Body composition involves a lot more than weight, yet a lot of the time, weight gets the most focus. Still, when it comes to health goals, body weight is a very individualized thing. Whether you are looking to manage your weight by gaining muscle, losing body fat, or focusing on optimal nutrient intake, there are many ways to support your goals.
Supplements can play a beneficial role in wellness, from bridging nutritional gaps to supporting specific aspects of your health. But there are a lot of myths about how supplements may affect weight, and whether they can be used to lose body fat. In this article, we’ll take a body positive approach to examining the science behind dietary supplements and body composition.
There are many types of dietary supplements, and how each one works depends on the type of nutrient it is. Many supplements that are said to help with weight loss or body composition tend to have an effect on metabolism. Your body’s metabolic efficiency extends beyond body weight, though. Your metabolism helps to control cellular energy synthesis and how the body stores food for later use.
Ultimately, no supplement can replace the need for a nutritious, balanced diet and regular physical activity. High-quality sleep, hydration, and stress management also play vital roles in your overall wellness. Body composition is not a simple equation that reflects food eaten or exercise completed. It involves genetics, age, health conditions, digestion and nutrient absorption, and much more. No supplement can address these many factors on its own.
Some supplements may work alongside a healthy diet and exercise program to complement your existing efforts. Protein powder and fiber supplements are two general categories that have a higher level of evidence for healthy body composition support.
There are many supplements said to help with weight balance or body composition support. The levels of evidence vary, and ultimately, it’s important to approach supplements for body composition with critical thinking. If something sounds too good to be true, it very well could be.
Don’t start taking supplements, for weight balance or other reasons, without consulting your medical provider. They have the potential to interact with other supplements, medications, or health conditions.
CLA is a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid that is naturally found in foods like mushrooms, eggs, and beef. It has been studied in many randomized clinical trials for benefits like weight loss and body composition, but with mixed results.
In a study of 40 adults, CLA supported body composition and weight balance compared to placebo. A study of 63 adults found that after 12 weeks, body weight, body fat percentage, body composition, and more were improved compared to baseline and placebo.
But other studies did not find CLA to be beneficial for weight balance. A study of 122 adults had no differences in body weight or composition after 1 year of 3.4 grams of CLA daily compared to placebo. A review of 18 trials found that 3.2 grams per day of CLA could lead to slight improvements to body fat percentage, though the benefits were primarily noted in the first 6 months and trailed off after that. Other meta-analytical reviews confirm these results.
Glucomannan is a water-soluble fiber that comes from konjac root. Fiber supplements generally support healthy body composition by expanding in the gut, soaking up additional water, and helping to produce feelings of fullness. This might lead to eating less, which can support your health goals if you struggle with eating food even when you don’t feel hungry.
A review of 7 studies that assessed glucomannan for body fat loss found that between 2–4 grams daily helped with moderate weight loss (2-5 pounds in 4-8 weeks). A more recent study, though, found that after 8 weeks, 4 grams per day of glucomannan did not significantly alter body composition or affect feelings of hunger or fullness. Meta-analysis of studies done with participants who had higher body weight revealed no statistically significant improvements in body composition.
Green tea extract is a concentrated form of the same green tea that’s brewed to drink. The supplement contains phytochemicals that are found in the plant, mostly EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). Green tea extract is thought to work by enhancing the body’s fat-burning mechanisms that convert it to energy, but research studies in humans have had mixed results.
A meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials found that green tea extract was beneficial for body weight and body fat measurements as part of a balanced body composition. But a systematic review and meta-analysis of 7 clinical studies found no benefits for how green tea extract impacts energy conversion (the idea of burning calories for energy use).
It’s uncertain whether green tea extract is safe for long term use, or how it specifically affects metabolism and body composition in more diverse groups of people. In rare cases, green tea extract has been linked to liver issues or gastrointestinal problems, so always check with your doctor before taking this or other supplements.
Chromium is an essential mineral that supports energy conversion from food and a healthy metabolism. In research that compared brewer’s yeast with chromium to brewer’s yeast without chromium, the chromium group had enhanced glucose, energy, and metabolic processes. Other research also shows that chromium may help with metabolic parameters, but does not have proven direct effects for weight changes.
When chromium is paired with apple extract, this can further enhance healthy energy use from food.
Guar gum is a polysaccharide that is derived from beans. It has gel-like properties that can lead to thickening, and it is frequently used as a food additive and as a texturizer for gluten-free baking.
A meta-analysis of 11 clinical trials found no difference between guar gum and placebo for weight or body composition. Further analysis found that there were adverse events reported in 17 out of 20 studies, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, and flatulence. The researchers concluded that with low potential for benefits and a high rate of side effects, guar gum couldn’t be recommended for weight loss support.
There are many types of fiber supplements, including psyllium, flaxseed, and chia. They have varying levels of effectiveness based on research.
Psyllium is a soluble fiber that forms a gel when it mixes with water in the digestive tract. Because of this, it may help with feelings of fullness and also promote healthy gastrointestinal transit time and elimination. A study that looked at 6.8 grams of psyllium taken twice daily for 3 days decreased hunger and a desire for between meal snacking compared to placebo. Lower psyllium intakes didn’t work as well, and higher intakes had no greater benefits. The participants also followed a lower-energy diet. While this might be beneficial for people who consume a low-fiber diet, the study did not establish that psyllium could affect body composition.
A review and meta-analysis of 6 studies looked at psyllium’s effects on body weight, composition, and other related factors in adults with higher body weight. The results found that when psyllium was taken right before meals at an average intake of 10.8 grams per day for an average of 4–5 months, it was effective for moderate improvements in fat loss, body composition, and waist circumference.
Flaxseeds are another type of fiber that have been shown to be effective for body composition support compared to placebo.
Chia seeds can enhance healthy metabolic responses by slowing down digestion, supporting satiety, and improving body composition parameters. Chia seeds also add bulk to the gastrointestinal tract to support healthy bowel elimination.
Psyllium supplements and other types of fiber can cause gastrointestinal discomfort like gas, bloating, or cramping. They need to be taken with plenty of fluids and should be gradually incorporated into a food plan, especially if you are not used to consuming higher amounts of fiber.
B vitamins are a group of water-soluble vitamins that work together for healthy energy, cell function, metabolism, DNA replication, and more. B12, folate, and B6 in particular are needed for healthy methylation, which converts amino acids in the body for healthy energy signaling and DNA integrity. Inability to convert homocysteine into methionine has been linked with chronic issues and metabolic challenges.
There’s no proof that B vitamins have a direct effect on body composition. However, researchers have found that higher B12 levels were associated with a healthier body composition in a nationally representative group of U.S. adults. B vitamins are necessary for every aspect of health. Regardless of a direct link with weight, muscle, and fat balance, B-complex nutrients are supportive of optimal function in numerous basic body systems.
Green coffee extract is derived from unroasted coffee beans with the purported benefit of helping the body use blood sugar for energy instead of storing it as body fat. While it’s possible that this substance could have a slight effect on body weight, the clinical trials that have been done weren’t well-designed, so the evidence quality is low.
Multivitamins can support overall nutritional status, but aren’t directly linked to body composition changes. In people who are managing body composition with additional therapies, multivitamin supplements may support optimal nutritional intake and prevent absorption-related deficiencies.
Magnesium is an important mineral for bone health, muscular wellness, and numerous (300+!) enzyme functions and reactions in the body. It also acts as an electrolyte and supports fluid balance inside and outside of cells.
Magnesium has not been directly linked to body weight or composition. However, research that involved people who had low magnesium levels and an imbalance in body fat to body muscle ratio found that 4 months of magnesium supplementation resulted in greater improvements in overall metabolic wellness compared to the group who received the placebo.
It’s possible to get plenty of magnesium from food sources like chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, spinach, and almonds. Dietary supplements can also support healthy intake.
There are many types of protein powder, but in general, protein intake is associated with a better balance of body composition, weight management, and appetite regulation. Protein breaks down into amino acids during digestion. It’s these amino acids that fuel energy metabolism, cellular respiration, tissue repair, muscle synthesis, and more.
The general protein recommended intake ranges from 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, up to 1.6–2.4 grams per kilogram. Your individual health factors can influence how much protein you need. If protein is a problem, you can bolster your intake by using protein powder to make a smoothie or a bowl for an easy meal or snack.
Weight loss supplements are popular on the internet, and unfortunately, they are a category that is frequently associated with poor quality products. If you want to take a supplement to support a healthy body composition, your medical provider can help you sift through possible risky weight loss products versus the evidence-based options.
Any time you want to start taking a dietary supplement, you should consult your medical provider. That’s because supplements can work very effectively to support your health. But because they can help, they may also interact with other things that you take. Your individual genetics, health conditions, age, and other factors affect how your body will respond to supplements.
Weight is only one possible measure of health, and in many cases, it gets too much focus. However, if you’re seeking to support healthy body composition, the best things to do are eat a healthy diet, get regular physical activity, stay hydrated, and get plenty of good sleep. Dietary supplements may also be able to support your health goals, but check with your doctor to make sure you’re getting something that is right for your needs and goals.