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Ask a Nutritionist: Are fat burners the answer?

TheGo asks our local, qualified and respected nutritionists a question that has been puzzling you. This month it’s about fat burners. Your trainer or friend may have suggested taking one, but are they healthy? And do they work?

If you have a food query for our expert panel to answer, please email [email protected].

Mitch Smith – Health Management


“Lose 50% more fat” – John Smith did it in just three weeks and lost a whopping 10kg! And don’t forget Candy who developed a six-pack in just two days!

Unfortunately, these are some of the outrageous health claims that are printed on some thermogenic products. Reality is, that some of these products can be very high in caffeine and simply send you back and forth to the toilet, thus promoting greater fluid loss, making it appear as though you have lost weight. Others contain a number of fancy-named chemicals and amino acids that supposably promote greater ‘fat melting’ properties. L-Carnitine is one of the only components that may have some thermogenic potential, however this is still unclear.

The problem with these types of products is they do not legally have to label what is in them and this can be masked with a simple phrase such as “Mitch’s fat burning proprietary blend”. When we don’t know what is in the product, it is hard to make a decision as to its safety. Generally I don’t recommend thermogenics and they can prove to be very expensive urine. Making the most of a well-designed exercise and nutrition plan can give you a far greater benefit.

About Mitch Smith

Health Management

As an accredited dietitian and accredited sports dietitian; it’s Mitch’s mission to debunk as many nutrition myths as possible. He works with elite professional athletes from a range of sports such as triathlon, body building and football, as well as the Cairns Taipans NBL team (don’t hold that against him!). Mitch has a passion for helping men lose weight and get fit and healthy. He practises what he preaches and translates complicated nutritional jargon into easy-to-understand advice. Mitch has just completed his first Half Ironman in Cairns.

Hannah Gentile – Eat Well Australia


I’m sure we would all love a magic pill that we could take and be both healthy and slim! Sadly such a combination does not exist.

If someone claims there is one then you need to ask yourself – do I want to lose weight to look good, or do I want to be healthy? While most of us are motivated somewhat by being able to fit into a smaller size of jeans, the reality is that we are also keen to actually be healthy. So we ask our two questions on supplements.

Are they safe? In a nutshell – no. Fat-burners claim to work by either blocking fat, suppressing appetite or increasing metabolism. By blocking fat the drug also stops your body from absorbing nutrients carried by the fat, such as fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. This can leave someone fatigued and at risk of a nutritional deficiency. Appetite suppressors and metabolism boosters are at best expensive caffeine and at worst a cousin to amphetamines. These can do anything from make someone feel a bit jittery and nervous to causing a full-blown panic attack or heart failure.

Do they work? Somewhat… if you are happy with anal leakage and diarrhoea, anxiety, and heart palpitations. The reality is none of these supplements are designed to allow you to eat as you wish and lose weight. Worse than that, they make you unwell and unhealthy.

Bottom line, get a new trainer and stay clear of fat burners.

About Hannah Gentile

Eat Well Australia

Hannah Gentile has a Masters of Nutrition from Deakin University. She has spent the past 10 years working in the fields of behavioural science, health, and nutrition with women and children across New Zealand and Australia. Hannah decided to focus her nutritional background on women and children after experiencing a high-risk pregnancy. Addressing the need for good quality information, especially for mothers, Hannah is determined to provide a service women can turn to during the most important stages of their life.

Brie Salagaras – Compleat Nutrition


Fat burners, or thermogenics, are popular supplements that claim to boost metabolism and encourage the use of fat as a fuel source.

Common products thought to do this involve caffeine, green tea, conjugated linoleic acid, forskolin, chromium, kelp, fucoxanthin or L-Carnitine. These products have a proposed basis for their mechanisms in animal studies, however, evidence of their effectiveness is lacking in humans: Caffeine and green tea have demonstrated that they may be responsible for increased fat metabolism, but when studies were conducted with these products on humans they found that the effects were minimal.

No ill health risks have been found to be directly caused by taking these supplements, but given there is little reliable evidence available on them, there’s nothing to say that there aren’t any adverse affects.

Considering the costs associated with these products and the lack of benefits associated with taking them, I would suggest following a kilojoule-appropriate, healthy balanced diet that is suitable to your training goals rather than trying to take short cuts.

About Brie Salagaras

Compleat Nutrition

Brie has studied a Bachelor of Health and Exercise Science, Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Certificate of Diabetes Education. She is currently completing another masters degree in Exercise Physiology Chronic Disease Rehabilitation. Brie is a strong advocate for a holistic approach to a healthy living and incorporating both a healthy diet and exercise into each and every day.

James Jensen – GNC Nutrition

james-jensenDo fat burners really work? The answer is… it depends! While there is absolutely no substitute for diet and exercise, in some cases a ‘fat-burner’ can be a welcome addition to someone’s weight-loss journey.

Not every fat-burner will work for every individual, some may not work at all for anyone – it depends on the person taking it and the product itself.

Some high-end products have specific formulas, which can enhance the fat-burning properties while maintaining and promoting health in certain individuals. It really comes down to who is recommending the products, the quality of the ingredients and, most importantly, what the individual’s needs are.

Simply handing over a fat-burner without a proper needs assessment can be harmful and yield poor results. In many cases, a fat-burner is not the solution and the consultant needs to assess other limitations like stress, digestion, thyroid function, hormone imbalances and insulin resistance.

There are a wide range of herbs and supplements that humans have been using for centuries that can really get to the core of why someone is struggling with their weight – it can often be more complicated than just ‘eat this and exercise more’.

About James Jensen

GNC Nutrition

As a pharmacist, James is also the owner and manager of GNC Townsville at the Willows Shopping Centre. From here, James and his team give scientific advice and help people with their health goals. “Very rarely do pharmaceutical or Western therapies cross paths with the more ‘natural’ approach, which places me in a unique position to be able to bridge that divide and help people ‘both sides of the fence’,” says James.

The information provided is general in nature and should not substitute any health or medical advice. Please consult a qualified professional to assist with any specific conditions or queries. The opinions expressed as those of the individual columnists. You know the drill…

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Carly Lubicz

Carly Lubicz

Carly Lubicz is combining two of her great loves — writing and getting active. Previously working as a journalist, sub-editor, and editor in newspapers and magazines; she is editor and co-founder of TheGo Townsville. She stays active with the staples of road cycling and yoga, but has recently discovered triathlon. And become addicted (apart from the swimming part). She also has a Cert III in Fitness and is passionate about improving mental health through physical activity.

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