Drugs for fat loss – the ultimate shortcut (?)

Note: this is part one in the series. Part two will be posted on Monday.

So I have said previously that there is no magic bullet, and no real shortcut on the road to awesome when it comes to physical fitness, be it getting lean or packing on a bunch of muscle.

And that is still mostly true. But in the interest of full disclosure, there are some shortcuts you could take. They’re called drugs. And they work. But, the ones that are really effective are all either illegal, not really safe for human consumption, or both.

I’m not going to get into naming specific drugs here, because the information is available elsewhere. I was on the fence about even writing on this topic, but I think that all knowledge is worth having. I personally have done a lot of research into most of the compounds I will talk about here, even though I have no plan on ever putting most of them into my body.

Let’s get started.

There are a couple of prescription drugs that are used by the athletic population for fat loss, but they generally wouldn’t really be all that effective for the average person – they are really only ideal for people who are already really lean and want or need to strip off the last few ounces of fat. They help boost fat mobilization in the body, which isn’t the problem for most overweight people – fat ass moving is.

For various hormonal and other reasons, these drugs are only really effective for fat loss purposes for a couple of weeks under normal circumstances. So if you have more than 10lb to lose, the usual recommendation of Ephedrine and Caffeine, dosed three times per day, is much more effective, both on a cost and a long-term utility basis. Yohimbine can be useful in certain applications, but E/C is generally a better suggestion for most people in most situations.

There are a couple of other options out there that work, but the last relatively common one is both illegal (in some jurisdictions) and really really dangerous. It is used as a pesticide in some areas, and in humans can be lethal at really low doses. The main cause of death with this one is that you literally cook from the inside out. Your body gets so hot that you basically boil your brain and internal organs. And there is no chemical mechanism to shut it down, so if you are dumb enough to let this happen to you, the doctors at the hospital will basically just give you an ice water enema and hope. Doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

The illegal or scary dangerous drugs may add a small amount on to your fat loss. Say 5% for the prescription stuff, and 10% for the one that will cook your brain from the inside.

For most people, that’s something around one half of a regular sized chocolate bar per day, in relative calorie counts. 

That leaves us with the legal stuff.

Frankly, most of it is snake oil at best. Essentially the only thing that is safe and effective and legal everywhere is caffeine. Ephedrine is also fairly safe and effective and is thankfully still legal in Canada (sorry about your luck, American dudebros). Expect a minor fat loss boost of 1-3% with ephedrine and caffeine dosed appropriately.

Pretty much everything else that is safe and legal and on the label of fat loss supplements is basically filler and just there to make you happy about paying for a pill filled with an inert mix of stuff that has such a low dosage that even for the chemicals that ARE effective in some situations, you aren’t getting enough for it to do anything for you. If you want information about the stuff you see on the label of your fat loss or any other supplement, you should check out examine.com. They’re awesome, list all the scientific evidence out there about stuff, and are just generally a great resource.

One thing that should probably be mentioned here: the supplement industry (in North America, at least – I’m sure the Europeans are smarter than us on this one) is for all intents and purposes completely unregulated. There are no real labeling or truth in advertising standards, and no mandatory testing of products. And a lot of the chemicals in the supplements you buy are made by the lowest bidder in Chinese plants.

A bunch of pre-workout products were recently tested by an indipendant lab1 and were found to contain an amphetamine analogue that was basically untested in humans. This means that there is no real safety or efficacy or side effect data – a lot of the information that is currently guessed about it is inferred from the chemical structure and how similar compounds act in the human body. But this is guesswork at best. So caveat emptor really applies here.

I would imagine that the whole mystery amphetamine thing is a direct result of the DMAA ban that got put into place a few years ago, but that’s a different topic. 

So lets recap on the fat loss side of things:

  • The benefits are really minor. Even if you take the strongest and most dangerous fat burners available, it’s about the same as eating a couple of cookies less per day.
  • Fat loss drugs come in three broad types:
    • Somewhat effective, but possible jail or death, and also really expensive.
    • Minimally effective, cheap, probably worth adding in IF you have everything else in check.
    • Only effective at making your wallet thinner, no matter what the supplement companies tell you.

I’m not going to tell you not to take any of these things, but you should make sure you are really well informed before deciding to start putting these things in your body. Before you spend money on fat burners, you should really have your nutrition and exercise in check, because it is really easy to out eat any of the minor advantages these compounds can give you.

We will talk about drugs for muscle gain on Monday. Until then, go out and have fun and move a little bit closer to your goals.

  1.  Pawar, RS, et al. “Determination of Selected Biogenic Amines in Acacia Rigidula Plant Materials and Dietary Supplements using LC-MS/MS Methods.” Journal of pharmaceutical and biomedical analysis 88 (2014): 457-66.

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