This is an updated form of an article I first wrote years ago. I think you’ll find it informative, but please keep this in mind: I am not a doctor, pharmacist or medical expert. I am not qualified to give medical advice in any shape or form. The ECA stack is a potent stimulant that can be dangerous if abused, taken by someone who cannot tolerate it, or taken under the wrong circumstances.
The first time I ever heard about the ECA stack was back in my college years–the early 90’s. A new bodybuilding magazine called MuscleMedia 2000 came out around that time (published by Bill Phillips). The writers (and the people they interviewed) actually discussed steroids in a straightforward and honest way. I had never seen that before and found it quite refreshing (and surprising). Most of the bodybuilding magazines I read as a teenager gave me the idea that protein shakes were the secret ingredient to 18-inch arms. MuscleMedia 2000 was different: Someone was finally talking about the proverbial elephant in the living room.
One article mentioned a “dirt cheap” fat burner called the the ECA stack. I went out to a GNC and asked to buy ephedrine tablets. The lady behind the counter explained I could buy those at any nearby gas station (imagine that–buying “supplements” at your local convenience store).
I bought everything I needed within a few quick trips around town. I tried it and I was immediately impressed. It gave me a nice energy boost and, more importantly, annihilated my appetite. I also noticed that I tended to sweat just a little more (sweat is worthless as far as fat loss goes, but there’s definitely something to the thermogenic properties of the stack). Needless to say an increase in energy/focus and a decrease in appetite are both very helpful when you are trying to drop body fat.
This was around 1993, and most of the over-the-counter “fat burners” from health food stores were fairly worthless (just like today). But it didn’t take long for the supplement companies to jump on the bandwagon. Most of the major supplement brands produced some kind of supplement with ephedra (also called ma huang, the herbal form of ephedrine). But I always preferred the “home made” version because it seemed to be more potent and reliable.
Then there were a few highly publicized heat stroke deaths that were related to the use of these before-mentioned ephedra supplements. The FDA banned all of them, even though the research didn’t really back up their actions (caffeine and ephedrine seem to be well tolerated when used properly).1
The 90’s ban didn’t affect ephedrine pills that I had always used for the stack. But other legal issues have come into play more recently (more on that a little later).
Let me give you a few simple facts about how this supplement works.
The way ECA works:
Ephedrine and caffeine are both central nervous system stimulants. Combining the two has a synergistic effect. In other words, the two chemicals work together to produce a greater effect than either one would by itself.2 The results are:
*A decrease in appetite.
*The sparing of muscle tissue.
*Thermogenesis (the creation of heat, which burns additional calories).
The Dosage for the ECA Stack:
The dosage for the stack is 200 mg of caffeine+20 mg of ephedrine. Most ephedrine tablets are 25 mg, so that’s what I’ve always used.
Aspirin is supposed to weaken the body’s natural resistance to the stimulant effects. But I’ve never noticed much difference with or without aspirin, and people I’ve interacted with on forums say the same thing. Most of the research done with aspirin was with extremely obese subjects and probably doesn’t apply to those with less fat to lose. My advice would be to leave it out or to use “baby aspirin” if you insist on taking it (three full-dose aspirins a day are likely to cause gastrointestinal problems).
One other helpful ingredient I should mention is L-Tyrosine. Adding somewhere between 1-3 grams with each dose may help enhance the appetite suppression of the stack (especially if taken in a fasted state).
This dosage is taken 2-3 times a day (3x max). The dosages are spread out over 4-6 hours. I would not advise taking it too late (after 3-4 p.m.) as this is likely to give you insomnia.
Where You Can Get/Buy the Components:
As I mentioned, ephedrine used to be very easy to get. But it has gotten more expensive and more difficult to obtain–long gone are the days of grabbing a bottle or two a local convenience store. A few years back you could buy them online, but I’m not sure if that is possible now.
The cost of ephedrine has skyrocketed worldwide (I’m guessing it has something to do with the meth epidemic, since ephedrine or pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient). Here in the USA it seems each state has its own laws: some have no restrictions while buying/selling is completely banned in others (also related to the meth problem).
Anyway, here are the current options I’m aware of:
*You may want to look for Ephedrine HCL tablets at your local drug store. Primatene is one of the brand names I hear.
*Another option is Bronkaid. Bronkaid is Ephedrine Sulfate (not HCL), but most people seem to get comparable results from it.
Your local laws will determine whether or not you can buy either of these (or any other brand).
One word of caution: I’ve noticed that some of the old brands I used to buy have completely removed ephedrine from their formulas while keeping the brand name. The new formula is usually just caffeine with some “proprietary blend.” Read the labels carefully before you buy something online–some companies are using what I consider deceptive marketing practices.
Needless, to say, generic caffeine tablets and aspirin are available anywhere (kind of ironic, considering how much more dangerous aspirin is).
Will I get lean and ripped just from taking this supplement?
Of course not! Most of this drug’s effectiveness comes from the fact that it destroys your appetite. It does help you metabolically, but this is not a “magic bullet.” If you eat more calories than you use, you won’t lose weight. All fat loss is ultimately based on a negative calorie balance.
Dangers of the Stack:
Once again I need to remind you of something: I’m not a doctor, pharmacist or medical profession. Please talk to your doctor before trying any kind of stimulant.
Needless to say, those with heart problems, thyroid problems, high blood pressure, or those who are pregnant definitely need to stay away from the ECA stack unless your doctor tells you otherwise. There may be other medical conditions which make it unsafe–I’m just naming a few that come to mind.
I would also advice you not to take the EC stack if you are outside all the time during summer months or in hot environments. Remember–this is a thermogenic supplement. I believe the deaths in the 90’s were caused by people taking it and overheating without realizing it. I would not advise you to take any form of ephedra if you are doing some kind of summer training camp, for example.
Recovering addicts should stay away from the stack as it will reactivate their addiction.
If you want to try this I’d recommend you start off with a half dose (100 mg of caffeine and 10 mg of ephedrine) to see how well you tolerate it. Individual tolerance to stimulants varies greatly from person to person, so be careful.
Other Uses of the Stack:
I’ve used the ECA stack as a pre-workout supplement due to the before-mentioned energy boost. Other athletes and bodybuilders have done the same. Just keep in mind that ephedrine is going to be on the list of banned substances in virtually any type of athletic federation. You also have to remember that taking it before a late-night training session will result in insomnia (back to the timing thing).
Do NOT take ephedrine or ephedra and yohimbine at the same time. Do not take any supplement that contains both products. The problem is ephedra/ephedrine works by stimulating beta-receptor sites, and yohimbine works by suppressing alpha-receptor sites. Your heart has both types of receptor sites, so taking both compounds at the same time could be very dangerous (increasing blood pressure, etc). This is one reason I can’t recommend any of the ephedra diet pills I see online–most of them add yohimbine into the mix.
Yohimbine is effective, but you have to know how and when to take it (see: Yohimbine HCL).
No fat loss supplement will “work” unless your diet and exercise plan is in order. Here are a few guides I can recommend if you want to lose fat.
The 4 Week Diet would be good for those who want to do a “crash diet”: those who want to drop weight as quickly as possible.
I think women should consider the Bikini Body Workouts if they are looking for a complete body transformation system.
Men who want to lose fat should probably consider the Hollywood X Workout.
Older trainees (both men and women) should look into Old School, New Body.
1. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1993 Feb;17 Suppl 1:S69-72. Safety and efficacy of long-term treatment with ephedrine, caffeine and an ephedrine/caffeine mixture.
2. Metabolism. 1991 Mar;40(3):323-9. Thermogenic synergism between ephedrine and caffeine in healthy volunteers: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.