What is Ephedrine (C10H15NO)

Ephedra, or mahuang in Chinese, commonly refers to the plant, Ephedra sinica. Ephedrine is a stimulant that comes from the dried branches of this shrub; its effects are similar to those of amphetamines (speed). Although ephedrine comes from a plant, it has not been categorised under ‘herbal supplements’ (see later articles) because the vast majority of it is available only in a synthetic form; usually pseudoephedrine, ephedrine hydrochloride (HCL) or ephedrine sulphate.

Since ephedrine stimulates the central nervous system, it keeps you more awake and alert, and also helps with fat loss by raising body temperature. It seems that ephedrine supplementation can promote a loss in fat of nearly 1kg a month – at least in the short term – but it has not shown to reduce fatigue, and its use as a performance enhancer, for either anaerobic or aerobic exercise, are still uncertain. That said, there have been comparatively few trials to test the performance benefits of ephedrine alone (i.e. not in combination with other substances), and the ones that have been carried out used low doses, often in the range of 60-120mg.


However, when higher doses have been used in cycling trials ­- typically about 180mg – some promising results have emerged, such as finish-time improvements by about 5.1 per cent, and increases in torque and peak power. A trial on 1500-metre runners showed improved finish times by about 2.1 per cent when using a dose of 2.5g per kg of BM. Nonetheless, it must be pointed out that such trials are few, and the subject numbers were very small – usually fewer than 10.

Ephedrine side effects

There are so many side-effects associated with ephedrine usage, many of them severe, that it was banned from sale in the USA (including supplements that merely included it) in 2004 by the Food and Drug Administration. Some of the side-effects reported are palpitations, nausea, heart stroke, gastrointestinal problems, psychosis and sleep disturbances. For those who have used illicit drugs or previously had psychiatric conditions, the side-effects might be even more severe and plentiful. For these reasons, no suggested dose is offered in this text. However, ephedrine is still legal to buy in many countries, including the UK, so if you are tempted to try it, you would be well advised to do so only under the supervision of a qualified sport physician.

Ephedrine - sports supplements guide for beginners 2

Fat burners

The term ‘fat burner’ (also called thermogenics) refers to supplements that are claimed to greatly increase energy expenditure, which in turn causes greater fat oxidation, hinder fat absorption, or otherwise encourage the metabolism of fat. Naturally these are of great interest to those wanting to lower their weight via fat loss, and with the obesity problem becoming worse in many parts of the world the demand for them is high. Those sold commercially usually constitute a combination of ingredients – each with its own claimed fat-burning capability – because it is argued to work better this way.

Fat burners are so much in demand that they are more often considered separately from other combined supplements in sports nutrition, which is why they have a mention here and not under ‘Combined supplements’ (see later article). Some of the more common supplements used for fat oxidation have already been mentioned as single supplements in earlier articles, such as caffeine (and ephedrine, above), and more will follow in later articles. As it is, most fat burner products seem to be largely made up of any, or a combination, of green tea extract, ephedrine (though not in the USA), caffeine and aspirin.

There are, of course, many other ingredients, some used as a replacement for ephedrine, including many herbal extracts. Some commercial products have shown positive results, usually from small trials, but since such products contain several ingredients, including those already known to work as single supplements, it is difficult to know whether such unique blends are the actual reason for the observed positive effects.

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