What and how much you eat matters when it comes to shedding body fat. But sometimes a girl needs a little jump-start to help burn fat without requiring an extra hour in the gym— a supplement that either decreases the amount of calories absorbed from food, stimulates metabolism, increases satiety or a combination of the three. Today’s weight-loss supplements provide a little boost, if you pick and choose carefully.
Whey Less with Protein
The first line of defense against excess body fat should be protein. Protein keeps us full for a longer period of time and we burn more calories digesting protein than digesting fat or carbohydrate. This diet-induced thermogenesis, the caloric cost of digesting, absorbing and metabolizing food is about 20-30 percent for protein, five to 15 percent for carbohydrate and a measly three percent for fat. And though the thermic effect of feeding will not make a pronounced difference in the short term, it can definitely impact weight over a period of time.
Though protein is essential for fighting the battle of the bulge, not all types of protein are created equally. High-quality protein, rich in the essential amino acids (EAAs), is best if you want a better body. Protein that contains at least 10 grams of EAAs per serving will not only maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis at each meal, it will also help keep your waistline slim. And, one protein that contains more than 10 grams EAAs per serving and has research to back up its role in weight management is whey.
Studies show that adding whey, without intentionally lowering total calorie intake, can improve body composition compared to a placebo. In one study scientists randomly assigned 38 previously sedentary, overweight adults to either a control group, exercise group or exercise plus whey protein supplement group (300 calories, 40 grams of protein). Exercise consisted of supervised aerobic and resistance training. The group receiving the whey protein supplement took it once per day for the first two weeks and twice a day thereafter for the remainder of the study. Minimal nutrition intervention was provided and subjects were not instructed to lower their calorie intake. After the 10-week study, both exercise groups decreased fat mass but the exercise plus food supplement group showed a significantly greater decrease in fat mass (-9.3% versus -4.6% in the exercise-only group). The supplemented group also showed significant gains from pre- to post-test in muscle mass and significant decreases in total and LDL cholesterol. Plus, a more recent study found that whey, but not soy, led to significant differences in bodyweight and fat mass compared to a carbohydrate supplement. In this study, 90 overweight and obese adults were randomly assigned to receive either 56 grams/day of whey protein, soy or carbohydrate consumed twice daily over a 23-week period. No dietary advice was given and participants were allowed to eat freely. Bodyweight and fat mass were significantly lower in the group consuming the whey protein as compared to the group consuming the carbohydrate. In addition, waist circumference was significantly lower in the whey group compared to both the soy and carbohydrate groups.
Though science hasn’t elucidated the optimal dose of protein, all adults should aim for at least 30 grams per main meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis and take advantage of the increase in satiety associated with protein. In fact, some studies show a high-protein meal containing 50 percent or more calories coming from protein, enhanced satiety at the next meal. Maybe it’s time to remake our plate.
Green tea contains a natural combination of caffeine and antioxidant catechins, namely EGCG. A meta-analysis of 11 trials found that catechins significantly decreased bodyweight and helped maintain bodyweight after weight loss. However, our bodies do adjust to caffeine over time and therefore the weight-loss results haven’t been as great in habitual caffeine consumers (>300 mg/day). Another meta-analysis, which combined the results from 15 randomized controlled trials, found that the combination of green tea catechins and caffeine resulted in significant decreases in BMI, waist circumference and an approximate 1.3-1.4 kilograms greater weight loss compared to caffeine. Though scientists are not completely clear about how green tea works, several theories have been hypothesized including decreased fat absorption, reduced storage of fat in fat tissue, increased calories burned (thermogenesis) and increased fat use as fuel. In addition to not knowing the exact mechanism of action, we don’t know the exact dose, timing or population that may benefit from green tea supplementation. However, you definitely can’t go wrong with adding freshly brewed antioxidant-rich green tea to your day.
Bone Up On Calcium and Vitamin D
Researchers have gone back and forth about calcium, weight and body fat more than “The Bachelor” alternates between women and roses. Why so shady? First off, scientists are still throwing out theories on this association— they really don’t know exactly why there may be a link between calcium and bodyweight. Secondly, several population-based studies showed that calcium intake is related to bodyweight and weight gain. Skimp on your intake of this mineral and you may increase your likelihood of being overweight. But clinical trial data, the kind where people are either given calcium or a placebo and then tracked over time, have been mixed partly due to study length, initial calcium intake and the type of calcium given— from a dietary supplement or dairy.
Though the data on calcium is mixed and, there isn’t enough data yet on vitamin D, recent research has found that dietary calcium, the kind found primarily in dairy products, is important for energy metabolism. Plus, at least four randomized controlled trials show that calcium enhances weight loss in those on a calorie-restricted diet. And, overall, the studies lean toward the indication that calcium supplementation may be most beneficial for adults who typically consume a low-calcium diet (
Caffeine is widely recognized for its ability to temporarily increase alertness. But, that’s not all it does. Caffeine liberates fat from fat tissue, increasing the availability of fat for use as fuel. In addition, relatively low doses of caffeine, 100 milligrams, the amount in a typical cup of coffee, can temporarily increase energy expenditure (caloric expenditure) in lean and obese individuals. Because caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, know your limits and talk to your physician prior to taking caffeine-containing supplements or increasing your caffeine intake. In addition to the common side effects noted from large doses of caffeine, such as an increase in heart rate, a recent NIH study found that 200 milligrams or more of caffeine a day increased estrogen in Asian women. And though the group that conducted the study noted that short-term changes in estrogen probably aren’t harmful, long-term variations in estrogen are associated with some disorders and diseases.
Other supplements on the horizon that are waiting for research in humans to back up the effects noted in animal studies include specific antioxidants within the most widely consumed class of antioxidants, polyphenols. Resveratrol is a polyphenol that acts on the enzyme AMPK, which helps decrease fat cell size while inhibiting fat formation and improving insulin sensitivity. And, resveratrol and quercetin both may increase thermogenesis. Plus, at least one animal study found that the combination of resveratrol, genistein and quercetin decreased the development of fat cells.
Two other polyphenols, curcumin (found in the spice turmeric) and chlorogenic acid (found in coffee beans) may also show promise for fat loss. A study in mice found that supplementation with both curcumin and chlorogenic acid resulted in lower bodyweight and a decrease in fat gain over time in comparison to a placebo, even without decreasing total daily calorie intake!
Weight-loss supplements will not help you make “Biggest Loser”-type changes to your body. However, some can give you a little jump-start on your weight-loss efforts. Whey protein, green tea and calcium plus vitamin D or dairy products may provide a boost and improve weight loss or weight maintenance over time. In addition, some caffeine-containing supplements may temporarily increase calorie burn and several polyphenols show promise for burning calories and inhibiting the storage of fat in fat tissue.
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