Thermogenesis can be described as the dissipation of energy through the release of heat.
It can occur through both shivering and non-shivering mechanisms in skeletal muscles and by a sympathetic nervous system-activated increase in the activity of brown adipose tissue (BAT).
In case you weren’t aware, there are two main types of fat in the body.
- White Adipose Tissue (WAT or white fat)
- Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT)
White adipose tissue is comprised of large fat droplets that accumulate around the body. It's the "typical" fat you think of when discussing body fat. The "purpose" of white fat is to provide insulation for your organs, which helps keep you warm.
Brown adipose tissue (brown fat) is comprised of smaller droplets filled with iron-rich mitochondria, which is how brown fat gets its color. When brown fat is burned, it generates heat without shivering (aka thermogenesis).
During this non-shivering thermogenesis, brown fat also burns calories. Several dietary supplements have been explored for the possibility of "browning" white fat, which could increase thermogenesis and energy expenditure.
There is also a thermogenic component to one’s diet, which is referred to as the thermic effect of feeding.
Essentially, this is the energy that is burned to digest, absorb, and dispose of ingested nutrients.
Protein has the highest thermic effect utilizing 20–35% of its energy, which is significantly higher than carbohydrates or fat, which need between 3–15% of their energy to be processed.< 1>
In the grand scheme of things, the thermic effect of feeding only accounts for about 10% of total daily energy expenditure, but over time, these effects can compound.
All of this is to say that you should focus on making your diet as “thermogenic” as possible, as there are more efficient ways to increase energy expenditure, but when you are in a fat loss cycle, every little bit helps.
Back to the topic at hand -- thermogenesis, or rather how to increase it.
Lastly, as we mentioned above, several dietary supplements have been researched to see if it's possible to increase the "browning" of fat and/or enhance thermogenesis.
But, what do these products contain, and do any of the ingredients contained in these products do anything to boost thermogenesis?
Let's discuss this.
What Do Thermogenic Supplements Do to the Body?
Thermogenic supplements contain natural ingredients intended to boost metabolism and up-regulate fat burning.
Some of the most popular thermogenic supplements include:
- Capsaicin and other Capsinoids
- Paradoxine® (Grains of Paradise Extract)
- Ginger Root
- GBB (Gamma-butyrobetaine)
Collectively, these supplements have a modest, albeit positive, the effect on metabolism, meaning they can increase thermogenesis (and subsequently, energy expenditure) in the short-term).Let’s now take a close look at what these ingredients do.
Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance on the planet.
It stimulates the central nervous system, increases mood, focus, and alertness. It can be found just about anywhere and everywhere these days, from pre-workouts to fat burners to protein powders.
In addition to increasing productivity and perceived feelings of energy, caffeine also has to offer some thermogenic and weight loss benefits.
Caffeine ingestion has been shown to increase energy expenditure, decrease appetite, and enhance lipolysis and beta-oxidation ("fat-burning"). <2,3>
Capsinoids are a class of molecules that are structurally similar to capsaicin -- the tongue-numbing alkaloid present in chili peppers which gives them their notorious “bite.”
While capsaicin has been noted to boost metabolism, increase energy expenditure, and lower appetite, it also has been known to cause GI distress when supplemented in higher doses. <4,5>
The upside of capsinoids, such as dihydrocapsiate (CapsiAtra®), is that they don't come with the unpleasant “burning” sensation that can sometimes occur in the GI system.
Research conducted in humans notes that CapsiAtra may help individuals burn an extra 50 calories per day by enhancing fat oxidation and energy expenditure. <6>
Note that this extra calorie burn comes independent of exercise.
The thermogenic effects of capsinoids are likely due to an increase in catecholamines and sympathetic nervous system activity. While capsinoids do not stimulate TRPV1 receptors in the mouth (which is good as TRPV1 activation in the mouth is part of the reason capsaicin “burns”), research shows that it does activate TRPV1 receptors in the gut, which leads to increased sympathetic efferent activity and up-regulation of uncoupling proteins. <7>
Some animal studies even suggest that capsinoids may help suppress body fat accumulation. <8>
Carnitine (in all its forms) is a constant in thermogenic weight loss supplements due to the role that carnitine plays in helping the body oxidize fatty acids for fuel.
GBB (Gamma-butyrobetaine) is the precursor to L-carnitine and is converted to l-carnitine via the enzyme Gamma-butyrobetaine hydroxylase (BBOX).
Research notes that GBB increases carnitine production by over 300%, while other studies demonstrate that GBB boosts carnitine excretion 40-fold, indicating a significant increase in endogenous carnitine production. <9,10>
Based on these findings, GBB has been referred to as "super carnitine."
Anecdotally, GBB is known to produce a robust thermogenic sensation, especially at higher doses.
Grains of Paradise (Paradoxine®)
Grains of Paradise (Aframomum melegueta) is a relative of ginger and has a long history of use as an herbal remedy.
Recently, the pungent cooking spice has become a common player in thermogenic weight loss aids.
Earlier, you may recall that we discussed the difference between brown fat and white fat.
Research shows that supplementation with grains of paradise extract (as Paradoxine) helps “brown” white fat and activate brown fat thermogenesis, which increases fat mobilization from adipose tissue and energy expenditure, leading to greater calorie burning and faster fat loss, particularly visceral fat. <11,12,13>
Ginger is another culinary staple of Asian cuisine that packs a flavorful punch. Similar to grains of paradise, ginger has also been used for its medicinal properties over the centuries.
And, much like grains of paradise, ginger is also rife with bioactive alkaloids. The one most pertinent to thermogenesis is 6-gingerol, which has some pretty exciting effects regarding fat loss.
6-gingerol activates peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor δ (PPARδ), which has been shown to accelerate weight loss via increasing energy expenditure and the “browning” of white fat.< 14,15,16>
Additional research notes that ginger supplementation may boost thermogenesis and reduce feelings of hunger, both of which support weight loss. <17>
Green Tea Extract
Green tea is widely regarded as one of the healthiest beverages on the planet, due to its rich content of antioxidants, polyphenols, and catechins (such as EGCG).
In addition to its potential cardiovascular benefits, green tea (and its primary catechin EGCG) has also been indicated to assist with weight loss.
Various studies note that green tea extract and/or EGCG may increase fat oxidation (i.e., fat burning) and boost energy expenditure during periods of rest as well as during exercise.<18,19>
Green tea has also been noted to enhance athletic performance, which may help you burn more calories during training. <20>
Lastly, green tea extract may also help reduce body fat and waist circumference, by decreasing caloric intake during meals and reducing the amount of carbohydrate absorbed from a meal. <21>
Black Pepper Extract (BioPerine®)
Black pepper extract is a staple ingredient in many dietary supplements.
The primary reason it's used in so many products is due to several studies noting that black pepper extract improves the absorption of other nutrients its paired with supplements. <22>
But, black pepper extract may also support fat loss by increasing thermogenesis.
Research indicates that the ingestion of piperine, the active component of black pepper extract, stimulates the release of thermogenic hormones, known as catecholamines. <23>
Increased amounts of these hormones, such as noradrenaline, increased fat burning in the body.
The Bottom Line on Thermogenic Supplements
As we mentioned before, thermogenic supplements have been noted to have a modest effect on metabolism, energy expenditure, and appetite reduction.
This means that you still need to be in an energy deficit to lose weight. Do not be fooled into thinking that supplements will counteract the effects of a crappy diet. They won’t.
But, if your diet is on point, supplements can enhance the process of fat loss, making it easier to stick to your diet and help lose weight faster.
What in Pre-Workout Makes It a Thermogenic?
"Thermogenic pre-workout" is a hot topic in the supplement industry.
What makes a pre-workout "thermogenic" or not boils down to the ingredients contained in the product.
Technically, just about any pre-workout could be considered thermogenic since the vast majority of pre-workout supplements contain caffeine.
However, supplements that position themselves as "thermogenic pre-workout supplements" usually have a few other thermo ingredients in there as well.
The “usual suspects” included in these products (in addition to caffeine) are:
- Black Pepper
- Grains of Paradise
Now, you do not need a dedicated "thermogenic" pre-workout to sweat during your workouts, boost metabolism, or lose weight. You can experience all of these effects with popular pre-workout supplements or no supplements at all.
But, if you enjoy the heated sensation imparted by thermogenic pre-workout supplements, then you may want to see if the particular product you are using contains any of the aforementioned thermogenic supplements.
What Is the Best Thermogenic Weight Loss Supplement?
SteelFit® has created a formidable collection of thermogenic weight loss supplements with its trio of:
Shredded Steel® is a capsule-based, high-energy thermogenic fat burner formulated to attack weight loss from multiple fronts. Collectively, the ingredients in Shredded Steel® help increase fat mobilization, enhance fat oxidation, boost energy expenditure, and reduce appetite.
For those who prefer to drink their supplements instead of using capsules, SteelFit ®has created Steel Sweat®. This thermogenic weight-loss powder helps increase performance during aerobic exercise ("cardio") while protecting against oxidative stress and supporting recovery.
Steel Sweat® contains a mix of scientifically-backed ingredients to increase thermogenesis, spark metabolism, enhance fat oxidation, and perspiration.
For those looking for a stim-free thermogenic weight loss supplement, SteelFit® has developed Steel Slim™, which contains prominent thermo agents such as CapsiAstra®, Ginger Root, and Grains of Paradise to enhance calorie burning, reduce appetite, boost mood, and decrease body fat.*
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- Harpaz, E., Tamir, S., Weinstein, A., & Weinstein, Y. (2017). The effect of caffeine on energy balance. Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology, 28(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1515/jbcpp-2016-0090
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- Whiting, S., Derbyshire, E. J., & Tiwari, B. (2014). Could capsaicinoids help to support weight management? A systematic review and meta-analysis of energy intake data. Appetite, 73, 183–188. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2013.11.005
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- Snitker S, Fujishima Y, Shen H, et al. Effects of novel capsinoid treatment on fatness and energy metabolism in humans: possible pharmacogenetic implications. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(1):45–50. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.26561
- Ohnluki K, Haramizu S, Watanabe T, Yazawa S, Fushiki T. CH-19 Sweet, nonpungent cultivar of red pepper, increased body temperature in mice with vanilloid receptor stimulation by capsiate. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo) 2001;47:295–8
- Olson AL, Rebouche CJ. gamma-Butyrobetaine hydroxylase activity is not rate limiting for carnitine biosynthesis in the human infant. J Nutr. 1987;117(6):1024-1031. doi:10.1093/jn/117.6.1024
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- Sugita J, Yoneshiro T, Hatano T, et al. Grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta) extract activates brown adipose tissue and increases whole-body energy expenditure in men. Br J Nutr. 2013;110(4):733-738. doi:10.1017/S0007114512005715.
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