Fat burners are big business. But we’re going to focus on five fat burners that are either free or nearly so. These are tricks for stoking your metabolism to burn more calories and more bodyfat. Of course, these are not going to magically melt away a lot of fat. Only diet and exercise (but mostly diet) will do that, and it’s not magic. But these are little helpers, just like the pills sold as fat burners—and probably more effective than most of those. These are easy but effective ways of making your metabolism a more efficient calorie furnace.
FAT BURNER 1: MUSCLE-UP
The cliché about muscle burning more calories than fat is true. At rest, muscle uses over three times the energy of bodyfat. Check out these charts for an average adult. The first is the percentage of bodyweight made up of muscles, fat, and various organs.
The second is the basal metabolic rate for each of the above categories.
Notice that, when you’re resting, your brain, heart, kidneys, liver, and digestive system are really punching out of their weight classes, together burning 61% of your energy. But you’re not going to change the size of those areas. The two you can grow or shrink are muscles and fat. Get more of the former, and it’ll help you lose more of the latter. Even when resting and even in an average person, muscles burn calories at about three times the rate of fat. And, of course, muscles burn many more calories when you’re moving and more still when you’re working out. Adding muscle is one of the best ways to reduce fat.
FAT BURNER 2: CHILL OUT
Shivering is your body’s attempt to stay warm by forcing your muscles to work and generate energy, and it can boost your metabolic rate as much as five-fold. Reason enough for cold showers. But shivering is your body’s emergency maneuver, so it’s not something you’ll want to do for extended periods. The good news is you don’t have to completely chill out to heat up your metabolism. Researchers discovered that even in mildly cold conditions (64° F) our bodies are burning as much as 30% more fat to keep us warm. So, lower your thermostat.
One more metabolism hack: Drink ice water. This will temporarily cool your digestive system. Just note that the effect is negligible when compared to skin-cooling.
FAT BURNER 3: EAT SPICY
Heat can also boost your basal metabolic rate, forcing your body to work harder (sweating, panting) to maintain a healthy body temperature. But only up to a point. When your brain senses you’re becoming dehydrated, it’ll slow your metabolism—another safety maneuver, like shivering. So, instead of bringing the heat to your skin, this is the time for an inside job. Capsaicin is the component that makes plants like chili peppers so spicy, and it can temporarily jolt your BMR up 8%. That’s not a dramatic difference, but, depending on your taste and tolerance for spiciness, it may be enough to choose demon hot sauce over mild.
FAT BURNER 4: SLEEP IT OFF
Many people associate slumber with growing fat. It seems counterintuitive that sleeping boosts your metabolism. And, in fact, your BMR reduces during a night of sleep, just not much: 10-15% overall (very little during REM cycles, more during deep cycles). So, you do burn fewer calories when sleeping, but that doesn’t come close to offsetting the fact that sleeping recharges your metabolism.
The yin-and-yang hormones, (good) leptin and (bad) ghrelin, control appetite and regulate energy expenditure. In a study, sleep-deprived subjects suffered an 18% reduction in (good) leptin and 28% increase in (bad) ghrelin, making them hungrier and less efficient at burning calories. Furthermore, multiple studies link chronic sleep deprivation to obesity. This is less a hack, and more a lifestyle: Get at least seven hours, and ideally eight hours, of sleep nightly. Nap if necessary. Your metabolism depends on it.
FAT BURNER 5: CAFFEINATE
In addition to its many workout benefits, boosting energy and strength, caffeine is a fat-burner. But like that splash of hot sauce, don’t expect dramatic results from a cup or two of coffee. In one study, 200 mg. of caffeine (equivalent to two cups of regular coffee) increased the metabolic rate of 12 subjects by 4-11% during the three hours after ingestion. Significant but not sensational. Another study, demonstrated that the fat-burning effects of caffeine were much greater in lean subjects than obese ones, which takes us back to our first hack. So, whether in coffee, tea, no-calorie energy drink, powder, or pill, caffeine will help you get ripped, and, once you’re ripped, it will do an even better job of helping you stay that way.