Can supplements help with weight loss? If you’re been looking for ways to drop a few pounds, then it’s a question you may have found yourself pondering. But just like with the best protein powders, the supplement world can be a minefield, with a huge range of potions and pills all claiming they can help in shedding unwanted weight.
Although supplements do often contain ingredients considered to be ‘fat burners’ that may help to spur weight loss on a little more, the jury is out as to whether supplements for weight loss are something that are worth taking.
In fact, a recent study published in the journal Obesity (opens in new tab) suggests that supplements do not offer the dramatic weight loss benefits that they so often claim and that the old adage of ‘eat healthy food in smaller portions and move more’ is still the most effective way to reach and maintain an appropriate weight for your height, age and activity level.
Often, supplements for weight loss may also induce various side effects, including some that might not be so pleasant. But is it all bad news or is there some truth behind the idea that supplements can provide a role in weight loss? We asked a registered nutritionist — but it’s worth noting that you should always consult your doctor before introducing a new supplement into your dietary routine.
- Related: Gluten-free diet for weight loss: Fact or fiction?
- Related: Intermittent fasting for weight loss: What the science says
- Related: A guide to the DASH diet for weight loss
Can supplements actually help with weight loss?
Registered nutritionist Richard Tucker (opens in new tab) believes there is some potential for supplements to aid weight loss, citing research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (opens in new tab) that showed how caffeine (a popular addition to weight loss supplements) administered at two hour intervals over a 12 hour period could can help speed up metabolism by up to 11% during this period.
“However, over consumption can force you to become less tolerant to the effects,” he adds.
Richard Tucker is a registered nutritionist, consultant and exercise physiologist. He has gained over 12 years of professional experience working with a diverse range of clients, including many world class rugby teams and individual players, boxers, MMA/UFC fighters, Formula One drivers, tennis players and endurance athletes.
Green tea extract is another weight loss ingredient. “Green tea extract is high in caffeine and Polyphenol Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) which combined with caffeine can increase thermogenesis,” he says. “Put simply, this means your body burns calories to produce heat.”
Soluble fiber, also found in many weight loss supplements, is useful when it comes to weight loss too as it reduces levels of ghrelin, our hunger hormone. Whilst doing so, it increases feelings of fullness, helping to regulate our appetite and stop us reaching for snacks, or simply overeating at meal times. Soluble fiber can also be found in foods such as oats, apples and beans.
Tucker adds that yohimbine, which comes from the bark of a specific tree, could be a trigger for weight loss. Although commonly used as an aphrodisiac, it can “prolong the effects of adrenalin and therefore further enhance the breakdown of body fat”, he says.
And if you’ve found yourself asking the question ‘is protein good for weight loss?’ you’ll be pleased to learn that the answer is yes. According to a study published in the Journal of Physiology (opens in new tab), this satiating macronutrient has a useful role to play when it comes to helping you shift those stubborn pounds.
Tucker says that protein further increases thermogenesis and reduces appetite by reducing the hunger hormone, ghrelin. “A high protein diet will also help preserve muscle mass,” he says.
However, whilst specific ingredients can support weight loss, there is in fact very little research to actually support weight loss enhancing supplements. An evidence based review published in the Journal of Obesity (opens in new tab) does suggest that conjugated linoleic acid, pyruvate, and Irvingia gabonensis do have “some potential benefit for weight loss”, but more research is needed.
Are supplements for weight loss safe?
Although weight loss supplements are safe for consumption, Tuckers says that there can be some side effects to consuming too much or too many of them. These include diarrhea, elevated heart rate and increased sweat rates, which lead to fluid loss and potentially dehydration.
“My approach will always be a ‘food first’ approach; addressing certain lifestyle factors such as your total energy balance — calories in versus calories out — and focussing on a diet that is manageable and most importantly sustainable,” he says. “However, introducing some of these ingredients as part of a sustainable diet may have positive effects on further weight loss.”
But, as Tucker explains, you don’t necessarily have to source these ingredients through a supplement.
“A couple of cups of strong coffee or green tea per day is enough and provides further health benefits rather than just specifically weight loss.”
Dietitian-approved weight loss strategies
If you’re hoping to lose weight without the use of weight loss supplements, there are several things you can do, as well as various lifestyle tweaks, to help the weight steadily fall off.
They may all seem obvious, or they may be tips you’ve heard before, however they tend to be pretty fool proof.
Tucker says that firstly, it's important to focus on the maximum amount of calories your body requires to be in a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit is typically the fundamental requirement for weight. If you consistently take in less than you burn, you will be in a calorie deficit and you should lose weight.
To work out the number of calories your body needs each day, and then the calories you will need to elicit weight loss, you can use an online calorie calculator (opens in new tab). Tracking your food intake each day can be done on an app such as MyFitnessPal.
Another way to help weight loss, is to increase your NEAT, which stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This is the energy we use (and therefore the calories we burn) doing things that aren’t exercise, sleeping or eating. It could be the energy burned whilst cleaning the house, doing the shopping or even making the bed.
When it comes to the right diet for weight loss, Tucker says that it’s best to focus on higher protein (meat, fish, white meat, eggs) consumption to increase thermogenesis (calorie burn), increase satiety and to help preserve and build lean muscle tissue. Include foods such as meat, fish, eggs, tofu and dairy foods.
He also advises increasing the amount of soluble and insoluble fiber into your diet, from fruits and vegetables. Finally, sleep is one of the most important factors when it comes to weight loss.
“Prioritize getting seven to nine hours per night,” says Tucker. When we lack sleep, research published by the Sleep Foundation (opens in new tab) has shown that there is a rise in our hunger hormones, making us eat more. A consistently good sleep pattern can help regulate our appetite, plus it allows us to have enough energy to exercise and move, which can enhance our weight loss.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.