Exploring the Pros and Cons of Weight Loss Supplements

Avleen M.
Avleen M.Published on 24 Jan 2022

Whether you're looking to right the scales after holiday indulgence, a slowing metabolism, or just want that extra boost of confidence that comes from feeling good about your appearance, it can be tricky to know what's a hindrance and a help to your weight loss goals. Whether it's a protein powder, fat burner, ketone supplement, or weight loss app, we set out to find out which weight loss aids are marketing gimmicks, and which ones can really work.

green scales with green dumbbells and healthy green foods

Protein shakes for weight loss · See All

What are protein supplements?

Protein supplements refers to a dietary supplement formulated using a high amount of protein. They're most commonly sold as protein powders (a water-soluble protein) or as premixed liquid protein drinks (although these are usually more costly, per serve). This protein can come from various sources, and can be dairy-based - such as casein or whey protein, or plant-based/vegan protein powder, for example pea, hemp, soy or rice protein. There are plenty of protein and supplement retailers out there, many of which specialise in manufacturing one type of protein. You can experiment to find the best tasting protein powder for you.

Protein shakes are most heavily featured in commercials with men sporting huge muscles who are 'bulking up' after a gym workout, especially one involving resistance training. This is for good reason, too, as protein contains amino acids that are building blocks for bones and muscles, aiding in muscle synthesis.

However, protein shakes may have a second, lesser known benefit, which is that the right protein shake can also aid in weight loss. One study has shown that consuming 10 grams of essential amino acids in a 24-hour period helped to reduce belly fat in participants. There are also studies showing that protein can make you feel fuller for longer, which can help stop you from reaching for the snacks or fatty meals.

Tips for taking protein supplements to help lose weight

It may seem counter-intuitive to take the same supplement used by exercise enthusiasts to add bulk to their frames, for the opposite purpose of losing weight. However, there are some tips and tricks you can use to make protein work for you.

  • Drink a protein shake at least half an hour before breakfast and dinner. Taking protein before a meal (instead of after) is the time most likely to show positive results for weight loss.
  • Substitute a protein shake for dietary sources of protein that may be incidentally unhealthy. For example, while you can eat sausages and eggs to increase your protein intake - like participants in this study, it's not neccessarily the most sustainable long-term weight loss solution to rely on fried foods like this for improved health.
  • There is also evidence to suggest that for increased protein intake to help with losing weight, you should also reduce carbohydrate intake and consume low GI foods.
  • Make sure you're still in a caloric deficit if you want to lose weight. If you're consuming more calories than you're shedding, then then the addition of protein may not do much to counter the extra calories.
  • Keep in mind that this is a supplement, so you won’t see the kilos magically fall off by incorporating it into your diet.
  • Protein powders are not designed to be nutritionally complete, but to increase your protein intake specifically. So don't use protein shakes to replace meals altogether; you'll still need nutrients from other dietary sources. If you'd rather replace meals entirely, look for a weight loss shake instead, which are made to be nutritionally complete. Popular options include BODi, The Lady Shake and The Man Shake.

Fat burners · See All

Fat burners refer to performance-enhancing nutrient supplements that have three possible aims: to speed up metabolism and aid in calorie burning; to reduce the amount of fat absorbed by your gut; and to suppress appetite. Fat burners can be sold in pill, powder or liquid form.

Many products on the market are thermogenic fat burners, containing ingredients made to cause a metabolic reaction in your body. These ingredients typically contain stimulants, and the primary stimulant used is caffeine. Caffeine increases epinephrine - or adrenaline - levels in the blood, which stimulates the nervous system - which in turn sends a message to fatty acids residing in adipose tissue (or belly fat) to break down.

Do fat burner products really work?

While fat burners may sound like a silver bullet solution for shedding those unwanted kilos, this can be far from the truth.

The high doses of caffeine and other stimulants in fat burning products can cause adverse reactions. Caffeine in high doses can lead to jittery feelings, headaches, nervousness, muscle tremors and a fast heartbeat. It's also hard to predict whether these will happen, considering that some fat burners don't even list the dosage of caffeine in their products on the packaging. However, the quantity can be up to 200 mg - or more. If you already drink 3 cups of coffee or more daily, taking a fat burner containing caffeine can cause these symptoms, and an energetic crash at the end of the day.

There are alternatives to caffeine in fat burners, but the problem is that Even natural ingredients such as yohimbe, from an evergreen tree, can cause side effects such as headaches, anxiety and high blood pressure. Non-stimulant ingredients, such as L-carnitine, have also been known to cause adverse effects in some people, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Fat burners, which are Listed goods rather than Registered Medicines with the Therapeutic Goods Adminstration, do not have their quality, safety and efficacy tested before being sold. This makes knowing whether a fat burner will work a gamble. The lack of testing may mean you're unintentionally chancing harm to your body's natural processes.

Reviews on the Top 2 Fat Burners

The Top 2 fat burning supplements listed on ProductReview are OxyShred, a powder with a 3.5-star rating, and Naturopathica FatBlaster MAX, a pill rated 3.1 stars. Reviews were fairly evenly distributed between the positive and the negative for both products.

However, the side effects experienced by some individuals varied greatly and could be quite extreme. For example, for the OxyShred fat burner, side effects included nausea, liver damage, diahrrea and severe reactions to prescribed medications. To Naturopathica Fat Blaster, they included bloating, constipation, dehydration, chest pain, low blood pressure, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting , fatigue, and even mild depression.

If you’re on prescription medication or are worried about the possible adverse effects of fat burners on your health, it’s always better to consult with a GP, pharmacist or dietician before committing to a fat burner. Try and source products with an easily accessible ingredients list, which specifies the milligram dosage of each ingredient. You can then discuss with your chosen health professional whether this product is safe for you.

When a fat burner might work for you

Positive reviewers of both OxyShred and Naturopathica FatBlaster MAX consistently worked out at the gym, and took their fat burners prior to (rather than after) a vigorous workout session. They generally noted a boost in energy during training sessions and during the day. They also incorporated fat burners into an existing weight loss plan, includng a low calorie diet and workout regime. These reviewers also didn't mention any pre-existing health conditions or existing medication they were taking.

Exogenous Ketone Supplements

The keto diet has become popular in the last 5 years or so. The aim of this diet is to restrict your carbohydrate intake, which prompts your body to go into ketosis. In this state, your body burns existing fat instead of the carbohydrates you've just consumed. Instead of your body having to rely on glucose from carbs as an energy source, it uses ketones to give your brain, heart and muscles the energy it needs.

While there is evidence that the ketongenic diet can increase weight loss, committing to it involves making serious diet changes that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. You have to say goodbye to toast and burger buns; even to healthy ingredients that may be food staples, like bananas, beans and lentils.

If eating 80% of your diet in fat doesn’t really appeal to you (the aim of the keto diet), this is where exogenous ketone supplements can come in handy. These supplements prompt your body into a state of ketosis (where your body uses ketones for fuel) from an external (or exogenous) source. There are two types of ketone supplements - ketone salts and ketone esters.

Ketone salts are also known as BHB salts. They contain the ketone beta-Hydroxybutyric acid bound to a salt, like sodium, potassium, magnesium or calcium. BHB is produced naturally by the body in the keto diet, but can also be taken in the form of ketone salts as ketone pills or powders.

Ketone salts are more commercially available than ketone esters, which refers to raw BHB bound to an ester rather than a salt, and drunk in a liquid form.

Ketone salts are found found in the popular and highly rated products, Ketone Mammoth Ketone Energy PRO4 and Switch Nutrition Keto Switch can prompt your body into ketosis even if you’re not following the keto diet.

A typical serve is usually around 8-12 grams of powder, and studies have found that this dose of high quality keto salts can increase blood ketone levels by over 300%. Since these ketones work exactly the same way they would if your body had naturally produced them, the associated weight loss benefits can also occur. Using exogenous supplements also reduces the chance of symptoms associated with switching to a keto diet, known as ‘keto flu.’ These symptoms can include nausea, brain fog, constipation and fatigue.

As with protein shakes for weight loss and fat burners, exogenous ketone supplements work best when taken before meals. This is found to result in higher blood ketone levels. Similarly to other weight loss supplementation methods, you also need to be in a caloric deficit for weight loss to occur.

Weight loss apps

There are plenty of weight loss services, including weight loss apps, being marketed as the secret key to unlocking weight loss. These smart device apps provide customised weight loss plans. Part of their offerings usually include nutritional tracking, the ability to log exercise goals, and re-educate users on how to integrate healthy eating choices into their lifestyle.

The most well-known weight loss app (with plenty of advertising to boot) is Noom. Basic functions are available on a free plan, and include logging your food and drink (within an allotted calorie budget), logging your daily steps and noting a daily 'weigh-in.' Additional features for a cost (up to $59 a month) include a one-on-one coach, access to a group to discuss the weight loss journey, a categorisation by Noom of foods into ‘red, yellow and green’ based on how conducive to your weight loss goals they are, and homework, where you're assigned articles to read and quizzes to complete.

Does the Noom diet work?

Weight loss results for reviewers using Noom were hit and miss; but mostly miss, considering the app’s 1.7-star rating on ProductReview. The app relies on self motivation at best, and reviewers generally thought that if you already had this motivation, you wouldn’t need Noom in the first place.

While the app could offer a helping hand if you’re self-motivated and need a nudge in the right direction, most reviewers found the information provided by Noom to be obvious, with one reviewer saying: ‘it is not difficult to lose weight if you apply 3 basic principles: eat better, eat less and exercise more.’

The support that came with purchasing the app - one of the most trumpeted about features in the company's marketing - was also reported by reviewers to be lacking. Reviewers found their personal coaches sounded clinical and dry - almost like ‘bots.’ These reports are consistent with study findings that smartphone apps for weight loss (in this case MyFitnessPal) are only useful to people who have the discipine to self-monitor their weight loss progress.

Exceptions to the rule - the importance of support

However, there are weight loss apps that buck this trend - for example, Healthy Mummy, a weight loss program for women that's rated 4.5 stars on ProductReview. In this case reviewers experienced a much higher level of purposeful engagement with the app than with Noom.

Reviewers commonly attributed this to the 24/7 support available to mums doing the two structured weight loss programs. This support was provided by both company staff and from fellow mothers. Many more offerings were also provided - such as workouts, recipes, and smoothie powders, which all made the weight-loss journey easier and more streamlined for members. The app became a one-stop-shop for mums with a shared goal of losing weight, making it a convenient and integral part of their weight loss journey.

Overall, reviewers experiences suggested that before investing in a weight loss app, make sure that the features serve to add something to your weight management plan that you don’t currently have - whether that’s support, or convenient meal replacements that can be bought from the company/ site.

The bottom line

Overall, weight loss aids such as protein powders, fat burners, exogenous ketone supplements and weight loss apps may be able to help your weight loss journey provided several boxes are ticked first.

Firstly, you'll need to have a weight loss plan incorporating a calorie deficit or food plan to lose weight, and regular exercise. Any weight loss aid is an additional tool, and its usefulness depends on: the suitability of ingredients to you, the time of day you take any supplements in relation to your meals, and whether a weight loss aid provides you with the motivation or energy to carry out your primary weight loss plan. In most cases, thorough research is required to ensure that what you're buying is going to help, rather than hinder your goals.