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Pre-Workout vs Fat Burner - What's the Difference?

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson | Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Last updated: August 1, 2023
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Two of the most commonly used exercise and diet products are fat burners and pre-workout supplements.

Used in the right way, they can help people to achieve their fitness and fat loss goals quicker than through just dieting and exercise alone.

But many folks get confused about the proper usage of these products and how the different ingredients might impact their goals.

I’ve coached hundreds of clients in over 10 years, and before you just order a product in blind faith, here’s my take on the proper way to use these supplements.

Quick Summary

  • Pre-workouts enhance workout performance and stamina, while fat burners stimulate metabolism for fat loss and appetite control.
  • Side effects can occur, including stomach upset from pre-workouts and jitteriness from fat burners' stimulants.
  • Choosing or combining these supplements requires goal alignment and careful planning to avoid overlapping stimulant ingredients.

What Are Pre-Workouts?

Pre workout supplements inside a bottle

Pre-workout supplements are dietary products with natural ingredients that claim to support your body’s endurance and stamina.

As a result, they often promise to boost your energy levels and blood flow, providing the foundation for faster muscle mass gain.

Common ingredients are L-carnitine, beta-alanine, creatine, and caffeine, but formulas vary a lot.

A well-formulated pre-workout supplement could provide an athlete with a performance boost of up to 5%.

That means either a heavier lift or more reps without running into fatigue too soon.

One thing I have to say is that some people I’ve worked with said they didn’t notice any difference at all from using a pre-workout.

In most cases, that came down to poor-quality supplements and ingredients. But it’s also important to set expectations right.

These are not products that will turn you into an instant hulk but rather a way to maximize your time at the gym to gradually get you closer to your goals over many months.

Before choosing a pre-workout supplement, assessing your requirements and aspirations is crucial, as enhancing energy levels and improving mental focus and inducing better muscular pumps are some aims of distinct pre-workouts.

Some prefer pre-workouts with increased levels of caffeine as it gives them the extra push needed, while some choose non-stimulant options. You must be mindful of possible sensitivities or allergies from certain ingredients.

What Is A Fat Burner?

Fat burner supplements inside a bottle

A fat burner supplement is a product that contains natural ingredients that aim to trigger a metabolic response for increased fat loss.

One thing I would say right here is that these supplements are not magic pills that give you a supermodel body while you sit on the couch eating junk food.

Instead, most fat burner products bring your natural calorie burn levels up and reduce your hunger cravings to help you avoid snacking.

The most common ingredient lists we’ve seen contain conjugated linoleic acid, green tea extract, caffeine, Yohimbine, and glucomannan, but formulas do vary a lot.

The main function they trigger is thermogenesis, which is a metabolic process that increases your core body temperature by burning off fat reserves.

But you’ll achieve the best results with a fat burner supplement by making sure that you put yourself through a daily cardio session as part of your exercise program.

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4 Main Differences Between Pre-Workouts & Fat Burners

Two different supplements inside a container

There is a right time and a wrong time to use a fat burner and pre-workout supplement.

While the two of them won’t do you any harm, you could end up wasting your money on the wrong product.

So, let’s see how the products and their ingredients are different.

1. Benefits

The main benefit of a pre-workout supplement is to provide:

  • Increased energy,
  • Improved stamina, and
  • Better endurance.

Think of these products as ways to maximize every minute you have at the gym. But don’t mistake it for some instant superhero strength pill.

The measurable increases in your ability to lift weights and avoid fatigue are probably less than a 5% boost.

But the benefit of such a product comes from getting a small boost over a long period of time.

A fat burner, on the other hand, contains ingredients that support:

  • Fat loss, and
  • Weight management.

By triggering thermogenesis (more on this shortly), fat burners take advantage of natural processes to remove more fat.

Again, we’re only talking about a few grams a day, but those add up over time to get you to your goals.

2. Side Effects

A person about to throw up

The main and rare side effect of pre-workout supplements is some form of stomach upset like:

  • Bloating,
  • Gas, or
  • Nausea.

In most cases, this is down to an intolerance to some ingredients, so make sure you take a close look at the label before you place your orders.

With fat burners, you have to keep an eye on your caffeine intake.

They might make you jittery and give you sleepless nights due to the stimulant effect of ingredients like:

  • Caffeine and
  • Taurine.

It’s especially something to keep in mind if you’re a coffee drinker, as you can quickly end up with too many stimulants in your body.

Overall, most people will find that health problems are limited and that the positive results from boosted energy and fat burning outweigh them.

3. Suitability

A hand holding a pen on paper

A pre-workout supplement should do a good job of supporting your energy levels for physical and mental activities.

We’ve worked with students who take them before exams and not just before training at the gym.

A fat burner, on the other hand, is mainly suitable for influencing your body composition.

However, they can also provide a good mental boost from the stimulants they usually contain.

4. Metabolism Effect

This is where we have to go into a little bit of physiology and what happens in your metabolism.

A fat burner will generally aim to trigger thermogenesis [1], which is a process where your body raises its core temperature by burning off extra energy.

Essentially, you release stored fat to produce energy and lose weight at the same time.

A pre-workout is more involved with the delivery of fatty acids into muscle tissue [2]. Those fatty acids then form the fuel for energy production in muscle cells which gives the boost in performance and endurance.

Choosing The Right One For Your Needs

A guy thinking or choosing a supplement

OK, so we’ve covered all the details of both categories of supplements. Now it’s time to make sure you pick the right one.

1. Determine Your Goals

I’ve seen it too often where clients pick the wrong supplement for their personal goals.

It can be a complete waste of money and, in some cases, even negatively affect your workout routine.

The simple way to choose between the two is to take a pre-workout if you need a performance boost for building up some muscle.

And a fat burner is your best choice for general weight loss and cutting phases. Pick the benefits that best suit your goals, and you’ll enjoy a lot more success.

2. The Power Of Stacking

Stacking multiple supplements is something that performance athletes carefully plan, and it’s certainly something you can do with fat burners and pre-workout supplements.

Unless you’re in a serious bodybuilding bulking phase, you may gain lean muscle mass by boosting your workout performance and gaining the benefits of reducing your BMI with fat burners.

One must comprehend fat burner function to achieve effective weight loss results.

Including fat burners in your physical activity routine can help you lose those stubborn pounds and attaining the figure you seek.

But this requires detailed planning both for ingredients and timing.

Let me explain.

3. Be Careful With Ingredients

The important thing is to carefully choose the products based on ingredients used to avoid overlapping ones like caffeine.

It happened to me before where I took a fat burner and pre-workout that both had a high dose of caffeine.

It’s an example of how a supplementation plan can backfired.

“Now, a spherical human of average mass, metabolism, hormonal makeup, and liver function requires about five hours to break down 50% of the caffeine in its bloodstream.”

- Robbie Gonzalez, Writer at


Do Pre-Workouts Make You Gain Weight?

Yes, some pre-workouts can make you gain weight. This may happen due to more water retention or, in the long term, through the building of more muscle tissue.

Do Pre-Workouts Help Burn Fat?

No, most pre-workouts don’t help to burn body fat. While you may be able to burn more calories through better exercise performance, they don’t have a direct impact on fat storage or appetite.

Which One Will You Pick - Pre-Workout or Fat Burner?

Whether you choose one or the other, or you stack them both, just make sure that you have a healthy diet and killer workout to not end up wasting your money.

No amount of supplements and boosted nutrients will improve your weight and fitness unless you set a healthy goal for how and what you eat, drink, and exercise.

To achieve your goals, select the appropriate supplement, exercise regularly, and maintain a well-balanced and healthy diet.

Optimal performance and speedy recovery from injuries are possible by sticking to an eating plan filled with wholesome foods such as fruits and vegetables and lean protein sources.

Make sure you let us know how your training goes once you’ve picked one and tried it out for a few weeks.


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