In olden days, one compound was extracted from the bark of a certain African tree. It was first discovered by the Pygmies and the San in West Africa and was commonly used as an aphrodisiac, and as a medicine for erectile dysfunction.
Since then, the compound has slowly gained more and more attention. Today, it’s become an important part of bodybuilding, and many lifters are using it for its benefits in the face of fat loss and improved energy.
That compound is called yohimbine (not to be confused with Yohimbe) and is extracted from the evergreen plant species known as Pausinystalia yohimbe.
But, What is Yohimbine and How Does it Work?
Yohimbine is an effective bodybuilding supplement. Multiple studies confirm that it improves fat loss. It is also effective and boosting energy levels and improving endurance. Yohimbine is most effective when used in a fasted state.
Yohimbine is a naturally occurring alkaloid primarily known as a fat-burning compound. As we covered, the compound is also said to stimulate sexual appetite (though research here is mostly hit or miss) and is considered to be a stimulant.
Yohimbine can most commonly be found as Yohimbine HCl in supplement form – a naturally-extracted yohimbine molecule combined with hydrochloric acid.
The compound primarily works on two fronts:
First, it raises levels of the hormone noradrenaline, which is the primary thing that accounts for the alertness and energy we feel (1). Much like caffeine, it activates the sympathetic fight-or-flight nervous system and increases calorie-burning (2).
Second, it inhibits a certain regulatory process within the body, which normally suppresses fat loss. These effects, however, are partially negated by food intake, which is why it’s recommended to take it in a fasted state.
Now, yohimbine’s effects don’t end here. It affects different receptors within the body, which gives it a few extra twists. So, even though it’s a naturally-occurring compound, it’s not 100% safe and should be taken with caution. Let’s take a look at yohimbine’s effects on us.
Yohimbine for Fat Loss
Yohimbine (unlike many aspiring fat-burners) has been shown to help us lose fat reliably. In one study, researchers sought to determine yohimbine’s effects on sports performance and body composition in soccer players (3).
Twenty professional soccer players were divided into two groups:
- Group 1 ingested twice daily doses of 10 milligrams of yohimbine each for 21 days.
- Group 2 were given a placebo.
Researchers couldn’t find a significant difference in exercise performance and strength, but the yohimbine group saw significant fat loss when compared to the placebo group.
Another study from 2002 looked at yohimbine’s effects on fat loss (4). Researchers suggested that yohimbine taken in a fasted state before exercise increases lipolysis (fat-burning) and serum free fatty acid levels. Researchers also suggested that yohimbine has the greatest effects when taken in a fasted state and that its potential synergistic effects with caffeine should be explored.
In another study, lean and obese women were given 15 mg of yohimbine per day (5). Researchers found that yohimbine increased both resting and exercise-induced energy expenditure by roughly 8%. The compound also led to greater releases of free fatty acids and glycerol – right in line with the findings of the previous study.
Over the four weeks, the yohimbine group saw an incredible 1.5 lbs greater average weekly weight loss when compared to placebo.
One more study worth pointing out here is from Galitzky et al. (6). In it, the subjects were given a dose of 0.2 mg per kilo of body weight of yohimbine in a fasted state. For an 80-kilo man, that comes out to 16 mg.
Researchers saw many similar effects to what we’ve had in other studies: elevated glycerol and free fatty acids. Researchers also found that plasma norepinephrine concentrations increased by 40 to 50%, further hinting at the idea of greater fat-burning. Moreover, the fat-burning effects of yohimbine were reinforced by exercise and completely negated after eating.
So, what’s the bottom line here?
Yohimbine does appear to increase fat-burning, and it does so through a few mechanisms. But it’s effects are more prominent during exercise and are completely negated by food.
In the real world, this would mean that we should take yohimbine in a fasted state and have a workout (or a cardio session) soon after, before eating a meal. Intermittent fasting seems like a good candidate here. Check out an article I wrote about Intermittent Fasting by clicking on this link.
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Yohimbine and Caffeine
If you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ve probably come to realize that yohimbine and caffeine share many of the same effects.
The issue is, we don’t have much research that looks at the effects of caffeine and yohimbine simultaneously. Sure, on their own, both seem great. But keep in mind that they are stimulants that can increase our blood pressure and resting heart rate.
So, if you want, you can try them together, but start with a more conservative dose and see how it affects you.
Nothing is to say that you can’t reap the benefits of both if you take them apart from one another.
After reading this article, you may want to check out this video/ podcast from Mike Matthews. He is very informative.
Yohimbine for Bodybuilding Efforts and Energy
Having shown promising effects with the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system and the rise in catecholamine concentrations, it’s fair to assume that yohimbine could prove to be a great energy supplement.
But is it?
An interesting study from 2014 set out to answer this very question (10). The subjects of the study were 20 healthy male students. They were either given a placebo or 5 mg of yohimbine two hours before exercise.
The tests were then performed on stationary bikes. Researchers also tested VO2 max to estimate oxygen consumption during the protocol.
It appears that yohimbine reliably increased all of the parameters when compared to the placebo control – calories burned, distance, average speed, and total exercise time.
It’s worth pointing out that the yohimbine group put more effort into their cycling trial, which could partially (or fully) explain the higher average speed, longer distance, and more calories burned.
But, researchers also found that yohimbine significantly accelerated oxygen consumption, which would explain the longer time to fatigue. So, it’s worth exploring this idea more in future research. It certainly shows promise.
So, what’s the bottom line here?
It appears that yohimbine can reliably increase our exercise performance. As we saw in the study from Al-Mustansiriya University, as little as 5 mg taken two hours before exercise can boast many benefits.
Plus, seeing as yohimbine is primarily touted as a fat-burner, most people would take it in conjunction with a caloric deficit, and in a fasted state. If you’ve ever found yourself training fasted, you know just how difficult it can be to muster enough energy to train productively.
Add to the fact that a calorie deficit can also hinder our performance, and you have yourself yet another good reason to explore yohimbine.
Some supplement manufacturers have caught up to this line of reasoning and have begun including it in their pre-workouts as an energy source – the well-known yohimbine HCl. So long as each dose contains at least 5 mg of yohimbine, you’ll be able to reap the benefits for muscle growth and fat loss.
How to Take Yohimbine: Dosage and Timing
So far, we’ve got a few different numbers on yohimbine doses from the studies. And it’s important to understand the clinically-effective (and safe) dose because yohimbine is not a compound to mess around with.
Studies suggest that 0.2 mg yohimbine per kilogram of body weight seems like a tolerable and safe dose. If you weigh 80 kilos (176 pounds), that will come out to be an upper safe dose of 16 mg.
In one of the earlier studies, we saw that this particular dose increased catecholamine concentrations by up to 50% and increased free fatty acid levels, without inducing anxiety or raising resting heart rate and blood pressure (6).
I recommend starting on a more conservative base with 0.1 mg per kilo and slowly working up to 0.2 mg. Again if you weigh 80 kilos, that would be an upper dose of 8 mg. Yohimbine affects everyone differently, and it’s important to feel the water with your toe before dive-bombing.
Plus, one of the studies from above showed us that as little as 5 mg could increase exercise performance, oxygen consumption, and time to exhaustion (10).
The timing is also important. It’s been well-established that elevated levels of insulin negate the effects of yohimbine completely (6). So, you have to take yohimbine in a fasted state. Ideally, you should also have a workout around that time to heighten its effects.
A good way to incorporate yohimbine into your fitness regimen is to combine it with the standard 16:8 fasting protocol.
For example, you would take yohimbine first thing in the morning, have a cardio session, and only have water, black coffee and, completely optionally, ten grams of BCAAs. Then, some hours later, at lunch, you would break your fast with your first meal. Make sure to have plenty of protein then to negate any muscle loss.
The half-life of yohimbine isn’t something you should concern yourself too much with, but for the sake of completeness, here’s the deal:
The body quickly absorbs yohimbine, and plasma concentrations peak around thirty minutes later. The half-life of yohimbine is five hours. Meaning, you can expect for yohimbine to affect you for a few hours after digestion with its effects being the most prominent shortly after ingestion.
This appears to be right in line with the schedule we recommended in the previous point where you take yohimbine as you wake up.
That way, if you also practice the 16:8 fasting protocol, you would have a solid few hours to benefit from yohimbine before having your first meal and elevating your insulin levels.
Yohimbine HCL Side Effects and Downsides
Before wrapping this guide up, it’s important to cover the potential side effects and downsides of yohimbine. As we covered in the beginning, though yohimbine is a natural product, it’s not unconditionally safe.
It can raise resting heart rate and blood pressure.
In one study, untrained men were given hefty doses of yohimbine (0.4 mg per kilo) (11). Researchers noted an in resting heart rate and blood pressure in each of the subjects. This is not surprising, seeing as yohimbine is a stimulant and has many of the same effects as caffeine.
Some researchers theorize that the increase in blood pressure could be the reason why yohimbine helps some men with erectile dysfunction. Nonetheless, this is still a cardiovascular risk factor, and you may want to avoid yohimbine (or take very conservative doses) if you have high blood pressure.
It can induce anxiety.
In the same study we mentioned above, researchers found that yohimbine also induced anxiety in subjects (11).
To be fair, researchers used a very large dose (double what seems to be the safe upper limit), but it’s still something you need to look out for.
It can cause fluid retention.
This is mostly anecdotal rather than scientific, but some folks report fluid retention from taking yohimbine. Seeing as the compound is primarily used as a fat-burner, this can be quite the unfortunate side-effect.
Fluid retention can very much ‘mask’ your progress temporarily (both on the scale and visually), so it’s another thing worth looking out for.
Your body can build up a tolerance to yohimbine.
We’ve seen large differences between short and long-term findings on yohimbine supplementation, which is likely brought about from tolerance.
Much like with caffeine (or any stimulant, really), our bodies also build a tolerance to yohimbine. It seems that the noradrenaline stimulation of yohimbine is lost in as little as two weeks of supplementing with 12 mg daily (12). Yohimbine still has an effect on catecholamines within the body, but its effects on our energy and resting metabolic rate become less pronounced.
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So, it seems that cycling yohimbine is a good long-term plan for your next fat loss phase. For example, taking it for two weeks (remember the safe upper limit) then going off it for another two weeks.
Thank you for reading this.
Now, go Pump Some Iron!