it is also important to remember that there really isn’t much research at all on these (and testimonials don’t count because people do lie or can be tricked themselves).

You may have to go through trial and error to find if any of these work for you. However, if you are unable to safely take any oral thermogenics and you still are interested in them, this may be a safe outlet for you. We’ve all tried different supplements and products before, so this article isn’t about judging anything that you are interested in. It is merely here to provide guidelines to keep you safe while you explore the possibilities until you find what works for you.

Who Is Eligible?

You might assume that thermogenics are great for people who are severely overweight. You would be wrong. Thermogenics work best for lean individuals who want to lose those last few extra pounds[6]. This is not to say that people who are truly overweight cannot use them. Just be aware that the thermogenic effects will not last as long. Also, people who are truly overweight tend to produce excess body heat and sweat, anyway. Thermogenics will only amplify this result. If you are already self-conscious about your body sweat, you might want to hold off on thermogenics or look for other weight loss supplement options. Thermogenics are not your only option so don’t lose hope.

Side Effects

As long as you don’t have high blood pressure or heart rate, you shouldn’t experience too many potential side effects of thermogenics. Research has shown that even though thermogenics do impact your heart and lungs’ work load, it doesn’t affect any part of your blood chemistry the way some weight loss pills do (which is good news)[7]. However, it is important to note that the more ingredients a supplement has, the more likely you are to have adverse side effects to at least one of the ingredients. Stick to a supplement that is simple where you can pronounce and remember all of its ingredients.

Like most stimulants, caffeine can also have an addictive component. If you have struggled with addictions in the past, you’ll want to avoid thermogenics and any other supplements that contain caffeine. Withdrawal symptoms are no laughing matter and many people struggle with them. Also, stimulants are bad for people who experience anxiety and insomnia.

Stimulants can mimic the effects of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) which essentially mirrors the symptoms of a panic attack[5]. Needless to say, taking these supplements can result in these negative events. It’s not worth it. Stimulants also work to keep you awake and focused, which is the opposite of what people with insomnia need. Sleep is more critical to your weight loss than any pill. Opt for the better night’s sleep instead.

You may have heard from some people that coffee stimulates their bowel movements. This is also a potential side effect. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine and get diarrhea from ingesting it. Again, it’s not worth it. You might think you can deal with the consequences but chronic gastrointestinal distress like that is associated with vitamin deficiencies and a host of other health consequences. Skip out on this one and choose something else.

Caffeine is also bad choice for those with urinary incontinence or those who are susceptible to urinary tract infections. This is because caffeine is a diuretic which causes your body to eliminate more urine. The benefit is not worth the trouble in these cases. However, some people find that tea doesn’t have the same negative effects as coffee. No matter what, having UTIs and bladder leakage isn’t worth the little boost to your weight loss that thermogenics provide. It’s all about weighing the pros and the cons.

Because caffeine has a diuretic effect, it is also not recommended for people who are at risk for dehydration/don’t drink enough water. If you are going to opt for a thermogenic, you need to be drinking at least 64oz of water every day AND drink at least another 8oz of water for every 95mg of caffeine you take in. If you can’t commit to the water, don’t commit to the pill.

So How Does It Work?

Some researchers do believe that thermogenics increase your body’s temperature and therefore your metabolism. However, because stimulants are used it is hard to determine if that is true. This is because stimulants like caffeine have been shown to impact fat oxidation or fat burn[1]. Maybe we will even get lucky and find out in the future that thermogenics do both: burn fat and boost metabolism (we can hope).

Regardless of who is right in these debates, the important take-away is that thermogenics that contain stimulants like caffeine work to help you lose weight. Find the one that works best for you and sit back and enjoy the benefits.

1. Armstrong, W. F., Johnson, P., & Duhme, S. (2001). The effect of commercial thermogenic weight loss supplement on body composition and energy expenditure in obese adults. Journal of Exercise Physiology, 4(2).
2. Belza, A., Frandsen, E., & Kondrup, J. (2007). Body fat loss achieved by stimulation of thermogenesis by a combination of bioactive food ingredients: A placebo-controlled, double-blind 8-week intervention in obese subjects. International Journal of Obesity, 31, 121-130. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803351
3. Hoffman, J. R., Kang, J., Ratamess, N. A., Rashti, S. L., Tranchina, C. P., & Faigenbaum, A. D. (2009). Thermogenic effect of an acute ingestion of a weight loss supplement. Journal of the Society of Sports Nutrition, 6(1). doi:10.1186/1550-2783-6-1
4. MedlinePlus. (2016). Orlistat. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a601244.html
5. Russo, J. (2015). Side effects of thermogenic pills. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/104909-side-effects-thermogenics/
6. Sheehan, J. (2011). Caffeine and thermogenic effect. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/518297-caffeine-thermogenic-effect/
7. Vogel, R. M., Joy, J. M., Falcone, P. H., Mosman, M. M., Kim, M. P., & Moon, J. R. (2015). Consuming a multi-ingredient thermogenic supplement for 28 days is apparently safe in healthy adults. Food and Nutrition, 59. doi:10.3402/fnr.v59.27999

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