What’s The Diff? Fat Burner vs. Pre-Workout

What’s The Diff? Fat Burner Vs. Pre-workoutYou’ve been grinding it out at the gym for a few weeks now, and while the results are starting to show (hello, newfound delts), you may find yourself looking to take things to the next level or fast track your results.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. We have lots of clients who come into our stores with questions about fat burners vs. pre-workout supplements – what are they, who are they for, and will they help them achieve the results they are looking for?

While there are some similarities between these two types of supplements (often in the form of caffeine), there are quite a few differences. To help you better understand this, we’re digging into what these supplements are, how they work, and the main ingredients you can expect to find in many of the formulas so you can better choose the product that is right for you.

Let’s go.


Fat Burners

What is a ‘fat burner’?

Fat burners are a type of dietary supplements that can help to increase weight loss and speed up the rate of fat loss. Like pre-workout formulas, the caffeine content (or other stimulating ingredients found in these products) can also help give people a boost of energy giving the perception that they can work out harder or longer.

How do fat burners work?

The majority of products labelled as ‘fat burners’ that you find on the market are a class of supplements we call ‘thermogenics.’ These types of products contain ingredients that stimulate the body’s basal metabolic rate, meaning that you burn more calories throughout the day, even when you are resting.

Who are fat burners designed for?

If you have been eating clean and training hard for a few months now, but still not seeing the pounds budge, taking a fat burner may help you kick-start a sluggish metabolism.

If you are fitness competitor looking to get that defined (aka ripped) looked before a competition, a fat burner may help you shed that last little bit of fat to make you stage ready.


What are common ingredients in ‘fat burner’ supplements?

Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA): a type of fat found primarily in grass-fed beef and raw dairy products.1 CLA has some promising research concerning body composition – studies have shown that humans taking CLA had reduced fat loss (even more so when combined with proper diet and exercise) while preserving lean muscle tissue. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical found that individuals who took 3.2g of CLA per day lost about 0.2 lbs each week compared to placebo. 2


Green Tea: has been shown to be beneficial, both for weight loss and weight maintenance, thanks to its natural caffeine content along with a compound known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that reportedly helps the body burn fat as fuel.3


Caffeine: everyone’s favourite stimulant (hello coffee!) caffeine helps with weight loss by increasing the mobilization of fatty acids as a fuel during exercise.4


Capsaicin: the phytochemical which gives peppers their heat has also been shown to increase your metabolic rate and fat oxidation.5


Chromium: is an essential micronutrient that plays a role in carbohydrate and fat metabolism and has been reported to help increase lean body mass while decreasing the percentage of body fat.6


Carnitine: derived from an amino acid and found in nearly all cells of the body, carnitine has been shown to have a slight stimulatory effect supporting fat oxidation and metabolism in the body, along with decreasing fatigue during physical activity and assisting in repair and recovery post-workout.7


Green Coffee Bean Extract: one of the most popular weight loss ingredients these past few years (thanks, Dr. Oz), green coffee bean extract comes from coffee beans that haven’t been roasted or processed. In this state, green coffee beans are high in a polyphenol known as chlorogenic acids. While there is still more science needed on this ingredient, current studies show it may help in weight management (when combined with a healthy diet and exercise program).8


Are there any side effects to be aware of when taking a fat burner?

Depending on the formula and the dosage of ingredients fat burners can have a pretty big physiological effect beyond weight loss. As a lot of these products contain various stimulants, reported side effects have included anxiety, increased blood pressure, trouble sleeping and gastrointestinal issues.

Taking a product of this nature is no substitute for a healthy diet and exercise program. If you do choose to take a fat burner, be sure to read and follow the label. If the product does contain stimulants be mindful of your overall caffeine intake throughout the day (i.e. coffee and tea) to avoid any unpleasant side effects.


Pre-workout Supplements

What are pre-workout supplements?

Pre-workout formulas (commonly known as ‘pre-workout’) are formulas that contain ingredients to give you more energy, promote endurance, and increase strength so that you can work out longer and harder.

How do pre-workout formulas work?

Depending on the formula you choose pre-workouts can work in a variety of ways. Some provide ingredients that give you a stimulant effect to boost your energy, some give you macronutrients (mainly in the form of simple sugars and branched-chain amino acids) to fuel your workout, and others contain ingredients to increase oxygen to hard-working muscles.

Who are pre-workouts for?

Pre-workout formulas can be for a wide range of athletes including endurance athletes who need an easy to digest source of fuel before a long training session, early morning gym-goers who need a quick hit of caffeine, hockey or football players looking for bit more power in their game, or athletes who have been training for a while and found they can’t seem to break through a plateau.

What are the common ingredients in pre-workout formulas?


Caffeine: as many of us can attest to caffeine helps to increase mental alertness, decrease fatigue and promote wakefulness – especially useful if we are headed out for an early AM training session. When it comes to improving workout performance, caffeine appears to have the highest benefit for those participating in activities that required sustained energy (running, cycling, rowing, swimming) or that have quick bursts of stop-and-go (hockey, tennis, soccer).10


Nitric Oxide Boosters: nitric oxide is believed to reduce our body’s oxygen needs during exercise, therefore reducing the turnover of ATP (our energy supply for ‘quick burst’ activities). The most supported ingredient for this is the humble beet, which has been shown to improve endurance capacity, time to exhaustion, and muscle recovery between sets of resistance exercise.11


Creatine: another fuel source for ATP. When it comes to pre-workout formulas creatine is great for improving anaerobic capacity, meaning that we can withstand high-intensity work for longer durations.


BCAAs (Branched-Chain Amino Acids): Scientific studies have demonstrated that BCAAs compete with the amino acid tryptophan for entry into the brain. This can be useful in preventing fatigue during exercise, as tryptophan is converted to serotonin, which can make you feel sleepy or like you’ve hit “The Wall.”


Beta-Alanine: helps increase carnosine levels (this is very important for vegan athletes). Studies show that when carnosine levels are fully saturated endurance is improved meaning you can play harder, longer.12


Are there any side effects to taking a pre-workout?

When it comes to taking a pre-workout, it is important to find a formula that works with your activity level and goals. For example, many pre-workouts are designed for endurance athletes and contain quite a bit of sugar to help them push through 60+ minutes of training. If you are doing a 45-minute spin class, looking to lose weight, this product isn’t going to help you achieve that goal. Likewise, if you workout later in the day, and take a formula that contains a good dose of caffeine, you may slay your workout, only to find yourself lying in bed awake at night.

Fortunately, there are quite a few pre-workout formulas on the market (including stimulant and sugar-free varieties). Talk to an expert to find the product that fits best with your workout schedule, activity level, and fitness goals.


Bottom Line

Training hard and seeing gains in the gym (whether that is cutting weight, putting on more muscle, or achieving definition) requires a good diet and a commitment to training. No product or supplements can replace a solid foundation. Depending on your goals, however, you can give yourself the extra boost you need whether that’s to kickstart your metabolism, make it to an early gym session, grind out a few more miles, or break through a plateau.

If you have more questions on fat burners, pre-workout formulas, or finding a product that works for you, drop into your nearest Reflex Supplements location – we’ve got the expert advice to help you create a supplement plan that works for you.

Do you have a supplement or health topic you want covered? Let us know. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. We are #ReflexNation.





  1. https://www.mercola.com/beef/cla.htm#edn4
  2. https://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/6/1118.abstract
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/ijo2009135
  4. https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-caffeine
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13129472
  6. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1753-4887.1998.tb01763.x/full
  7. https://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=l.carnitine&lang=eng
  8. https://webprod.hc-sc.gc.ca/nhpid-bdipsn/atReq.do?atid=greencoffeebean.ext.fevescafevert&lang=eng
  9. https://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/h08-130#.WlOZ91Q-fBI
  10. https://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/h08-130#.WlOdMFQ-fBJ
  11. https://www.precisionnutrition.com/surprising-supplements
  12. https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-beta-alanine





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