It's no surprise that one of our most popular discussion topics is the humble fat burner. Supplements aimed at helping the average person lose weight more effectively? How could you say no?
We've discussed numerous aspects of these supplements before. Want to know how long they take to kick in? How about how long you can safely use them before you should take a break? You can also read our analysis of the pros and cons of using fat burners in the first place.
Today we're going to tackle a slightly different side to the topic. You've decided you want to make use of fat burners, but you're not sure when you should take them. Are they best in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening? Let's look at the options, and what science has to say.
Avoid Taking Fat Burners Too Late
Before we get into specific times you can take fat burners, one thing you should avoid doing is taking them too late in the day. What qualifies as "too late" depends on your own personal schedule, but it's still an important consideration.
Fat burners are often some kind of stimulant. Most of the time it's caffeine, but sometimes it can include other ingredients as well. Caffeine, of course, gives you energy and can passively help you burn a few more calories throughout the day. Other stimulant ingredients in fat burners have the same effects; triggering your body to burn fat for energy.
That energy is great if you're going to be working out, or if you need some extra energy for work, or if you want some pep in your step for dealing with family after work. What it's not great for is when you're trying to sleep. You'll be restless, it'll take longer for you to begin to fall asleep, and you'll be more easily awakened. Less sleep, and less restful sleep, can dramatically affect your energy levels, your performance, and your mood.
If you take fat burners too late in the evening – less than four or so hours before you plan to go to bed – you can expect an excess of energy that you'll have trouble working off. It's not like exercise, which can wear you out and make you sleep more easily. Since supplements are chemicals your body is processing, they linger in your system. Caffeine specifically tends to last in your system for 4-6 hours before it wears off.
Take Your Fat Burners with Food
If it sounds a little counter-intuitive to take your fat burner with food, keep in mind that it's a supplement, and supplements are basically just medications that don't have as much regulation or testing done on them. There are plenty of medications that require you to have some kind of food when you take them, and a fat burner is no different.
The reason is a simple physical one. Fat burners contain ingredients that can be harsh on your digestive system, and moreso on your stomach. When you take them on an empty stomach, you risk a range of possible issues. Most of the time it will only just result in some stomach discomfort or, perhaps, some intestinal distress.
If you consistently take them without anything in your stomach, though, you run the risk of more long-term damage. There have been some scattered reports of people taking herbal fat burners ending up with ulcerative colitis! It's not a guaranteed effect, not by a long shot, but you don't want to be the unlucky one in a million to get it.
Now, this isn't to say you have to take your fat burners with a major meal. Eating a simple serving of granola, a small green smoothie, or even just a slice of toast is enough to help settle and protect your stomach from potential issues. You just want something in your stomach when you take the fat burner. It doesn't need to be much.
So what are your options for taking fat burners, more specifically? There are three in general.
The Pre-Workout Option
The first option, and one of the more common options for taking fat burners, is to take them a short time before you plan to work out. A fat burner gives you energy and stimulates your metabolism to burn fat, and it does that whether you're active at the time or not. However, you can take advantage of that energy with a workout more readily than you can if you're just sitting in the office on your computer, or at home watching TV.
The primary benefit of this option is that it can help make your workouts more effective. More energy means you can train longer without flagging. The boost to your metabolism means your body is already primed to start losing fat, and your exercise, be it cardio or weight lifting or yoga, keeps it going.
On the other hand, depending on how you react to the fat burner – and what ingredients are in the fat burner – you may end up with a higher heart rate than you would like to have while exercising. You may have more trouble cooling down after a workout and returning to baseline. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though if you have an exceedingly high heart rate for too long, you should see a doctor.
The other potential drawback to the pre-workout option is that you might not be taking it every day, if you don't work out every day. Many people work out for 3-4 days a week and take rest days in between, to avoid injuring themselves.
The Pre-Meal Option
A second option for timing your fat burners is to take them 30-60 minutes before you sit down to eat a meal.
This option is the best choice for specific kinds of fat burners and not as much for others. As you might know fat burners are usually stimulants, but some of them work the other way around; rather than giving you more energy to burn calories, they suppress your appetite to make you consume fewer calories.
As you might expect, suppressing your appetite just prior to eating a meal means you're likely to eat less and feel satiated sooner, so you're not consuming as many calories as you otherwise would. That, in turn, means your caloric deficit is higher when you work out, and you need to work out less to achieve results. After all, all weight loss is simply burning more calories than you take in. It doesn't matter how you go about it.
This option is great if and only if the supplements you're taking include an appetite suppressant ingredient. If your fat burner doesn't suppress your appetite, it might have the opposite effect; the energy burn might make you feel hungrier than you otherwise would, causing you to eat more.
The Resting Period Option
Another common recommendation we see is to take your fat burner during the day, explicitly when you aren't working out. If you take it after your workout, or some time during the day hours before your workout, it can have a passive fat burning effect.
The goal of this kind of timing is to prevent the fat burner from "stepping on toes" with your other supplements. If you take a fat burner before a workout, you essentially have a spike of weight loss in the form of caloric burning, but once you stop working out and the supplement tapers off, you're left back at baseline. You're probably tired by then as well.
Taking your fat burner during your resting periods turns those resting periods into an ongoing sort of passive fat burning session. Caffeine and other stimulant ingredients cause your body to create energy, typically by boosting your metabolism and burning stored fat. It's not a lot – caffeine in normal doses only burns something like seven calories an hour with no outside influence – but it's better than absolutely nothing.
Probably the biggest downside to this is actually the energy generation. When you have more energy, you're going to feel restless or potentially jittery. Whether you're at home and trying to focus on a hobby, at work trying to get your work done, or stuck on a lengthy commute, that restlessness can make it difficult to focus and live your life effectively. How much it affects you, though, depends on the kind of fat burner you're taking and the dosage you're using, among other things.
The Rise and Shine Option
One of the most highly recommended times to take your fat burner is actually first thing in the morning. Take it alongside your morning coffee or with breakfast. Why? As we've explained above, fat burners give you energy. Taking one first thing in the morning will help you wake up and get moving, gives you the energy you want to go about your day, and can even help you digest your breakfast faster. Plus, if you have one of the appetite suppressing fat burners, it means you won't be eating quite as large a breakfast, which helps cut down on caloric intake as well.
Your metabolism naturally slows down as you sleep, and waking it up in the morning can be a longer process than you might realize. Many people do it with a morning cup of coffee, but taking a fat burner will help kick you into high gear a lot more quickly.
Make Sure to Take Time Off
So those are your main choices for timing your fat burners. Before we let you go, though, there are a couple more important tips you should know with your fat burner supplement routine.
First up, make sure you take some time off. General recommendations are to take a week or two off every couple of months.
The reason for this is that your fat burners are generally going to be made of similar or the same selection of ingredients. Over time, your body will grow used to them. You might have already observed this with caffeine, in particular if you're drinking multiple cups of coffee every day. In the beginning, it works wonderfully, with a single cup giving you plenty of energy to get through the day. A few months in, and you need two cups to get going in the morning, and maybe another one in the middle of the day. Even further and it might take even more to keep you fueled throughout the day.
Fat burners all kind of work the same way. Taking them regularly works, but over the course of a couple of months, their effectiveness decreases. Taking a break in your routine means your body can purge the remnants from your system and reduce your resistance to the ingredients, so when you start them up again, they work better.
Rotate Fat Burners Quarterly
A lot of health nuts and fitness gurus also recommend rotating the list of fat burners you take every few months. We say quarterly here, but it can be every two to six months, depending on what you're taking and how robust they are. The goal is the same as taking resting periods; to use new ingredients that work better and let your resistance to old ingredients drop. This works best if you're rotating between single-ingredient fat burners rather than multi-ingredient blends.
When do you take your fat burners? When have you found them most effective? Tell us your story below.