Wii Fitness for Dummies Bonus Tips and Content - Week 09 (Thermogenics)

Bill Loguidice's picture

Wii Fitness for Dummies (aka, Fitness on the Wii), available from booksellers everywhere, as well as online discounters like Amazon.com, focuses on three of the top Wii fitness programs, Wii Fit Plus, EA Sports Active: Personal Trainer, and Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2010, as well as provides additional coverage of the entire Wii fitness phenomena and general exercise theory. As is always the case when writing a book, there is inevitably content that doesn't fit either due to subject matter, cost, or space constraints, which is where this regularly published bonus tips and content comes in. Each week, for an indeterminate number of weeks, Christina and I will be posting items that will both add to your enjoyment of the book and provide good fitness information in general.

This week, we're running the ninth entry, which is on the pros and cons of thermogenics, which are drugs or other supplements that increase heat through metabolic stimulation:

Christina Loguidice, AFTA Certified Personal Trainer:

A vast array of thermogenics is available, including stimulant-free varieties; however, regardless of the brand or variety, the objective of this class of supplements is to boost the user’s metabolism while also suppressing his or her appetite, thereby promoting weight loss. Thermogenics that contain stimulants, generally include caffeine or an herbal stimulant such as bitter orange, which has a similar mechanism of action to ephedra. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned supplements containing ephedra in 2004, following mounting evidence that this herb caused adverse effects, including death, while only providing short-term weight loss benefits. I can personally attest to experiencing adverse effects from ephedra, as prior to this ban, I had tried Xenadrine, which contained ephedra, and developed chronic nose bleeds shortly thereafter. Once I discontinued the supplements, the nose bleeds stopped. Although thermogenics sold in the United States are no longer permitted to contain ephedra, the literature indicates that stimulants such as bitter orange may also cause adverse effects. A report published in 2006 indicated that a woman who used a dietary weight-loss supplement containing bitter orange developed ischemic colitis within 1 week of using the product, and once she stopped using the supplement, her symptoms resolved (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17165643). The woman had no predisposing factors for ischemic colitis, demonstrating these supplements can cause adverse effects even in apparently healthy individuals with no discernable risk factors.

Clearly, every individual is unique and will respond differently to a particular agent, as is the case even with pharmacotherapies, which are highly regulated. My friend, for instance, had no problem taking supplements containing ephedra, and many people considered such supplements “miracle pills.” Nevertheless, the problem with any thermogenic, even the non-stimulant variety, is that they only provide short-term results. Long-term weight loss is achieved by making positive lifestyle changes, including healthful eating and being active; thus, I would recommend that clients focus on making such changes before pursuing thermogenics. If they still insist on using thermogenics, I’d stress that they should only do so after consulting with their physician, especially if they are on any medications. Even seemingly innocuous ingredients like grapefruit extract, found in some thermogenics, are known to interact with numerous medications, including statins and calcium-channel blockers, which are commonly prescribed medications.

Pyruvate, a naturally occurring enzyme, is another common ingredient in thermogenic supplements. While the literature largely indicates that pyruvate can have a positive effect on weight loss, including reducing exercise-related fatigue, improving aerobic endurance, reducing body fat, and increasing muscle mass, power, and strength, it appears to work best when taken with creatine and combined with dihydroxyacetone (DHA; www.exrx.net/Nutrition/Supplements/Pyruvate.html; www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9624640), which can make it expensive to use. In addition, high doses are generally needed to achieve results (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11187927), which may further prohibit its use because such doses have been shown to cause gastrointestinal distress, including diarrhea, bloating, and flatulence.

While many thermogenics may contain the same core ingredients, they also contain myriad different added compounds (eg, dandelion root, ginger root, green tea extract, olive leaf extract, etc), and the effect of these compounds and combinations are not well understood. Further, because the FDA does not evaluate thermogenics or the claims made by the manufacturers, unless adverse effects are brought to the FDA’s attention, you really do not know what you are getting or what effect it will have on your body.

In summary, there are no benefits to using a thermogenic unless your only objective is short-term weight loss, yet there are countless reasons to avoid them, including risk of adverse effects, potential interaction with medications, cost (these pills are expensive and that money could be better spent investing in making better food choices), inconvenience of having to remember to take them, and the effect wears off once you stop taking them. At best, thermogenics are a “quick fix,” and while many people desire instant gratification, they also hope to maintain results. The reality is that the only way to achieve long-term, meaningful results is to view your body as an investment, where the effects of even small changes will compound over time. I would encourage clients to try to see the long-term picture, after all, as the old adage goes, “Rome was not built in a day.”

Bill Loguidice, AFTA Certified Personal Trainer:

It has been known now for a number of years that certain foods can have an effect on our metabolisms, and the same is true in clinical studies for certain pharmaceutical agents. When an individual implements a sound dietary and nutritional plan it is often a logical next step to desire additional fat burning assistance on top of what is already being achieved. This is where thermogenic agents come in.

Thermogenic agents help to raise the body’s metabolic heat output, thus targeting fat and subcutaneous water. Such agents are typically paired with other stimulants, like caffeine, or purported appetite suppressants, like Hoodia, to enhance their effects. This is sometimes referred to as stacking. The most popular thermogenic stack typically consisted of 20mg of ephedra, which acts as a stimulant and thermogenic, 200mg of caffeine, which acts as a stimulant, and 300mg of aspirin, which helps prolong the effects of the ephedra. Since each of those ingredients has either been banned or can cause undesirable side effects, various manufacturers have come up with their own, purportedly similar acting combination of ingredients to produce similar effects.

While typical responses to thermogenic agents are increased energy and mental alertness, some individuals can also suffer ill effects such as flushing and nausea, particularly when taken in higher dosages. While effects are temporary, some can be severe enough, like overheating, that they can cause additional undesired – and dangerous - reactions.

Since sports supplementation is not a regulated industry, as was the case with ephedra-based supplements – which have been subject to a ban by the US FDA since 2004 – potential ill effects can manifest themselves only after a product receives heavy public usage. While the scientific consensus is still out on the true negative effects or lack thereof of ephedra, the hoopla surrounding the ingredient should provide ample warning that extreme care must be taken when engaging in any type of thermogenic supplementation – even with the most popular products – which includes paying careful attention to all effects, good and bad. In other cases, as with the aforementioned Hoodia, while a particular ingredient (or product) can receive a flurry of hype – mostly through the advertising of the supplement manufacturers themselves – there is often dubious science behind their claims, which are either proven ineffective via more applicable scientific studies or simply disappear from the marketplace after consumer backlash due to ineffectiveness.


Before following any nutritional advice or starting any workout regime, it is always wise to consult with your physician. This is especially important if you are pregnant, have cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, or suffer from an orthopedic condition. Further, should you start to experience any fatigue, shortness of breath, chest tightness, dizziness, or any other discomfort, pain, or unusual symptoms while working out with Wii Fit Plus or any other fitness program, stop activity immediately and consult with your physician.