Fat burners: risk vs reward

With Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho in the news for an alleged doping violation, fat burners have become the source of conversation again. There are two sides to this. Obviously there is the Sakho’s alleged indiscretion and its illegality within football, but then there is the effects of taking these substances. Sakho’s behaviour, if he is found is to be guilty, is unquestionably unprofessional but this blog is more concerned with what risks are actually associated with taking fat burners. 

What fat burners do is speed up the body’s metabolism. Now that in itself can be a risk but is generally thought of as a positive change if it is brought on naturally. These supplements allow that change to occur artificially and cause your heart to beat faster. As a result, you feel as though you have more energy and can then work harder for longer and can help aid fat loss.

All good, right? Well it’s needless to say that the reason fat burners get so much attention, particularly negative attention at that, is because there are serious question marks over what other effects they could be having. The first thing to realise is that what fat burners are doing is increasing your heart rate and that has consequences. If you are doing exercise daily, like professional athletes, then these can be positive consequences, which is why fat burners are banned in most professional sports. But if somebody opts for these supplements and isn’t exercising enough then they could be putting their heart under too much pressure.

The name fat burners itself has caused controversy. If you were only considering the name itself then you would have to assume that as a result of taking them, calories will be burnt and your levels of fat will decrease. In reality a lot of these supplements only aim to make it appear like you are burning fat. Because if you think about it, most people don’t measure their body fat percentage on a regular basis. So if they want to know if a fat burner is working they will look at two things: the mirror and the scales. Both can give off the illusion that fat is being lost when the reality can be quite different.

By working as a diuretic, fat burners can encourage water to be lost and make the reflection in the mirror and the number on the scales more desirable. So once you couple the body’s water loss with intense levels of exercise and an increased heart rate, potential problems seem more obvious.

It seems an odd criticism, but what a lot of people say is bad about fat burners is that they aren’t even the best performing enhancing drug. If you want to try and cut corners then there are far better ways to do it that have less risks associated with them. Needless to say I won’t be giving any suggestions on which drugs these are because I wouldn’t want people to go away and use them.

The whole argument surrounding supplementation is intriguing. Some people say that even drinking a protein shake is artificially aiding your performance. I guess that is more of an argument for professional competition and the real problem for amateur trainers is knowing which aids are safe to use and which ones should be avoided. As for professionals? Well personally, if somebody like Sakho, who is exposed to some of the leading health professionals in the world, feels that he needs to use these tactics to get fit then something is not quite right.

As far as that is concerned, I’m sure that we will hear more in the weeks to come about Sakho. As for fat burners? Well the debate may rage on for many more months yet but at least that means we are having the relevant discussions.

Ollie Lawrence
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