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Fat-Burning Neurons & The Power Of Pre-Workout | This Week’s Top Studies

Fat-Burning Neurons & The Power Of Pre-Workout | This Week’s Top Studies
Evangeline Howarth
Writer and expert3 years ago
View Evangeline Howarth's profile

Looking for an edge in the gym, or simply to stay on top of the latest sports science? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we pick apart studies that give us new and exciting things to try when it comes to training and nutrition. 

This week, we’re talking harnessing the power of fat-burning neurons and whether pre-workout really can boost your performance. Let’s get stuck in. 


Harnessing fat-burning neurons

We should all know by now that to lose fat we basically need to eat less and move more, but what we might be less sure on are the mechanisms that help us to use fat in the first place. 

Embedded in fat tissue are webs of nerves, connected to the brain. These neurons are what ignites fat breakdown to be used for energy or heat production. What this latest study had found is that given the right signal, these neurons can grow, which increases an animal’s ability to burn fat. 

According to the research, fat cells release this signal — a hormone called leptin — which causes these neurons to grow, and in its absence shrink. That’s right, fat cells can basically regulate their own fat burning.1

The researchers found that mice who did not produce the hormone leptin on their own grew three times heavier, ate more and moved less. This is because the hormone relays signals between the fat tissue and fat deposits in the brain which allow the body to curb appetite and regulate bodyweight.  

What was really crazy was that when these mice were given a dose of leptin, they moved more, ate less, and broke down white fat for energy and brown fat to generate heat — like a normal mouse would. This seemed to happen as leptin caused neurons to grow more through the fat tissue. 

While there’s still a long way to go here, as this kind of research has only been carried out in mice, it’s certainly interesting to possibly understand a little more into how our body regulates fat tissue. 


Can pre-workout improve your performance?

We’ve been saying it for years, and according to this new study, we can now see marked differences in training after using a pre-workout.  

The study looked at the effects of using a multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement on twelve physically active males performing high-intensity exercise versus using a placebo and results are pretty interesting.2

They found that using a pre-workout significantly increased the number of efforts performed, time to exhaustion, however had little impact on VO2 Max (the maximum rate at which the heart, lungs, and muscles use oxygen during exercise). 

These results are pretty interesting though, as they suggest that during high-intensity exercise, you’ll be able to complete more bouts of movement and take longer to tire. This is ultimately going to mean better results in the long term, as you can get more out of each exercise session. 

We’ll be interested to see if these results transfer not only to other types of exercise, but also a larger number of participants, as well as women too.  

In the meantime, we’ll continue to knock back a pre-workout before that early gym session, as some mornings it’s the only thing that can get us through the door! 


Take home message

This week’s studies are great for helping us understand a little more about how our bodies work, as well as a potential solution to getting more out of our high intensity training. 

We look forward to seeing more research into both studies. The body can be a complex thing, so these little nuggets of information could help set you on a path to the perfect nutrition and training programme for you — good luck! 

Enjoy reading this week's studies?


Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.

1. Wang, P., Loh, K. H., Wu, M., Morgan, D. A., Schneeberger, M., Yu, X., … & Cohen, P. (2020). A Leptin-BDNF pathway regulating sympathetic innervation of adipose tissue. Nature, In-press.

2. Figueiredo, C., Lira, F. S., Rossi, F. E., Billaut, F., Loschi, R., & Padilha, C. S. (2020). Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplementation changes energy system contribution and improves performance during high-intensity intermittent exercise in physically active individuals: a double-blind and placebo controlled studyJournal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition17, 1-8.

Evangeline Howarth
Writer and expert
View Evangeline Howarth's profile
Evangeline is a Veganuary convert and newbie vegan with a degree in English and French from the University of Nottingham. Having recently ditched the meat and dairy, she really enjoys the new flavours and cooking techniques she’s encountered on a plant-based diet. She’s been shocked by the millions of ways you can use tofu, however still hasn’t found a decent cheese substitute! When she’s not in the office or eating, Evangeline usually out running or sailing. As a qualified RYA Dinghy Instructor and a marathon runner, she knows the importance of providing your body with the right nutrients for endurance sports as well as a busy lifestyle. Find out more about Evie's experience here.