By Mark Gilbert B.Sc
As this is my first column for FitMag, I thought I would start by considering which questions about nutrition and supplements I get asked the most. There are three or four that come immediately to mind but the answer to one of those questions doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, so I thought I would look at it first. The question is, “what’s the best ingredient to burn fat”?
My answer to this question is that besides a high-protein, moderate carb diet, the best natural, legal fat burning ingredient is green tea…I know, doesn’t sound very interesting or “cutting edge” but most people have no idea how powerful this innocent-sounding leaf is! It not only causes fat loss but also acts as a strong antioxidant, may help prevent a variety of diseases and even improves insulin function and increases exercise performance!
As good as ECA?
Despite the fact that this beverage has been around for about 5000 years and that it is one of the world’s most popular drinks, here we are in the second millennium still discovering more and more of its beneficial effects. The most important one for most people being that it burns fat better than anything since the combination of ephedrine and caffeine. That’s a strong statement because ephedrine and caffeine is arguably the most powerful fat-burning combination ever discovered.
Not coincidentally, the same researcher – Dr Abdul Dulloo - who compiled much of the research on ephedrine and caffeine, also was at the forefront of this ground breaking green tea research.
Let’s consider a little background on green tea…
Eastern cultures have been enjoying this beverage for centuries but it never caught on in Western Europe and the Americas. Traditionally Eastern cultures have used it as a diuretic, to decrease thirst and to increase energy. It’s been known for years that green tea has the ability to have cell-protective antioxidant effects. Scientists have discovered that green tea has high levels of active molecules called polyphenols. The specific polyphenols that seem to be responsible for green tea’s unique effects are the flavonols called catechins. The most important of which seems to be epigallocatechin-gallate…better known as “EGCG”.
A potent antioxidant
So the best-known function of green tea is probably still its role as an antioxidant. Antioxidants from tea can prevent damage to cells, maintain healthy cholesterol levels and maintain the health of the blood vessels and the heart. In one study, green tea was shown to have much higher antioxidant potency than vitamin E. Quite a bit of research suggests that taking green tea may also decrease the risk of certain cancers. So besides being one of the best fat burners, it is also probably the healthiest fat burner.
Definitely burns fat!
But what FitMag readers are most interested in is how green tea can make them look better and perform better in the gym and on the pitch, so let’s get to it. One study investigated the effects of giving human subjects a standardized green tea extract. After taking the green tea, these subjects were put in a special respiratory chamber and scientists were able to measure the amount of fat and calories they were burning, their levels of the hormone norepinephrine and their nitrogen excretion. Just so everyone is clear, “norepinephrine” is a hormone that basically works as the body’s main fat-burning switch and “nitrogen excretion” indicates whether the body is breaking down muscle. By the end of the study period, the researchers found that the green tea group burned 35 percent more fat! They also burned quite a few more calories – so there was a strong “thermogenic” effect. Additionally, levels of norepinephrine were 40 percent higher in subjects that got the green Tea. Green tea is thought to work by preventing the breakdown of norepinephrine in the body by an enzyme known as COMT (catechol-O-methyltransferase). This results in higher levels of the hormone available to do its fat-burning work.
Doesn’t burn muscle!
Just as importantly as the fat and calorie-burning results is that the data indicated that protein breakdown did not increase despite the increased calorie and fat burning – so green tea also seems to have the remarkable ability to protect lean muscle while burning extra fat and calories.
Another study that investigated the weight loss effects of a standardized green tea extract found that over a 12 week period, subjects continued to lose body weight. By the end of the study, the average weight loss was almost five percent. That’s the equivalent of a 14 stone man losing two thirds of a stone!
There are a number of other studies showing that green tea helps increase calorie-burning and stimulates fat loss but a recent review of all of the green tea studies by a very experienced team of scientists concluded that the active polyphenols in green tea, along with caffeine, significantly increase fat burning and energy expenditure (calorie burning).
…but that’s not all Green Tea does…
Now here are the two other important effects of green tea that most bodybuilders and athletes are probably not aware of. Green tea has the ability to improve the function of the hormone insulin and to increase exercise performance by making muscles burn fuel more efficiently.
Boosts insulin function & performance!
In a study conducted at the University of Birmingham, UK by experienced sports scientists, green tea not only dramatically increased the rate of fat burning during exercise but it also increased the effects of insulin almost as dramatically. Other research has also recently shown that green tea allows muscles to exercise at a higher intensity for longer. The benefits of green tea’s effects on performance are obvious but the benefits on insulin function would likely not only result more fat burning and less fat storage but also an increase in the amount of creatine, carbs and amino acids being stored in muscle tissue…can you say “increased performance, recovery and muscle mass”?!
So green tea has numerous health benefits, several studies show that in increases fat and calorie burning and more recently that it improves insulin function and exercise performance! So I hope you can see why I chose to write about the benefits of this innocent-sounding but massively useful and versatile bodybuilding super food. So if you want to take advantage of green tea’s fat-burning, insulin-boosting and performance-enhancing effects, look for a quality product with a big whack of green tea and at least 200mg of caffeine!