If you try to find the most effective fat loss supplements without having a solid understanding of which ingredients and doses are most effective, you will inevitably fall victim to one of the many marketing scams that are so prevalent today.
Celebrity endorsements, impressive before and after pictures, and too-good-to-be-true claims are just a few of the many techniques designed to fool us.
If a supplement advertisement says, “Lose 10 pounds in a week!” the claim is either false or talking about water loss.
Fat loss is a slow process.
As many women need to reduce their caloric intake much lower than men to lose fat, supplements can be particularly beneficial for women to maintain adequate nutrient status, energy levels, and sleep when dieting.
Additionally, while gender doesn’t necessarily play an important role in the rate of fat loss, it does play a role in body fat distribution. Women tend to store fat in their lower body, so they may lose more subcutaneous, lower body fat, while men tend to have more visceral fat and thus when dieting will tend to lose more visceral fat1.
So which supplements are actually effective, and which are simply marketed most effectively? In this article, I have selected some of the most useful fat loss supplements for women.
Before we get started, remember that you should discuss your plans with a physician or other qualified health professional before taking any supplements. Supplements can interfere with some medication and food and can have negative side effects.
Adding protein means adding calories, so you should not simply add protein to your diet and expect to lose fat. If you increase your protein intake and keep everything else exactly the same, you will gain weight.
However, protein is the most satiating macronutrient, so substituting some carbohydrates and/or fat for protein can help by decreasing hunger and making you eat less overall. Digesting protein also requires more energy than digesting carbohydrates or fat.
A scoop of protein mixed with other low-calorie ingredients can be a filling and effective meal substitute to keep you on track toward your fat loss goals. Just remember that energy balance is an equation, so calories in vs. calories out is the most important factor, while other factors can help tip the balance a little bit more or make for a more enjoyable weight loss experience.
Caffeine can impact fat loss, energy, and mood by causing the release of epinephrine and dopamine. Caffeine improves fat loss through a thermogenic effect (heat production) and lipolytic effect (breaking down fat).
To optimize results, it can a good idea to take breaks from caffeine to “re-sensitize” yourself to its effects. An appropriate dose for fat loss may be 100-200mg once or twice per day (2), but it is important to take into account your body weight and personal tolerance. There is strong evidence of the benefits of caffeine; however, there are also many side effects, including gastrointestinal distress and insomnia.
L-Theanine, a slightly sedative amino acid, may help mitigate the side effects of caffeine when taken in doses equivalent to caffeine doses3.
3. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
5-HTP is an intermediate in serotonin production that may help to reduce appetite and cravings when dieting4. Research suggests that an effective dose of 5-HTP is 100-500mg per day, starting with 50-100mg and increasing upward depending on personal tolerance5.
5-HTP can be especially useful when dieting since it may also improve sleep by aiding in the production of melatonin. If you’ve ever been in a severe caloric deficit for an extended period of time, you know how difficult it can be to get a good night of sleep.
4. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)
EGCG, the most bioactive catechin in tea, inhibits an enzyme that breaks down hormones like dopamine and epinephrine. These hormones, called catecholamines, can break down stored fat.
While drinking tea has clear health benefits6, an effective dose of EGCG may be around 400-500mg per day7, and a serving of green tea has around 50mg of EGCG, so a supplement may be necessary to get the benefits unless you are an avid tea drinker.
Yohimbine helps with fat loss by acting on adrenergic receptor systems of fat cells, by releasing adrenaline, and by decreasing appetite. However, side effects include increased heart rate and anxiety.
An effective dose may be 5-20mg depending on whether you are taking other stimulants8. If you have anxiety, it’s a good idea to avoid yohimbine or to start with the lowest possible dose to assess your tolerance.
Synephrine can lead to a small but noticeable increase in metabolic rate by affecting dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. It is especially effective during exercise or when taken with caffeine, and an effective dose may be around 10-20mg twice a day depending on body weight9.
Synephrine may interact with certain drugs, but it is safer than ephedrine, which is an effective fat loss supplement but is prohibited in many countries.
7. White Willow Bark
White willow bark does not do much for fat loss by itself, but it has synergistic effects with caffeine and can enhance the effects of epinephrine10. Similar to aspirin, white willow bark may interact with blood thinners.
An effective dose may be 60-120mg spread over the course of the day, but white willow bark may cause or aggravate heart burn or upset stomach, so start with a small dose (as always).
8. Vitamins, Minerals, and Other Key Nutrients
As dieting puts us at risk of inadequate intake of key nutrients, supplementing with multivitamins or specific nutrients when dieting can be exceptionally beneficial. If your carbohydrate intake is low, a fiber supplement may help keep you feeling full, keep your gut microbiota happy, and keep your bowel movements regular.
If you are dieting (and especially if you are regularly exercising), an electrolyte supplement can be helpful to keep you on track and feeling good. If your diet is not heavy in fish, an omega-3 supplement is a good idea.
Additionally, many of us do not get enough of certain nutrients like vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, and iron. It is important to look at your own intake and consult with a physician or other health professional if possible to make sure you are not compromising overall health or reducing your potential to lose fat by missing out on certain nutrients.
This list is not comprehensive by any means, but it does include some of the top supplements that have been shown to be effective. For many of the supplements discussed, the appropriate dose will depend on body weight and personal tolerance (influenced by both genetic and lifestyle factors).
Supplements alone will not make or break your fat loss a success. Factors like diet, exercise, sleep, and stress are also important. However, there are supplements that have been extensively studied and do show promise as fat loss aids. Think of the supplements mentioned in this article as things that can give you a boost rather than shortcuts that can replace proper nutrition and training.
There are many considerations before purchasing a supplement, but we’ll end this article with three of the most important. First, you should consult with a physician or other qualified health care professional. Pre-existing diagnoses, medication, supplements, diet, and other lifestyle factors can impact how a particular supplement might affect your body.
Next, remember to look at the list of ingredients and the amount of each ingredient included in a supplement before making a purchase. Lastly, if something sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
- Kuk JL, Ross R. Influence of sex on total and regional fat loss in overweight and obese men and women. Int J Obes. 2009;33:629-634.
- Astrup A, Toubro S, Cannon S, Hein P, Breum L, Madsen J. Caffeine: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of its thermogenic, metabolic, and cardiovascular effects in healthy volunteers. Am J Clin Nutr. 1990;51:759–67.
- Jang H-S, Jung JY, Jang I-S, Jang K-H, Kim S-H, Ha J-H, Suk K, Lee M-G. L-theanine partially counteracts caffeine-induced sleep disturbances in rats. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2012;101:217–21.
- Ceci F, Cangiano C, Cairella M, Cascino A, Del Ben M, Muscaritoli M, Sibilia L, Rossi Fanelli F. The effects of oral 5-hydroxytryptophan administration on feeding behavior in obese adult female subjects. J Neural Transm. 1989;76:109–17.
- Birdsall, TC. 5-Hydroxytryptophan: A Clinically-Effective Serotonin Precursor. Alternative Medicine Review. 1998;3:10.
- Hayat K, Iqbal H, Malik U, Bilal U, Mushtaq S. Tea and its consumption: benefits and risks. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2015;55:939–54.
- Wang H, Wen Y, Du Y, Yan X, Guo H, Rycroft JA, Boon N, Kovacs EMR, Mela DJ. Effects of catechin enriched green tea on body composition. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010;18:773–9.
- Ostojic SM. Yohimbine: the effects on body composition and exercise performance in soccer players. Res Sports Med. 2006;14:289–99.
- Gutiérrez-Hellín J, Del Coso J. Acute p-synephrine ingestion increases fat oxidation rate during exercise. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2016;82:362–8.
- Durak A, Gawlik-Dziki U. The study of interactions between active compounds of coffee and willow (Salix sp.) bark water extract. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:386953.