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Can Yerba Mate Help You Burn Fat?

Losing weight and shredding fat can be hard work. It can be tough to keep your diet on-point, and at times you feel like you’re just never going to get to where you want to be.

The weight and fat loss industry is full of myths, soundbites and anecdotes about which supplements best support your goals. And this can make things even more confusing for you.

Not only are you advised to try weird workouts and crazy lifestyle strategies, you’re also told that herbal remedies and traditional supplements like yerba mate can boost your fat loss.

In this article we take a look at what the actual research says about this South American beverage.

If you want to know whether or not it will help you on your physique journey, read on…

Here’s what we”ll cover:

  • What is yerba mate?
  • The research – does yerba boost fat loss?
  • Can it improve your exercise performance

What is Yerba Mate?

Yerba mate is a plant from the holly bush family found in various regions across South America. The name comes from the combination of mate – the shrub that grows up to 15 feet tall when mature, and yerba – the name given to the leaves. 

Otherwise known as Illex Paraguariensis, yerba mate (or simply ‘mate’ is characterized by its white flowers and small, berry-like red fruits.

The dried leaves and tender stems of the plant are made into an infused tea. This beverage is popular throughout Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, and is enjoyed by adults and children alike.

It is served in a hollowed out gourd or a wooden bowl with a metal straw. It isn’t just a drink in South America – it is part of traditional culture and has been around for hundreds of years.

Nutrients found in yerba mate

There are a number of amino acids, vitamins and minerals in yerba. You’ll find vitamins B1, B2 and C as well as riboflavin and carotene. It contains significant amounts of sodium and potassium as well as a modest amount of magnesium as well.

You’ll also find a number of antioxidant flavanoids too. For example, quercetin, rutin and kaempferol – a nutrient normally found in cruciferous vegetables – are all located in the plant leaves.

But probably the most interesting nutrients from a potential fat burning point of view are a bioactive ingredient called mateine which is similar to caffeine, and the very small amount of caffeine itself.

That’s a lot less caffeine than you’d find in a standard cup of coffee or green tea, but is still the main fat loss marketing ingredient from yerba manufacturers.


Yerba mate drink made from a hollowed out gourd

Does Yerba Mate Help You Lose Weight and Burn Fat?

More and more supplements are choosing to add yerba into their list of ingredients. And it’s surprising really, seeing a though there’s very little research on the nutrient…. and the research that is available isn’t exactly promising either.

Here’s the research you need to know about…

Yerba may help treat obesity in animals…

Study 1: Kang et al [1]

In this study from Laboratory Animal Research, researchers aimed to analyse the effects of yerba on weight loss and other biochemical parameters related to obesity.

They fed a group of obese rats a high-fat diet and gave some of them a yerba mate treatment as well. The yerba group reported that food intake was slightly lower than the non-yerba group, and the treatment also had the ability to “decrease the differentiation of pre-adipocytes”. This basically meant it slowed down how many cells filled up with fatty acids.

Don’t forget though – this is an animal study, and doesn’t necessarily mean the same results would be found in humans.

…but doesn’t increase metabolic rate in humans

Study 2: Martinet et al

In 1999, Phytomedicine published a study that looked at the effects of yerba on obesity in humans. They wanted to see if it had a thermogenic effect on metabolism.

97 men and women were recruited for the study and given a 1.5 g mate extract via 5 capsules. They then had their metabolism measured via a highly reliable method called indirect caliometry (essentially a gas mask that measures exact amounts of oxygen you breathe in and out).

In the group that had been given the supplement, a lower respiratory quotient (RQ) was recorded, meaning they were using more fat as energy – and this looked promising at first glance.

But when the statisticians looked at the data in more detail they found that this did not lead to an increase in overall energy expenditure or metabolic rate, meaning no significant effects. 

Even during exercise, yerba mate doesn’t help you burn that much more fat

Study 3: Alkhatib et al [3]

This study, published in Nutrition and Metabolism, recruited 14 men and women to assess the effects of mate on fat burning at different exercise intensities.

Each volunteer was randomly assigned a group – one group ingested a 1,000 mg yerba mate capsule, whilst the other ingested a placebo. An hour later, they were then instructed to take part in an incremental exercise test consisting of activity that got increasingly harder every 3 minutes until it reached peak oxygen uptake levels.

Blood samples and oxygen levels were measured throughout the tests to find out how much fat was being burned and how much lactic acid was produced in the muscles.

At rest there was no change at all to fat oxidation. During exercise there was a small increase in how much fat was oxidized relative to carbohydrates, but there was no change to overall metabolic rate.


Research Summary

  • Study 1: Yerba mate might be a potential anti-obesity treatment, although the research was on animals and not humans.
  • Study 2: Yerba mate may have increased the relative amount of fat used at rest, but this did not mean an increase in metabolic rate.
  • Study 3: A small increase in fat oxidation during exercise, but no increase in metabolic rate or overall fat burning.

Sporty woman doing a lateral lunge with dumbbells on grey background

Could Yerba Mate Boost Exercise Performance?

Although yerba doesn’t seem to have a direct effect on fat burning, it has been claimed that it is an effective sports supplement – being able to improve exercise tolerance and time to fatigue.

Manufacturers of the tea claim that it can help with everything from endurance to weightlifting.

But does it?

In study 3 [3] we saw that 1,000 mg of yerba mate was unable to boost fat burning. But there were also a number of exercise measures taken too from that same set of volunteers. These included blood lactate, power output and peak oxygen consumption – a complex measure of maximal aerobic fitness.

And after the grueling fitness tests were completed, and each result analyzed, it was reported that yerba supplementation didn’t have any effect on exercise measures at all – not even a slight benefit.


Summary

Although a popular beverage throughout South America, there’s no evidence that yerba mate could help you burn more fat.

The limited number of studies available suggest that whilst the infused tea might help to improve relative fat to carbohydrate oxidation, it has no effect on metabolic rate or energy expenditure.

We suggest that if you want a stimulant that has been shown to boost thermogenesis and fat oxidation in clinical trials, you go for something like a caffeine based supplement with assistant nutrients to boost progress and help you reach your goals quicker.


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References

  1.  Kang, YR et al. Anti-obesity and anti-diabetic effects of Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) in C57BL/6J mice fed a high-fat diet. Lab Anim Res. 2012; 28(1): 23-9
  2. Martinet, A et al. Thermogenic effects of commercially available plant preparations aimed at treating human obesity. Phytomedicine. 1999; 6(4): 231-8
  3. Alkhatib, A. Yerba Maté (Illex Paraguariensis) ingestion augments fat oxidation and energy expenditure during exercise at various submaximal intensities. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014; 11: 42


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