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Five Reasons to Keep 'Fat Burner' Supplements Away From Young Athletes

By TrueSport, 02/13/18, 11:00AM CST


Kids, teens, and adults are usually bombarded with media messages about weight loss at the beginning of the new year. Many young athletes face a double helping of this pressure because weight loss and/or fat loss is often touted as a path to improved athletic performance. It’s important for parents and coaches to learn about some of the supplements kids may be tempted to use.

Ingredients to Watch Out For

To be clear, there are no known dietary ingredients or supplement that measurably or consistently alter body composition or metabolism to result in loss of fat, or a change from fat to muscle. But there are several dietary ingredients that are often advertised to promote weight loss. In a 2006 study, it was revealed that 11% of US adolescents aged 14-19 have used weight loss supplements[1]. However, weight loss products are fraught with false promises and health risks that should be evaluated seriously by parents and discussed with kids. Below is a table from a study published in 2003 [2] listing ingredients that are commonly advertised in weight loss products.

Ingredients commonly found in weight loss products Actions (or advertised actions)
Ephedrine or pseudoephedrine (from ephedra [ma huang] or country mallow [Sida cordifolia]), caffeine, theophylline, theobromine (from cola nut, guarana, or mate), bitter orange (citrus aurauntium) Bladderwack (fucus vesiculosus), 7-keto-DHEA Stimulants. Can interact with medications, caffeine in other foods and drinks, and come with all of the side effects of stimulants (restlessness, insomnia, racing heart, etc.)
Chromium picolinate, conjugated linoleic acid, carnitine, green tea, gymnem sylvestrea beta-hydroxymethybutryate, pyruvate, hydroxycitric acid (garcinia cambrogia), brindleberry Often advertise to modify metabolism but with little to no proof
Ginkgo biloba, St John’s wort, Yohimbe Often advertised to decrease stress- or depression-related eating, again with little to no proof
Soluble fibres (eg, glucomannan, psyllium, methylcellulose, pectin) Advertised to make you feel full
Chitosan Advertised to block the absorption of fat
Buckthorn bark and berry, Cascara sagrada bark,, flaxseed, manna, psyllium seed husk, rhuubard root, senna leaf and pod Laxatives. Do not actually make you lose weight. Can cause side effects associated with laxative use (diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, bloating).


Focus on “Fat Burners”

Supplements marketed as “fat burners” are typically packed with stimulants, including (but not limited to) caffeine and the rest of the ingredients listed in the top row of the table above. While some of the ingredients in supplements marketed as fat burners may slightly increase lipolysis (the breakdown of fat), the primary effects of these supplements – and the primary dangers – are related to the stimulants.

1. Inadequate nutrition

Stimulants can temporarily enhance mental focus and the feeling of being “energized,” and thereby suppress appetite. This is the main way weight loss supplements promote caloric restriction, which then leads to weight loss. Significant caloric restriction can be particularly troublesome for kids and young athletes because it reduces intake of nutrients necessary to support growth, activity, and recovery. In addition to energy, kids get most of their vitamins and minerals from food. Weight loss supplements disrupt normal nutrient intake, which can leave kids low on calcium, iron, fat-soluble vitamins, and other important nutrients.

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TrueSport® is a grassroots movement born and powered by the experience and values of USADA–the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The TrueSport® mission is simple and bold: to change the culture of youth sport by providing powerful educational tools to equip young athletes with the resources to build the life skills and core values for lasting success on and off the field.

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